NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 20, 2010

While Texas struggles to lift sagging standards in its public education system, Sweden's schools are progressing.  Ironically, in contrast to our sky-is-the-limit mentality, Swedish culture stresses lagom, which roughly translates as "just enough" or "moderation."  The Swedes focus on the collective good and equality.  Americans are ruggedly individualistic and savor competition, says the Swedish Wire.  Our one-size-fits-all public education system leaves students in Dallas with less choice and opportunity than their counterparts in Stockholm.  That needs to change, say Clayton M. McCleskey, a columnist with the Dallas Morning News. 

The Swedish model is built on a voucher system at both the primary and secondary levels: 

  • According to the political adviser to the Swedish minister of education, if a public school isn't meeting a student's needs, he or she can take advantage of the voucher system and leave.
  • Students have the option to switch to another public school or they can leave the public system altogether and opt for a private school.
  • The government attaches money to each student, which then follows him wherever he goes, says the Swedish Wire.  

According to the Stockholm County governor and former education minister Per Unckel: "Choice is for everyone, whatever income you have.  The right of the kid is to get a good education.  If the public sector cannot offer it, he or she should have the right to go somewhere else:  

  • When Sweden introduced the voucher system in the early '90s, it was controversial; but now it is widely popular, and the results have shown rising standards across the board.
  • The program has also helped desegregate schools in cities with large immigrant populations, such as Stockholm.
  • It's a way for the high achievers to get out of the environment that is holding them back. 

Another feature of the Swedish system is that it allows high schoolers to choose from a smorgasbord of high school programs centered on three paths: college preparatory, vocational and a more remedial track.  So, Swedish students go to schools they like and are able to follow their interests and passions, says McCleskey.  

Source: Clayton M. McCleskey, "Swedish schools more American than America's," The Swedish Wire, January 17, 2010. 

For text:  


Browse more articles on Education Issues