April 19th, 2019

Alberta students’ performance falls

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on February 6, 2019.

Numbers show declines despite spending hikes

Angela MacLeod


Parents in Alberta are concerned about the state of elementary and secondary education.

Results from the Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) and international tests including the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) indicate alarming trends, particularly in math.

Unfortunately, a pervasive myth that large cuts to education spending are responsible for the decline in Alberta student performance continues to cloud the education debate.

A reality check quickly dispels that myth.

As noted in a recent Fraser Institute study, in the 10-year period between 2006-07 and 2015-16, spending on public schools in Alberta rose from $6.2 billion to $8.6 billion – an increase of 39 per cent.

To put the increase in public education spending in context, changes in enrolment must also be considered. Between 2006-07 and 2015-16, the number of students enrolled in public schools in Alberta increased by 13.7 per cent while per student inflation-adjusted spending in public schools increased from $12,663 to $13,321 – an 8.1 per cent increase. That’s well above the Canadian average of $12,791.

If increased education spending improved the academic performance of students, we should have seen marginal improvements, at the very least.

So what happened to student performance in Alberta after the provincial spending hikes?

In 2017-18, according to PAT results, 40.8 per cent of Alberta Grade 9 students failed to achieve the acceptable standard in math, up from 32.8 per cent in 2016-2017. That’s an increase of 24.4 per cent in the number of students failing to meet the math standard in a single school year. The percentage of students achieving the standard of excellence also dropped from 19 per cent in 2016-17 to 15 per cent in 2017-18.

Now let’s look at the PISA exams, the gold standard of international testing. These tests are administered to 15-year-old students worldwide every three years in reading, science and mathematics. Math scores in Alberta declined significantly between 2003 and 2015 (the latest year available, as 2018 results have not yet been released).

In fact, no province except Manitoba recorded greater declines in PISA math scores since 2005. And Alberta now ranks below British Columbia and is essentially tied with Ontario – two provinces it once consistently outperformed.

PISA scores for Alberta students in both reading and science have also decreased, although less dramatically.

Clearly, the increase in spending on Alberta education has not improved academic performance. That should concern all parents, policy-makers and taxpayers.

We owe it to young Albertans to ensure they’re prepared with the knowledge and skills needed to be successful and productive adults. The essential promise of public education has always been that all children will receive tools to continue their education and lead happy and prosperous lives.

The numbers don’t lie: something must be done about declining student performance in Alberta. Policy-makers in Edmonton and in school districts around the province can learn from other jurisdictions and what’s been successful in Alberta in the past.

But one thing is certain: if this problem could be solved by simply spending more money, it would be fixed by now.

Angela MacLeod is an analyst with the Fraser Institute and co-author of Education Spending in Public Schools in Canada, 2019. Distributed by Troy Media.

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5 Responses to “Alberta students’ performance falls”

  1. Seth Anthony says:

    The problem has nothing to do with the kids. The problem is the narrow minded adults that can’t see outside of the box. More specifically, they can’t see how archaic and destructive our education system is.

    In general, our education system forces useless and mind numbing information upon kids and teens. To add insult to injury, it’s solely lacking in the three characteristics of a healthy mind: imagination, open mindedness, and most importantly, critical thinking.

    Here is just ONE example of many that I can give:

    Higher math is not necessary for a healthy mind, nor is it necessary for almost all occupations. Yet, not only is it forced upon kids against their will, but society tells them they’re “stupid” for not be able to understand it. The child then develops a hatred towards school and learning, then ends up bathed in emotional distress. We all know what such distress leads to. We are not educating, we are indoctrinating and suppressing minds.

    Educators should only be teaching basic math, communication skills, life skills, and critical thought. The remaining time should be spent allowing the child to pursue and study subjects that they have an interest in. This method of education is far more intelligent than what we have now, and will also create adults that are far more intelligent than what we have now.

  2. Socrates says:

    With a HEAVY dose in indoctrination and memory work and hardly enough cultivation of critical thinking, we should not be surprised at these dismal results.
    Our world is becoming increasingly complex due to faster supply of data and slower provision of abilities to organize them, digest them and use them.
    Providing our youth with data and indoctrination instead of skills to process them, results in societal tunnel-vision. An unbiased design of the curricula without political influence should correct this.

  3. Resolute says:

    Exactly. Maybe focus curriculum on developing the technical and life skills required to acieve successful adult independence and leave the social engineering and regressive propaganda out.

  4. Seth Anthony says:

    The author, Angela MacLeod is an analyst with the Fraser Institute.

    She states:
    Clearly, the increase in spending on Alberta education has not improved academic performance.
    Just like everything else, the answer is right in the palm of our hands. How can it be that it’s invisible to most?

  5. biff says:

    omg – we are losing ground in math!!!!!!!!! no wonder alberta is falling apart; no wonder gov’ts cannot balance our books.
    the letter is as full of crap as is our ed system, the latter still stuck in a time from over a hundred years ago. seth makes far better points. i would add that discussions and examinations with regard to spirituality, empathy, nature, and our place in the natural world need to become essential areas of practice and study in schools. in fact, we would do well to examine the sundry practices we have normalised that are destructive to balance and sustainability…long overdue. let us consider what it means to be considerate.
    as it stands, schools have been sold big time on the proverbial monorail that is technology, especially digital technology. that is dumbing us all down, and feeding the ever widening gulf between humans and the natural world. we have become a bunch of freaks obsessed with our digitalia.

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