• Sweden edition
 
'It's hard to know how to find a good school'

'It's hard to know how to find a good school'

Published: 25 Jan 2013 14:50 GMT+01:00
Updated: 25 Jan 2013 14:50 GMT+01:00

Recently, Sweden’s free schools, or friskolor, have come under scrutiny. Specifically, the free school system has been criticized for a lack of oversight.

We as a family have been paying close attention to this discussion because, within the next years, we are considering enrolling our son Erik in one of these schools.

While Erik’s school situation works for now, for some health-related reasons, we need to find another school for him by 4th grade.

It’s hard to know where to start looking or even how to look for a good school in Sweden.

The only hard data I can find is national test scores, but after many years of teaching in public schools, I'm skeptical about these scores’ validity, as there are so many ways for a school to manipulate them.

One school where I taught pressured the lower scorers in the district to transfer to an “alternative school,” for example. By senior year, graduation rates and national test scores looked impressive because the struggling students were gone.

Test scores might be more helpful if they were broken down into subgroups: How well do students with another home language do? Students with special needs?

Students below at or below the poverty line? Girls versus boys? This data would at least suggest how well the school handles diverse needs of the students.

I called to see if I could get this data. Not available, I was told. To me? Or does National Agency for Education (Skolverket) not have the data?

Therefore, I'm left with starting my search based on word-of-mouth. It remains to be seen whether this will lead us anywhere good.

Our search has taken us in various directions, including the International English School.

Back when we moved to Stockholm, we followed a friend’s suggestion and put Erik on the school’s waiting list “just in case.” It is not too far from our house, and one of Erik’s friends who also speaks English at home is strongly considering going there as well.

It seems like a natural choice. But is it a good one?

The test scores, if I'm even going to consider them, look fine. But without other data about specific population subsets, it’s hard to compare these scores with those of nearby neighbourhood schools.

Compared to our local school, students there seem to excel in English compared to their Swedish-only peers. Since they’re spending a lot more class time on English than those other peers, I’d sure hope they’re doing better.

But are English schools actually good for English speakers?

The intuitive answer might be yes, but after hearing some anecdotal reports as well as reading some of the research behind bilingual schools, I'm not so sure.

Erik is a comfortable English speaker. This would put him at or near the top of the class when he arrived, since the English school students predominantly come from non-English households.

The daughter of an American friend began at one of these schools this year. My friend reports that her daughter spends most of the class time translating for other students—a useful skill, but not exactly what she had in mind for her daughter’s 4th grade English experience.

How long will this “transition period” last, she wonders?

Considering all these points, I don’t want to choose the English school solely on the basis of test scores or on the premise of English improvement. So where does this leave me?

I needed to take a step back and consider the definition of a good school. Of course, these days, there’s data on this topic as well.

Some of it is surprising. For example, research suggests that homework is irrelevant and even counter-productive. As Alfie Cohn details in his well-researched book The Homework Myth, there is no conclusive research showing that homework provides any long-term gains for elementary and middle school students, neither academically nor by any other measure.

Other evidence intuitively makes sense. As this Atlantic article describes, Finland’s education model, consistently ranked one of the best in the world, serendipitously raised their test scores and other measures of success when focusing on something entirely different: equity and cooperation.

As a teacher, I could immediately understand why: I can personally attest that everyone learns better if every single student is on the same page, working toward the same goals. And as a parent, these priorities also resonate personally: Erik should have the same opportunities as his peers and should work together with them, regardless of his health challenges.

So we’re looking for a school that prioritizes equity and cooperation. And what school would say it doesn’t?

The trick for us is to find the schools that really do.

The schools agency and the Swedish Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen) collect at least some of this “soft” information about how happy parents and students are with their schools—I know this because I’ve filled out many questionnaires.

How do these departments follow up on their findings? And how can parents learn from them?

Having a system of schools of choice only works if we parents can make informed decisions. And to do this, we all need more information.

Rebecca Ahlfeldt is an American ex-pat writer, translator and editor currently based in Stockholm.

Your comments about this article

15:57 January 25, 2013 by StockholmSam
Well, that article went absolutely nowhere...
16:19 January 25, 2013 by snarky
I agree, Stockholm Sam.

I understand a parent being concerned, but geesh.....worry much?!

Why not try public school for the 4th grade and see how he gets on, that to me would be the most logical.
16:25 January 25, 2013 by Youdee
We followed my mother-in-law's lead. She put the kids in the local Swiss school (rather than the Swedish school), so that the kids lived in close proximity to home and their friends. She did not want to fill her days driving the four kids around town.
17:26 January 25, 2013 by grymagnusson
will you please just stop writing. Stop.
20:39 January 25, 2013 by Programmeny
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
22:12 January 25, 2013 by BennyOBenny
She's right. You choose a school a based upon which other choices there are to compare and there aren't too many of those. State or nothing!
00:29 January 26, 2013 by zeulf
Another attempt , but?? So its hard to find a "good" school for Your 4th grader . hard to believe, We are all sure You want the best for him. Just be sure to encourage him, allow Him to seek his interests. and make sure he learns the native language, so if he stays there, he will not look or feel out of place. Most but not all swedes are well educated, just look around and ask Yourself. How well are they doing in the world??

So you taught in public schools but doubt the validity of reported test scores??

and he has a medical reason to change schools, there are so many variables in this equation, you are the most important variable in helping him Good luck and have a positive attitude.
08:58 January 26, 2013 by skogsbo
An over controlling parent is more likely to hinder his development than any school choice, those apron strings won't be cut until he is in his 30s, those poor future girlfriends of his!

If you plan to remain here, he must really school locally, build friends and associates, through school and sports, these will become his future network for work and play.
12:45 January 26, 2013 by Florida Gater
To the trolls: will you please stop writing. Stop.

To everyone else:

We were really happy with neighborhood schools until our daughter reached 5th grade, then we had a similar problem as this author. No local schools, and no idea how to select a new schools. This problem is especially hard for ex-pats that have less connection with the word-of-mouth recommendations. By the time I figured out what my choices were, we were way out of the running, since most parents had had their kids on waitlists for years.
14:49 January 26, 2013 by shinnam
As an Ex-pat, and someone that has taught in three counties, I can say American parents are "worried" about good schools because they are unwilling to take time away from their careers to spent time with their kids. Some how schools are supposed to be able to do the nurturing they don't have because they are chasing money. One thing that make Sweden strong is that parents do take time with thier kids.
21:27 January 26, 2013 by Logic_and_Reason
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
03:37 January 27, 2013 by Hunner1210
As an American, I'm glad the author (an American) didn't try and compare this situation with the situation in the US. Because in the US, unless you want to spend a ton of money to send your kid to a private school (which majority are religious-affiliated schools), you go to whatever school the district you live in has chosen for you- and thats it. No options or choices. Also, complaining that English among most other Swedes in the schools isn't as good as the English your half-American (therefore exposed to alot of English) child speaks isn't completely valid, given that its Sweden and they (naturally) speak more Swedish than anything.
09:24 February 2, 2013 by Logic_and_Reason
"But are English schools actually good for English speakers?"

Put your kid in a Swedish school then come back in ten years and tell us how his English writing skills stack up. Or do this: go to several Swedish schools and start speaking English with the students (and the English teacher). Then go to the local English school and start speaking English with them. The difference is like night and day. Then again, the English school students' Swedish skills do suffer, so take that into account.

"The test scores, if I'm even going to consider them, look fine. But without other data about specific population subsets, it's hard to compare these scores with those of nearby neighbourhood schools."

Forget test scores in Sweden. The national tests are graded by the students' own teachers. Not only will two teachers grade these tests differently but many teachers avoid having too many fails among their students and will inflate grades to make themselves look better. This is especially problematic in Sweden's big English school company that you are considering because they use such scores for marketing; the pressure to inflate test scores is significant. I know because I taught there for years. Only a truly anonymous and objective national testing system, which Sweden lacks, has any merit.

One last word about Sweden's glorious English free schools of which Britain is so enamored: beware. They have many untrained, uncertified teachers and many who are certified are highly inexperienced. Those schools cut costs by paying the teachers very low wages (far below national averages, which are already below EU averages by a wide margin). They consider older, more experienced teachers to be too expensive to hire. This leads to very high teacher turnover (check the statistics) and those that are there at any given moment are just learning to handle the dynamics of the classroom and the structure of the Swedish curriculum, which for most is quite unfamiliar.
19:49 May 4, 2013 by KossBoss
"Other evidence intuitively makes sense. As this Atlantic article describes, Finland's education model, consistently ranked one of the best in the world, serendipitously raised their test scores and other measures of success when focusing on something entirely different: equity and cooperation."

Yes, in Finland the classes are mixed where high achieving students are encouraged to help the weaker ones. It's a known fact that by explaining to others you also help to improve and deepen your own knowledge and skills. To explain something to others requires that you really understand the material yourself and increases the chances to detect if you don't, which forces you to reconsider your own knowledge. That's also why PhD students, at least in this country, are obliged to conduct a certain amount of teaching time to undergraduate students.

So your friend's daughter is actually helping and improving herself by also helping other students.
Today's headlines
Sport
Sweden's star striker Zlatan 'recovering well'
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is Sweden's top scorer in history. PHOTO: TT/Maja Suslin

Sweden's star striker Zlatan 'recovering well'

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is recovering well from the nagging heel problem that has stopped him playing for Sweden during its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. READ  

International
Swedish sisters create viral Syria stir
A shot from the video on YouTube.

Swedish sisters create viral Syria stir

Two sisters from Södertälje near Stockholm are celebrating getting more than 1.3 million hits on YouTube, with a video calling for peace in war-torn Syria. READ  

Pirate Bay
Pirate Bay founder gets three years in prison
A 2013 image of Svartholm Warg. Photo: TT

Pirate Bay founder gets three years in prison

Swedish "hactivist" Gottfrid Svartholm Warg has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for hacking crimes. READ  

Royal family
Princess Madeleine to make Nobel comeback
Princess Madeleine at a previous Nobel banquet. Photo: TT

Princess Madeleine to make Nobel comeback

Sweden's Princess Madeleine is scheduled to appear at the Nobel Festival in Stockholm in December, after taking time out from her royal duties to focus on looking after her daughter. READ  

Politics
'We knew that Israel would be critical'
Foreign Minister Margot Wallström (left), with Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Photo: TT

'We knew that Israel would be critical'

Sweden's Foreign Minister has told The Local she respects Israel's decision to recall its ambassador after Sweden officially recognized the State of Palestine, and laughed off comments about IKEA furniture made by her Israeli counterpart. READ  

Analysis
'Store up your sunlight hours before winter'
Doctors say we should make the most of the autumn sunshine. Photo: Shutterstock

'Store up your sunlight hours before winter'

Spending time outdoors this autumn will help you survive a cold, dark Swedish winter. Baba Pendse, Head of Psychiatry at Lund University shares his top tips for battling the seasonal blues with The Local. READ  

Sports
Plot for shared Scandi Winter Olympic bid
Skiers hit the slopes in Åre, western Sweden. Photo: TT

Plot for shared Scandi Winter Olympic bid

Norwegian sports officials have said they want to co-host the winter Olympics with Sweden in 2026. But there has so far been no official response from Sweden. READ  

National
Anti-Israel graffiti 'not a race crime': Court
Photo: TT

Anti-Israel graffiti 'not a race crime': Court

A teenage boy who painted anti-Israel slogans and symbols on the Concert Hall in Gothenburg has been convicted for the damages he caused, but he walked free from racial agitation charges. READ  

Entertainment
A closer look at Sweden's rising stars
Swedish actresses Sandra Huldt and Julia Ragnarsson. Julia (right) has been nominated for a Rising Star award. Photo: TT

A closer look at Sweden's rising stars

Like to be ahead of the game when it comes to the next big thing on the silver screen? We find out more about the Swedish nominees for the Rising Star award to be presented at Stockholm's International Film Festival next week. READ  

Science
Swedish women in two-year sex pill study
Contraceptive pills have been linked to mood swings. Photo: Shutterstock

Swedish women in two-year sex pill study

Three hundred women from across Sweden are taking part in a study designed to demonstrate that modern contraceptive pills don't lead to decreased libido or mood swings. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
Stockholm's shocking take on Halloween
Sport
Top ten quotes from Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
People-watching: October 30th
National
Sweden remains fourth best for gender equality
Blog updates

31 October

Editor’s Blog, October 31st (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello readers, Welcome to our latest 60-second round-up of the week’s news. First, Sweden made headlines around the..." READ »

 

29 October

Scariest day (Blogweiser) »

"This is what’s frightening me on Halloween. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4OFZVCu8J0&list=UUJu5J7jG4uoYSjWbpFsJBuQ Follow my posts on FB. ..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Timeline: Julian Assange sex allegations
Sport
World Cup ski race on 'fake' Stockholm slope
Society
An Arctic tradition: hunting and handicraft
Society
Stockholm taxis offer free therapy sessions
National
The Local meets Health Minister Gabriel Wikström
Gallery
Property of the week: Österåker
Society
Homeless turtles get Stockholm police ride
National
Construction worker has 'Sweden's best beard'
National
Italian musician jazzes up Sweden's Lapland
Gallery
Zlatan's career in pictures
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching: October 25th and 26th
Lifestyle
'Swedes are funnier than they think'
National
Swedish town 'like Venice' after heavy rains
Lifestyle
What's On in Sweden: October 24th - 31st
Gallery
People-watching: October 22nd
Gallery
In Pictures: Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist
Lifestyle
Eight things to love about renting a Swedish apartment
National
Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden
National
Sub hunt: Day-by-day
National
Sub hunt: Stockholm islanders share their fears with The Local
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
National
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

935
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN