Marc Tucker has more faith in standardized tests than I do, and more faith in the value of  international comparisons based on standardized tests. But despite our disagreements, he has been a thoughtful commentator on the failure of market reforms.


This article explains why “market reforms” don’t work. 


This is a listing of the top ten nations known for outstanding scores.


While we are on the subject of “free markets” and schooling, it is important to be aware of the dismal results in Sweden after it introduced policies like those advocated by the Trump administration.


Here is one description. Swedish education was once the pride of the nation.


Sweden, once regarded as a byword for high-quality education – free preschool, formal school at seven, no fee-paying private schools, no selection – has seen its scores in Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) assessments plummet in recent years.


Fridolin [the Swedish education minister] acknowledges the sense of shame and embarrassment felt in Sweden. “The problem is that this embarrassment is carried by the teachers. But this embarrassment should be carried by us politicians. We were the ones who created the system. It’s a political failure,” he says….


Fridolin, who has a degree in teaching, says not only have scores in international tests gone down, inequality in the Swedish system has gone up. “This used to be the great success story of the Swedish system,” he said. “We could offer every child, regardless of their background, a really good education. The parents’ educational background is showing more and more in their grades.


“Instead of breaking up social differences and class differences in the education system, we have a system today that’s creating a wider gap between the ones that have and the ones that have not….”


Sweden’s decline follows a raft of changes in the late 1980s and early 1990s that transformed the educational landscape. A system that had been largely centralised was devolved to municipalities, teacher training was changed, exams and grades changed, and a voucher system was introduced giving parents the power to choose which school to send their child to. Each child was funded by the state, and if the child chose to go do a different school, the money would follow.


Then there is this article from the British New Statesman (which is concerned because its conservative government wants to follow the Swedish path to failure):


We have seen the future in Sweden and it works,” Michael Gove told the Daily Mail in 2008. A few months earlier, Gove and other leading Conservatives had visited schools in Sweden for the first time, a journey that they would repeat in the following years.


“They’ve done something amazing,” he said in a video made for that year’s Tory party conference. “They challenged the conventional wisdom [and] decided that it was parents, not bureaucrats, who should be in charge.”


Sweden’s 800 friskolor make up about a sixth of the country’s state-funded schools. Introduced in 1992, they gave parents the ability to use state spending on education to set up new schools and decide where to send their children. In that decade, friskolor were made easier to set up, with companies given the right to make a profit from running them; other schools were decentralised and a voucher system, allowing parents to choose their children’s school and then awarding funds based on parental demand, was introduced. Tony Blair praised the Swedish model in a 2005 government white paper. For Tories, Sweden’s schools held out a simple message: that competition could transform state education in England.


That message was appealing because it came from “a social-democratic country, far to the left of Britain”, as Gove put it. This was true but only up to a point. The reforms that he enacted after 2010 – notably the introduction of free schools, the speeding up of academisation and changes to the curriculum – owed as much to US “charter schools” as to educational reforms in Sweden.


Even as Gove cited Sweden’s successes in education, its international standing was in decline. Since 2000, standards there have fallen more than in any other country ranked by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) using tests known as the Programme for International Student Assessment, or Pisa. Results released in 2013 rated Sweden below Denmark, Finland and Norway by all three measures – reading, maths and science – and worse than the UK. In 2014, 14 per cent of students performed too poorly to qualify for secondary school at 16, a deterioration of 10 per cent on the 2006 level.


Last year, the OECD published a report in which it warned: “Sweden’s school system is in need of urgent change.” Underinvestment is not the problem. The Swedes spend more on education as a percentage of GDP (6.8 per cent) than the OECD average (5.6 per cent). The report describes an education system in chaos, hopelessly fragmented, failing those who need it most. It criticises its “unclear education priorities”, “lack in coherence” and “unreliable data”.



Exactly the path that Trump, DeVos. ALEC, the Friedman Foundation, the Center for Education Reform, the ubiquitous libertarian think tanks, and the “corporate reformers” want to follow. But they can’t or shouldn’t plead ignorance. We know–they should know–that privatization and free markets in schooling produce inequity and lower performance.