Archives for category: Segregation

Veteran blogger Steve Hinnefeld writes about education in Indiana. In this post, he describes a controversy in the Legislature about whether a portion of a district should be allowed to secede in order to join a “whiter” district.

Some Indiana House Republicans lost their cool last week when Democratic colleagues dared to raise the issue of race. According to the Indianapolis Star, the Republican legislators “shouted down and booed Black lawmakers during floor debate on a bill that some see as discriminatory.”

Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, became emotional and walked off the House floor when Republicans interrupted his attempt to speak, the Star reported. Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, began talking about his own experiences with racism and “was met with ‘boos’ from several … GOP lawmakers.”

But Porter and Smith were right. Lawmakers were debating House Bill 1367, which would allow Greene Township in St. Joseph County to secede from South Bend Community Schools and join John Glenn School Corp. Greene Township’s population is 98% white, according to census data, while nearly three-fourths of South Bend students are Black, Hispanic or multiracial. John Glenn’s enrollment is 90% white and less than 1% Black. How can you debate a bill like that and not talk about race?

Indiana’s Legislature is encouraging school choice, of course, despite the fact that these choice policies are desegregating schools across the state. Black legislators are outraged, as they should be.

When legislators promote laws that make schools more segregated, their actions should be scrutinized.

The same should apply to Indiana’s state-sanctioned open enrollment policy, in which families may transfer their children from the school district where they live to another, provided there’s room. The policy accounts for about half the “school choice” in the state. In theory, it lets parents choose the public school that best fits their children’s needs, as long as they can provide transportation. In practice, families are leaving racially diverse urban schools for mostly white suburban or rural districts.

Muncie Community Schools, for example, where 57% of students are white, lose nearly a quarter of their prospective students through inter-district transfers. Many go to nearby districts where over 90% of students are white. Figures are similar for Marion Community Schools, where 48% of students are white and many leave for districts that are 80% or more white.

The resegregation that is occurring across the nation, especially in the South, has been hastened by the secession of white families who want their children to enroll in a whiter district.

The VOX article continues:

In one recent case in Alabama, white families in Gardendale–a suburb of Birmingham–attempted to secede from the Jefferson County school district. A lower court judge approved their request, but it was overturned by an appeals court.

While the Gardendale plan was ultimately halted, other school secessions have been allowed to occur, the secession study authors note. “It’s hard not to look at many of these instances of secession and see them as a modern-day effort by Southern whites to avoid diverse schools,” Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, a study co-author and an associate professor of educational leadership, policy, and justice at Virginia Commonwealth University, said in a press release. “This is especially true given the obstacles to comprehensive cross-district integration policies.”

As these efforts continue, and in some cases accelerate, the study authors caution that more attention needs to be paid to the impacts of school secessions, which they call “a new form of resisting desegregation amid the growing diversity of the South’s public schools.”

“Secession has weakened the potential for greater school integration across the South’s broadly defined communities,” the researchers note, “fracturing White and Black and White and Hispanic students into separate school systems.”

The secession movement in the South has reached Indiana, where it appears to be gaining traction. Will the courts stand by the Brown vs. Board decision of 1954?

Our brilliant reader Laura Chapman, retired educator, decided to dig deep into the politics of education reform in Minnesota in response to a post about a dubious constitutional amendment sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank.

Chapman, who lives in Ohio, writes:

I am not from Minnesota, but this post sent me deep into some policies there. The idea is to frame education as a fundamental right to “quality schools” as “measured against uniform achievement standards set forth by the state.”

No. This law is written as if the standard-setting process is a business-as usual-review of existing standards and benchmarks for learning, with periodic revisions. It is not.

Right now, there is a huge controversy over the social studies standards. The battle is about whose histories count and whether conservatives should settle for anything other than patriotism as the major purpose of teaching American history. https://patch.com/minnesota/across-mn/controversy-over-mn-s-social-studies-standards-explained

Students Learning English (ELLs), are unlikely to pass the absurd requirements being proposed by the Federal Reserve (why bankers?) and as a constitutional amendment (why bankers?).

Minnesota has NO academic tests except those in English. According to a 2020 report from the Migration Policy Institute, and the 2015 American Community Survey, at least 193,600 Minnesota residents have children still learning English. All are in harm’s way. The largest foreign-born groups in Minnesota are from Mexico (67,300), Somalia (31,400), India (30,500), Laos including Hmong (23,300), Vietnam (20,200), China excluding Hong Kong and Taiwan (c), Ethiopia (19,300), and Thailand including Hmong (16,800). One of the fastest growing immigrant groups in Minnesota is the Karen people, an ethnic minority in conflict with the government in Myanmar. Most of the estimated 5,000 Karen in Minnesota came from refugee camps in Thailand. Ojibwe and Dakota are the indigenous languages of Minnesota.

Many of Minnesota’s charter schools are devoted to segregating and strengthening the identities of linguistic/ethnic groups. There are three dual language Spanish-English schools. Eight charter schools are devoted to immersion in these languages/cultures: Chinese, French, German, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, and Spanish. There are at least five Hmong immersion charter schools, and two for Ojibwe immersion. Two charter schools offer ELL education for East African families and one offers education using American Sign Language/English bilingual approach.

Recent reports also show how charter schools are racially segregated. In St Paul, one hundred percent of students at Higher Ground Academy are black or African-American. This percentage is about the same for Minneapolis’s Friendship Academy. In both cities the overall population of black or African-American residents is below twenty percent. By design, many charter schools in Minnesota are segregated schools. Will these schools be subjected to the wishes of the bankers or not?

In 2021, the Minnesota Federal Reserve, having no expertise in education, called in “experts” to make suggestions on a fix for so-called achievement gaps, meaning differences in scores on standardized tests. This “we-can-fix it” program was sponsored by all 12 of the nation’s District Banks in the Federal Reserve System. In other words, what happens in Minnesota may not be limited to Minnesota but extend to the orbit of District Banks in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Kansas City, New York City, Philadelphia, Richmond (VA), San Francisco, and St Louis,

Among the highly visible “experts” called in for this multi-state program were Geoffrey Canada, president of the well-endowed Harlem Children’s Zone (endowment about $148 million, and sponsor of Promise Academy brand of K-12 charter schools), and CEO Salman Khan, founder of online Khan Academy, and Kahn Academy for Kids. The papers for this program also featured the post-Katrina takeover of New Orleans schools as if exemplary. https://www.minneapolisfed.org/article/2021/feds-racism-and-the-economy-series-explores-racial-inequity-in-the-education-system.

Bankers are clueless about education but they have an agenda certain to harm thousands of students in Minnesota, especially ELL students, and if applicable to charter schools, the many students ill prepared to take a test only available in English.

The last thing we need to have are the nation’s clueless bankers making permanent changes in education based on proposed Minnesota’s model of “quality.”

The Republicans who control the North Carolina legislature want to divert public funds to religious and private schools. This outright theft of public funds is cynically called a bill for “equity and opportunity,” although it will increase racial segregation, undermine equity, and subsidize students to attend schools of lesser quality than public schools.

At what point do these thieves of public money reveal their true motives and stop stealing the egalitarian language of public education? There is nothing egalitarian about their scheme to take money from public schools and transfer it to low-quality religious schools. Some of these schools will use racist textbooks. Some will exclude students whose parents are gay. Some will be attached to churches that teach snake-handling. Few will have certified teachers or meet any state standards. North Carolina Republicans don’t care about the future of their state. They prefer to subsidize low-quality schools instead of improving their public schools.


Kris Nordstrom of NC Policy Watch wrote this description of the legislation. It was shared with me by Public Schools First North Carolina:

HB32 would make five changes to the Opportunity Scholarship program:

1.     No prior public school enrollment requirement for entering second graders: Under current law, first-time voucher recipients had to previously been enrolled in a public school unless they are entering kindergarten or first grade. Under H32, applicants entering second grade would not have to have been previously enrolled in a public school. As a result, more vouchers will be provided to students who were already enrolled in a private school.

2.     Increase value of the voucher: Since its inception in FY 2014-15, the Opportunity Scholarship voucher has been capped at $4,200. Under HB32, the maximum voucher amount would be set to “70 percent of the average State per pupil allocation in the prior fiscal year.” The average state per pupil allocation is currently $6,586, implying a maximum voucher of more than $4,610 if, as proposed, this goes into effect for vouchers awarded in the 2022-23 school year. The maximum voucher value would then be bumped up to 80% of the average State per pupil allocation in the 2023-24 school year and beyond. This would permit vouchers of up to $5,269, given current state spending levels.

3.     Loosening of prior public school enrollment requirement in grades 3-12: HB32 would allow students entering grades 3-12 to also be eligible for a voucher even if they’re already enrolled in a private school, so long as they were in a public school in the preceding semester. For example, if a student started their school year in a public school, but transferred to a private school for the spring semester, they would still be eligible for a voucher in the subsequent school year. This change would first apply to vouchers awarded in the 2022-23 school year.

4.     Diversion of funds to marketing efforts: Since inception, the Opportunity Scholarship program has been overfunded. HB32 would divert $500,000 worth of unused funds to “a nonprofit corporation representing parents and families” to market the program in an effort to juice up demand. There are few (if any) organizations that would qualify for these funds beyond Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. It is probably just a coincidence that PEFNC provided HB32 sponsor Rep. Hugh Blackwell with an all-expenses paid trip to Miami in 2012.

5.     Increase of administration funding. Under current law, the NC State Education Assistance Authority  may retain $1.5 million for administrating the Opportunity Scholarship program. Under HB32, they would be allowed to use up to 2.5% of appropriated funds. That equates to $2.1 million for FY 2021-22, rising to $3.6 million by FY 2027-28.

The bill also amends the state’s two other voucher programs: the Disabilities Grant voucher and Personal Education Savings Accounts vouchers.

The Disabilities Grant is a traditional voucher covering up to $8,000 per year for students with disabilities. Funds can be used for school tuition, as well as for related expenses such as therapy, tutoring and educational technology.

Under the Personal Education Savings Accounts, parents of qualifying children receive a debit card loaded with $9,000 to be spent on a wide range of education-related expenses.

HB32 makes the following changes:

1.     Merges the two programs and changes the name. The combined program would be called Personal Education Student Accounts.

2.     Expands eligibility. Currently, students must have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to qualify for either program. Under HB32, eligibility would also be extended to students with 504 plans, which broadens the allowable disabilities. Students would also be eligible even if they are already enrolled in college, so long as they are taking less than 12 credits per year.

3.     Different awards and carry-forward rules. If a student is affected by autism, hearing impairment, moderate or severe intellectual or developmental disability, multiple, permanent orthopedic impairments, or visual impairment, they qualify for a higher award amount and may carry-forward up to $4,500 of unspent funds to the next fiscal year. These students will get $17,000 on their debit cards. Other disabled students’ awards are based on a percentage of per-student funding provided in the prior year. Based on 2020-21 funding levels, the award would be $9,549. These students would not be permitted to carry forward unspent funds.

4.     Eligibility verification relaxed. Currently the State Education Assistance Authority is required to verify eligibility of 6% of applicants each year. That requirement would be removed under HB32.

5.     Additional skimming of funds by financial companies. HB32 would permit the charging of “transaction or merchant fees” of up to 2.5% of all spending.

6.     Forward-funds the program and creates guaranteed funding increases through FY 2031-32. Under HB32, appropriations for Personal Education Savings Accounts would be made to a reserve account to forward-fund vouchers in the subsequent fiscal year. Additionally, funding would increase $1 million annually through FY 2031-32, increasing total funding by 62%. Voucher programs are the only education programs with guaranteed funding increases beyond FY 2021-22.

Finally, the bill would permit county governments to contribute to either of the voucher programs. Counties would be able to appropriate up to $1,000 per every child in the county who receives a voucher and attends a private school in the county. These funds would be used to increase the size of student vouchers rather than increase the number of vouchers awarded.

Fiscal impact of Opportunity Scholarship changes

If HB32 becomes law, it would be the second consecutive year of rapid expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship program to divert additional state funding to students who were already planning to go to a private school. During the 2020 legislative session, the General Assembly expanded the program’s income eligibility requirements and removed limits on awards to students entering Kindergarten and first grade. These changes are expected to cost the state approximately $272 million over the next 10 years.

The changes proposed under H3B2 would add $159 million to these costs over the next nine years.

North Carolina adopted a new social studies curriculum, despite the efforts of the newly elected Lieutenant Governor to remove any references to “systemic racism.”

(CNN)The North Carolina State Board of Education has passed a new standard for teaching social studies that will include a more diverse perspective of history.

The board added language for educators to teach about racism, discrimination and the treatment of marginalized groups. But due to pushback from some lawmakers, the new standard does not include the word “systemic” before racism and discrimination or the word “gender” before identity. 

The new standards passed in a 7-5 vote on Thursday, but only after State Board Superintendent Catherine Truitt removed the two words. 

“For nearly two years, the Department has worked to create consensus among hundreds of educators and stakeholders statewide over the history standards. I’m disappointed there was not a unanimous vote on these standards today because the Department of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education created them to be both inclusive and encompassing,” Truitt said.

Truitt also added a preamble stating, “The North Carolina Board of Education believes that our collective social studies standards must reflect the nation’s diversity and that the successes, contributions, and struggles of multiple groups and individuals should be included.”

According to the preamble, this means teaching the hard truths of Native American oppression, anti-Catholicism, exploitation of child labor and Jim Crow.”Our human failings have at times taken the form of racism, xenophobia, nativism, extremism, and isolationism. We need to study history in order to understand how these situations developed, the harmful impact they caused, and the forces and actors that sometimes helped us move beyond these outcomes,” the preamble said.

The measure was opposed by several Republican members of the State Board who said the new standards presented an overly negative picture of the nation’s history.Among those opposed was Mark Robinson, the first Black lieutenant governor of the state.

“I do not believe we live in a systemically racist nation, nor have we ever lived in a systemically racist nation,” Robinson said. Robinson voted against the standards even after the word “systemic” was removed and said that enough people in the state have questions and concerns about the standards and they needed to go back to the drawing board.

Stuart Egan, an NBCT teacher in North Carolina, was upset by the statements made by the newly elected Lieutenant Governor’s claim that “systemic racism” is a myth, and that anyone who teaches otherwise is wrong. In other words, writes Egan, the Lt. Governor wants to indoctrinate students into a fake version of history, in which people of color were never discriminated against as a matter of law and custom. That’s fake history.

I reviewed three books in the New York Review of Books, which seemed to me to be complementary.

Together they offer a fresh interpretation of the history of public education and of school choice.

The choice zealots would have you believe that they want to “save poor kids from failing public schools,” but the history of school choice tells a very different story. School choice began as the rallying cry of Southern segregationists, determined to prevent desegregation and integration of their schools.

School choice was their response to the Brown Decision of 1954.

The states of the South passed law after law shifting public funds to private schools, so that white students could avoid going to school with black children.

Libertarian economist Milton Friedman published an essay in 1955 on “The Role of Government in Education” in which he argued for vouchers and school choice. He said that under his approach, whites could go to school with whites, blacks could go to school with blacks, and anyone who wanted a mixed-race school could make that choice. Given the state of racism in the South, his formula would have been translated by white Senators, Governors, and legislatures as a formula to maintain racial segregation forever. They loved his ideas, and they adopted his rhetoric.

The best way to remove the cobwebs in your mind, the ones planted by libertarian propaganda, is to read the three books reviewed here:

Katharine Stewart: The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism

Steve Suitts: Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Movement

Derek W. Black: Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy

Wendy Lecker is a civil rights attorney who writes frequently for the Stamford Advocate. In this column, she reviews two important books: One shows how deeply embedded public schools are in our democratic ideology, the other describes that coordinated assault on the very concept of public schooling. The first is low professor Derek Black’s Schoolhouse Burning, the other is A Wolf at the Schoollhouse Door, by journalist Jennifer Berkshire and historian Jack Schneider.

Lecker writes:

In his scrupulously researched book, Derek Black emphasizes that the recognition that education is essential to democracy predated public schools and even the U.S. Constitution. He describes how the Northwest Ordinances of 1785 and 1787, which applied to 31 future states, mandated funding and land for public schools, declaring that education was “necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind.” Education was not explicitly included in the U.S. Constitution. However, after the Civil War, the United States required Southern states guarantee a right to education in their state constitutions as a condition for readmission. Northern states followed suit. State education articles were based on the notion that education was necessary to citizenship and democracy.

These lofty ideals were often not matched by reality. Enslaved African Americans neither had their freedom nor education. However, African Americans recognized early on that education was the key to full citizenship, and fought for the right to equal access and treatment for all. For Black, the struggle of ensuring equality in public education is intertwined with the struggle for political equality.

Black posits that attacks on public education throughout American history are attacks on democracy itself. Recent events prove his point. For example, Rutgers’ Domingo Morel showed that when majority African-American elected school boards won gains such as increased school funding, states took over those school districts, neutralizing the boards’ power. Northwestern’s Sally Nuamah found that in Chicago, where there is no elected school board, the city’s closure of 50 schools in one year despite protest by the African-American community decreased political participation by that community afterward.

A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door” complements “Schoolhouse Burning” by detailing the specific mechanisms those who attack public education have employed in recent years. In this eminently readable book, the authors describe the “unmaking” of public education and the players behind this effort. They explain how the attacks on public schools are part of a larger effort shrink government and in general what the public expects from the public sphere. One target is the largest part of any education budget: teachers. Anti-public education advocates have pushed cutting state spending on education, attacking job protections, de-professionalizing teaching, weakening unions and promoting failed educational ideas like virtual learning- where teachers are replaced by computers. These “unmakers” also aim to deregulate education, including expanding unaccountable voucher and charter schools.

Schneider and Berkshire demonstrate that attacking public education has also torn at the social fabric of America. Attacking unions weakened the base for democratic electoral support. Deregulation resulted in the gutting of civil rights protections for vulnerable students in charter and voucher schools.

Put them both on your Christmas-Chanukah-Kwanzaa shopping list. They are important wake-up calls.

I think you will find this book review interesting. I reviewed Katherine Stewart, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism; Steve Suitts, Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Movement; and Derek W. Black, Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy.

The review is titled “The Dark History of School Choice.” It appears in the New York Review of Books, which is the most prestigious literary journal in the U.S.

You can read the opening paragraphs, then it goes behind a paywall. However, you can request to read review in full for free.


Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that middle schools will drop their screens–e.g., test scores, grades, etc.–for admissions and will choose students by lottery if they have more applicants than places. The administration of Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein eliminated zoned neighborhood high schools and middle schools and introduced screens for admission; about 40 percent of the city’s middle schools have selective admissions. The Mayor and Chancellor Richard Carranza are taking advantage of the pandemic–which caused the cancellations of last year’s state tests–to turn the situation into an opportunity to promote racial integration in the city. New York State has the most segregated public schools of any state in the nation, according to the latest report from the UCLA Center on Civil Rights, which says “New York is the most segregated state in the country for Black students. The average Black student in New York attends a school with only 15% White students and 64% of Black students are in intensely segregated schools with 90-100% non-White students. While New York is the most segregated, Illinois, California, and Maryland and others also have extreme segregation levels.” Segregation and admissions tests are correlated.

Jillian Jorgensen of NY1 explains how the changes would work.

The city is making significant changes to the middle and high school admission processes due to the coronavirus pandemic — eliminating the use of academic criteria to determine admissions to middle schools this year, but allowing it to continue at high schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced Friday. 

The mayor and chancellor argued that using screens at the middle school level was not possible when those students did not get grades or take state exams last academic year, in part because they are so young. Students applying to high school, they argued, had more data to draw from for screened admissions. 

“I think the simple answer on high school versus middle school is, middle school just wasn’t viable. There was no way to do fair evaluation with a screen this year. High schools, there’s more factors to deal with for this year,” de Blasio said.

The controversial Specialized High School Admission Test, the sole criteria for admission to the city’s most prestigious public schools including Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science, will remain in place and will be given in person in January.

Here’s a rundown of how admissions will work this year.

MIDDLE SCHOOLS

Middle schools will not use academic screens as part of their admission process this school year. However, middle schools will still be able to give priority for admission to students who live within the school’s community school district.

Keeping middle school screens would have meant admitting students based on their third-grade scores, and that’s the first year children take state exams.

“It’s just not educationally sound. But we do have other data points for the high schools and that was factored into the decision,” Carranza said.

The removal of middle school screens is so far temporary — but the mayor hinted it could continue.

“This is clearly a beginning. And what I think is clear is that unfortunately screens have had the impact of not giving everyone equal opportunity. And this is not our future,” he said.

If a school has more applications than seats, students would be chosen via a lottery.

Students will be able to apply to middle school beginning the week of January 11; a deadline will be set for some time during the week of February 8.

HIGH SCHOOLS

Academic screens will remain in place for high school admissions. However, those screens typically use tests scores and grades a student earned in the last school year, and public schools did not give grades last school year, nor were state exams taken. Schools will instead be able to use test scores and grades from the year prior — so, a student’s sixth grade year, as opposed to their seventh.

Schools will now be required to post online the exact rubric they use for ranking students; and that ranking will be done by the Education Department’s central office, not the school.

In a significant shift, the city will eliminate the use of district geographic priorities for high school students, a process that had come under fire in Manhattan’s District 2.

The city eliminated “zoned” high schools under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, allowing students to apply for high schools across the city. But some schools still gave preference to students who live within the same district where the school is located, giving those students a tremendous edge for admission. That means students who live elsewhere are often shut out of these schools — some of the highest performing, and often least diverse, in the city.

All other geographic priorities — some schools have priority admissions for students from the same borough, for example — will be scrapped in the next school year.

Eliza Shapiro of the New York Times writes:

New York is more reliant on high-stakes admissions screens than any other district in the country, and the mayor has for years faced mounting pressure to take more forceful action to desegregate the city’s racially and socioeconomically divided public schools. Black and Latino students are significantly underrepresented in selective middle and high schools, though they represent nearly 70 percent of the district’s 1.1 million students.

But it was the pandemic that finally prompted Mr. de Blasio, now in his seventh year in office, to implement some of the most sweeping school integration measures in New York City’s recent history. They will be, by far, the mayor’s most significant action yet on integration.

With many schools shuttered, grading systems altered and standardized testing paused since the spring, the metrics that dictate how students get into screened schools have largely disappeared. That has made it next to impossible for many schools to sort students by academic performance as they have in previous years…

The changes, which will go into effect for this year’s round of admissions, will affect how about 400 of the city’s 1,800 schools admit students, but will not affect admissions at the city’s specialized high schools or many of the city’s other screened high schools.

Mr. de Blasio and his successor will no doubt face pressure to integrate those schools, which are among the most racially unrepresentative in the system. But integrating specialized and screened high schools has long been considered a third-rail in the district, and changes made there would no doubt be highly contentious.

The city will eliminate all admissions screens for middle schools for at least one year, the mayor will announce. About 200 middle schools, or 40 percent of all middle schools, use metrics like grades, attendance and test scores to determine which students should be admitted. Now those schools will use a random lottery to admit students.

Selective middle schools tend to be much whiter than the district overall. Mr. de Blasio is essentially piloting an experiment that, if deemed successful, could permanently lead to the elimination of all academically selective middle schools.

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/

You may recall the iconic painting of little Ruby Bridges, a first-grader, who was the first African American student to enroll in a previously all-white segregated school in New Orleans. If you don’t, be sure to read this article, which tells what happened to the William Franz Public School.

Three scholars–Connie L. Schaffer, Martha Graham Viator, and Meg White–tell the story. The three are also the co-authors of a book titled: William Frantz Public School: A Story of Race, Resistance, Resilience, and Recovery in New Orleans, which I am reading now and expect to review.

They write:

If that building’s walls could talk, they certainly would tell the well-known story of its desegregation. But those same walls could tell another story, too. That story is about continued racism as well as efforts to dismantle and privatize public education in America over the past six decades.

When little Ruby Bridges enrolled in November 1960, she was escorted by four federal marshalls. Crowds of angry whites jeered day after day. Parents of the white children in the school withdrew their children and sent them mostly to private segregated schools.

Racism drove many white families from the neighborhoods near the school and other areas of New Orleans to abandon the city. White enrollment steadily declined throughout New Orleans’ public schools, dropping more than 50% between 1960 and 1980.

By 2005, only 3% of the students enrolled in the city’s public schools were white – far below average for midsize American cities.

Racially segregated, underfunded William Frantz Public School suffered through the imposition of standards and accountability in the 1990s, which did nothing to help the school, but did result in its being labeled a “failing” school. By 2005, the school board voted to close it.

In 2013, the school reopened as Akili Academy, a charter school directed by a private corporation. The authors wonder whether the public school system that Ruby Bridges dared to desegregate, overseen by an elected board, is “a relic of the past.”