By: Graham Lane
When it comes to our public education, taxpayers and parents should ask: “Will more money result in better student performance?”
The answer is “no.”
The Selinger government runs the most expensive and lowest-performing public school system in Canada. Yet, it shamelessly promises to again up spending above inflation if re-elected. Perhaps a clever political move; 80% of education expenditures goes to pay 14,000 teachers.
The evidence shows that kowtowing to the teachers’ union hasn’t resulted in better educated students. For example, between 2002-03 and 2012-13 enrolment in Manitoba public schools decreased by 3.5% while teacher numbers jumped by 5.8%. In addition, the average cost per student increased by 54% while the Consumer Price Index increased by only 21%. Educational costs, now the highest per capita in Canada, have increased by 2.5 times inflation, Put another way, if Manitoba’s education spending was merely at the national average, the province could easily eliminate the school portion of everybody’s property tax.
The latest NDP wheeze boasts about legislating smaller class sizes. Despite these union-centric policies, average achievement of Manitoba students on international tests has fallen to among the lowest in the country.
Not coincidentally, Manitoba’s worsening student outcomes can be traced to the dismantling of the Provincial Assessment Branch immediately after the NDP was elected. Manitoba is the only province without standardized testing to measure student performance. To start pulling students out of the outcomes basement, Manitoba needs an independent agency that can assess and ensure students have mastered the skills and knowledge required to move ahead.
Imagine an education policy that would have school divisions pay tutors (private teachers, Kumon, Sylvan) to bring them up to grade when the agency assesses students as being two grades below grade-level on core requirement levels. Initially, parents would pay for the assessment of their children, but if they are below grade-level the school division would reimburse the parents for 50% of the cost — with school boards to pay for second and subsequent assessments. When students are up to grade-level, tutoring support stops
How would this help students?
First, it would empower parents in their struggles with educational bureaucracies that are often impervious to their concerns. When parents talk to teachers, they often hear: “Just wait, your child will soon catch up.” Parents know that many children do not catch up — they keep falling further and further behind.
Second, this policy would force principals to keep better track of student performance.
Third, principals would ensure that failing students begin remedial programs immediately, before they fall too far behind and parents begin getting their children assessed. Principals would change the way they organize teaching in their schools. They would increase the time and attention that teachers give to students who are falling behind, and they would reassign teachers so that the very best teach the core subjects to the weakest students.
If principals fail to improve students’ learning, they would be demoted or fired by school boards. The boards would act to avoid having to admit that taxpayer dollars were being wasted on paying for assessing and tutoring for increasingly more students falling below grade-level.
That’s how it works in the real world. Why do we expect less from public schools?
Graham Lane chairs Manitoba Forward (www.manitobaforward.ca), focused on sound public policy. Republished from the Winnipeg Sun online edition February 25, 2016.
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