What School Choice Did To Sweden: A Cautionary Example from Diane Ravitch

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development convened a meeting last spring in Portugal to discuss the condition and future of the teaching profession. Each nation present discussed its perspective. The following is the official summary of the presentation by the Minister of Education from Sweden.

To download the full report click here.

SCHOOL CHOICE

Sweden:

In the early 1990s, Sweden moved to a school choice system in which the education system changed from one where the vast majority of students attended the public school in their catchment area to one where many students opt for a school other than their local school, and where schools that are privately run and publicly funded compete with traditional public schools.

Over the past twenty-five years of this unlimited choice system in Sweden, student performance on PISA has declined from near the OECD average to significantly below the OECD average in 2012, a steeper decline than in any other country. The variation in performance between schools also increased and there is now a larger impact of socioeconomic status on student performance than in the past.

Swedish participants described Sweden’s education system as an object lesson in how not to design a school choice system. Housing segregation leads to school segregation, and if you add to that market mechanisms and weak regulation, the result is markedly increased inequity.

The decline in achievement has fueled a national debate about how to improve the Swedish education system, from revising school choice arrangements to improve the access of disadvantaged families to information about school choices and the introduction of controlled choice schemes that supplement parental choice to ensure a more diverse distribution of students among schools. The Swedish government wants to modify its school choice system but this is politically difficult.

The Swedish government is increasing resources to poor schools but has not been able to solve its problem of teacher shortages, which affect the poorest schools the most. The poorest schools have the least experienced teachers, who are overwhelmed by the many problems they face. Teachers also lack time to work with students, and surveys of students report a lack of trustful relations with teachers.

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