Meet the two coolest things ever made in Sweden.
(Guest post by Greg Forster)
In the new issue of NR, the invaluable Kevin Williamson profiles Massachussetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren. He writes that in a book they co-wrote, Warren and her daughter “offer an array of policy prescriptions ranging from the mild (decoupling public-school assignments from geography) to the Swedish (subsidizing stay-at-home parents)…”
Oops! It’s actually “decoupling public-school assignments from geography” that’s the Swedish idea here. Sweden has had a national system of universal school vouchers since 1993. They’ve even developed economically sustainable for-profit school companies. It’s so successful that about a year ago the Social Democratic Party, which I’m tempted to describe as Sweden’s socialist party but will instead describe as its more socialist party, decided not to try to kick the for-profit schools out of the system.
Williamson does have a number of good words for Warren, including this nugget, which ed reformers will particularly enjoy reading:
Warren taught public school briefly and then quit rather than go through the obligatory, despair-inducing credentialing rigmarole (a fact that speaks better of her than almost anything else you’ll learn).
Yes, but let’s not oversimplify the Swedish system. For, the private school system in this country would have as much objection to the Swedes system as many Americans currently have to vouchers use in the private sector. For example, any private school using the voucher must adopt and use the “national curriculum” and they must agree to be regulated by all “state” and national exams/standards. If an excess of students apply, the private school must give priority admission to neighborhood, date of application, and sibling admission. Basically, if I may point out as others have – they don’t really have a voucher system that can be used by private schools. For all intents and purposes the “private” schools participating in the system are what we call “charter schools.” So, they don’t really have a voucher system, they have a charter schools.
You can only say that if you’re prepared to say that in countries like England, where virtually all schools are requitred to teach the national curriculum, there are no “private schools” at all. Excuse me for saying so, but that seems an awful lot like twisting words to score debate points.
It would be better to say that virtually all of Europe lacks any serious tradition of school (or church) independence from the national state, such that government control of curriculum in all schools public and private is the norm in virtually all of Europe, independent of governance arrangements such as school choice versus government ownership.
I think we are all pleased to see you call for the abolition of American school districts and the conversion of district schools into charter schools.
Welcome aboard Michael!
While I sense a little snarkiness in your comment, Matt, I am a serious proponent of charter schools. In fact, here in Colorado, I feel the combined policies of open enrollment and the expansion of charter schools are the key to education reform. In fact, as I’ve followed the charter movement, and seen the lottery system exploited in movies like Waiting for Superman, my gut reaction has always been, let them go. Forget the lottery and let any kid who wants to go in – and the money should follow. For that reason, I still prefer the charter system to vouchers which could be used at private schools – though I’m not totally opposed to a more Swedish (or Singapore) style voucher system.
That said, I do not see the abolition of the district system. For, I believe there always will and should be neighborhood schools. Small percentages of parents/students actually pursue the option. For whatever the reason, they should simply be able to enroll their kid in the school down the street. However, if significant numbers of motivated kids choose to go to more rigorous schools – which have exit policies for under-performing students as is the case in Denver with West Denver Prep and Denver Schools of Science and Tech (among others) – then there will be collateral effects on the environment at the school where others remain. And, I’m not arguing they are unteachable or that failure should be accepted. I’m simply being realistic about kids and public education.
Thus, I would argue for a concession from voucher/charter advocates that if the charters draw a certain degree of more motivated students, we should acknowledge that the schools and students who are left behind are naturally going to struggle more. Charters are a great example of progress in education – but they are no panacea. And that must be part of the discussion.
I would make that concession if the empirical evidence supported it. Instead, the empirical evidence consistently shows public schools exposed to charters or vouchers show improved academic performance.
And I’m sick to death of people saying “it’s not a panacea.” Did you see Jay’s post on the kid with cerebral palsey who was being abused in his public school? Easy for you to sniff “vouchers aren’t a panacea” and feel sophisticated. Tell it to that kid’s parents.
What else you got?
You have empirical evidence that proves vouchers and charters are a 100% guarantee to improve the education of all kids? I’d love to see it. Because the empirical evidence shows only 20% of charters outperform the neighborhood schools. And 40% perform worse. Thus, it’s not a “panacea.”
Of course, on a districtwide example, the opportunity for charters and vouchers show improvement because a certain percentage of students/parents will seek out a more challenging and productive environment. But not a 100%. And the evidence also shows that proximity to home/work is a primary factor in a parent’s choice – even when accessing charters/vouchers. So, let’s not pretend that 100% of students are actively pursuing the most rigorous and successful educational model all the time.
And an anecdotal example of one kid who was successful is not evidence of a panacea, Greg. You’re being too emotional with the issue. I, in no way, dismissed stories of kids who were being “abused in school,” and that’s an absurd extrapolation/application of my point. I’m neither sniffing, nor feeling sophisticated. But your “what else you got” question certainly smells of such a mindset.
For those of us dedicated to to teaching America’s children, the “rigamarole ” required to get certification is merely one of the obstacles we’ve faced to fulfill our mission.
It DOES say alot about Ms. Warren. It says she recognizes BS when she sees it AND should be nowhere near a classroom because she doesn’t have the mission needed to do the job well.