What really goes on in Ontario schools

The province's schools have been singled out as some of the best in the world

Ontario provincial politics isn’t my beat, and I’ve had little to say about Thursday’s election until now. But since a cat seems to have the Tim Hudak Conservatives’ tongue I have been casting about for some other insight into the work Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals have been doing in Ontario’s schools, and I remembered something readers in the province should consider.

Every three years  the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests half a million 15-year-olds in 70 jurisdictions around the world on reading, mathematics and science. Canada did well in the latest survey in 2009. But when the OECD decided to concentrate on six jurisdictions around the world to feature their particularly strong performance, quick improvement, value for money or other laudable features, they settled on Shanghai, Poland, Germany, Brazil, Finland — and Ontario.

Why Ontario? Because “Ontario’s education reform has increased elementary literacy and numeracy, improved graduation rates and reduced the number of low-performing schools,” the OECD says. “Thanks to such policies, Canada is one of the top-performing countries in PISA and one of very few that show no gap between immigrant and native students.”

Here’s the OECD PISA page on Ontario, unchanged since last December. It includes two videos Ontario parents should look at. One simply shows Andreas Schleicher, the German physicist who runs PISA, talking into the camera. Here’s most of what he says:

“The Ontario story is also one of strong central leadership coupled with a major investment in capacity-building and trust-building in the field. I’ve been impressed how the McGuinty government worked tirelessly to build a sense of shared understanding and common purpose among key stakeholder groups. Their success rested heavily on the confidence that the government had in the quality of the teaching force. The decision to invest in encouraging local experimentation and innovation has sent a very strong signal that a teacher-generated solution can achieve more than solutions imposed from above. …

“The McGuinty government made no attempt to dismantle or even weaken the assessment regime put in place by the previous government and it consistently communicates that student outcomes matter. But its response to weak performance has consistently been intervention and support, not blame and punishment. They succeeded to dramatically reduce the number of low-performing schools, not by threatening to close them, but by flooding schools with technical assistance and support.”

There are all kinds of reasons to vote against McGuinty. The National Post‘s Chris Selley produced this handy refresher in case you’ve forgotten some. But if you live in Ontario and your issue is schools, I believe the case for voting Liberal on Thursday is strong.

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