Sweden: Doubts grow about success of Sweden's free schools experiment
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Sweden: Doubts grow about success of Sweden's free schools experiment

Malmö : Sweden | Sep 14, 2011 at 3:18 PM PDT
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Sweden has both a public school system and also competing for profit so-called free schools. The two systems compete with each other. To compete for declining numbers of students schools in the Swedish port city of Malmo entice students with new laptops on loan.

Mua Stanbery, 16, who has just started at ProCivitas, the most popular of the town's profit-making free schools says:"I've just got a mini-HP, but you can pay a bit more and get a Mac or an iPad". Students arriving at the Thoren Business School have to make do with a Dell. But Pauli Gymnasium, the biggest municipal-run school, this year decided to give MacBooks to all its students to stave off private competition. But the system of free schools pioneered in the early 1990's that has caused this competition is now under assault.

SNS, a prominent business-funded thinktank, issued a report last Wednesday that sharply reversed its normal pro-market stance. The entry of private operators into state-funded education, it argued, had increased segregation and may not have improved educational standards at all.

Dr Jonas Vlachos the report author says:"The empirical evidence showing that competition is good is not really credible, because they can't distinguish between grade inflation and real gains," Vlachos, an associate professor of economics at Stockholm University, is standing his ground against critics. His argument is based on his finding that students who entered gymnasium [sixth form] from free secondary schools on average went on to get lower grades over the next three years than those who had entered with the same grade from municipal secondary schools.

Vlachos suspects that, because schools rather than external examining boards mark students, free schools are more generous than municipal schools in the grades they give. "There's been tremendous grade inflation in Swedish schools," he said.

Not just the Vlachos study has brought the program under fire. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development published the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment that shows Sweden following behind in educational attainment.

This showed that Swedish students had dropped to 19th place out of 57 countries for literacy, to 24th in maths, and to 28th in science. This compared with 9th, 17th and 16th in studies done in 2000, 2003 and 2006 respectively. Swedes who are used to coming near the top of just about every human development index, were appalled. But the country has been for some time dismantling the social democratic programs of the past and adopted a much more free market approach.

Jan Björklund, the minister of education said:"Loopholes in the legislation have meant that free schools can elect not to have a library, student counselling and school nurses," "And as they get just as much money as the municipal schools, the owners have been able to withdraw the surplus."

Neither the government or even the opposition Social Democratic party are suggesting the reforms be reversed but a poll carried out this year by Synovate found that Swedes who want to ban companies from operating schools for profit now outnumber those that don't. But then the ban would also lose parties a source of funds from companies that support these supposed reforms.

The for profit schools free schools get the same level of grants as regular municipal schools. For much more see this site.

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Students at ProCivitas free school in Malmö, Sweden. Young Swedes are used to coming near the top of just about every human development index.Of late after educational reforms their ratings have dropped. Photograph: Richard Orange for the Observer
northsunm32 is based in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada, and is an Anchor for Allvoices.
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  • Students at ProCivitas free school in Malmö, Sweden. Young Swedes are used to coming near the top of just about every human development index.Of late after educational reforms their ratings have dropped. Photograph: Richard Orange for the Observer

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