Canada is a surprisingly pro-market country, with relatively sensible policies involving spending restraint, welfare reform, corporate tax reform, bank bailouts, regulatory budgeting, the tax treatment of saving, and privatization of air traffic control.
And we should add education policy to the mix.
There are four comparatively admirable features of Canadian schooling. First, as explained by the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute, the central government has no role.
…the Canadian educational system is much more decentralized than in the United States. One of the starkest illustrations of the different models at work between the two countries, is the fact that Canada has no federal role, no federal ministry or department, and no federal cabinet position for K-12 education at all. …in Canada, this vital aspect of society is under the exclusive control and authority of the provinces. Furthermore, in many provinces the delivery responsibilities are decentralized to local and regional boards of education.
Too bad we can’t say the same in the United States.
Second, Canadian taxpayers don’t spend as much money.
Adjusting for differences in currencies, in 2010 the United States (public and private) spent $11,826 per student on K-12 education. In contrast, the comparable figure for Canada was only $9,774… the United States spent about one-fifth (21%) more per student in 2010 for primary and secondary education, and…that difference arises from the higher level of government spending.
Especially compared to Canadians, which is the third admirable feature north of the border.
…on most international tests, Canada performs at least as well as, and often much better than, the United States. For example, the OECD administers the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which in 2006 gave U.S. students a science score of 489, compared to Canada’s 534 and the OECD average of 500.
So why is Canada getting better results with less money?
There are probably several answers, but one reason is a Canadian version of school vouchers, which is the fourth positive attribute of the Canadian education system.
Five provinces in Canada make provision for funding qualifying independent schools. These are Quebec and the four western provinces: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. …Funding percentages vary across the five funding provinces. None offer funding toward the purchase or construction of capital assets. Funding is generally calculated as a percentage of the amount given to the local school district for the operational (recurrent) expenses of educating a student. Funding is generally paid directly to the independent school on a per-student basis.
The money follows the students, which means parents in the more enlightened provinces have a real choice.
Interestingly, even researchers from the Canadian government confirm that kids in private schools receive superior education.
Private high school students score significantly higher than public high school students on reading, mathematics, and science assessments at age 15, and have higher levels of educational attainment by age 23.…In the reading test, private school students outperformed their public school counterparts by 0.081 log points, or about 8% (Table 5). The gaps were slightly larger in the mathematics and science tests. By age 23, 99% of private school students had graduated from high school, about 3 percentage points above the figure for public school students. The private school advantage was more evident in postsecondary outcomes (measured at age 23)—postsecondary attendance (11.6 percentage points), university attendance (17.8 percentage points), postsecondary graduation (16.2 percentage points), university graduation (13.9 percentage points), and graduate or professional studies (8.1 percentage points).
Private schools produced better results even after adjusting for the quality of students.
…private high school attendance was positively associated with postsecondary attendance and graduation outcomes. Specifically, postsecondary attendance and graduation outcomes were 5- to 9-percentage-points higher among private high school students. …It is well documented that private high school students generally outperform their public school counterparts in the academic arena.
Parents seems to recognize where they can get the best education for their kids. The Fraser Institute tracks enrollment patterns and an ever-increasing number of children are attending independent schools.
So what’s the bottom line? Simply that what we see in Canada augments evidence from Sweden, Chile, and the Netherlands about the benefits of breaking up state-run education monopolies. And we can give India honorary membership in this club since so many parents have opted for private schooling even though there’s no choice program.
P.S. Canada used to have the world’s 5th-freest economy, but it has dropped to the 11th-freest. Still a relatively good score, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has the country moving in the wrong direction.