I came across an article from 2004 when Finland's schools were ranked best in the world by a new study. There were a number of things that stood out. First, is that they only spend about $5,000 per year per student. Second is the rigorous requirements for becoming a teacher - a master's degree is required. Third is that teacher pay is comparable to what it is elsewhere.
All by itself this really ought to shred the argument in the U.S. that we underfund education. For example, the Washington D.C. schools spend over $24,000 per year per student yet they are as bad as it gets. The examples could go on ad nauseum.
So how is Finland doing it? I'll wager it is the small, fairly monolithic population. If everyone buys into a culture that promotes the value of learning and education, then you are going to see higher achievement.
Here in the U.S. we have middle and upper class parents who value exactly that. The schools their children go to generally reflect those beliefs. Then we have other segments that don't. But rather than focusing on showing those people why education is so valuable, we have a huge number of people whose intellection framework is focused on victimization. They earn their livelihood by perpetuating the belief among the poor that the world is unjust, that they'll never have a fair shot and that the government and society owes them something. The results are predictable.