Saturday, September 10, 2011

Liberal Education for the English Speaking Whirled

The Liberal Party has some terrific ads out for the election. Seriously.
The Leadership/Education ad sounds great, and Premier McGuinty appears confident and assertive.

But the message is deceitful.

Nothing is more important to Ontario's Economic Future Than Education Kindergarten.

The idea, of full-day kindergarten, has a long history in the Ontario Liberal party. Planning goes back to the Peterson government , in the later 1980's, in a paper delivered by George Radwanski (father of Adam, currently the Globe and Mail's Queen's Park columnist)  To their credit, the Liberal government did commission Charles Pascal to prepare a report on how best to integrate the Premier's dictum – a report I find excellent with the exception of very thin staffing advice.

Kindergarten is a social program far more than an education program. The idea of pre-school is that the 30-35% of children at risk of feeling particularly stupid and alienated in school, will get the help to make it through school and not become drug-addled criminals. The teachers' union managed to get Pascal to include teachers in the kindergarten plan with the role: “Prepares children for transition to the Grade 1 curriculum.”
If you think your child needs to be prepared for grade 1, you think your child is an idiot. 
It's beneficial to both the children and the parents to have the kindergartens available – either to free up our own time or to have the children socialize. It just has absolutely nothing to do with advanced education – the type that drives economies.

The class size argument is probably very similar – it might bring down the crime rate, but there's not likely a correlation to the production of exceptional scholars.

High School Graduation Rate is Up.

Oh good. Seriously.
But again, why does that translate into education that drives the economy?

A fascinating article from the New York Times (from which I stole the graphic) indicates that the cause of raising grades, in colleges in the USA, isn't related to learning. I won't paraphrase the article because I think everybody should read it.  I e-mailed the link to my father, who sent a response including, “Academics are paid by the head, not what's in them.”

The internal grades, and related graduation rates, are clearly not reliable indicators of improved learning.

Best Schools in the English-speaking World

As the Premier speaks that 'Recently our public schools were ranked the best “in the English speaking world,” the source is cited as “McKinsey & Co. November 2010.”  I recalled a Globe and Mail piece, from that time, on a McKinsey study, so this flagged my attention. The foreward to that study is written by a Michael Fullan, who identifies himself as “Special Advisor on Education to the Premier Of Ontario.” It's also only a study of selected jurisdictions (not the whole wide world).

Regardless, the not impartial McKinsey report included;
 “...we are witnessing across the globe a robust anticipatory and proactive interest in OECD’s Programme for International Student Achievement (PISA). PISA is no longer just a ‘results phenomenon’. PISA leaders are increasingly getting at what lies behind the numbers and are thus generating key insights and questions.”

The latest PISA testing was released after the McKinsey 'report' came out. The OECD's PISA testing is of 15 year-olds, and it's conducted every 3 years. There is criticism of the process (including that it rewards a broad mediocrity over the production of a greater percentage of elite students), but I think it is nearly universally considered the best indicator of how one jurisdiction compares to another.  Ontario, and Canada, has always compared very well to other 'english speaking world' locations, for understandable reasons including the educational level of parents, the wealth of parents, and funding levels of the system.   In 2009 Ontario still scored very well (Statistics document first analysis is here).

In reading, not as well as in 2000 (the earliest year shown), and not as well as Alberta.
In math and science, not as well as in 2003 (the earliest year shown), and not as well as Alberta or Quebec.

What language do they speak in Alberta?

The best information available does not show any improvement in the knowledge of our students since 2003.

The Premier tells us that what Ontario has achieved in the last 8 years is “nothing short of amazing.”

Presenting it as such is nothing short of bullshit.


  1. Good analysis. I would also note that McGuinty's claim that Ontario is the first to have full-day kindergarten in North America is categorically false.

    My daughter went to full-day kindergarten in Quebec in 1998. Quebec implemented the program in 1997.

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