Manitoba Must Focus on Academic Achievement

By Zwaagstra, Michael | Winnipeg Free Press, August 29, 2014 | Go to article overview

Manitoba Must Focus on Academic Achievement


Zwaagstra, Michael, Winnipeg Free Press


When it comes to K-12 academic achievement, Manitoba experienced a steady decline over the last 15 years. Once near the Canadian average, Manitoba now comes in second last out of all the provinces. Unfortunately, based on this government's track record in education, things are likely to get worse before they get better.

In a study recently released by the C. D. Howe Institute, Simon Fraser public policy professor John Richards analyzed data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Every three years, PISA tests more than 500,000 15-year-old students from approximately 65 countries in the core competencies of math, reading, and science. Students from all provinces participated in the latest PISA tests.

Richards noted that from 2000 to the present, Manitoba was one of only two provinces (the other being Prince Edward Island) to experience a statistically significant decline in all three competency areas. To make matters worse, only Manitoba's math and reading results declined by 35 points.

Interestingly, when it comes to per-student expenditures, Manitoba ranks near the top in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, Manitoba's per-student spending comes in a close second to that of Alberta. In the 2010-2011 school year, Manitoba spent an average of $13,150 per student, which was more than $500 higher than the national average. Clearly, more spending does not necessarily lead to better academic results.

Richards used the worldwide PISA data to examine education policies that seem to improve student achievement. Most notably, high-performing jurisdictions give schools more autonomy while simultaneously expecting them to publicly report their students' academic achievement levels.

Unfortunately, Manitoba does the exact opposite. Schools and teachers have little autonomy since the provincial government dictates everything from anti-bullying policies to report card comments. At the same time, the province has systematically abolished all standardized tests except for two administered at the Grade 12 level. But, shamefully, the results of the tests are kept hidden from the public.

In fact, when it comes to student achievement, Manitoba is the most secretive province in the country. No other province goes to such lengths to keep the public in the dark about how students are doing. If it weren't for international tests such as PISA, Manitobans would have no idea that student achievement has been falling for 15 years. …

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