Education success story needs to be recognized in Canada



    TORONTO, Dec. 27 /CNW/ - Never quite sure how to handle good news. Take
the issue of education.
    Recently, in the National Post (Oct. 17), Robert Fulford called for a
"radically reformed" education system. High school students, he said, seem
"barely able" to tolerate books and learning; public schools are not taking
parents to task for sending them "ill-mannered, ill-educated" children; "many
students" arrive at university unable to read a poem or write a sentence. He
proposed a restructuring of the public school system based on the competitive
schools model favoured by the U.S. right wing. Parents, he said, should be
able to set up their own schools and direct tax money to them.
    Then, in The Globe and Mail (Nov. 29) Margaret Wente, said she was
surprised that Canadian parents rated schools as well as they did in a
national poll (42 per cent of those polled gave schools a B; one third gave
them a C; six per cent gave them an A.) Canadian schools, Ms. Wente said, are
resistant to change. Immigrant parents, she said, are dismayed by lax
discipline, disrespectful students and low math standards. "As always," she
alleged, "the biggest losers are not the children of the upper middle class,
but the children of the poor who have little help at home and no other place
to go."
    But where is the evidence to support such dire conclusions about the
state of education in Canada? Unhappily, the columnists rely on anecdotes, not
facts. Indeed, the facts stand in opposition to their grumpy assessments:
Canadian students persist in scoring high marks in virtually every
international assessment of ability.
    Consider the report of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and
Development.
    In that report, available at
http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/52/1/37392733.pdf, the OECD notes that
15-year-old Canadian students perform well above average in mathematics and
that a significant proportion of them rank as high achievers. Canadian
students finished fifth among 30 OECD countries, behind only Finland, Korea,
The Netherlands and Japan.
    The report also highlights the fact that Canada's education system would
make U.S. President George Bush envious: Canada, it turns out, is among the
world's best at ensuring no child is left behind.
    Concludes the OECD: "Few students are left behind in the Canadian
education system compared to other OECD education systems: only 10.1 per cent
of students in the upper secondary age perform at level one or below on the
PISA mathematics scale - meaning they are unable to display the minimum level
of mathematics proficiency needed to succeed in their professional and private
life." So how can Ms. Wente charge that Canadian schools are victimizing this
country's poor?
    There's more. A recent international literacy test found that Alberta,
British Columbia and Ontario were ranked among the top ten jurisdictions in
the world. The test, known as the Progress in International Reading Literacy
Study, measured a range of reading comprehension skills in Grade 4 students
from 45 countries and provinces. Five Canadian provinces chose to participate.
Only Russia and Hong Kong performed at a higher level than Ontario. The United
States and England placed 18th and 19th respectively.
    Then, earlier this month, the latest Programme for International Student
Assessment (PISA) results showed that Canadian students also excel in science.
According to the study, only students in Finland and Hong Kong displayed
better overall achievement levels in science than those in Canada.
    In Ontario, 91 per cent of Grade 10 students met or exceeded the science
benchmark set by the international study, which tested achievement levels in
57 countries. Ontario also displayed one of the smallest achievement gaps
between rich and poor students in the world, the study found.
    All of this success has been delivered at a competitive price, according
to the OECD. Its report credits Canada's primary and secondary education
system with high levels of student achievement for a "very reasonable level of
investment" (slightly above the average per pupil expenditures made in the
world's 30 most developed countries.).
    This is the system Mr. Fulford derides as being "lax and cynical?" This
is the system he wants drastically overhauled? This is the system that, in Mr.
Fulford's opinion, turns out uneducated graduates who are a drain on this
country's economy and culture?
    The problem is that Canada, too, persists in succeeding. The federal
government this year enjoyed a $13.8 billion surplus (reducing the federal
debt to its lowest level in 14 years), the dollar has reached parity with its
U.S. counterpart (for the first time since 1976) and unemployment has fallen
to 5.9 per cent (the lowest rate since 1974). Meanwhile, Canada's exports and
imports hit record levels in 2006.
    Isn't it more reasonable to conclude that public education has played a
significant role in this country's success? Shouldn't teachers be
congratulated for helping to equip a nation's workforce with the talent to
thrive in a competitive and changeable global economy?
    As for culture, let's consider the role of public education today.
Schools are at the forefront of building a cohesive society at a time when
Canada has never been more multicultural. More than one million immigrants
have settled here during the past five years. Yet Canada's record of
peacefully absorbing newcomers remains the envy of European nations.
    In part, surely, that is a reflection of the work that goes on in our
schools, where teachers actively meld cultures from around the world.
    Make no mistake, The Learning Partnership believes the education system
needs to be improved. But unlike some columnists, The Learning Partnership
bases its recommendations on facts in the classroom.
    We believe the system needs better research to inform teaching methods.
That it needs to do a better job of moulding good citizens. That it needs to
bring more parents into schools. That it needs to sharpen efforts to help
students most at risk of dropping out, particularly First Nations students.
That it needs to ensure classroom instruction is relevant to all Canadians.
    What the Canadian school system emphatically does not need is radical
surgery - especially when all of the clinical evidence suggests the patient is
in robust good health.





For further information:

For further information: George James, The Learning Partnership, (416)
440-5124 (w), (416) 402-3783 (c), gjames@thelearningpartnership.ca

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