Here’s a few hints. It’s in Europe, it’s cold and dark in the winter, and very light in the summer. They have given America musical exports including ABBA, Ace Of Base, Roxette and The Cardigans. They did invent Swedish Meatball, but they don’t know why it’s called Swedish massage in Sweden, but they think it’s pretty funny. What nobody is laughing at in Sweden is their school choice program.
According to an article on Slate.com, Sweden is not very happy with how it’s students did on the Programme for International Assessment (PISA). The results were released last December, and Sweden was below the international averages in reading comprehension, math, and science. What contributed to these declining marks? Many Swedes blame it on the country’s school choice program.
In the early 1990’s, Sweden began a school voucher system. With this voucher system, the government would issue vouchers to the public to help support new private schools. As a result, private schools sprang up all over the country. As the money rolled in, the schools grew like weeds. The rich began opening schools, and it didn’t seem to matter how good the education was, as long as it was showing a profit. The students were doing very well, and standardized tests showed Sweden to have one of the best education systems in Europe. So what went wrong?
It was actually the standardized testing itself. In the USA, our teachers do not grade the standardized tests. They are graded by the computer program or outside evaluators. In Sweden, the teachers grade these tests. And the Swedish students were doing well. But what happens when you administer an international test, not graded by Swedish educators, and it shows a significant drop in the country’s educational standing with the rest of the world?
Sweden investigated this matter, and they found the students who attended the voucher schools were undereducated and performed bad on these types of tests. Those who attended the government schools (public schools), did much better. It was determined the teachers in the voucher schools were grading the national assessments much easier than those of the government public schools. The schools wanted to keep the students, and no parent is going to transfer their child out if they are doing well.
Furthermore, since they were private schools, they weren’t backed by the government. They were financed through private equity firms. A Danish firm, called Axcel, decided to stop backing the schools in Sweden. Over 10,000 students found their schools abruptly closed in Sweden. For a country of only 8 million people, that is a considerable size. Sweden’s education system prior to the voucher system was very good. But corporate greed got their hooks in, and the results were horrifying for Sweden.
The voucher schools in Sweden weren’t exactly the same as the charter schools in America. Most of the charter schools in America are non-profit. But some similarities can be made. The rise of the charters in America has occurred at about the same rate as the vouchers in Sweden. Children at charter schools don’t always perform as well on standardized tests as those in public schools. Public school advocates do not like the charters because they feel vital resources are drained for their own districts to support the charters. As well, both the voucher and the charter schools tended to attract “brighter” and “wealthier” students. In other words, it wasn’t a guarantee anyone could get into a voucher school in Sweden. But if you had the money, there was a pretty good chance.
Now Sweden views itself as a national embarrassment based on their international standing. 15 years ago they were near the top, and now they are below average. Scandinavians are a proud lot, and to have a neighbor like Finland getting all the great headlines about their education system while they are below average is humiliating for a country like Sweden. A lesson can be learned here for Americans, and especially Delawareans, about what can happen when corporate entities push their way into schools.