School Choice

School Choice
The author and her niece Amanda at Amanda’s Highschool graduation from Jensen Gymnasium, a high ranking ‘free-school’, in Uppsala, Sweden.

Calling education the civil rights issue of our time, a point many liberals have made too, President Trump in his speech to Congress Tuesday said he wants every parent to be able to send their child to any public, private, religious, charter or home school they choose, echoing ideas championed by Texas’ Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, as well as the Trump administrations new secretary of education Betsy DeVos.

School choice the civil rights issue of this generation

U.S Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) have also said they view school choice as a civil rights issue of this generation, believing school vouchers would level the playing field by allowing poor families to have the same right as wealthy families to send their children to the school that will best help them. In Texas, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick’s Senate Bill 3, would create two separate public programs to subsidize private school tuition and home schooling, including giving parents debit cards backed by taxpayer money.

Still, this is it is not the first time the issue of school vouchers has been on the Texas Legislative agenda. School voucher bills brought up in 2013 and 2015 died and in 2013 House Speaker Joe Straus ( R-San Antonio) warned GOP senators to repeat the mistake of 2007, when a pilot school voucher bill failed due to resistance from rural republicans afraid the plan would drain money from public schools, and by proponents of the bill that declined to nominate their own school district.

Teacher organizations and Democrats have also feared the school choice proposal would provide a big tax loophole for corporations and hurt public education by siphoning tax dollars out of public schools to fund private and religious schools.

Sweden replaced government school system with vouchers in 1992

But according to the Research Institute of Industrial Economics in Stockholm, Sweden, test results in public schools improved due to competition at the same time as the cost of schooling fell. And the wide scope of reform for financing primary education makes the Swedish experience particularly interesting.

In 1992 a voucher system replaced the earlier centralized financial system, where schools had a national curriculum and was the responsibility of the government. Under the new Swedish system, municipal schools and independent schools receive public funding on close to equal terms, and fulfilling certain basic requirements, all kind of schools are eligible, including religious schools and schools run by profit corporations.

An example is Wilhelm Haglund High School located in the rural municipality of Gimo in east central Sweden. Started by Swedish international company Sandvik AB, an engineering group in tooling, materials technology, mining and construction, it was the natural choice for the then 20-year old Johan Älvebrink from the small farming village of Valö. Today he is completing a Master Degree in Industrial Innovation Management at Uppsala University.

“With the increasing Swedish youth unemployment rate (20.3 % of 15-24 year olds in 2015) it was important for me to pick a high school that provided its students with a wide variety of career opportunities after graduation”, Älvebrink said.

One of them was a customized college engineering education at the University of Gävle where Johan Älvebrink received his bachelor degree.

“There is already a lack of engineers specialized in materials technology and demographic projections told us it would get worse” said Tommy Sandin of Sandvik AB. Adding that the university’s new customized materials technology program graduated 40 engineers in 2014 – about as many as the company needed.

Swedish voucher system not without problems

But the Swedish voucher system has not been without criticism. In a triennial study by the OECD published in 2013 and measuring the reading, maths and science proficiency of 15-year olds, Sweden’s overall score fell below the OECD average in 2009 compared to 2000, when Swedish pupils performed a lot better than those in most other countries. Money is not the problem. Sweden’s spending on eduction is among the highest in the world according to OECD, only the United States and Britain spend more money as percent of GDP than Sweden.

And while some blame the poor results on the period the Social Democratic Party was in charge or on poorly paid teachers, Marie Björkman, an Administrator with Täby Municipality, a wealthy suburb north of Stockholm, thinks the problem would be helped by more follow-up and control from government and municipalities, and by better management with a clear idea of the specific strategy for their school.

“When my daughter was to start high-school, we got a lot of marketing material from different schools” Björkman said.  “The school we settled on promised it would prepare students for higher education with an international angle, with the idea that students had class half days and spent the rest of the day studying by them selves – similar to university studies. This required independent and self disciplined highschool students, but in reality it became the choice of many students tired of studying and the school finally had to close its doors. So we had to put her in another school, but it was a great change with excellent results”

Texas House education chief declares school choice bill DOA

What the future of school choice in Texas holds is difficult to predict. Tuesday the top educational policy officer in the Texas House, Dan Huberty (R-Houston) said he and his colleagues in the House debated the issue at length and determined that vouchers would reduce school accountability by putting public dollars in private schools that are not subject to the same rules and also would distract from the more pressing challenge of fixing the Texas school finance system.

Copyright 2017, Caroline Calais. All rights reserved

Swedish poems and my love of nature

Swedish poems and my love of nature


When my dear friend Olle sent me this beautiful photo today, I could not help but to think of the many Swedish poems and poets I love. Few are translated into English but I found this one by Pär Lagerkvist, “Det är vackrast när det skymmer” – “It is fairest in the gloaming air” , that I think fit this pic. so well. Lagerkvist (1891-1974) received a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1951 and was educated at my alma mater Uppsala University.

It is fairest in the gloaming air

(Det är vackrast när det skymmer)

It is fairest in the gloaming air.
All the love the heavens bare
is collected in a dusky light
above the earth,
above the city light.

All is love, caressed by hands.
The Lord himself will vanish distant strands.
All is near, all is far away.
All is given
man for today.

All is mine, and all shall be taken away from me,
within moments all shall be taken away from me.
The trees, the clouds, the earth I face.
I shall wander—
alone, without a trace.
Original by P. Lagerkvist, published in the collection Kaos, 1919.
English translation by P.O. Kristensson, 2011.

I also like Gustav Fröding (1860 -1911). He too studied at Uppsala University, although never taking a degree. He was a journalist though he spent long periods in sanatoriums for the treatment of nervous disorders. Fröding liberated Swedish verse from traditional patterns, uniting conversational style language with a rich musical form, and is probably the Swedish poet I love the most.

The Old Mountain Troll

The evening draws on apace now
The night will be dark and drear;
I ought to go up to my place now,
But ’tis pleasanter far down here.

Mid the peaks where the storm is yelling
‘Tis lonely and empty and cold;
But ’tis merry where people are dwelling,
In the beautiful dale’s green fold.

And I think that when I was last here
A princess wondrously fair,
Soft gold on her head, went past here;
She’d make a sweet morsel, I swear!

The rest fled, for none dared linger,
But they turned when far off to cry,
While each of them pointed a finger:
“What a great, nasty troll! oh, fie!”

But the princess, friendly and mild-eyed,
Gazed up at me, object of fright,
Though I must have looked evil and wild-eyed,
And all fair things from us take flight.

Next time I will kiss her and hold her,
Though ugly of mouth am I,
And cradle and lull on my shoulder,
Saying: “Bye, little sweet-snout, bye!”

And into a sack I’ll get her,
And take her home with me straight,
And then at Yule I will eat her
Served up on a fine gold plate.

But hum, a-hum! I am mighty dumb,–
Who’d look at me then so kindly?
I’m a silly dullard–a-hum, a-hum!
To think the thing out so blindly.

Let the Christian child go in peace, then;
As for us, we’re but trolls, are we.
She’d make such a savory mess, then,
It is hard to let her be.

But such things too easily move us,
When we’re lonely and wicked and dumb,
Some teaching would surely improve us.
Well, I’ll go home to sleep-a-hum!

This last poem is also written by Gustav Fröding, but in Swedish — I don’t dare to translate… It was the first poem I ever read. I was in junior hight at this time grappling with bullies and trying to find a way to cope. Gustav Fröding helped me, and so did my love for nature.


En klang som av små violiner
går svag som susning i hassel och björk,
och månen på ängarne skiner,
men skogen är midnattsmörk.
Det skymtar, det svävar som böljande hår,
det dansar på yra eteriska tår.
Ti ta! Ti ta! Ti ta!

Det skymtar som barmar och halsar,
det lyfter på släp som av silke och flor,
det vajar, det viftar och valsar
i nätta, bevingade skor.
Vem är det, som håller sin vindlätta bal
vid midnattens timme i månsilversal?
Ti ta! Ti ta! Titania!

Listen to me reading the poem:

Efter USA-valet : Texas det nya Kalifornien

Efter USA-valet : Texas det nya Kalifornien


Hillary Clintons TV-annons köp i Dallas, Houston och San Antonio två veckor innan det amerikanska president valet 2016 visar hur mycket Texas har förändrats. Staten som inte valt en enda demokratisk representant sedan 1994, då sittande Guvernör Ann Richards förlorade mot republikanske utmanaren George W. Bush, såg ut att ha en möjlig chans att gå från säker “kampanj- kassakista stopp” — Donald Trump skramlade bland annat ihop 1 miljon dollar i kampanj bidrag vid ett eftermiddags möte i Dallas/Fort Worth i början av Oktober —  till möjlig swing stat. Så hoppades iallafall det demokratiska partiet. De blev besvikna. I det amerikanska presidentvalet den 8 november fick den republikanska utmanaren Donald Trump 290 elektorsröster mot demokraten Hillary Clintons 228, och GOP vann ännu en gång Texas.

“Donald Trump är ett perfekt exempel på ‘you can be whatever it is you want to be’. Jag skulle kanske inte valt honom, men jag måste säga att jag beundrar hans ihärdighet”, säger den svarta kvinnan och egenföretagaren Yolanda Compton. “Det spelar ingen roll hur många människor är emot dig, om du verkligen vill ha något och är beredd att jobba för det,  you may just get it!”

Hennes positiva inställning är inte unik. Under de två sista decennierna har Texas snabbväxande storstäder Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin och San Antonio skapat jobbtillfällen och dragit till sig nya invånare, speciellt unga familjer och immigranter, i en mycket högre öknings takt än vad New York, Los Angeles och San Francisco .

“Vi kunde ha flyttat vart som helst”, säger David Arena, chef över JP Morgan Chase fastigheter, som svar på frågan om varför företaget beslutade att flytta 6,000 personer till Plano, en välbeställd förort  20 minuter norr om Dallas. “Vi tittade på många andra ställen i USA, och under en ganska lång tid men bestämde att det här var platsen, här finns allt vi behöver, och man kan inte låta bli att bli imponerad av den kvalitet och kaliber arbetskraften i Dallas har”.

‘Gone to Texas’

De är inte ensamma. Av de 1,510 företag som lämnade Kalifornien mellan 2008 och 2014, har 219 stycken, cirka 15%, valt att omlokalisera till Texas. Det senaste storkapet är Toyota Motor Corporation som har flyttat sitt Nord Amerikanska huvudkontor och 4,000 anställda till Legacy West, en ‘business park’ i norra Dallas där det svenska telecom företaget Ericsson redan har sitt Nord Amerikanska huvudkontor. Totalt sett så har omkring 37,000 jobb och investeringar motsvarande 6.47 miljarder dollar lämnat Kalifornien och istället kommit Texas till godo.

“Det är mycket enklare att göra business i Texas”, säger Joseph Vranich, president av Spectrum Location Solutions en konsultfirma i Irvine, Kalifornien. “Varför det är så? Många tror att det har att göra med låga skatter, men enligt min åsikt är nummer 1 fördelen att Texas har enkla och få regleringar som företagen har att anpassa sig efter. I Kalifornien är regelverket så kärvt och komplicerat att det tvingar företag att söka sig till andra stater. Till exempel, om det är fel på en löne utbetalnings avi, kan företaget bli bötesfällt”.

Texas Miraklet

En topputbildad arbetskraft är dock inte det enda som lockar företag att flytta till The Lone Star State. Låga skatter, billigt boende och få och enkla regler för företagsverksamhet är också en bidragande faktor. Och resultatet av det så kallade Texas Miraklet, en konservativ politik där företagsvänlighet kopplat med en liten statsapparat varit vägledande ideal i decennier, är tydligt.  Staten är nummer 1 i landet när det gäller att skapa nya jobb, ekonomin räknas till en av de 10 största i välden och Texas har gång på gång utnämnts till en av de bästa staterna i USA att göra affärer i. Och även om det länge sagts att stora befolkningscentra längs öst och väst kusten har varit en naturlig inkubator for innovativa tech företag har det visat sig att Texas utsträckta storstäder har adderat jobb inom ingenjörsteknik,  forskning, teknologi,  och matte,  så kallade STEM-job, i en högre takt än vad San Fransisco Bay Area, New York, Los Angeles och Chicago gjort. Sedan 2001 har STEM job ökat 35 procent i Austin, 22 procent i Houston och 17 procent i Dallas.  Under samma tid var ökningen av STEM jobb 6 procent i San Jose och 2 procent i New York.  I Los Angeles har ökningen varit noll, och Chicago har under samma tid förlorat 3 procent av sådana positioner.

“Norra Texas är, av tusen anledningar, den bästa platsen för entreprenörer att starta”, säger Dallas miljardär och högljudd Trump kritiker Mark Cuban. “Många startups tittar på Silicon Valley, New York och Los Angeles, men jag tycker inte de har fler fördelar än vi har här”. Han borde veta. Cuban, född i Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, flyttade till Dallas 1982 och gjorde sig en förmögenhet när han, 1999, sålde sin startup Broadcast dot com till Yahoo för $5.7 miljarder.

Diversifierad ekonomi balanserar lägre oljepriser

Och  till skillnad från 1980- talet då fallande oljepriser ledde till två allvarliga lågkonjukturer, en 1982, då en ekonomi i fritt fall fick 370 Texas banker att  stänga portarna, en andra 1986-87, så har Statens  diversifierade ekonomi den här gången hjälpt att mildra stöten av lägre oljepriser. Trots att  Texas jobbmarknad bara växte 1.5 % under 2015, och för första gången sedan 2003 föll under det nationella medeltalet,  flockas människor hit.  Enligt US Census Report fanns 8 av de 20 platser som såg en befolkningsökning under 2015 i The Lone Star State. Totalt flyttade 412,000 människor till Dallas, Houston, San Antonio och Austin, 63% av dessa kom ifrån andra US stater eller från andra länder.

“Kanske har jag druckit för mycket Kool-Aid” säger den Brittiska journalisten på The Economist, Adrian Wooldridge. “Men Texas känns som Kalifornien efter andra världskriget, när den var den ‘gyllene staten’ och gjorde allting rätt.  Amerika har två stora problem, långsam tillväxt och ett samhälle som är delat  i miljardärer och tiggare. Texas har dock skapat en tillväxt som ger affärsmöjligheter och ett samhälle som tillgodoser det behov vanliga familjer har”.

Leder USA i vindkraft


Mer än 100 år efter upptäcken av världens mest produktiva oljekälla ,Spindeltop, ledde till Texas olje boom, och trots att nya företags huvudkvarter, shopping center, golfbanor och nybyggda hem, växer upp som svampar, är energisektorn fortfarande viktig. Texas är nationens största energiproducerande stat, ledare i naturgas- och råolja produktion. Och efter att Guvernör George W. Bush 1999, i samband med att Statens elmarknad privatiserades,  klubbade igenom en bestämmelse som tvingade aktörerna på elmarknaden att producera grön energi, är Texas också nations ledande i vindkraft. Solenergin är på frammarsch och Solar Energy Industry Association beräknar att Texas får så mycket solljus att Staten kan försörja världens elbehov två gånger om.

Copyright 2016, Caroline Calais. All rights reserved

What is a smart grid?

Although electrification undoubtedly was the most significant engineering achievement of the 20th century, the U.S. electric power
infrastructure – the grid – is quickly running up against its limitation. Bigger TVs, bigger houses, more air conditioners and more computers
coupled with population growth have since 1982 increased our demand for electricity so much that it, according to the U.S. Department of
Energy, exceeds transmission growth by almost 25% per year.

This is bad news, especially as spending on research and development within the electric industry – the first step towards innovation and renewal – is among the
lowest of all U.S. industries. In fact, since 2000 only 688 additional miles of interstate transmission has been built, and America’s century-old grid consists today of around 300,000 miles of transmission lines and 9,200 electric generating units with 1,000,000 megawatts of generating capacity. It is estimated that system constraints and power quality issues cost American business more than $100 billion each year.

But change is on the way. The smart-grid, a decentralized and more consumer interactive network, characterized by a two-way flow of electricity and information will be capable of monitoring everything from power plants to consumer preferences and individual appliances. In short, this information and communication technology (ICT) based energy delivery network enables a near-instantaneous balance of energy supply and demand.

This is something the electric industry so far has been unable of doing. The reason is that electricity must be consumed the moment it is generated, and when there
is no way of exactly establish how much demand exists at a given time it is tricky to determine how much supply is the right supply.

The smart-grid thus minimizes the need for traditional, expensive peak capacity. The grid’s intelligent design makes it capable of fast sensing system overloads and rerouting power and it is able of meeting consumer demand without adding infrastructure. That is good news for consumers. Currently between 33% – 50% on our electric bill is assigned to maintenance of the electric infrastructure.

And the smart-grid will not only make possible for the consumer to tailor their energy consumption based on individual preferences, such as price or environmental concerns, the grid also accepts energy from virtually any fuel source including solar and wind.

Copyright 2016, Caroline Calais. All rights are reservedtexas-vind-farm

Journalist: fill Sweden with ISIS, force anti immigrant Swedes into exile

Journalist: fill Sweden with ISIS, force anti immigrant Swedes into exile

In a debate article, November 5, Swedish journalist and opinion editor Teodor Stig-Matz on the news site Nyheter24, blasted rural and working class Swedes saying that Sweden should be filled with Islamic terrorists so that people negative to immigration would be forced into exile.

” I used to be proud of Sweden”, he writes in an open letter to Sweden Democrat parliament member Ken Ekeroth .” But I despise you and the Swede’s voting for your party — you all speak with disgusting dialects, and I would like to put all small cities in Sweden behind walls and throw away the key!”.

I used to be proud of Sweden too Mr. Stig-Matz, the country was by many seen as a beacon of light and social innovation, an example on how to solve and deal with societal problems in a fair way. But your blatant disdain for democracy – about 25% of Swedes today identify themselves with the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats making it the country’s largest political party – is frightening, so is your prejudice of rural Swedes.

Growing up on the small rural island of Gräsö I can assure you my friends and family are thoughtful people worried about Sweden’s future. They come from all walks of life, and from different political ideologies.  But although countries such as France and Germany in absolute terms receive more asylum seekers, Sweden has the largest number of asylum applications per capita in the European Union, and it has had a both cultural and economic impact on the country populated by 9.64 million people.

In October, for example, the country’s migration agency raised its forecast to as many as 190,000 people arriving this year, and 170,000 in 2016. The agency also warned the cost will rise to 60 billion kronor 2016, doubling its earlier forecast, and reach about 70 billion kronor in 2019.

The strain on the system is already visible and it is no doubt that the Sweden Democrat leader, Jimmie Åkesson, has tapped into a massive anger over the country’s high youth unemployment, deteriorating quality of healthcare, elderly care and public education, plus the traditional political parties unwillingness to address the problems.

” I neither trust the politicians, nor the media”, says my friend Sven-Olof Larsson, a retired dentist.

The sentiment is not unique. A day after the brutal knife attack at an IKEA in the the country’s fifth largest city of Västerås, where one refugee allegedly killed a 55-year old mother and her 27-year old son on the same day he had been denied asylum, one of Sweden’s largest newspapers, Aftonbladet in an article, denied rampant social media rumors that they had censured or misrepresented information concerning the case.

That is as troubling as Mr.Stig-Matz’s open disdain for democracy, and points to one of Sweden’s biggest problem — the media. Historically tied to the political parties and state-run until the early 1990s when satellite technology paved the way for privatization, they are not in a habit of scrutinizing politicians or public policies, except when it comes to the Sweden Democrats.


Copyright, 2016, Caroline Calais. All rights are reserved.