Stop Listening to Union

Commentary, Education, Frontier Centre

Another year, another poor showing for Manitoba's students, compared with others in Canada. This province's Grade 8 students fell well below the Canadian average in a national test for math, topping only New Brunswick and P.E.I.

More bad news: The 2010 test taken by 32,000 Canadian students also assessed language arts and science skills and found Manitobans are bottom -dwellers of the nation, faring better only than counterparts in Yukon. The Manitoba Teachers' Society believes that only looks bad because if "confidence intervals" are interpreted in the best way possible, Manitoba was mere points behind others.

Education Minister Nancy Allan cannot ignore the profound implications of the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program, sponsored by Canadian education ministers. The results fall into a decade-long trend revealed by a cascade of assessments. International results from the OECD, national bodies and also the provincial and Winnipeg School Board's comprehensive assessment programs all show that since 2000, Manitoba students have been struggling to keep up and, more recently, slipping against national averages.

Last year, when national comparisons were laid upon Ms. Allan's desk, she found solace in the MTS assurances that an influx of immigrants explained why Manitobans came almost last in science, math and reading.

The teachers' union now suggests Manitoba's results will turn around because it is following moves taken by high-performers such as Ontario, with all-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes — which requires hiring more teachers who are educating many fewer students with each year that passes. Ontario, which has consistently outperformed Manitoba, only introduced all-day kindergarten last year.

High-performing provinces stress standards with provincial tests, and accountability through publicly reporting student performance. Manitoba does not. It has a provincial exam for two subjects in Grade 12 but hides the results of these tests and its assessments in earlier grades.

Mathematics professors blame a curriculum that has moved away from stressing mastery of math basics in early grades. National tests indicate a similar problem in language arts and science.

Ms. Allan must stop taking comfort from a union with vested interests. She must accept the results of national and international tests and of university professors who see the results of high school education. She needs to mandate curriculum and testing standards that focus the school day on stressing the fundamentals in these core subjects, with good public accountability to parents and taxpayers.