The world standard for measuring educational achievement is the OECD’s PISA scores which reveal that Sweden does worse than world leaders like Finland, the Netherlands, and South Korea but better than the United States:
Nordic countries are often said to be highly homogeneous, which is true of Finland, but Sweden has more immigrants than the United States though of course much less poverty and inequality.
The most noteworthy aspect of Swedish education is a fairly robust school choice system. This is often described in the Anglophone press as involving “vouchers” in that any Swedish parent is entitled to take his or her children out of the state-run schools and put into another school, with the new school assigned the same level of per-pupil funding as a municipal school would have gotten. But these schools are more like what we call “charter schools”—they can’t have exclusive admissions policies and they can’t charge tuition above the value of the per pupil allotment.
The big difference is that many Swedish charters are run by for-profit firms. We’ve had some experiments with that in the U.S. and it hasn’t worked very well. Nobody’s really found a great way of making consistent profits running K-12 schools in America.
It’s not really clear to me, however, if Swedish schools are actually performing at a higher level than ours. If our child poverty level were where Sweden’s is, our kids’ test scores would be way higher. By contrast, in the Netherlands the child poverty rate is much higher than in Sweden—though of course much lower than in the United States—and the test scores are substantially better.