In response to our recent post on Sweden, Henry Levin shared “Evaluating Consequences of Educational Privatization: Ideas and consequences of market principles in education,” a power point presentation from a lecture that he gave at The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden, in March of 2013.
The presentation puts the Swedish experiences with privatization in a larger context by highlighting the many different approaches to privatization and discussing the different kinds of outcomes that may be worth taking into account. Thus, Levin points out that educational privatization can mean that schools have private funding; or that schools are operated privately by educational management organizations; or that private schools are afforded government funding, through vouchers or other means. Even those approaches that use vouchers (such as Sweden since 1992; the Netherlands since 1917; Chile since 1980; and in US cities like Milwaukee since 1990 and Cleveland since 1995) can differ significantly in terms of how they are financed, their regulations/requirements, and the support services that are (and are not) provided.
Despite the fact that many privatization and voucher approaches have been around for some time, Levin argues that the evaluations are particularly difficult both because privatization has become a highly ideological and emotional issue and because there are a range of educational goals that should be taken into account (not just test scores). Levin suggests four criteria that should be taken into account for evaluating educational systems: 1. freedom to choose, 2. productive efficiency, 3. equity, 4. social cohesion. Levin also points out that there are trade-offs and conflicts amongst these different possible outcomes, as well as questions about which criteria deserve emphasis. Broadly, Levin suggests that the research indicates that while privatization increases school choice, it also increases social stratification, but there is little evidence yet on social cohesion. He concludes “we have made progress in understanding the consequences of educational privatization. But as we have expanded the circle of light, the perimeter of darkness has also grown.”
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