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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Have Education Vouchers Reduced Segregation and Increased Competition in Local School Markets in Sweden?

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HAVE EDUCATION VOUCHERS REDUCED SEGREGATION AND INCREASED COMPETITION IN LOCAL SCHOOL MARKETS IN SWEDEN?

By: Nihad Bunar  
Occasional Paper No. 208

Parents and teachers on local school markets: Evidence from
Sweden   
Sweden is one of the only countries in the world that has a universal education voucher program. The reform has two primary components. First, any type of organization can operate a school, including both for-profit and community-based organizations. These schools are known as "independent" schools because they are granted greater operational autonomy, but they must follow the national curriculum. Second, competition between and within the public and independent school sectors is stimulated by a voucher system in which all students receive public funding, which they can use to attend any public or independent school of their choosing. Advocates of the program anticipated that competition would push all schools to improve their performance and that school choice would sever the association that has existed in Sweden between the socioeconomic composition of a neighborhood and perceived school quality.

In this paper, Nihad Bunar conducts case studies of two mid-sized, suburban school markets to explore how parents, teachers and school administrators in a sample of public and independent schools (13 in total) perceive the effects of choice and competition. In total, 81 interviews were conducted, and other local documents and statistics were analyzed. The parents interviewed in the study reported that choosing a school is a stressful decision in that parents must balance their desire to be good citizens with their desire to find the best school possible for their children. In that many parents agreed that social segregation in the schools has increased, it appears that the child consideration holds precedence over the social concern.

Teachers reported that while competition has led public and private schools to do more to engage with families and improve student achievement, it has also led to grade inflation and aggressive marketing, especially among the independent schools. A major finding in the analysis is that the most important factor motivating parental choices is not whether the school is private or public or what programs it offers, but the general reputation of the school, which is based largely on the socioeconomic composition of the students enrolled at the school. Thus, rather than choice serving as a vehicle to decrease existing segregation, this study suggests that families are making choices based on factors that lead directly or indirectly to an increase in segregation.
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The Center provides independent, non-partisan information on and analysis of privatization in education. The Center's program includes research, evaluation, conferences, publications, and dissemination on a full range of issues regarding privatization of education from pre-school to higher education, both national and international.Teachers reported that while competition has led public and private schools to do more to engage with families and improve student achievement, it has also led to grade inflation and aggressive marketing, especially among the independent schools. A major finding in the analysis is that the most important factor motivating parental choices is not whether the school is private or public or what programs it offers, but the general reputation of the school, which is based largely on the socioeconomic composition of the students enrolled at the school. Thus, rather than choice serving as a vehicle to decrease existing segregation, this study suggests that families are making choices based on factors that lead directly or indirectly to an increase in segregation.

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