The UK tries charters?

It’s been a long time coming, but the British Tories have a new idea in education. And with the ruling party falling out of favor (or favour), these conservatives may just spark a revolution, if they can get it done. Instead of trying to change the calcified system, they’ll bring in fresh blood, by funding up to 500 privately-run schools with public dollars. But this charter-like model is even more radical than its peers in the U.S.; backers cite Sweden’s “free school” model, where all students have had the option of attending free publically-funded, independently-run schools since 1992, as their inspiration. (Imagine charter schools being legal in every corner of the U.S., and an accepted and welcomed educational option, often started by parents or community groups to pressure already existing schools to shape up or close down. That’s Sweden.) In Britain, however, these private operators would be banned from making a profit, whereas Sweden’s free schools are often run by for-profit companies. British teachers’ unions might even learn from their Swedish counterparts, which originally opposed free schools until they realized that their teachers enjoyed working there, where they have more classroom autonomy and are paid accordingly for good work. As for making this proposal into policy, well, just as the “if they can do it in Sweden…” argument has never sealed the deal for single-payer health care in the U.S., it might be similarly tough sledding for this Swedish education idea in Britain.

Making Them Happen,” The Economist, September 24, 2009