Learning from Canada's schools

Canada may have national health care, but its schools are a model of local control, write Lance Izumi and Jason Clemens, both of the Pacific Research Institute, in the Washington Times. Canada’s federal government doesn’t fund K-12 education, leaving funding and policy to provinces and districts.

Several Canadian provinces provide direct per-student grants, similar to vouchers, to private independent and religious schools. In British Columbia, the provincial government funds children attending eligible private independent schools through per-student grants to those schools, with the amount dependent on the operating costs of the receiving school. In Alberta, private independent and religious schools can receive per-student grants that are a percentage of the per-pupil funding for the public schools. In addition to empowering parents of all income levels, provinces with school-choice programs have seen higher student achievement.

According to a study by the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute, “achievement scores are not only higher generally in the provinces that fund independent schools, but also higher particularly among students from less advantaged backgrounds.”

Canadian students score higher than U.S. students on international tests.

On the 2006 Progress in Reading Literacy Study exam, multiethnic British Columbia and the other pro-school-choice provinces of Alberta and Ontario all significantly outscored the U.S. in fourth-grade reading.

The U.S. outspends Canada by 20 percent per student, Izumi and Clemens estimate.

Update: We may be able to beat Canada in hockey, says Bob Wise of Alliance for Excellent Education, who’s at the Winter Olympics. But we can’t beat them in high school education.

On the other hand: Two Winnipeg high school teachers have been suspended for a sexually suggestive dance — apparently inspired by a porn video — they performed at a high school pep rally. Those peppy Canadians!

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  1. A couple of things to add to this –

    The Fraser institute is one of Canada’s most extreme right-wing think tanks. Their goal is to work towards dismantling Canada’s public institutions, with a focus on attacking public Education and our Healthcare system. Please don’t take any of their pronouncements on education as a balanced view of the Canadian situation. If you are going to listen to the Fraser institute, you should also listen to others – a more ‘progressive’ research institute is the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (http://www.policyalternatives.ca/) – they have also published quite a bit on education in Canada. (I’m not suggesting that either of these organizations present a balanced view of education in Canada, just distinct.)

    Ontario is mentioned as a “pro school choice” province. I am not certain this is accurate. AFAIK there is absolutely no voucher system, or anything like one, in Ontario, at least not at the provincial level. Certain school-boards within Ontario may promote school choice, but others certainly do not. In Ottawa (the capital of Canada), the public school-board is actively eliminating choice options for families and trying to create a “community school model” that restricts student transfers, ensuring that students stay in their neighborhood school

    To say that the Federal Government of Canada does not fund education is also misleading. At a minimum, the Feds fund all the activities of “have not” provinces through federal transfer payments, in which wealth is spread from richer provinces to poorer ones (yeah, we do crazy things like that up here). Also, the Feds fund quite a few initiatives that overlap with educational concerns through social development programs, skill development programs, and programs targeted at particular communities. So, although education is a Provincial rather than Federal concern, untangling all of the funding questions is quite complicated.

    The flip-side of having no Federal regulation of education in Canada is that we have a ridiculous amount of duplication – each province has its own Ministry of Ed, which comes up with its own independent curriculum standards, large-scale testing programs, teacher certification regimes, etc. This means more money spent on the bureaucratic side of things, and arguably a lack of consistency across the country in terms of curriculum, standards, teacher qualifications, etc.

    Canada and the US share many similarities, but certain US states resemble Canada far less than others. If you are going to compare Canada with the US, a more fruitful way to do so may be to compare Canadian practices with the particular US states that most resemble Canada in demographic terms. I am not sure what comparisons this might yield, but I think simply comparing Canadian and American practices ignores the huge differences that exist between these countries when considered as a whole.

  2. “Ontario is mentioned as a “pro school choice” province. I am not certain this is accurate.”

    Ontario is far from pro-school choice. In fact, it is the complete opposite. The current government has made a concerted effort to squelch any school choice initiatives. It’s first act when it came into power was to rescind an education tax credit for parents who had their kids in private schools.

  3. @ I Murasak
    Not to get into a Canada-centric argument via posts here…

    It’s amusing that someone could see the current Ont. Liberal gov stance on education in a negative light when compared to the previous Conservative gov. approach to education.

    Although the current gov. may loose points on promoting ‘choice’ (if you actually consider tax credits to be reasonable and equitable way to promote choice), they took over from a gov. that had all but declared war on public education. Any choice presented to Canadians, or Americans, should include a strong public system, and Ontario seems to be in a better position in that regard now than it was prior to the current government.

    The tension between school choice and promoting community public schools isn’t an easy one to resolve. I think public school boards need to do more to foster innovation and promote choice within a public system that welcomes all students. Most school boards here are not doing that enough.

  4. The presentation of the Canadian school systems (plural intended) also misses the degree of re-distribution in financial support (what I’d just call fairness). In Ontario, for example, funding formulae start with equal per student funding regardless of whether you live in a rich neighbourhood or poor one. Then additional funding is provided for communities with large percentages of (potential) social disadvantage…new immigrants, low income households, etc. There is also extra funding for northern communities and other categories. Really quite opposite to what happens south of the border.

  5. The one point that the Fraser report *might* be pointing to vis-a-vis Ontario is the fact that due to historical accident, Catholic schools in Ontario (don’t know about the rest of Canada) are fully funded by the province. Thus all students have a choice of regular or Catholic school. (There are separate Boards, trustees, unions, etc.)

    It’s of dubious legality (discriminates towards RC), but it was guaranteed in the 1867 constitution, so it gets a bye.


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