Marek Hlavac, a visiting fellow at the Adam Smith Institute proposes that if British prime minister Gordon Brown really wants to enforce a legislation that would improve standards in the UK's quality-falling school system, then he should consider the Swedish-styled reform choice from 1992:
"Affluent parents can afford to send their children to a private school, or move into the catchment area of a good state school. The disadvantaged, however, often have no choice but to have their children assigned to a state school, often of low quality, by their Local Education Authority. The widespread application of the surplus places policy, furthermore, prevents good state schools from expanding and rules out the establishment of a new school, if there are spare places in an existing state school nearby. That's like the state banning a busy restaurant from laying extra tables because there are spare places in an unpopular one next-door – absurd."
Source: Marek Hlavac, A Lesson from Sweden (link)
In 1992, Swedish government, under the chairmanship of Carl Bildt, introduced voucher in the education system by allowing parents to send their children to any school they choose, whether it be municipal, independent or religious.
15 years after the implementation of education reform, the sector of the independent schools has grown rapidly (link). And the outcomes improved as well. For example, in 1992 Sweden spent $7,000 USD per pupil, while the outcome resulted in falling middling scores on international tests despite the fact that Sweden's spending per pupil was more than in any other country in the world.
Distorting inefficiencies of government-owned education system are perhaps the most powerful practical evidence of the inefficiency of monopoly structures in the market. Higher price at a fixed supply of education products combined with comparatively lower quality trippled by the lack of choice in satisfying consumer's utility of education surely evinces a measure-based indicatior of the inferiority of government-run education system.
The essence of education reform based on voucher-type financing is that a certain amount of money for covering the costs of education is not transfered to schools, but instead contributed to individuals while having a competition among schools, competing to attract new students through the channels of innovation, choice, perspective and a rock-bottom incentive to deliver the best quality under the lowest possible price - the way the competitive forces of supply and demand work in product markets.
In fact, education is a product purchased by the consumer (student) at a certain price compensated by the quality which a student receives after he pays the product price of education.
Imagine the world in which Ericsson would be the only supplier of cell phones and government the only supplier of networks. In the absence of competiton in this particular product market, Ericsson's quality of cell phone supply would starting falling while prices would grow constantly and customer satisfaction with Ericsson's cell phones would quickly start to shrink and the inefficiencies would occur tremendously.
The mechanics of the government-run education system is similar. The fact is that progressive education system embrace the generalized curriculum, disregarding the education based on outcome such as the competitiveness of the future graduates in the labor market. It often happens that the guidelines of knowledge supply in the state schools is not matched by the real world.
The answerable question of how to solve the inefficiency of government-run education is to let the enforcement of competitive forces in the education sector while giving students and parents the ability to choose where and how they want to invest in education which, as Benjamin Franklin once said, always pays the best interest.
Ron Sunseri: The Swedish Model; The Failure of Progressive Education, Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, April 7, 1992 (link)
Friedrich August von Hayek: Intellectuals and Socialism, The University of Chicago Law Review, pp. 417-420, 421-423, 425-433, Spring 1949 (link)
Staffan Waldo: School Vouchers and Public School Productivity - The Case of the Swedish Large Scale Voucher Program, SIFAE, 23 March 2006 (link)
FCPP Publications: School Vouchers in Sweden (link)
Friderik Bergstrom, Mikael Sandstrom: School Choice Works! The Case of Sweden, Vol. 1, Issue 1, Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation, December 2002 (link)