"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

Search This Blog

Friday, July 15, 2011

Successful Swedish For-Profit Schools and a Letter to Cato.

Cato has an interesting article today about successful Swedish for-profit schools. Andrew Coulson writes:

In 1992, Sweden introduced a nation-wide public and private school choice program. Private schools went from enrolling virtually no one to enrolling about 11 percent of the entire student population–a figure that continues to grow with each passing year. Moreover, recent research finds that these new private schools outperform the public schools. And which private schools are growing the fastest? The chains of for-profit schools that are in greatest demand, and that have an incentive to respond to that demand by opening new locations. The popular non-profit private schools tend not to expand much over time.

Given that Sweden is universally regarded as a liberal nation, and the U.S. is seen as a bastion of capitalism, one wonders why they got to the brass ring first, and why it is taking us so very long to get there now that they’ve shown us the way.

The results are promising but I was curious how Swedish schools were structured in terms of mandates and nationalized curriculum, and if for-profit schools could be successful in the United States as well.

Read the Cato article first and then my letter sent to Cato with questions on if this is something that could realistically be accomplished in the United States because of federal mandates and common core standards:


I am responding to the piece on the Cato blog by Andrew Coulson: "Sweden Profits from For-Profit Schools".

The statistics look promising for educational results for those students, and I am assuming the article was implying this would be a good alternative for American public educated students. I was curious on how exactly how Swedish for-profit schools operated in terms of mandates and nationalized assessments and curriculum.

It seems by reading this description of Swedish schools, they have quite a bit of autonomy in the upper grades in educating students, rather than the "one size fits all" plan touted by Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, NGA, CCSSO and others. However, in the lower grades, there is not much choice and there apparently have been critics of tailoring the curriculum to a "common" level as it seems to hold high achieving children back:

Students in Swedish primary schools have very limited choice in their education. For instance, advanced mathematics courses are available only during the spring term of the seventh grade (the year students will turn 13); until then, all students take the same basic mathematics courses. A similar situation applies to most other subjects. This is the result of a concerted effort to streamline education, in the hope that this will favor students from families with lower levels of educational attainment. Critics claim it has lowered results significantly among talented students without raising them within other groups.

This reminds me of the common core standards being pushed through by Arne Duncan. The article then addresses the various options available to the students as they age:

At the age of 13 (sometimes even 12), more choices become available: the student is allowed to pick from a more demanding course in higher math, chemistry/physics, biology, art and music. However, this varies from school to school. Sometimes more practical courses are also available for students to elect, such as carpentry or electronics. All students between 12–15 years old take math, English, Swedish, foreign language, NO (physics, chemistry, biology, technology), SO (social studies, history, religion, geography), physical education, art, music, carpentry or sewing and a course in home economics.

After students graduate from the nine-year compulsory school, the selection of education, both private and state owned, becomes much broader. As all education is publicly funded, all students have a large selection of choices, which are quite different from some other western nations, where some education costs more money than others, thus limiting the choice for those with a less fortunate background.

The Swedish School Plan also highly encourages an individualistic education in which each student has their specific means met. The students are also encouraged not only to participate in student councils, but also to actually form the education they desire together with their teachers, choosing what books to read and how to balance practice with theory depending on which the individual students find most enjoyable to learn from.

Perhaps if our schools were allowed to teach children based on ability and interest, rather than a "common" educational plan, we could have successful for profit schools as well. If we are seriously interested in providing great education for American children and if the answer is to provide it through for-profit schools, then those schools cannot be operated under the same restrictive mandates as traditional public schools. Otherwise, the "choice" is false. The delivery of the services may be different, but the educational foundation is the same and real "reform" cannot be realized.

Why aren't politicians and the DOE putting plans into place that will truly educate children instead of trying to "privatize" education that is still under federal mandates which really makes it no different from a public school education? Who and what are they trying to serve? Students or for-profit schools that cannot operate in an autonomous manner? For-profit schools might just work in the United States, but maybe what would make them successful is they are not constricted with common core and Race to the Top like mandates.

And I'm just curious: Sweden does not allow homeschooling in most situations. Is that a bothersome law to you at Cato?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Keep it clean and constructive. We reserve the right to delete comments that are profane, off topic, or spam.

Site Meter