Controversy over Swedish math scores

24 Jul

Having done research on the Flynn Effect, I am interested in how and why scores on cognitive tests of large populations change over time.

This week a controversy has erupted over the decline in math scores of Swedish students. Two explanations have been proposed; one centers on the implementation of educational vouchers, the other argues that the problems lies in faulty teaching techniques.

I suspect there is some truth in both arguments. Having studied education for many years now, I have come to realize that the problems are complex and, while we should always keep an open mind, it pays to be suspicious of simple solutions that are supposed to fix all the problems. This is certainly the case for school vouchers, which are still touted as a miracle cure for education, now that the experiment has been tried I think it is safe to say that education privatization has been a failure.

On the other hand, faddish educational innovations such as group and cooperative learning have also not been successful. There is evidence that some students are actually harmed by grouped learning . Group learning has a substantial free rider effect, where students who have not mastered the material are evaluated based on group rather than individual performance.  As a consequence, these students do not receive the extra help they need.

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