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Needed Now: Bold Alternate Schemes


Dear Diane,

On Thanksgiving day, I’m counting my blessings. Number one: you and I can have an influence (hah!) in maneuvering us through to better times in public education. We’ve at least got a 50-50 or 2-98 chance. A better future won’t come from the folks who have given us the recent past—there’s no chance of that.

I remember when the late Elliot Shapiro wasn’t allowed to become District 2 superintendent in NYC because he hadn’t taken a course on human relations. And Bobby Wagner wasn’t allowed to serve as NYC chancellor because he didn’t have proper education credentials. I thought that was silly at the time. And it was. But this is insanity at the other extreme.

These guys—New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, e.g.—aren’t experienced educators or principals (like Shapiro). Nor have they been politicians who had to listen to various publics (like Wagner). Nor, believe it or not, they aren’t businessmen—Klein never ran a big business either.

They’re con men.

Mr. (Louis) Gerstner of IBM fame considers “the fundamental thing …is for Obama to convene the 50 governors and…abolish the 16,000 school districts we have in the United States.” He bases his conclusion on his experience abolishing “81 profit centers” at IBM. Within one year “they” will develop a national set of standards in all subjects, and a year later a “national testing regime” so that on “one day in America…every 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th grader will take a national test against a national curriculum.” Plus a national teacher test that proves that they can teach.

The myth that decentralization had to go because it was rife with fiscal scandal was a phony one. Compared with the slick fiscal scandals that go uncovered by the media in the new centralization, it was squeaky clean. A superintendent bought liquor for a district party from a “friend” and paid for it with district funds, in the bad old days. (That’s what they accused Carlos Medina of in District 4. Tut tut.) Compared with what we overpaid for the British “consultants,” it’s truly penny ante—and at least it put money into the local economy! Imagine what it might be like on a federal level. Halliburton scale.

Needed now, Diane: some bold alternate schemes. How else might public education become public once again? Let’s see if we can develop some criteria for reforms—a check list of ways to judge so-called reform?

Perhaps a good place to start would be to consider who should be “accountable” for what? Which decisions belong to professionals—local, as well as state or nationwide? Which belongs to all the adults who constitute a single school community? Which decisions belong to the tax-paying local or state community that largely funds the school? What best belongs to the federal government to decide (and fund)?

I start with the principle that—as far as possible—the people making decisions about the minds and hearts of our children should be those most directly impacted by them and responsible for implementing them. This isn’t so easy. (Should 6-year-old kids be asked to decide….? No. When we speak of parents, are all their voices likely to be equally heard? If not, what can we do about it? And on and on.)

I base this principle on, above all, the danger of anything else when it comes to making public decisions about raising our kids. I also think it’s an essential for the very best practice. (But then it may be the essence of the very worst, too.) We need to distinguish between persuasion and mandates, and the risks and advantages of each. “Trusting Obama” is not an answer. We must restore our trust to schools, families, teachers, and kids.

But discourse about such alternate ideas/principles has to contend with a very powerful contemporary mythology. No one has done a better job of exposing those than my friend Richard Rothstein. You sent me a piece on “Policy Myths” by Dennis Myers. He notes how often we’ve all been told that since “business uses performance pay, so schools should do the same.” Or that schools are violent places, that parents are fleeing public schools schools, etc. “In fact,” says Myers, “business generally avoids performance pay, schools are the safest places children frequent, private school enrollment is declining, business recommends against numerical goals, and public schools generally perform better than charter schools.” Noted business leader W. Edwards Deming wrote: “A numerical goal leads to distortion and faking, especially when the system is not capable of meeting the goal,” and he pointed to the troubles such goals produced for Sears, Roebuck. Given the current meltdown of once-esteemed businesses, it might be time to start an Educators Roundtable to Save Business—by importing some time-honored school practices. But more importantly to work together to improve practices in both arenas.

Let’s try and build our alternatives on what we know first and foremost about the nature of teaching/learning—and then go from there.



Louis Gerstner's comment are scary.

What he is referring to involved many other changes besides profit centers. IBM (International Business Machine) used to build business machines (the original business plan with the PC was to make money off the hardware, there was no money in software...hello Bill Gates and DOS). Now they are a service provider.

Based on his example, the public education system would be transformed from an institution that works directly with children into some type of consulting agency.

I hope people are not seriously listening to him.


You state, "Let’s see if we can develop some criteria for reforms—a check list of ways to judge so-called reform?" Exactly what aspects of our schools or public education would you recommend we reform?

There are a number of them: curricula, licensing, assessment, pedagogy, fiscal/budgetary, administration, policy, professional development, etc., etc. There is a great deal to consider beyond what contemporary education reform has attempted to address thus far.

Beyond identifying these areas, who should develop these reforms? As well, who decides who has input into the reforms?

I think these are all fairly major decisions and steps.

Deborah, This is absolutely the right call at the right time. Without something to counter the "testing and accountability" crowd, these greatly mistaken reforms will surely become entrenched into our schools.

But to come to agreement about an alternative proposal, wouldn't we first need to identify what is wrong with our schools?

The main problems with the results from our schools:

1. Our students are learning very little
2. There is a large learning gap between low SES and high SES students
3. Too many children are not successful in school and drop out before completing high school

Would you disagree or add others?

Diane writes: “.... In many districts, the gears of power are controlled by non-educators who don't have a clue.”

Debbie responds: “....Needed now, Diane: some bold alternate schemes.”

For more than forty years, in books by respected presses, articles in mainstream academic journals, and seven years of Knight-Ridder/Tribune columns, I’ve argued that the “core” curriculum adopted in 1892 is fundamentally flawed. I’ve cited a score of problems with it, any one of which is sufficiently serious to warrant calling a national conference, and have been almost universally ignored.

A day or two ago, I posted a solution to one of those problems. If the reaction follows precedent, no one will take issue with it. And no one will make a move to follow up. Here’s what I posted:
Education, Democracy, and Systems Theory

A few months ago I was invited to make a presentation to the Kettering Foundation staff in Dayton, Ohio. The Foundation asks and tries to answer the question, “What does it take to make democracy work as it should?”
Here, as concisely as I’m able to state it, is an answer:

Q: What does it take to make democracy work as it should?
A: A population that understands itself and its situation in the deepest possible sense.

Q: What particular knowledge is most important?
A: Knowledge of the underlying, largely unexamined assumptions that shape decision-making, public policy, and societal actions.

Q: How is this knowledge best acquired, expanded, and transmitted?
A: By dialog within a system of free, universal public education.

Q: What is the optimum conceptual organizer of that dialog?
A: Systems theory.

Q: What presently blocks acceptance of systems theory as the major organizer of knowledge?
A: The assumption that the traditional academic disciplines adequately organize knowledge.

Q: Why is systems theory a better organizer of knowledge than the academic disciplines?
A: Because it neglects no aspect of reality, and more accurately models the systemic nature of the real world in general and of societies (the makers of sense and meaning) in particular.

Q: What is the path of least resistance to academia’s acceptance of systems theory as the major organizer of knowledge?
A: Convincing educators that systems theory subsumes the disciplines, thereby expanding, enhancing, relating, and integrating them.

Q: Does this mean the academic disciplines play a secondary role?
A: No, just a different role. Disciplines are essential, and many more options should be offered, but no particular specialized study should be required of all learners. The great range of individual differences should be acknowledged, treated as an invaluable societal resource, and studies chosen that capitalize on the individual learner’s abilities and interests.

Q: What is the best stage of life for introducing the young to a holistic, systemic perspective of reality, to their society’s assumptions about it, and to the origins, manifestations, and implications of those assumptions?
A: No later than adolescence—before they are programmed by the present curriculum to arbitrarily fragment knowledge.

Q: Can a course of study be devised to introduce the young to a holistic, systemically integrated perspective on reality in general and on their own society in particular?
A: Yes. The simplest approach to the use of systems theory as the main organizer of knowledge is the one the young learn and use long before they begin formal schooling. The approach needs merely to be lifted into consciousness and deliberate use made of it.

Q: Will such a course of study enhance democratic institutions?
A: Yes, to the extent that democracy is a product of an understanding of humanness and the human condition. But because it provides learners with a “master” system for organizing understanding of complex reality, it also significantly improves performance in traditional studies.

A first draft of a course of study designed to use systems theory as an alternative to the “core” curriculum as the organizer of general education is available, free, at:


Convinced that a first draft will inevitably be rough, and believing that broad dialog is critically important to its acceptance and improvement, provision has been made for convenient user dialog.

Marion Brady

As a charter school principal in San Diego where we are actually creating the kind of school that the politicians keep saying they are looking for… we have identified ten critical issues that no one wants to talk about as they relate to school reform. We are working hard on the pedagogy… it’s our hope that President Obama and his new Secretary of Education will work as hard on the public policy:

1. Provide health care for all of my students to address the scourge of childhood obesity, diabetes, and poor nutrition;
2. Ensure that every child has access to comprehensive eye exams and appropriate interventions when they are struggling just to see let alone to read;
3. Ensure that every child has regular dental checkups and access to highly qualified dentists so that my students’ baby teeth aren’t rotting in their heads;
4. Provide the funding support and infrastructure so that all of my students can attend preschool like the affluent kids do;
5. Create a way for every child in America to have a laptop and access to the Internet so that poor children aren’t pushed further behind by the technology divide that favors their more affluent counterparts;
6. Divert the 10 billion dollars we are currently spending every month in Iraq and re-invest in the modernization and construction of state-of-the-art school buildings in every community in America;
7. Guarantee a college education of the highest quality for all children so they are motivated to apply themselves academically;
8. Eliminate unemployment so that the parents of my students can properly provide the basic necessities for their children-food, clothing shelter;
9. Significantly raise the minimum wage so that our parents are not forever struggling against the tide…fighting the unwinnable battle to stay ahead of a runaway economy and its stunning indifference to the working poor; and finally…
10. Eliminate politically motivated accountability systems like NCLB that primarily test our students’ ability to take tests while ignoring all of their other assets: like their creativity and their critical thinking and problem solving and communication skills; or their proficiency with technology or their ability to speak in multiple languages or lead others or serve their community…

The context for this is posted at El Milagro Weblog (http://kriley19.wordpress.com/)

Principal Riley,

Sir, please understand that I am not judging your motives, just the means chosen for attaining the ends you seek.

Let me warn you that it is socialism and interventionism creating all of the problems you are trying to address. All of what you ask for has been tried and all has failed miserably (except for #10).

The government welfare/warfare state inevitably moves toward totalitarianism as each measure it takes to fix a "problem", be it healthcare, education, unemployment etc, results in further problems that, in turn, it tries to fix by further interventions which, as you can probably guess, lead to more drastic problems.

If the economics of the situation does not grab you, then maybe a more obvious moral level will. Here are some questions:

Under such comprehensive involvement by the government what would children be preparing for?

What decisions will be left to students when they (if they) become adults?

Let's assume the impossible for the moment and a situation where the state is rid of its most egregious warfare elements. All that is left is the welfare component. Do you believe that a complete welfare state is compatible with human freedom?

It seems that a life of muted and repressed individuality awaits a society going down the road you advocate. Doesn't government, as a form of coercive collective action, tend to negate individual conscience and initiative?


Your arguments are so purely ideological, and so void of evidence, that they are almost impossible to respond to. "All have failed miserably"? An oft-cited phrase, usually backed up with selective evidence from the Soviet Union and China.

I think that his students believe that they'd have more individual initiative, not less, if they had health care, glasses, fewer cavities, etc.

Deb, I am impressed that you called Klein a con man in public. I'm still waiting to see you debate a true believer in public--I'm sure you've done it before, and I'll follow up if you can refer me to a web link if there are any out there.

RE: The Milagro Theses

Most things included in the list are not bad things, although I was disappointed to get to the end and see the obligatory objection to accountability in the form of NCLB. I have to wonder, however, if the increase in support for children's health care--going back to the Clinton administration has shown any affect (or correlation or co-occurance) at all on the academic achievement of students at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum? It's not a bad thing, just a surprising thing to see coming from educators after a decade or so in which health care has moved far closer to universal coverage for children than it has been at any other times.

There has been some correlational research on some of the other things that are suggested (pretty much the things that Reason rails so heavily against)--adequate minimum wage, universal access to pre-school, family supports that tend to move children out of poverty and improved school outcomes. It seems that these things are important supports for children and are related to school performance. But we do, in this country, have some enormous confusion between support for the general welfare and totalitarianism. I don't think that the people of Finland or Sweden see themselves as living lives of "muted and repressed individuality." But we still have a lot of unexamined cold war ideas floating around--followed by the Reaganisms of rancor for the poor. Milagro states it correctly as a "stunning indifference."

But what is most striking to me about the Milagro statement is the complete absence of concern for any of the factors that impact what happens within a classroom. No concern for the inequity in access to appropriately credentialled (a distinction quite different from "highly qualified"), let alone experienced and effective teachers. No consideration of the need for the kind of collaborative effort that appears to be present in a school that can come out with a list of needs--but is largely absent when it comes to most public schools and their ability to formulate curriculum.

If we scratch the surface of some of those countries with high welfare support doing well educationally, we are also pretty likely to see that their teachers are also differently trained, differently assigned and differently supported. They may have fewer classes (perhaps larger classes) and more planning time. They may not plan their own lessons when first entering the classroom. They may enter the classroom with more years of education (and perhaps experience) and a higher level of academic achievement.

Unless we can get our arms around this particular elephant, fixing the exterior conditions that hinder education are not going to be of much help. Necessary, but not sufficient.

Margo/Mom (and Principal Riley) provide a good overview of both why it is so important to consider the broader social context with evaluating schools. The policies advocated in the long-term would lead to a healthier and more just society. How to get there of course is another can of worms.

Finland and Sweden are both decent societies in which many citizens lead good lives. Both are open and wealthy societies with outstanding social support programs for many. Life expectancy is longer than in the US.

The issues Margo/Mom raises about the complexity of different school systems, and the difficulties inherent to comparing them are also important. There is nothing wrong with learning from Finland and Singapore, but the broader context Margo/Mom describes is also relevant.

Margo/Mom (and Principal Riley) provide a good overview of both why it is so important to consider the broader social context with evaluating schools. The policies advocated in the long-term would lead to a healthier and more just society. How to get there of course is another can of worms.

Finland and Sweden are both decent societies in which many citizens lead good lives. Both are open and wealthy societies with outstanding social support programs for many. Life expectancy is longer than in the US.

The issues Margo/Mom raises about the complexity of different school systems, and the difficulties inherent to comparing them are also important. There is nothing wrong with learning from Finland and Singapore, but the broader context Margo/Mom describes is also relevant.

Kevin, If there are readily available solutions to all the numerous problems that you mention, please let us all know. In one sense, most of these issues that you raise are more difficult to address than improving education. Should we hold off on improving schools until all these other problems are fixed?

Is there anything that the Feds could do to improve what actually happens inside schools (besides your stated objection to NCLB) that might actually improve our children's learning?

Margo/Mom, A welfare state is not a guarantee of quality schools. There are several examples of mediocre/poor school systems where the government provides all the social service nets that were on Kevin's list (e.g. Germany).

From a moral/human view we should definitely try to alleviate some of these problems. But it isn't clear at all that these issues are causatory towards poor learning.

The literature seems to point to the opposite; it is poor schools that entrench these problems. Providing children with an outstanding education seems to be the only consistent program to enable students to eventually help themselves out of these difficult situations.


I don't disagree, particularly about the role that schools play in maintaining socio-economic stratification. And, as a pragmatic matter, educators have a greater likelihood of reforming education than health care. I didn't mean to imply that a welfare state was a guarantee of good educational outcomes. The reality is though, that there does appear to be some correlation between family-supportive programs and a decrease in the SES effect that seems to dog us in this country. Again--as you point out--you can fix the outside and still have schools that don't perform well.

This was an interesting post, but I was somewhat disheartened to see a continued misperception about charter vs. public schools. Charter schools ARE public schools, and are not allowed to discriminate. Most charters are run on a lottery basis, and thus are far less selective than private schools. I definitely consider charters to be part of the solution to public school problem--much of the innovative teaching and theory seems to be coming out of charter schools these days because they have the flexibility to change quickly when necessary.

Wow. Where do I begin.

Margo/Mom... we have more than addressed the "concern for the factors that impact what happens within a classroom". It's what we do every day. Believe me, we are not holding our collective breath for politicians or anyone else to address any item on this list. We have, in fact, gone forward assuming that we will just always have to rise above these conditions (that I did not have to contend with when I was a principal in a more more affluent community). In fact, we are successful because we have so dramatically improved the quality of teaching and learning in this school. We are not really called El Milagro. We are called Mueller Charter School... but because of our academic gains and the work we do to literally save children and their families... we have adopted our own brand called El Milagro-- "the miracle."

With regard to my "obligatory objection to accountability in the form of NCLB"... it is only because the law is really achieving the very opposite effect that you might think it should have. Read some of my other posts (El Milagro Blog: http://kriley19.wordpress.com/)-- I address them all. This is my 30th year in education. I have seen the pendulum do lots of things but this one is pretty destructive. As a charter school we are accountable. In fact, we will lose the charter if we don't make significant academic progress. That is as it should be. However, I am sure you are aware that-- by conventions of the law-- nearly every school in America will fail to meet the AYP goals at some point and thus nearly every public school will be labeled a "Program Improvement School." The only schools that will escape whatever it means to be a "Program Improvement School"... are the ones in highly affluent, homogeneous communities where children will excel on standardized tests no matter what happens at their school.

And "Reason"... you can afford to be philosophical if you don't have a personal relationship with children who live in abject poverty. They get up every day and hustle to school and do everything they are asked to do because they just want a shot at achieving their dreams. That's worth fighting for.

My job as a principal is not to sit quietly with my hat in hand and watch kids suffer. Have you ever had a tooth ache? Thrown up in your lunch? Had your eyes burn in your head because you needed glasses to read? There really isn't anything philosophical about it. Children need health care to compete in school. They need pre-school. They need to eat breakfast. And at my school... while we are climbing a mountain academically with so many English Language Learners... we are also advocating for their other needs as well.

Finally, Lori you are right on the money. Charter school are public schools. We are authorized by the elected governing board of the school district. And we are accountable to the same provisions of NCLB that all public schools are held to.

Mr. Riley,
I admire your thinking and your guts. I would like to add 2 things to your list:
Under item 1:
Include mental health care
Item 11:
Effective immediately, eliminate the RtI model that delays and/or denies services to students and families.

Something else I will add:
'Accountability' is being interpreted as a way to keep tabs on teachers (Big Brother). I suggest we use all this data we are collecting to inform instruction so we can improve the educations of our students who, in my experience, are all 'highly qualified'.

Mr. Riley:

I have spent a bit of time in classrooms--in poor urbans by choice. Most of my career, however, has been outside of classrooms (not to be confused with outside of education). I have worked in and with health centers that only existed because of the guts and commitment of a lot of poor people who came together to hold the government accountable for responding to their needs. I have served on advisory boards whose primary purpose was holding those health centers accountable. I throw this in only so that you may recognize that I am not lacking in sympathy for the work that you do with your population--even though we disagree on this accountability thing.

I assuredly do not know that all schools will some day fail to meet AYP. I have seen the same projections that you have. They are based on historical rates of improvement, which have been slow, erratic or nonexistent. And I am aware as well of how low the current bar has been set in many cases. Do I know whether 100% literacy is possible? No, I do not. On the other hand, do I believe that 30%, 50%, even 75% is the best that should be available in some schools (especially the schools where the students have less of everything else under the sun)? No, I do not.

I am not doing the same kinds of community work that I used to--but I think that if I had that luxury still (to work for low pay and very little retirement benefit), I would be organizing folks to hold schools accountable for educating their kids. I am angry--on behalf of my own kids (who have come through an urban district) and on behalf of the kids that I have always known, that so little is done with so much resource. I am angry that so few within the classroom have a basic underlying belief that all of their kids can learn. This doesn't mean that I don't understand or appreciate how difficult the job is. It does mean that I am deeply, deeply frustrated with the commitment to doing things the way that they have always been done. I am tired of talking to teachers--about my children--who believe that they are powerless to do anything but maintain. Who cannot move because someone told them to stay, or worse yet, because no one told them to move. It is better to go through the motions and get paid than to ask the questions that might make a difference. As a parent, I have far too frequently been assigned the task of "go between" for two parties within the same education system who were not communicating. Not that the intention was that I foster communication, the intention was to just to make me go away.

I know, Mr. Riley, that your experience in a charter school has to have been somewhat different. You cannot build a charter without coming face to face with the realities of decision-making--and there is no "downtown" or central office to blame. This provides a greater sense of freedom--and responsibility. I understand that. But I also understand that when you say that you are already working on what goes on in the classroom that you are only scratching the surface. You have to work within the available workforce of teachers. Do we train our teachers well in this country? Do we stack up favorably with other countries in the world? Do we recognize that, while teachers are not THE problem, they are a part of the problem and deeply entrenched in maintaining the existence of the problem?

Schools, and teachers, have made choices about how to respond to NCLB, and accountability. I am just a parent on the outside asking disturbing questions, but I see how poor the response has been. How many schools and districts are running after-school and Saturday test prep programs INSTEAD of addressing problems in the curriculum and instruction that result in kids not understanding the material that they are being tested on? I have a full set of test prep books for my son--purchased at who knows what expense. It would have been far more cost effective to have a science program (inclusive of kids with disabilities) that began in the elementary grades and included sound methods of teaching some things like the scientific method.

My son, who has disabilities, began school before NCLB. It wasn't until NCLB that I had any means to evaluate the quality of education that he was being offered in all the district required moves to "special programs" better suited to his needs, where he could "really learn." No one was "really learning" in those programs--and now we have the scores to show it. In fact, I have witnessed the turn-around of several of those programs--from single digit proficiency to meeting AYP. The "special" high school for kids with emotional disabilities now has one of the two highest graduation rates in the city. They used to only get an asterisk at the bottom of the list explaining why their scores weren't reported ("special population" you know). Without the pressure provided by NCLB, this would not have happened. The district is still a fortress against the individual efforts of parents (except for a few schools where parents are more well-to-do, more stay at home moms, more access to lawyers, all that). And in most district schools there is still a pretty deeply rooted belief that the tests are unfair and our kids cannot learn enough to pass them.

As a parent, in an urban district, whose family has had the good fortune to have had access to health care, dental care, even a fair amount of mental health care, decent pre-schools and adequate nutrition, not to mention my own level of education--I can tell you, it is not enough. These things do not compensate for teachers who preferred across the board test waivers for all students with diabilities. They do not compensate for special educators who think that having taken the content in high school qualifies them to teach the content in high school (to students with disabilities). They do not compensate for regular ed teachers who would have gotten certified in special ed if they wanted to teach those kids. They do not compensate for a system who cannot look at their own role in pushing out kids who are not easy to teach. They do not compensate for schools that believe there is only so much they can do because the parents don't care. They do not compensate for schools that exist as fortresses to keep the neighborhood out, because they understand the neighborhood to be a foreign and hostile place (and the source of problems that the school has to deal with).

As I said--the things that you ask for are not bad things. But it is still important to look at what education needs and can do.


I absolutely agree with you. The responsibility falls to every school to improve the quality of teaching and learning. Period. No excuses. We have tried to channel the ethos of the 90-90-90 schools: where 90% are children of color (we are 95%) 90% are poor... and 90% are at grade level. Like I said in my previous comment... we are not holding our breath for the conditions of our children or families to change. So we are using our autonomy-- and our resources!-- to overcome the effects that poverty has on learning.

I think we are saying the same thing. We are both equally as frustrated with a system designed to never change... and impatient to make that change happen one way or another. My apologies for my tone. I have nothing but the greatest respect for anyone who advocates for our children as passionately as you!!!


Historian Gordon Wood said that all humans have an ideology that informs their actions. I guess that means you have one too. The question is how well does an ideology conform to reality. I can supply mountains of historical evidence confirming the failures of government and political coercion. Yet statistics and data do not speak for themselves. Correct theory is needed for reasonable interpretation of events.

It is ironic how you chastise the critics of socialism for their incessant evidentiary use of the Soviet and Chinese totalitarian tragedies. It is not just because some of the biggest critics of Stalinism have been self-described socialists or that China is becoming more capitalist than America (China has moved more people out of destitution in a shorter period of time than any society in the history of man due to its capitalist reforms). Rather, the irony is that the social democrats (or democratic socialists) in this country constantly hold up Nordic countries as irrefutable examples of social-democratic utopias.

A general review of Sweden will hopefully dispel this mythology and show that Sweden is relatively wealthy in spite of its socialist (interventionist) aspects. The more the government got involved in economic life the less economy Sweden had.

Sweden was actually poor until its massive market reforms in the mid 19th century. Incomes grew faster there than in any other country of the world from the late 19th to early 20th century. This is when Saab, Volvo and Ericsson came about.

A large contributor to Sweden’s success, besides capitalism, was her avoidance of both WWI and WWII and the economic destruction of war. In fact, Sweden has been longer at peace than Switzerland: since 1809!

Sweden did flirt with government controls during the Great Depression but still managed to keep government under 10% GDP.

Sad Socialist side fact: from the 1930s to the 1970s the Swedish government’s eugenics program sterilized 62,000 people, second only to Nazi Germany.

In 1950, mostly capitalist Sweden was considered the 4th richest country in the world.

But Sweden went further into socialism and interventionism over the next decades and the economy slid. Concessions to union demands for higher wages increased, payroll and overall taxation bloomed, anti-business regulations mounted, and government manipulation of the money supply to fix problems created more problems.

Up and into the 1970s, Swedish exports masked some of its domestic stagnation until inflation followed increased devaluations. It got so bad that the Social Democrats were thrown out of power after 44 years of control. But the inflation-devaluation game continued. Bank lending was deregulated in the 1980s, but this only added to credit expansion as real interest rates were below zero due to inflation and taxation. The cheap money led to stock and real estate bubbles (like what we have here now). Sweden kept exchange rates fixed to block further damage- which only led to more anti-competitiveness and currency speculation.

When exchange controls were loosened in the early 1990s, Sweden inevitably went into sharp recession as interest rates went into double digits and most banks became bankrupt. There was simultaneous inflation and recession. It was the greatest fall, a 5% correction, in the economy since the Great Depression. Sweden fell in the world economic rankings to somewhere between 15th and 20th from its high of #4 in 1950. It has never recovered.

Since this near collapse, decreased government spending, reduced marginal tax rates, abolished currency controls, deregulated bank lending, privatizations of several state-owned companies and deregulation of several key sectors, including the retail sector, the telecommunications sector and the airline industry, have offset some of Sweden’s socialist burdens.

But Sweden tends to lag behind the progress of the rest of Europe, even when Europe as a whole is stagnating.

Overall employment, in numbers of people, is 6% lower than in 1990- the worst job growth rate in the western world. Even the US has seen a 20% increase since 1990.

In Sweden, private sector employment is now at a lower level than in 1950.

Some have estimated the real unemployment rate to be 25% if early retirees, make-work enrollees and other transfer-payment beneficiaries are included in the statistics- which Sweden does not.

As of 2006, Swedish authorities, fearing the decrease in prices in areas that were deregulated, food production and supermarkets for example, increased the money supply by 11.5% and have created yet another inflationary bubble. That lower food prices would be deemed bad for people is indicative of government thinking. Senselessly, FDR had millions of pigs slaughtered in effort to raise prices by decreasing supply artificially during the Great Depression.

Here are some selected McKinsey and Company findings:

“The Swedish retail sector has experienced strong productivity growth since the early 1990s, due to deregulation and increased competition. While product market conditions have improved, barriers to job creation need attention.”

“From 1995 to 2002, Swedish retail banking showed strong productivity growth due to deregulation and increased competition. Today, Sweden has one of the most productive banking sectors in the world, thanks to its payment and distribution mix.”

“Over the past 15 years, the Swedish processed food industry has evolved from sheltered to open to international competition, resulting in significantly improved labor productivity and significant consumer surplus.”

“Sweden’s construction industry illustrates how barriers in both the product market and the labor market impede development. Market conditions have inhibited labor productivity growth, which remains low.”

If one had to sum up whatever success Sweden has had, marketization and avoidance of war would have to be the key contributing factors. The failures of Sweden have come about due to its socialist/welfarist ideology and its implementation.

There is no substitute for the free market. Whatever goals for socialism, welfarism and interventionism are sought, economic progress cannot rationally be one considered one of them. Economic law cannot be repealed via politics or scientism. (An example of econ law: Ceteris paribus, if the government forces wage rates above the market rate, unemployment or restriction will ensue.) Supply and demand are always in play. The free market is the only economic system compatible with reality, progress and human freedom.

Quick correction: currency speculation in Sweden went up after loosening of controls in the early 1990s. (sorry, writing too fast---- and too long, hee hee)

Principal Riley,

You don't address what leads to a situation where kids would not have access to those things you list.

How do you know that the existence of your charter school, as an inefficient government program sucking up more tax money than a regular public school, isn't contributing to the economic deprivation supposedly being visited on the children?

In addition, as a former health care manager of a community health center in a poor urban district, I can tell you that the kids had government health plans and free care as well as free basic dental and eye care. Many of the kids had subsidized housing, food, clothing and so on.

I rarely saw a teenager without a cell phone. But of course many kids come from households that would rather have an XBox than proper nutrition. I saw many black boys in their late teens, being paid not to work, getting into trouble or just wasting their lives.

I know that many kids were suffering in exactly the same areas that the welfare system was supposed to fix.

Either the welfare state is not working in San Diego- in which case it is a failure- or it is working and it is producing failure: poverty, illiteracy, social dislocation, unemployment, a privileged bureaucracy and other social ills, and in which case - it is also a failure.

The great journalist and economist, Henry Hazlitt, once wrote:
"To see the problem as a whole, and not in fragments: that is the goal of economic science."

A holistic analysis of the welfare state, free of localistic myopia, reveals it not to be a panacea but, indeed, its exact opposite.


You worked for the Government?


Yes, I have worked for Leviathan. I even worked in consulting for a firm directly involved with government welfare agencies. I will now admit that I recently quit a job, out of conscience, working for NCLB/school reform consultants. I wasn't always a free-market anarchist. And yeesh, I still need to pay the bills...

Thanks for asking, Margo/Mom. I have to say I really enjoy your comments and wisdom. You take nothing for granted.

In reading the comments, there seems to be a demarcation between schools in afluent aras and schools in poor areas.

Are there any differences beyond Riley's list of 10?

In reading the comments, there seems to be a demarcation between schools in afluent aras and schools in poor areas.

Are there any differences beyond Riley's list of 10?

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