Scandinavian Education in the News
Andrew Coulson takes issue with a news story that describes Swedish education as “socialist.” Although schools in Sweden are financed by the government, they compete vigorously for students. Some of the schools are run by for-profit companies, which earn a profit when they deliver satisfactory education for less than the amount of state funding they receive. Who decides whether the instruction is satisfactory? The students and parents, who can always switch to whatever school looks better. Coulson points out that if Sweden’s system is socialist, the American public education system, which assigns kids to government-run schools based on geographic location, is far worse.
Coulson’s right: It’s sloppy reporting to assume America’s education system is normal while calling Sweden’s “socialist.” That’s not to say that we should drop everything and try to be just like Sweden. There are some aspects of the Swedish system that we don’t need to emulate. For example, Swedish schools aren’t allowed to charge tuition, so all schools are limited by the amount of the state voucher. They are also required to teach a national curriculum, although they have some leeway to experiment with teaching methods and to make other changes.
The good news is that we already have some of the positive aspects of Sweden’s system in place here. Parents can choose charter schools or the Missouri Virtual Instruction Program as alternatives to their assigned public schools. Unfortunately, these options are limited — charter schools operate in only two cities of Missouri, and the online instruction program is a monolithic virtual academy rather than competing programs. Sweden is impressive because it has made educational choices available to all Swedish families, and the number of independent schools there has soared since they reformed the system. We don’t need to be just like Sweden, but we should learn from them and offer a wider array of choices to everybody.