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Report urges Sweden to reform failing school system

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STOCKHOLM (AP) — An international report says Sweden needs to urgently address the declining performance of its schools, a growing embarrassment for the Scandinavian welfare state.

Swedes are used to seeing their nation rank near the top in international surveys on everything from quality of life to economic competitiveness.

But the performance of Swedish students in an international test for 15-year-olds has plunged in the past decade from average to significantly below average.

In a report handed to the Swedish government on Monday, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development urged Sweden to "urgently reform" its school system.

Its recommendations included raising the status — and salaries — of teachers, placing higher expectations on students and improving the integration of immigrants, who on average score lower than native students.

"I used to look at Sweden as the model for education," said Andreas Schleicher, director of OECD's education unit. "But it was sort of in the early 2000s that the Swedish school system somehow seems to have lost its soul."

The report said no other country had seen a steeper fall in the past decade in OECD's Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA. In the latest test in 2012, Sweden ranked 28 among the 34 OECD countries in math, 27 in reading and 27 in science.

Also, the report found school discipline has worsened, with Swedish students the most likely to arrive late for school. Only 5 percent of Swedish secondary-school teachers believe that their profession is valued, according to the report.

Swedish schools are free, funded by the government with tax revenue. But since the 1990s, privately run schools can compete with public schools for government funds.

Critics on the left blame that voucher system for declining results, saying it has opened the door for schools more interested in making a profit than providing solid education.

Conservatives say students have been given too much influence in the classroom, undermining the authority of teachers.

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