An International Look at School Choice

This week, we’re sharing a 3-part series on school choice in different countries produced by the Hechinger Report with support from the Education Writers Association Reporting Fellowship program.

The author, Sarah Butrymowicz, is senior editor for investigations. For her first four years at The Hechinger Report, she was a staff writer, covering k-12 education, traveling the country and developing an affinity for rural America. She then fell in love with spreadsheets and statistics and served as data editor for two years. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, as well as on Time.com and NBCNews.com. She was the winner of the 2012 New York Press Club’s Nellie Bly Cub Reporter Award. Before receiving a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University and an M.S. from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she attended public schools in Connecticut, where she had a tendency to go overboard on school projects. Her family still talks about her sixth grade haunted house project in hushed, reverent tones.

In a brief conversation, Butrymowicz offered us some of the driving ideas behind this work. “With Betsy DeVos’ appointment and increased talk about school choice,” Butrymowicz reminds that “the U.S. did not invent school choice. So, what can we learn from other contexts? What questions are these countries still grappling with? And, how does what has happened in those countries relate to different states in our country?”

Piece #1:
What would actually happen if we gave all parents the chance to pick their children’s schools?

New Zealand’s history of school choice offers some lessons

New Zealand is a school choice utopia. In 1989, the country passed a set of ambitious education reforms based on the same arguments for school choice that DeVos and others have made here. The “Schools of Tomorrow” laws abolished the concept of neighborhood schools and gave parents total freedom to enroll their children wherever they wanted.

New Zealand is a school choice utopia. In 1989, the country passed a set of ambitious education reforms based on the same arguments for school choice that DeVos and others have made here. The “Schools of Tomorrow” laws abolished the concept of neighborhood schools and gave parents total freedom to enroll their children wherever they wanted.

Piece #2:
Betsy DeVos’ school choice ideas are a reality in Sweden, where student performance has suffered

Critics say loose accountability is a problem

Sweden adopted a nationwide universal voucher program in 1992 as part of a series of reforms designed to give more control over education to towns and schools. Families can choose any school, public or private: Taxpayer money follows the student. This voucher system has led to a burgeoning industry of mostly for-profit, private schools, also called “free schools.” Two of the companies that run schools in Sweden are listed on the country’s stock exchange.

Johan Ernestam, a senior officer at Lärarförbundet, the Swedish teachers union, said whether or not free schools are the root cause of Sweden’s sinking education scores, one thing is clear: “It’s proof that school choice is not a way to make schools better in itself,” he said. He added that it’s impossible to place blame for the decline solely on free schools because there are no “good measures of whether a school is good or bad.”

Piece #3:
This country spends billions on private schools — and has a terrible learning gap between poor and wealthy

In practice, most low-income students can only pick between their local public schools, which many say are under-resourced, and cheaper private schools, which face their own budget challenges.

France is already serving as a test case for the belief, like that espoused by DeVos, that private school choice can increase equity. The nation heavily subsidizes private schools, which enroll more than 17 percent of French students, compared to 10 percent in the U.S. In parts of the country, like Brittany, more than 40 percent of students are enrolled in a private school.

The French system works like this: Private schools sign a contract with the government in which they agree to accept children of any racial or religious background, to follow the national curriculum and hire state approved teachers. They also agree to regular government inspections. In return, teacher salaries – typically the largest budget item for any school – are fully funded by the government. Schools also receive additional per pupil money from local municipalities.

On the 2015 PISA science results, France’s public-school students scored 20 points lower than those in private school. The organization that administers the exam, OECD, said the difference could be explained by the fact that public schools serve significantly more low-income students, who tend to perform worse on tests. If public and private schools served students with the same socioeconomic backgrounds, public schools would actually out-perform private schools. This held true for 22 OECD countries, including the United States, where voucher programs have failed to eliminate disparities in access and achievement.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s