Swedish Privatization of Education Fails
This is important. Amazingly, socialist Sweden attempted radical partial privatization of its schools with about one fourth of students now attending publicly financed privately managed schools (roughly charter schools). This daring reform was followed by a dramatic decline in scores on the PISA international standardized test including the largest decline in math scores of all PISA countries.
It is very odd that Sweden tried this. It is important that it failed. I have long argued that even if something works in Nordic countries, it is irrational and nordtopian to believe it will work elsewhere. If charter schools failed in Sweden presumably because of moral hazard and a lack of team spirit, then they can fail anywhere.
Also, as in the case of health insurance and Medicare vs Medicare advantage, these data cast doubt on the widespreadd presumption that the private sector is always more efficient than the public sector.
If it is irrational to expect something that works in Nordic countries to work elsewhere, then why is it rational to expect that something that fails in a Nordic country would fail elsewhere?
If the conclusion is merely “they could fail anywhere,” then that’s kind of a given isn’t it? Anything can fail for any number of reasons.
I have conflicted feelings about charter schools in general. In Massachusetts even from the time I was in school, there has been at minimum what was at the time called “school choice” where students (subject to limits) would be able to attend schools outside of their own district with the funding following them.
I’m not offended by the idea that schools can or should have different educational philosophies (again, I grew up in an area with traditional public schools, private schools, parochial schools, technical schools, and Montessori style schools) and that different students might benefit from different educational environments and teaching approaches. To that point, charter’s are just another part of the existing educational quilt and as long as they are held to the same educational outcome or process standards as those other classes of schools, there’s no issue.
I’m not comfortable with all schools being charter schools, I’m not comfortable with private corporations running education as a for profit business, and I’m not comfortable with charter schools being used for political agendas related primarily to union busting. All of those are things that are clearly happening in other states.
Private enterprise can run very good schools and provide very good health care, but it fails when the goal is to provide that service to everyone.
Oversimplified? Perhaps, but I think that is the essence.
Capitalism rests on the assumption that maximizing self-interest in a free market not only promotes efficiency and overall utility but is also a moral principle upon which to build society. This philosophy is summed up in the titles of two books from the middle to late middle of the last century:
Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and Friedman’s Freedom and Capitalism
If government control of anything always leads to Serfdom and Capitalism if left alone always leads to maximal Freedom the logical conclusion is obvious: Capitalism cannot Fail, it Can only Be Failed. And most often by some remaining distortion of the Free Market by your ol’ ‘Government is the Problem’.
Whatever you think of Hayek and Friedman’s actual arguments as laid out in their books (which few of their disciples ever seem to have read) their theses have become Doctrine held by Believers, much like those often called ‘Vulgar’ Marxists or Freudians or for that matter Moonie followers of the Unification Church.
Returning to the point there can be nothing wrong with running a privatized school in the most efficient way, by which they mean with the greatest ROI. If this means targeting your client base via such matters as offloading special education back to non-privatized schools or cutting deals with School Boards to allow charters to use public space rent free (which happens often in NYC) or to eliminate labor protections for teachers. Well that is exactly the kind of focus on cost controls that make a firm excel.
If you firmly believe, like Hayekians and Friedman acolytes do, that running anything for profit is the highest morality and that unions are by their very nature government imposed restrictions on the Free Market then Goodwin’s objections fall squarely into the realm of Heresy.
Which is ‘Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’. The Nordic Social Democracies HAVE to be Socialist Hell-holes where EVERYTHING could be improved by more Free Markets. (and Cowbell). So saith the Books.
What is irrational is what I try to do here: which is to use data as best i can to point out the logical inconsistencies in the arguments of the Free Market Absolutists. The only real question is whether you approach all this as a chance to cheerfully educate the not yet indoctrinated as Bill Nye does on Science. Or trying to out-shout and out-asshole the other side as does Richard Dawkins and Religion. Me I tend to careen between those two poles.
Charter Schools are an Act of Faith. They also serve as profit centers for major corporations, or as vehicles to reintroduce religious education subsidized out of the public purse, or as a method to re-segregate public schools but efforts to attack them with data and logic based assaults via those channels may have some effect on the Funders (School Boards) but won’t have any effect on the Founders (Free Marketeers). For the latter it is like arguing Transubstantiation with the Pope. He is not buying what you are selling.
What are we supposed to do when the argument of the other side starts and stops with the proposition “Let’s try Freedom for a Change!” while eagerly buying copies of Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness and subscribing to The Prosperity Gospel? Because pointing out that all they are doing is attempting to maximize their own interests is not going to be seen as a critique but rather as an affirmation of their Catechism.
I suppose the difference between “can fail” and “would fail” did not seem as important to you as it does to me.
The difficulty with discussions of public policy is that it always proceeds on two levels. One is the level of “is there evidence or rational argument for believing X might succeed and is worth trying?” The other level is “does this conform or appear to conform to my essentially religious beliefs about political Truth?”
Even among the actual practitioners of “capitalism” or “free market enterprise” it is possible to succeed (or fail) by offering “the cheapest possible price” or by offering “the best quality product or service.”
The education of its citizens (children) is important to the State, and it is important to the people as individuals. Most people cannot afford to buy the best quality… or any quality… of education for their children. In America having the taxpayers (aka “the State”) pay for education essentially on a basis of “from each according to his means, to each according to his needs” has helped to make the United States a very great and reasonably happy nation.
Moreover, as a reasonably free nation, we are free to try “charter schools” to see if they can work better than the standard model “public school.”
The problem with public schools in my experience was also the problem with the private Universities I attended: they treat students like cattle. I believe most people recognize this and accept it because they have no choice. Also, most parents are disappointed with the performance of the schools. But just as “all the children are above average” is unattainable, so is “all the teachers are above average.”
I don’t have any better answers than you have, but I’d be very very leery of taking as gospel the political noises you hear (one hears) about this or any other “government versus freedom” issue.
There is also the possibility that the large influx of immigrants is pulling down the test scores.
Warren are you talking Scandinavia or here? In either case is there evidence that the children of immigrants are not learning the relevant languages fast enough to trigger the well known phenomenon of first generation immigrants out-scoring natives on such tests? For example it is a constant complaint in this country that all the good spots in elite colleges are being taken up by South Asians and East Asians. Something that was true decades ago explaining why the Ivies set up quotas to keep down the number of first generation American Jews.
It is rational enough (though often a little dodgy) to point out that immigrant communities are often marked by high rates of poverty and so crime. But only in the most racialized contexts is it generally held that their children are ineducable. Resistant to cultural assimilation yes, resistant to basic education not so much.
I’m not sure if Warren is being snarky or not, but the percentage of immigrants in Sweden is higher than it is in the United States, according to the OECD [ http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/social-issues-migration-health/indicators-of-immigrant-integration-2015-settling-in_9789264234024-en#page18 ].
The very fact that private industry cannot compete with the government in the delivery of healthcare is why we do not have a public option for health insurance.
I was speaking of Sweden.
Here is a very interesting article on the subject: http://www.nationalreview.com/agenda/383304/sweden-has-education-crisis-it-wasnt-caused-school-choice-tino-sanandaji
This, in particular, is enlightening:
“Grades have been abolished below the sixth grade, and homework heavily reduced. According to TIMMS (a test similar to PISA), the average hours Swedish students spend doing mathematics homework declined from 2.1 hours per week in 1982 to 1.1 hours in the late 2000s.”
Does it say anything about test scores? And just like you might be offput by me citing “interesting” articles by The Nation or Mother Jones forgive me for lending a leery eye on anything published by the National Review. Which I consider a propaganda rag.
No, actually. In fact, I used to subscribe to Mother Jones, and rather enjoyed it. (I do not subscribe to any papers now — trying to save money.)
Call it a “propaganda rag” if you wish (doing so is a form of ‘ad hominem’ argument), but read the article and judge it on its merits.
There has also been an anecdotal trend towards reduced homework in a lot of districts in the United States though.
It isn’t “nordtopian” to expect the Finnish formula to work in North America, for the simple reason that a key to their educational success is simply more socioeconomic equality. Clearly, the less poverty you have, the better students you have. This logic applies universally, and can be measured.
Conversely, the better students you have, the less poverty you have.
It does not matter if something is private owned or public owned. What matters, is it being done honestly and properly. If it is, it will work. If not, then sooner than later it will blow up in a scandal.
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