In 1992 Sweden introduced school vouchers. As in America, vouchers gave parents greater choice of schools—something that is anathema to teachers’ unions. The academic performance of Swedish schoolchildren has been declining ever since.
The Economist reports:
Swedish students used to lead international rankings, but the country’s education standards have been declining for years. Indeed 15-year-olds in Sweden perform well below average in mathematics, reading and science when compared with students from other OECD countries, according to the most recent global ranking.
And yet, The Economist asks, does the fault lie with the voucher system or is there another culprit hiding in the wings?
Apparently there is. It’s called individualized learning-- allowing each child to learn at his own pace on his own terms.
The Economist explains:
But there are good reasons to believe the problem is not school choice. This is because Sweden's voucher scheme coincided with a host of other reforms, most significantly a change in the national curriculum in 1994, which emphasised individualised learning over teacher instruction. A comprehensive study (in Swedish) published in 2010 found that this was among the most plausible explanations for the drop in student performance. (Sweden duly changed its national curriculum again in 2011.) Norwegian schools implemented similar curriculum changes in the 1990s and saw similar unfortunate results, whereas Finland concentrated on teacher-led pedagogy and saw improvements in student performance.
And that’s not all:
First, the “disciplinary climate” in classrooms is poor; teachers seem to have little control over unruly students. Second, Sweden has the highest proportion of students who are late for school among all OECD member states. Third, students study less and report lower levels of perseverance than peers from other countries. Fourth, a typical 15-year-old in Sweden receives 741 hours of instruction time in school per year whereas the average OECD student receives 942 hours.
Apparently, much of this derives from individualized learning:
… it should not come as a surprise that relieving teachers of some of their responsibilities and authority took a toll on discipline in classrooms and vastly reduced the instruction time that students receive.
Allowing each child to follow his bliss produces near-anarchy in the classroom. The result is that no one can learn.
As for vouchers, they were most beneficial to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
One study found:
This study does not explain why disadvantaged students appear to benefit more from school choice than their peers. But a plausible reason is that many poor Swedish neighbourhoods have been plagued with bad schools, and vouchers meant students were no longer forced to attend them. Indeed, the authors find that after school choice was introduced, disadvantaged students were more likely than other students to attend schools that were private and far from home.