What can the U.S. learn from Sweden's declining scores?
- To better understand the nuances of the "school choice" debate, the Economist zeros in on Sweden — a country that adopted "school vouchers" in 1992.
- While Sweden is often touted for its superior education, its test scores and rankings among the 15 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries has been on the decline. School choice critics like Columbia Business School's Raymond Fisman argue that the decrease is a byproduct of choice and the "Swedish voucher scheme".
- The Economist, however, argues that it would be difficult to pin the decrease in scores on "school choice" since the country accepted a slew of education reforms during the same period, including changing its national curriculum in 1994 to emphasize individual instruction over teacher-centered classrooms.
According to The Economist, the change in curriculum is the most plausible culprit for declining test scores. The article cites a Swedish study that found Norwegian test scores declining in the 1990s when it also implemented individual learning, while Finland's scores improved as it "concentrated on teacher-led pedagogy".
According to the OECD, which gives a hypothesis for each country's score, Sweden has most likely dropped in rankings due to poor classroom management, consistently late students, less grit, and less classroom instruction time.
While The Economist concludes the article saying Vouchers are not the the problem and could actually have small benefits (stressing the small), there's another point to be made. While the United States is not practicing individual instruction to the same degree as Sweden, it is a current trend that is being pitched pretty hard here. Perhaps reconsidering the real benefits of a totally "individualized" classroom is important. A good place to start that conversation may be by looking at the recent investigation into Detroit's Education Achievement Authority, where "individualized instruction" (aided solely by technology) had questionable outcomes for the students.
- The Economist Education reform: A good choice?