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Sweden School Choice: The Country’s Disastrous Experiment With Milton Friedman And Vouchers

Every three years, Americans wring their hands over the state of our schools compared with those in other countries. The occasion is the triennial release of global scholastic achievement rankings based on exams administered by the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which tests students in 65 countries in math, science, and languages. Across all subjects, America ranked squarely in the middle of the pack when the tests were first given in 2000, and its position hardly budged over the next dozen years.

Advocates for choice-based solutions should take a look at what’s happened to schools in Sweden, where parents and educators would be thrilled to trade their country’s steep drop in PISA scores over the past 10 years for America’s middling but consistent results. What’s caused the recent crisis in Swedish education? Researchers and policy analysts are increasingly pointing the finger at many of the choice-oriented reforms that are being championed as the way forward for American schools. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that adding more accountability and discipline to American schools would be a bad thing, it does hint at the many headaches that can come from trying to do so by aggressively introducing marketlike competition to education.