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Sweden: Why Do For-Profit Schools Survive Despite Overwhelming Public Opposition?

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Sweden is one of the few nations that allow for-profit schools to be funded by the government. The United States also funds for-profit schools with public money. The virtual charter chains like K12 Inc. operate for profit (the latter is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and its top executives are each paid millions of dollars annually). in addition, more than 1,000 charter schools are operated by for-profit corporations, as are many allegedly ”nonprofit” charter schools. Read the Network for Public Education’s study of for-profit charters. Currently, the House of Representatives passed a budget that bars federal funding for for-profit schools, despite the fierce opposition of the charter lobby. The Senate must also approve this change, and charter lobbyists are fighting to protect federal funding for for-profits.

In this post, Swedish writer and educator Maria Jarlsdotter analyzes why Swedish politicians refuse to curb the for-profit sector. Her editor summarizes: “Many of the school’s current problems are rooted in the market system that was implemented and developed during the 1990s. Despite this, and despite the fact that there is popular support for limiting the school market, no party has dared to address this issue. It’s time now, says Maria Jarlsdotter.” (Ed.).

She writes:

Ok, I understand that this is not a scientifically proven result. Still, over 3100 people answered, apparently a question that engages. That is, the issue engages people in general, but not politicians. We know that Minister of Education Anna Ekström is hesitant about gains in school, but we also know that she has been gagged through the January agreement. This week, she was abruptly reminded of it on twitter by Annie Lööf.

Why is this a non-issue in politics? What is it that makes it forbidden to discuss? I really want to know. If it were the case that 85 percent are against profits in school, it can not be the popular opposition that makes politicians cling. Sometimes someone claims “But if schools close down, where should students go?” The answer is, of course, that the premises, staff and students remain, it’s just running the school for someone who is not only interested in making money from the business. I have also heard: “But that school is so good, shouldn’t the children be allowed to go there?” Absolutely, it can even get even better if all the money goes back to the school and the students instead of to the shareholders. The stupidest argument is probably still that there would be some kind of extreme socialism if we do not allow for-profit schools. We in Sweden are extreme, we have had this system since the 90s and NO other country has followed suit.

Only one country has had the same system, Chile, but they have now left. It is thus possible to do.

For some reason: Yes, I know that there are independent schools that do an excellent job as well as there are municipal ones where there is more to be desired. My point is that the differences between schools should be minimal. It should not matter where you live or what school you go to, you should get the same good education and learn just as much. It guarantees a stable future for Sweden.

Why then do we have a school market?

The simple answer is that the Bildt government in 1992 took a decision to transform the school into a market, privatization paid for with tax money (despite sharp warnings about the consequences from the OECD).

No trial period, it was full speed from the beginning.

In fact, I do not think that the Bildt government, in its wildest imagination, predicted the development that has taken place with large listed companies and profits that move abroad, I think that there was a certain degree of naivety. One idea was that by schools competing with each other, the quality would be raised. It has not really become so.

If you want to be kind, you can also say that many unfortunate interacting factors at about the same time have created today’s school. First the communalisation with many principals, then the privatization with even more, deregulation of teachers’ teaching time, New Public Management (goal management with constant demands for increased results, increased quality at a lower cost), a school law with very far-reaching demands on the school. It was also a time marked by many pedagogical trends that were not always favorable to the students, which was clearly seen in international measurements.

When things started to go awry with many principals and the state panicked, the Swedish Schools Inspectorate was set up with the task of checking and ensuring the quality. It has also gone that way. One thing is for sure, those who call for even more control are creating even greater administrative misery for the schools.

Questions politicians should ask themselves:

  • We do not get young people to choose the teaching profession to a sufficient extent. Why?
  • We do not get teachers to stay in the profession to a sufficient degree. Why?
  • Teachers are increasingly on long-term sick leave. Why?
  • Not all schools in Sweden are as good. Why?

These issues have been on the agenda for a long time and yet nothing happens politically or at least very little and far too late. What happens is not pervasive but more of a patch-and-law character. Why?

Getting answers to these questions must reasonably be the highest priority of all politicians. It is about Sweden’s future.

I have been a school leader since the 90’s and have seen the change that has happened and is happening and have, among other things, written about this. There are many interacting factors, some of which are about natural societal changes. The biggest single factor that matters most in Swedish schools, however, is the marketing of the school. The failure to make students and parents customers is costly to society. NOTE! I am not talking about “freedom of choice” here, it is possible to run schools as foundations and cooperatives on a “non-profit basis”. But the tax-financed school money, if that system is to remain at all, must go to the school and the students. Everything else is unreasonable.

We can not have for-profit schools, there is a reason why no other countries have followed suit. The tracks are scary.

This becomes especially clear when municipalities make cuts, in order to maintain the profit margin with shrinking resources, independent schools must become more innovative and cynical. What remains is to find ways to sort out the students who are most costly and retain the students who can handle larger groups of students and who do not need as much support. Segregation is increasing.

A confirmed suspicion is also that grade inflation will increase even more, grades are now a means of competition to get students and the exercise of authority is put out of play.

Another effect that we are already seeing is that independent schools are closing down their operations in “less profitable” municipalities. Let us hope that in that municipality there are schools that can take care of the abandoned students.

Back to the question of why far from enough people choose to train as teachers.

Well, this may not be such an enticing perspective:

“Welcome to a market where it is a lottery what working conditions and what working environment you get. You can also count on ever-shrinking resources. But you get a decent salary and your work is important to society ”. How does that sound? If you end up in the right school, the work can be fantastic. Good luck as well.

Why are politicians not allowed to talk about this? With each other, it is worth a Swedish school. It has been a long time since 1992, it is possible to change and do right across party lines. Fix it.

Maria Jarlsdotter

The post was previously published on her blog .

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