Judging by the recent flurry of spending announcements, provincial politicians are eager to spend more money on public education. For example, the Ontario government recently announced that it will invest an additional $180 million to improve the academic skills of its students while Alberta bumped up its education spending by 5.2 per cent
Here in this province, the Manitoba government announced a 6.1 per cent increase in total education funding, the highest increase in decades. Meanwhile, British Columbia plans to spend a whopping 9.4 per cent more per student in the upcoming school year.
No doubt politicians hope that all this extra money will help students recover from more than two years of pandemic-related learning loss. However, before jumping on the spending bandwagon, politicians should ask one key question: Does more money equal a better education?
While countries that spend the least on education perform poorly on international assessments and do indeed improve when spending is increased, higher education spending countries such as Canada see little benefit when they ratchet up their spending further.
In other words, spending more on education leads to better results in poor countries but not in wealthier countries such as Canada. This is borne out by the fact that when comparing provinces, there’s no correlation between total education spending and academic achievement.
For example, Manitoba has the third-highest spending per student in Canada. And yet, Manitoba students consistently have some of the worst test results. According to the latest Programme for International Assessment (PISA) tests, Manitoba students came in dead last among the provinces in math and science.
As for reading, Manitoba came in second last. Only New Brunswick, a province that spends even more per student, fared worse in this category. If more money produced a better education, Manitoba and New Brunswick should be at the top of the pack. But they aren’t.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to improve schools without spending more money. Getting woke ideology out of schools would be a great place to start. Pushing woke ideology on students and staff is not just a waste of time, it causes serious harm.
The recent suicide of Richard Bilkszto, a highly regarded Toronto principal who suffered a mental health crisis after the facilitator of an “anti-racism” professional development session bullied him mercilessly for raising questions about her presentation was a tragic example of what can happen when woke ideologues take over the school system.
In addition, students are in school to get an education, not to be indoctrinated. This means they should spend more time learning the academic basics and less time doing social justice activism.
Encouraging teachers to take charge of their classrooms would also do wonders to improve academic achievement. Research is clear that direct instruction, where teachers provide clear step-by-step lessons with plenty of opportunity for students to practice, is an effective way to help students learn. And knowledge-rich classrooms help students improve their reading comprehension.
Interestingly, these kinds of reforms don’t require any extra money. And yet each of them could potentially make a huge difference in the quality of education students receive.
If we are serious about improving our schools, it’s time to get beyond tiresome arguments about money. There are much more important issues that need to be addressed.
Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher and a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.