Crawl Across the Ocean

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Bravo to Our Primary & Secondary Schools

According to today's globe, Canadian students are falling back in OECD tests.

Meanwhile, according to the headline in the Vancouver Sun, B.C. students are among the world's best in reading, math and science (registration required).

Personally, I recommend going straight to the source, the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The report is free to download, and even if you don't like numbers and tables as much as I do, it still makes for fascinating reading.

Basically PISA has done two studies of reading, math and science skills among 15 year olds, the first in 2000 and the second in 2003.

Here are some of the key points about Canada's performance:

1) We rank near the top in math (5th in OECD) and reading (3rd), and a little bit further back in science (8th).

2) Neither our absolute or relative ranking has changed very significantly since 2000. The only statistically significant changes were an improvement in one area of mathematics, a small decrease in scores among our top scoring readers and a general (albeit small) decline in science.

3) Canada scores very high on almost all measures of equal opportunity for students. We have one of the smallest variations in score based on economic background, which school you attend, social background or immigrant status. On gender gaps we were roughly in the middle of the pack (girls do much better on reading, guys do a little better on math and it's a dead heat in science).

4) For those who like to compare us to the U.S., there is no comparison. The U.S. is below average on just about every measure while the reverse is true in Canada. And this is despite the U.S. spending roughly 33% more than we do per student ($79,716k vs $59,810 in equivalent U.S. dollars).

The only real messages I take out of it for us are:

1) The system is working pretty well, any suggestion of a crisis or a need for radical change should be viewed with deep suspicion.
2) We need to focus more effort on science education
3) The example of leaders such as Finland and Korea show that we could do even better if we have the will.
4) The Globe should take a lesson from the Vancouver Sun in writing accurate headlines. I can't imagine someone reading this report and not having the 'Canada is kicking ass' reaction outweigh the 'Canada is falling behind' reaction.

I'm not saying there isn't room for improvement or that we should just sit back and relax, just that we should acknowledge that what we have is pretty impressive.

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