Speaking to Fred Barnes, Jeb Bush offered some remarks in praise of aspects of Sweden’s education system:
What comes through when Mr. Bush is asked about education is how radical his views are. He would toss out the traditional K-to-12 scheme in favor of a credit system, like colleges have.
“It’s not based on seat time,” he says. “It’s whether you accomplished the task. Now we’re like GM in its heyday of mass production. We don’t have a flourishing education system that’s customized. There’s a whole world out there that didn’t exist 10 years ago, which is online learning. We have the ability today to customize learning so we don’t cast young people aside.”
This is where Sweden comes in. “The idea that somehow Sweden would be the land of innovation, where private involvement in what was considered a government activity, is quite shocking to us Americans,” Mr. Bush says. “But they’re way ahead of us. They have a totally voucherized system. The kids come from Baghdad, Somalia — this is in the tougher part of Stockholm — and they’re learning three languages by the time they finish. . . . there’s no reason we can’t have that except we’re stuck in the old way.”
I think there’s something to that. Certainly, the US system of K-12 education has gotten pretty hidebound in ways that other countries have left behind. At the same time, conservatives who want us to learn from Nordic education systems need to understand that these schools are working in a Nordic context featuring, among other things, radically lower child poverty rates:
That’s not to say we can’t or shouldn’t do anything to change the schools until we radically reduce child poverty. But it is to say that the success of Nordic education comes in the context of a comprehensive commitment to children’s well-being, which means innovation not just in schools but in delivery of health care and nutrition services, in the provision of enriching early-childhood services, etc. Getting child poverty down to Swedish levels would be extremely difficult, but there’s a realistic agenda to cut poverty in half in just ten years that we could be pursuing if we cared enough.