Archives for category: International

The leader of the opposition to Putin’s dictatorial rule is Alexei Navalny. He has campaigned tirelessly and fearlessly against Putin and his corruption. Five months ago, Navalny was poisoned while flying back to Moscow and nearly died. He survived only because he was air-lifted to a German hospital where doctors saved his life and identified the poison, a Soviet-era military-grade chemical agent.

On Sunday, Navalny courageously returned from Berlin to Russia, despite Putin’s threat to detain him. He traveled with his wife Yulia. Navalny said he was a citizen of Russia and was looking forward to going home. His supporters waited for him at the main Moscow airport but the flight was diverted to another airport.

Standing in the airport after landing, Navalny told journalists, “This is the best day in the past five months.””Everyone is asking me if I’m scared. I am not afraid,” he added. “I feel completely fine walking towards the border control. I know that I will leave and go home because I’m right and all the criminal cases against me are fabricated.”

He was detained by local police as soon as he exited border control and was whisked away, without his wife or lawyer.

Trump’s good friend Vlad is a corrupt thug.

Last December, another critic of Putin returned from a year of political exile. He was sent to a remote and isolated Arctic outpost.

On a desolate archipelago in the Russian Arctic — so far from civilization that it was a Soviet nuclear bomb test site in the 1960s — sits a leaky metal hut shaped like a barrel with an icon and a photograph of President Vladimir Putin on the wall inside.
There are no trees, no Internet, no landline or mobile phone connection and no water on site except for melted snow and ice. Hungry polar bears are all around. So the outpost at Cherakino seems a perfect place to revive the practice of political exile in Putin’s Russia, opposition leaders contend.


It’s here that Russia’s military sent one of the country’s most promising opposition politicians, Ruslan Shaveddinov, after security agents in black masks broke down his door and seized him from his home in December 2019...

Russian authorities have sent many other opposition members for compulsory military service in remote and harsh locations. The aim, Shaveddinov contended, is to deter political activism among a new generation, many of whom are alienated by Putin’s repression and attempts to curb Internet freedom.
“With every year it gets worse and worse and there is less and less freedom,” he said. “There are more political repressions and more political prisoners, and fewer possibilities for the opposition to operate.


“The machine eats and destroys everyone,” he said, referring to Russia’s repressive security apparatus. He believes he was sent to the “botchka” to break him — “but I was not going to give them that gift…”

When he returned, Shaveddinov carried home a bag full of letters from supporters and well-wishers. A final digital footprint of his journey remains: The “botchka” was marked on Google Maps by supporters, nicknamed “Shaveddinov’s Gas Station,” attracting a bunch of five-star “reviews” that are actually messages of support.
“There are bears. It’s cold. But the company is great,” wrote one supporter, Mikhail Samin.

Larry Cuban turned his blog over to retired Swedish teacher Sara Hjelm, a reader of his blog, who took the opportunity to warn American readers about the dangers of the free-market reforms adopted in Sweden.

Sweden adopted the “reforms” in 1992, allowing families to choose any school, public or private, and send their child there with his/her taxpayer dollars. It is the “backpack full of cash” theory behind the demand for school choice, as advocated here by Betsy DeVos and Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform. The voucher system has led to a growing industry of private, for-profit schools, called “free schools.” Two of the companies that run “free schools” are listed on the stock exchange. They are comparable to our charter schools.

Hjelm writes:

The huge private for profit school companies exist on all these levels, competing for student vouchers. Largest part is in the upper secondary where more than 30% of students today attend such a free school. By cherry-picking “easy” students through aggressive marketing to parents (we offer good behavior, academic excellence, high grades, etc.) they attract students that are more or less self going and enable a profit for shareholders or owner consortiums by keeping wages low, having large groups, substituting some teaching for on-line learning, employing teachers from abroad on short term contracts and more hours of teaching, etc. 

As a result real student achievements and school climate are mediocre, about the same as in municipal schools and with a considerable grade inflation to that according to PISA and national tests. Students from municipal upper secondary schools have a slightly lower grade point average than students from free upper secondary schools, but still generally show higher performance and less dropouts during the first year of higher education.

There are also plenty of examples of parents told that their child does not really fit in, that the support needed is not available and they should seek a more suitable school. With a queue system for admission on compulsory level, where you can put your baby in line at birth, they keep all groups filled. And being private businesses they only have to share whatever follow up data they choose due to international business and stock market legislation of secrecy. If a school is not as profitable as expected it can simply close down with short notice or apply for bankruptcy when as much monetary resources as possible have been moved somewhere else in the organization. Stranded students are the municipality’s responsibility. The risk is minimal. At least for now.

She recognizes the important role of venture capital in the expansion of the publicly-subsidized “free schools,” and notes that it has led to persistent cost-cutting.

What matters most in this free-market system, she concludes, is profit, not education, not students.

This is a very worthwhile read.

In the early 2000s, media mogul Rupert Murdoch brought New York City Chancellor Joel Klein to Australia to spread the word about the “New York City Miracle.” This alleged miracle was as phony as George W. Bush’s “Texas Miracle,” all hat and no cattle. Unfortunately, the Education Minister (who subsequently became Australia’s Prime Minister) bought the tale and imposed national standards and testing on the entire country.

Pasi Sahlberg, teacher, researcher, scholar, is currently based in Australia. As a chronicler of Finnish education (see his book Finnish Lessons), Sahlberg has achieved international renown. In Australia, he heads the Gorski Institute and is trying to change the course of Australian education.

Pasi Sahlberg writes here about Australia’s refusal to own up to the dire consequences of the wrong path that it has taken. It is not too late to change course.

He writes that Australia has done a great job in controlling the coronavirus, but it has been unwilling to bring the same focus to education.

Like the United States, Australia continues to fund failure.

He writes:

Despite frequent school reforms, educational performance has not been improving. Indeed, it has been in decline compared to many other countries. International data makes that clear. Australian Council for Educational Research concluded it by saying that student performance in Australia has been in long-term decline. The OECD statistics reveal system-wide prevalence of inequity that is boosted by education resource gaps between Australian schools that are among the largest in the world. And UNICEF has ranked Australia’s education among the most unequal in rich countries.

Often the inspiration for the education reforms in Australia are imported from the US and Britain. Yet, the evidence base to support many of these grand policy changes here is weak or non-existent. For instance, research shows that market-based models of school choice, test-based accountability, and privatisation of public education have been wrong strategies for world-class education elsewhere. Yet, market models have been the cornerstone of Australian school policies since the early 2000s.

Australian education is failing because of reform, not in spite of it.

Per Kornhall is a widely published Swedish scholar of education. He wrote this post for the blog. Sweden and Chile are the two nations that decided to introduce privatization into significant parts of their national school system. The results are alarming. Since the same free-market forces are at work in the United States, it is important to follow events and trends in those nations.

The school experiment that split Sweden

Sweden is often seen in the United States as part of a homogeneous Nordic sphere; small cold countries with midnight sun, fair-skinned population, small social democratic idylls with equal free healthcare, good schools and a high standard of living. The reality is never as simple as our prejudices and one of the things that now characterizes Sweden is that we in important areas of society have left the common Nordic tradition of a cohesive school.

The Swedish school was built on a liberal and social democratic basis, starting with an elementary school reform in 1878 and then with careful and scientific work to design a “School for all”. The unit school that would serve the entire population was launched in the 1960s and all pieces were in place in the late 1970s. It was a building where thorough investigations, researchers and politicians were used and collaborated. One of the countries that looked at Sweden and tried to emulate the system that was built was Finland. But because Finland, unlike Sweden, had a poor economy after World War II, it took them a little longer to build a similar system. We will return to them.

When a Swedish school minister, Göran Persson, in a reform proposal in 1990 wanted to summarize the Swedish school’s situation, he wrote that it was a world leader in knowledge and above all in equivalence. He brags that in Sweden it does not matter which school you go to. The quality of education was the same all over the country, in all schools, and he believed that it was the strong central control of the school that had had this effect.

But the strange thing about this text is that it is part of a reform proposal that begins the great Swedish school experiment. This is the text where this successful Swedish equivalent school begins to be dismantled. The first step was that the state backed away and handed over responsibility for the teachers ‘and principals’ appointments, and salaries to the country’s 290 municipalities.

At the same time, a change was made in the school’s control system. New Public Management had begun to spread around the world and the Swedish school’s rigid rule management was to be replaced by goal management and the teachers would go from a well-paid collective with predictable salary development to individualized salaries. Governance and collective was to be replaced by competition and individuality. And it did not stop at teachers’ salaries.

In 1992, due to the municipalization, the school was in somewhat of a limbo state. The decentralization was carried out (despite strong protests from teachers), and the state authority that had so far managed the school system was dismantled. At that time Sweden got a prime minister, Carl Bildt, with strong connections to the United States. Among other things, he had been educated in the United States on an American scholarship. (He collaborated early in his career with US authorities so that they had access to otherwise secret information about talks before a government was formed in Sweden, for example). He now led a government with a clear ambition for a system change and a revolutionary neoliberal agenda. An agenda that stipulated that citizens should become customers in a welfare market system.

The new government was taking advantage of the vacuum in the school area and quickly implemented a private school reform that was taken directly from Rose and Milton Friedman’s book “Freedom to Chose”. It was a reform that stood in stark contrast to previous reforms in the school area in Sweden. It was not preceded by any investigation and does not contain any calculations of consequences. It was a system change they wanted, and they did not want to waste time on details and investigations (as can be seen in this interesting document from the time: http://kornhall.net/resources/Odd/OECD-1992.pdf).

School systems are large and slow systems. The consequences of the changes in the regulation first began to become visible only on a small scale and have since grown to become very powerful in the last decades. In addition to a small increase in the last two times of the PISA survey, Sweden, for example, between 2000 and 2012 was the country that fell the most of all countries in results. This created a PISA shock in Sweden which led mostly to the teaching staff being blamed for this.

But really, it was obvious in the OECD analyses what had happened, namely that what had been the Swedish school’s great pride: equality, had begun to deteriorate. What drove the fall in Swedish results in PISA was that the low-achieving students had started to perform much worse. It became clear that the school–that was based on the basic values ​​of both the French Revolution, Protestantism and Social Democracy on the equal value of all human beings–no longer existed. The differences between schools have increased dramatically. This at the same time as the status of the teaching profession declined and an increasingly serious shortage of teachers was established. 

But, an interesting thing about the Swedish market experiment is that we have a control group. Finland, which I mentioned earlier, more or less copied the Swedish system but did not follow Sweden’s into the neoliberal agenda. In recent decades, Finland has also dazzled the world with its results in PISA and other surveys, both in terms of results and not least in terms of equivalence. It really doesn’t matter which school you go to in Finland. In all schools, you are met by qualitative teaching delivered by a skilled and motivated teaching staff. So we have a control group. We know that the Swedish reforms led to an overall worse system. Yet so far there are no real attempts to turn back the clock in Sweden. I will come back to why at the end of this post.

What were the decisions that were made in the early 1990s and what were their consequences? I have already mentioned the municipalization, the abolition of regulations in favor of goal management, and the individualization of the teaching staff. What the neoliberal government led by Carl Bildt added to this was that it opened up state funding of schools for private schools, also such that were run for profit. In the case of establishment of private schools, the responsibility was moved away from the municipalities so that whoever wanted to start a school could do that wherever they wanted without local authorities being able to say anything about it. It was the principles of the free market that should apply. The private schools get paid as much per pupil as the pupils of the municipal schools in that municipality receive on average. Instead of placing students in the nearest school, school choice was also introduced.

So what has happened to the national school system in Sweden is that from being a societal commitment to ensuring that every child has a good school in their vicinity, it became a school market. Parents “buy” an education through their school choice and the school vouchers that follow the student. This voucher is the only funding a school in a typical municipality in Sweden has as income. You do not balance at all according to class size, fixed costs or any such variable. The only mechanism that remains to ensure that the school’s compensatory mission is not too compromised is a writing in the national Educational Act that the municipalities should weight school fees so that children with tougher conditions have a higher one. But there is no national control over what such a distribution should look like.

It may be important to say this again. Sweden thus went from a nationally equivalent and high-performing school system to a mediocre and unequal school market. A market where it is important for everyone, public as well as private, to relate to the fact that parents and students are customers.

This has for example led to extensive grade inflation. Since grades become something you can compete with, there is pressure on teachers to set high grades. This had, for example, the consequence that during the period in which the fall in knowledge results was shown by the OECD in PISA surveys, the average grade rose in Sweden. 

Two other important consequences of the market are the shortage of teachers and a galloping segregation. In a typical Swedish city today, children from well-educated parents gather in for profit private schools, while working class children and immigrants attend the schools of the public school system.

In fact, this division is also what gives rise to the profits of the large private school groups. Tuition fees have become a lucrative asset. Take in many students, hire a few cheap teachers and you have money ticking into your account. But the equation is based on the fact that you attract children to your school who are relatively easy to teach, i.e. children of highly educated people. These children do not need as many resources. Which enables you to make a profit in schools.

And we’re talking about a lot of money. We are talking about tens of millions of dollars per school group in pure profit per year. The incentive to make money in schools is so strong that it is expected that for the capital Stockholm, the majority of students will soon go to such groups’ schools rather than to public ones. Then the school system in Stockholm will no longer be public but be mainly privately owned.

In addition to a shortage of teachers (30% of those who teach Swedish K1-9 are now not trained teachers), reduced knowledge results, inequality and segregation, the market model has also led to another consequence that strikes at the heart of Swedish public culture and self-image. Sweden has traditionally had very little corruption at the state level. It is a country that is usually among the least corrupt when comparing different countries. One of the reasons, and something that Swedes are usually very proud of, is what is called the principle of openness. That is, everything that is paid for by tax money must be fully transparent. Both as a journalist and as a citizen, you must be able to request the documents you want to see from a municipal or state authority at any time. It should be possible to hold the administration accountable quite simply. But this completely disappeared from the school sector a few months ago.

The Swedish statistical authority suddenly realized that Swedish school statistics should be regarded as trade secrets and thus could not be disclosed or made available. This means that grades and other results from Swedish schools, the institution central to democracy, are now secret. This has upset many, but we do not yet see that this will lead to any major change in the system. Sweden is right now trading transparency for the right to make money on schools.

The contrast to Finland could not be greater, but instead the situation begins to resemble a completely different country. There is only one country that went down the same path as Sweden and that was Chile. Also introduced in Chile, albeit 10 years earlier, and as a result of the US-backed coup d’etat where a school system based on Milton Friedman’s ideas and directed by the so-called Chicago boys (University of Chicago, where Professor Friedman was based). Over time, the school system has also passed into private hands. School choice and school fees and a school market were also introduced there. Here, too, the gaps in the school system grew to finally explode a few years ago in student revolts that forced changes. The consequences of the neoliberal reforms simply became too serious and central elements of the market model are now reversed in Chile, such as the profit motive for running a school.

Despite all the consequences in Sweden which are clearly described also in Swedish governments’ own investigations, in PISA data, in other reports from the OECD and in research, and despite the fact that all teachers’ unions as well as school leaders’ unions agree that the system is not good, there is no real political will to create a change. A majority of parties in the Swedish parliament is for the current system. Why?

One of the answers is a bit up in this text. There are millions of reasons for the companies that make big money on the Swedish model to try to keep the system intact. What has been done in Sweden has not only created a school market but has also let in a completely different driving force in the debate about the school. The school has become an important place for the actors’ lobby organizations, think tanks and networking. They are not prepared to give up their golden calf without a fight. And as long as you have the children of the most influential parents in your schools, you also have no pressure from parents for change in a system that serves the majority worse than it did before.

For our Nordic neighbors, the Swedish situation is now a clear warning signal as to why market and school are not a good combination. In the control group, Finland, just a short boat ride away from Stockholm, children continue to mix in the same schools, being taught by motivated and well-trained teachers. For them, Sweden has become the deterrent example. The outside world needs to be aware that the companies that make money at Swedish schools want to see similar systems in other countries.

In the dark picture I drew, one must remember that Sweden is a relatively rich country. That all children are allowed to go to school, that there is a well-developed preschool, that very many children go on to higher education and so on. Compared to many school systems in the world, it works well, but compared to our Nordic neighbors, we are on a journey towards inequality, larger gaps and polarization, which worries me, teachers, school leaders and a large part of the population. Just recently, a lively debate is also taking place, where the priority of profit interests in the debate is questioned in editorials of right-wing newspapers. 

But it took a long time before we got there. The development, both in Sweden and Chile, is a strong warning to other countries not to go the same way.

For more information on how a Swedish school market was established, see Chapter 4 in Frank Adamson et al. (2016). Global Education Reform. How Privatization and Public Investment Influence Education Outcomes. New York. Routledge.

Per Kornhall, per@kornhall.sehttp://kornhall.net/styled-8/

With the upsurge in the coronavirus, the U.S. and Europe are facing new shutdowns to stop the disease. But there is one big difference. European nations are keeping their schools open, as schools in the U.S. close.

London (CNN) Late last month, Ireland entered a strict, six-week lockdown against the spread of Covid-19, under which social gatherings are prohibited, exercise permitted only within five kilometers of the home, and bars and restaurants closed.

But as he announced the new restrictions, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin emphasized that schools and childcare facilities should stay open. “This is necessary because we cannot and will not allow our children and young people’s futures to be another victim of his disease. They need their education,” Martin said.

There has been a similar story in many European countries including Germany, France and England, which made it their mission to keep in-person learning going, even as they imposed strict measures to combat the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

 In contrast, major cities in the United States, including Detroit, Boston and Philadelphia, are shutting schools and moving classes online in a bid to stave off rising infection rates.

New York City schools may close as soon as Monday.

“There are rates of infection at which is too dangerous to keep schools open, and that has happened in a number of places in Europe,” Anthony Staines, professor of Health Systems at Dublin City University, told CNN.But he said that the major response should be “effective, highly resourced public health.”

“Schools do spread this virus, but they’re not a major route of spread,” he added.

Staines said it was appropriate for different places to employ different measures “because their economic situation is different, the spread of the virus is different.” Israel, for example, faced major outbreaks linked to schools.

School closures “may be part of a response for a period of time” but “with appropriate knowledge, information and understanding, closing schools is not required,” he added.”European countries have made a choice, I suppose, that trying to keep schools open is very important…”

France and England entered month-long second national lockdowns on October 28 and November 4 respectively. In both countries, non-essential businesses, restaurants and bars have closed, with residents only allowed to leave home for work, medical reasons, exercise or grocery shopping.

One key difference from the spring lockdowns in these two countries is that they have chosen to keep schools open.

Amanda Spielman, chief education inspector at UK education watchdog Ofsted, said in a report published this week that the decision to keep schools open during England’s second lockdown was “very good news indeed.” 

“The impact of school closures in the summer will be felt for some time to come — and not just in terms of education, but in all the ways they impact on the lives of young people,” she said.

The Ofsted report, published on Tuesday, found that some children had seriously regressed because of school closures earlier in the year and restricted movement.

It found that younsters without good support structures had in some cases lost key skills in numeracy, reading and writing. Some had even forgotten how to use a knife and fork, the report said. Some older children had lost physical fitness or were displaying signs of mental distress, with an increase in self-harm and eating disorders, while younger children had lapsed back into using diapers, it found.

Some children in Europe, the US and across the world have been missing schooling during the pandemic because of a lack of access to technology — and it’s hitting low-income students much harder.

Pasi Sahlberg is a noted Finnish educator whose book Finnish Lessons awakened Americans to the realization that good schools can flourish without standardized testing. He has focused in his work on the importance of creativity and play for children and the dangers of standardization and the free market.

In this essay, he compares the different experiences of students in Australia (where he currently lives) and in Finland (his native land) and tries to figure out what educators have learned because of the pandemic. One glaring fact is inequality. Will there be a will to address that basic and damaging fact of life after the pandemic?

He draws the following lessons:

  1. Address inequalities early. Preventive health care and high-quality early childhood education can go a long way in avoiding gaps early.
  2. Trust teachers as professionals. They know what their students need.
  3. Build self-directedness among students, teachers, and schools. Too many comply with mandates and are lost when it is time to be thoughtful and make decisions on your own.

Sahlberg is resolute that an excellent and equitable education go hand-in-hand.

In a story in TIME magazine, two Swedish writers declare that Sweden’s approach to the Coronovirus has been a disaster. The authors are KELLY BJORKLUND AND ANDREW EWING. Kelly Bjorklund is a writer and human rights activist who has worked on public policy and advocacy with elected officials, civil society and media for two decades. Andrew Ewing is a professor of molecular biology and chemistry at the University of Gothenburg and a member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Unlike other European nations, Sweden decided not to lockdown the economy, not to close schools, and to count on people to wear masks and practice social distancing. Their public health officials predicted that the nation would quickly achieve “herd immunity” by exposing people to the virus.

The authors write:

The Swedish COVID-19 experiment of not implementing early and strong measures to safeguard the population has been hotly debated around the world, but at this point we can predict it is almost certain to result in a net failure in terms of death and suffering. As of Oct. 13, Sweden’s per capita death rate is 58.4 per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University data, 12th highest in the world (not including tiny Andorra and San Marino). But perhaps more striking are the findings of a study published Oct. 12 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which pointed out that, of the countries the researchers investigated, Sweden and the U.S. essentially make up a category of two: they are the only countries with high overall mortality rates that have failed to rapidly reduce those numbers as the pandemic has progressed.

Yet the architects of the Swedish plan are selling it as a success to the rest of the world. And officials in other countries, including at the top level of the U.S. government, are discussing the strategy as one to emulate—despite the reality that doing so will almost certainly increase the rates of death and misery.

Countries that locked down early and/or used extensive test and tracing—including Denmark, Finland, Norway, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and New Zealand—saved lives and limited damage to their economies. Countries that locked down late, came out of lock down too early, did not effectively test and quarantine, or only used a partial lockdown—including Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Spain, Sweden, the U.S. and the U.K.—have almost uniformly done worse in rates of infection and death.

Read the article in full to see the graphs and accompanying evidence for the failure of Sweden to achieve “herd immunity.”

UNICEF released a ranking of nations in terms of child wellness. The United States is one of the lowest ranking among the advanced nations of the world. The rankings do not include test scores. It’s important to understand that the test scores are the result of child wellness, not a cause. If we expect to improve children’s academic performance, we should focus on their well-being, which is a summary of causal factors. I have often said that when we are comparing students from different nations, we should look at child poverty, access to healthcare, food security, access to high-quality pre-K, and other indicators of child wellness, not test scores. This important report does that.

See the report here.

Under the weak leadership of the United States, the global reputation of the United States has plummeted, according to a new poll reported in the Washington Post.

President Trump defended his handling of the coronavirus pandemic during an interview with Fox News over the weekend, arguing that he took “tremendous steps” early in the outbreak, which “saved probably two or two and a half million lives.”


But much of the world appears to think otherwise. In a new poll of 13 nations released Tuesday, a median of 15 percent of respondents said the United States had handled the pandemic well, while 85 percent said the country had responded poorly.


The data, released by Pew Research Center, suggests that the international reputation of the United States has dropped to a new low in the face of a disorganized response to the novel coronavirus.

The country leads the world in virus-related deaths.


International affairs analysts say it may be difficult to repair the damage to the United States’ standing overseas.

Among some traditional allies like Germany, views of the United States have declined to the lowest levels since Pew began tracking them nearly two decades ago.

The New York Times explains how China opened its schools safely. As an authoritarian state, dissent is not permitted. No one is allowed to disobey the rules. The rules are strictly enforced.

As a free society, we rely on people to exercise civic responsibility and good judgement to protect themselves and others.

When the president of the nation ridicules people who wears masks and doesn’t wear one himself, it’s difficult to promote civic responsibility.