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The Market Comes to Education in Sweden

The Market Comes to Education in Sweden: An Evaluation of Sweden's Surprising School Reforms

Anders Björklund
Melissa A. Clark
Per-Anders Edin
Peter Fredriksson
Alan B. Krueger
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    The Market Comes to Education in Sweden
    Book Description:

    A large central government providing numerous public services has long been a hallmark of Swedish society, which is also well-known for its pursuit of equality. Yet in the 1990s, Sweden moved away from this tradition in education, introducing market-oriented reforms that decentralized authority over public schools and encouraged competition between private and public schools. Many wondered if this approach would improve educational quality, or if it might expand inequality that Sweden has fought so hard to hold down. In The Market Comes to Education in Sweden, economists Anders Björklund, Melissa Clark, Per-Anders Edin, Peter Fredriksson, and Alan Krueger measure the impact of Sweden's bold experiment in governing and help answer the questions that societies across the globe have been debating as they try to improve their children's education. The Market Comes to Education in Sweden injects some much-needed objectivity into the heavily politicized debate about the effectiveness of educational reform. While advocates for reform herald the effectiveness of competition in improving outcomes, others suggest that the reforms will grossly increase educational inequality for young people. The authors find that increased competition did help improve students' math and language skills, but only slightly, and with no effect on the performance of foreign-born students and those with low-educated parents. They also find some signs of increasing school segregation and wider inequality in student performance, but nothing near the doomsday scenarios many feared. In fact, the authors note that the relationship between family background and school performance has hardly budged since before the reforms were enacted. The authors conclude by providing valuable recommendations for school reform, such as strengthening school evaluation criteria, which are essential for parents, students, and governments to make competent decisions regarding education. Whether or not the market-oriented reforms to Sweden's educational system succeed will have far reaching implications for other countries considering the same course of action. The Market Comes to Education in Sweden offers firm empirical answers to the questions raised by school reform and brings crucial facts to the debate over the future of schooling in countries across the world.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-055-4
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Sweden has long been known for its pursuit of equality—both equality of opportunity and equality of outcomes. This well-earned reputation is reflected in the country’s history of maintaining a large public sector, generous social programs, and high and progressive income taxes. Its egalitarian goals have also had a strong impact in other policy areas, especially in education policy. In 1842, for example, Sweden became the first country in the world to introduce compulsory schooling, largely motivated by a desire to pursue egalitarian economic and social goals. Indeed, Sweden has succeeded in producing one of the most equal distributions of...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Education, Equality, and Efficiency
    (pp. 11-19)

    In his classic bookEquality and Efficiency: The Big Trade-off, Arthur Okun suggests that “a vigorous social effort to narrow the educational financing gap can improve both equality and efficiency” (Okun 1975, 81). Okun observes that unequal access to credit prevents many talented children of poor families from attending college. By improving educational opportunities for the less advantaged, Okun argues, society can improve both efficiency and equality, with no trade-off between the two.

    Public investment in education may improve equity by narrowing the distribution of income. There are two ways in which this may occur. First, a targeted human capital...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Education, Skills, and Earnings: The Swedish Record
    (pp. 20-35)

    What has the Swedish education system accomplished? To what extent has Sweden’s education policy produced more equality in skills? What effects have a compressed distribution of skills had on wage inequality? This chapter addresses these questions by looking at the effects of the Swedish education system on educational attainment, skills, wages, and wage inequality. We focus on the current situation in Sweden, comparing it to that of other (mainly OECD) countries, and also provide information on the historical development of the Swedish education system.

    A discussion of the resources devoted to education in Sweden is followed in the next section...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Resources, Decentralization, and Student Achievement
    (pp. 36-57)

    The public education system underwent dramatic changes in Sweden in the 1990s. One of the most important was the substantial decline in resources devoted to primary and secondary education, as discussed in the previous chapter. Although early in the decade spending on primary and secondary education in Sweden was quite high by international comparison, by the end of the decade the share of GDP devoted to these levels of education was only slightly above the OECD average.

    Part of the decrease in resources can be attributed to the severe economic slump that hit Sweden at the beginning of the 1990s....

  9. CHAPTER 5 Teacher Supply
    (pp. 58-75)

    In chapter 4, we reviewed the literature on the effects of teacher qualifications on student achievement. The quality of teachers is clearly one of the most important inputs for student achievement, although the literature has been unable to determine which characteristics contribute to teacher quality. The purpose of this chapter is to present evidence relating to the change in the quality of the teacher supply in Sweden during the 1990s.

    As shown by Carl le Grand, Ryszard Szulkin and Michael Tåhlin (2001), the public-sector wage premium in Sweden has decreased quite substantially since the late 1960s. Therefore, we might expect...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Consequences of School Choice
    (pp. 76-97)

    In the wake of the decentralization of the Swedish education system, another market-oriented reform was implemented in July 1992. This reform required municipalities to provide funding for privately run independent schools. Additionally, parents were given the right to choose among all schools—public as well as private.¹ As a general rule, the parents’ choice is made subject to the availability of slots. In cases of excess demand, slots in public schools are allocated on the basis of residence while slots in private schools are allocated on a first-come-first-served basis. An important exception to this general rule took effect in Stockholm...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Quantitative Tests as an Evaluation Device
    (pp. 98-113)

    If school choice is to improve school productivity by increasing competitive pressure, parents must be reasonably well informed about the quality of the schools from which they are choosing. This requires that parents be able to obtain and evaluate information on various facets of school quality. Parents may collect this information in a number of ways—exchanging information with other parents, visiting the schools, and also considering quantitative information on the school’s effectiveness, such as standardized test scores and grade point averages (GPAs).

    In this chapter, we discuss how quantitative information can be used to help parents choose among schools...

  12. CHAPTER 8 The Impact of Education and Education Policy on Family Background and Earnings
    (pp. 114-125)

    Equality of opportunity has always been an important goal in Swedish politics. Although philosophers may argue that equality of opportunity is a complicated concept, it is fair to say that it has been interpreted in a rather pragmatic way in the public discussion: a strong association between the socioeconomic status of parents and their offspring is often considered as evidence that children from less-advantaged backgrounds do not enjoy opportunities equal to those of their more-advantaged peers. Most empirical research that has addressed the issue of equality of opportunity has also used such a framework. Sociologists have long investigated the association...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Conclusions
    (pp. 126-138)

    The goal of this book has been to provide an initial evaluation of the effects of Sweden’s sweeping market-oriented reforms of the 1990s. Our analyses have covered considerable ground. In this concluding chapter, we return to the issues we raised in the introduction—equality and efficiency—and reflect on the policy implications that follow from our analyses.

    Equality of opportunities and outcomes has been a long-standing goal of Swedish education policy, and the effects of the reforms must be evaluated in this context. We therefore begin with a discussion of whether the traditional Swedish educational policy that was in place...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 139-146)
    (pp. 147-160)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 161-170)