November 2, 2009

Canada: not the educational mecca we've been led to believe

Canadian edu-pundits have been leading us to believe that Canada's lefty social policy programs have nearly eradicated both income and racial inequality and have lead to an educational mecca in which achievement gaps are no more.

The data indicates otherwise.

The Toronto District School Board commissioned a nice little study breaking down student achievement by race, parental education, and income.  Before the study you would have been hard pressed to find student achievement data broken down this way.  You'd think they were trying to hide something.

Guess what?  They were.  They were hiding giant achievement gaps.

Here's a nice little table showing student performance broken for third and sixth grades broken down by race.

Holy Moly!  Look at them gaps.  I'd like to say something snarky like "What is this Mississippi?" but that would be an insult to Mississippi.  I know Canada has a shameful history of slavery they don't like to advertise, but I didn't realize it was this bad.

Notice how (East) Asians perform above whites, who perform above Hispanics (Latin American), who perform above blacks.  What a coincidence.  That's how it plays out in the US too. Who would have thunk?  Also, notice how the gaps grow as the students go from third to sixth grade.  Another coincidence?

Now let's look at the break down by income.

First of all I find this entire table shocking.  I thought Canada was some sort of Marxist paradise, but look at that staggering income inequality.  And would you believe that the kids of the people that have higher incomes (before it gets redistributed away) have student achievement as well.  Makes me want to rethink that whole correlation vs. causation thing I always rail against.

Let's look at another shocking table. Parental education vs. student achievement.

Would you believe that kids who have parents who went to college outperform the kids whose parents only completed elementary school.  Shocking.  I thought "free" health care and school lunches solved this problem in Canada.

I simply can't wait until Stephen Downes tries to spin this data away.


Downes said...

Anybody can cherry-pick one study from one district and spin it to their own purposes.

This even applies to DeRosa, who for reasons known only to himself would rather attribute differences in educational outcomes to race rather than economic status.

Dean Shareski said...

Since when is Toronto School District the representative of Canadian education? Wow.

Also, thanks for referring to our country as having "lefty socialist policies". I'm sure our Conservative government would be pleased.

If you want to engage in some real dialogue instead of a diatribe, a bit of diplomacy would be helpful. But my guess from the tone of your writing, you're happy with your approach.

C'est la vie.

TFT said...

Must agree with Downes on this one.

Also, what does the study tell us about gaps and closing them? All it tells me is that they are ubiquitous and more difficult to close than edureformers would have you believe.

Downes said...

Table 17, page 26, compares results by family income:

66% 67% 86% 86% 85% 84%

Less than $30,000
47% 58% 62% 55% 62% 56%

A large proportion, and a majority of the parents, are immigrants. People immigrating from poorer parts of the world are among the poorer people in this survey.

The district has a much higher percentage of new immigrants, and a much higher rate of poverty, than anywhere else in Canada. It is also home to some of the riches people in Canada.

High disparity of income = high disparity of educational outcomes. Exactly what I've been saying over and over, and exactly what DeRosa denies is the case (again, for reasons known only to himself).

KDeRosa said...

I'll just point out a few inconvenient facts.

Toronto is Canada's largest city and has the largest school district.

And, from Table 13: "Among the Black students, those whose parents immigrated from Africa had a slightly higher proportion achieving Level 3/4 than those whose parents were either born in Canada (less than a 10 percentage-point difference) or from the Caribbean (a difference of 6 to 14 percentage points)."

And, with respect to the immigration defense (to the extent it's not contradicted by the actual data) and larger amount of rich people defense, those two conditions exist in the US, but oddly Stephen has never brought them up before in his criticism of the US system.

Northof49th said...

Funny that you're committing the same part/whole fallacy that you accuse Downes of committing.

This is not data about "Canada" but about Ontario -- and Toronto, at that. I notice your posts about Pennsylvania test results don't make sweeping claims to be conterminous with "American" achievement.

Also, you have some other fallacious assumptions. The socialist paradise that provides free school lunches is -- wait for it -- the USA, not Ontario (or "Canada.") Canadian kids pack a lunch. No free lunch, or breakfast, or dinner. There are of course charities and other projects to provide snacks and breakfast programs in some needy areas, but these aren't a product of the "socialist" government (currently, slightly to the right of Genghis Khan).

Downes' poverty stats are off, though. There are *much* poorer areas in Ontario and across Canada than Toronto. Toronto is a rather wealthy place, and immigrant families typically become financially stable, even prosperous, within a generation. Families' average stay on welfare (when they go on welfare) is about 10 months.

Downes' New Brunswick is certainly economically challenged in many areas, probably a better example of widely-distributed poverty than Toronto. As for the rich people, a great hangout for the wealthy is St John's, Newfoundland (pronounced Newfin-LAND). Also, have you ever heard of Alberta? British Columbia? Lots of wealth out there -- and immigrants, too. Both provinces are wealthier than Ontario.

Long term data show children of immigrants (in Toronto, yet) outperforming native-born Canadian kids in both educational levels and university completion. Guess those dopes catch up sometime or other. Or their kids do.

The schools are mired in constructivism but they do consistently outperform American (and Pennsylvania) schools.

Other school districts with similar demographics oputperform the Toronto DSB by a solid margin. The Toronto Catholic DSB (Catholic schools are public) is chock full of immigrants and poor people too, but their students do better at all grade levels.

I don't think you can extrapolate much from these data beyond the obvious fact that gaps do exist and are closely correlated with numerous other factors. The long-term data on immigrant students in Toronto however is much different than long-term data on inner-city kids of similar racial or income descriptors in D.C., Philadelphia, NYC or CHicago.

KDeRosa said...

Northof49, it should be obvious that this post is so over the top that I'm just having some fun with Downes. I don't think that this data is indicative of the rest of the Canada. Though, as you indicate, clearly racial and income gaps exist in Canada just as they do in the U.S.

Dick Schutz said...

So what else is new, Ken?

If any Canadian has termed their el-hi endeavor "mecca," it has escaped my notice.

I wouldn't be surprised at anything US "reformers" might have said about anything.

What these data, like all the other data tell us, is that if you use the same instructionally insensitive tests, the results will be sensitive to racial/ethnic and SES differences.

We've known this for 50 years. But every time the the results are report it's a "gee whiz" discovery.

If you were to look at the test items, you'd find a high reliability across race and SES. That is all kids sucker for the same foils. Some kids are just bigger suckers than others, largely due to the disadvantaging instruction they've receive.

Canada is dominated by the same whole language reading instruction that is dominant in the US. You won't find many if any Gering's in CN. It has nothing to do with lefty-righty politics.

It's not in the politics, it's not in the water, it's not in the kids. It's in the instruction and in the instructionally-insensitive measures that maintain the status quo.

real estate Richmond BC said...

I have to agree with the comments above. I don't get the point of this "anylysis" or whatever it is supposed to be. It would be interesting to compare these tables with data from other provinces and I'd really like to see that, however, if you want to analyze something, you should try to search for the connections between facts, not to create them.


KDeRosa said...

This post was probably too insider baseball, Jay. Certain punditd claim that the Canada education system is more equitable for poor students and racial minorities. This data shows that large gaps exists between these groups and whites and Asians just like in the US. Also, no other province or district breaks down their data by race. This is a first -- a controversial first. So, it's a simple post design to dispel simplistic arguments. Nothing more.

Downes said...

> it should be obvious that this post is so over the top that I'm just having some fun with Downes.

Actually, it was indistinguishable from your usual work.

KDeRosa said...

I could easily do a serious analysis for you, Stephen. I'll just replace the snark with pull quotes from your blog extolling the virtues of the Canadian system. Compare and contrast.

Northof49th said...

@Jay: comparisons between provinces are not possible at this point since there is no provincial testing except in BC and Ontario.

@Dick Schutz: re
What these data, like all the other data tell us, is that if you use the same instructionally insensitive tests, the results will be sensitive to racial/ethnic and SES differences.

The EQAO tests are not the “same instructionally insesnsitive tests” –they are developed by teachers (every year the test is different, the items are different, and they aren’t field tested the way norm-referenced tests are so they don’t match up to a normal distribution). They are more like classroom tests than “standardized” tests. In fact they aren’t standardized in the usual sense of the word, they do attempt to match the provincial curriculum and actually do a pretty good job at that. The results don’t line up closely with SES, either.


If you were to look at the test items, you'd find a high reliability across race and SES. That is all kids sucker for the same foils.

You wouldn’t find this with the EQAO tests, because they aren’t set up that way, with foils or trick questions – the people developing these tests are largely teachers and they don’t have that kind of expertise. They don’t have an opportunity to test the questions, either, to see what results they will get and modify the test accordingly. Most are essay-type questions. They are evaluated (subjectively, again) on a scale of 1-4, again by teachers, not professional graders. They do attempt to maintain a consistent standard but are only partly successful.

Several research outfits have examined the EQAO results and found that the variance is much more related to school factors than to SES (or language background – a proxy, in some cases, for race). My own district for instance is very lily-white, middle-to-high SES. Yet we have schools with identical demographics, one of which consistently performs well (among the top 5 %)and another in the same neighbourhood that performs exactly like a low-SES Toronto school. They have found this pattern across Ontario. SES is predictive if the school is ineffective. If the school does a lot of aggressive instructional things, the low-SES schools nearly match the higher-SES schools.

Toronto DSB is probably a poor example because it is famous throughout the province as being a dysfunctional organization financially and organizationally as well as instructionally. It is also the most regressive in terms of instructional developments in the province. It’s a local saying that “if it works, the TDSB will reject it.”
Fortunately other boards are not nearly so bad. Other large districts with quite diverse populations are doing significantly better: Waterloo, Peel, York Region, Durham and Ottawa-Carlton, to name a few.

Anonymous said...

Toronto School District is atypical. It is so bad, the Russian immigrant community created a separate parallel school system because they found this district does a poor job teaching math and science. What textbooks are they using? Harcourt Brace and they are aligned to improverished NCTM standards. Who controls NCTM? The MAA - more white bigotry.

A better look at something that does work would be the school system for French-speaking Quebecans. It is a huge embarrassment for English-speaking Torontans. The worst surprise for Americans are that at least 20% of their urban workforce are immigrants and they are bilingual. Will they do anything to service this community? We're still waiting...