One of the impressive accomplishment of the once-mighty Ontario Conservative Party over the past decade has been their knack for losing eminently winnable provincial elections against a wasteful, corrupt and incompetent Ontario Liberal government. With that in mind, the fact that recent polls show the Tories with a healthy (but not enormous) lead doesn’t exactly instill great confidence (particularly given how disastrous the last 14 years of Liberal rule has been for the province).
This post is the first in a series outlining how the Tories can win the next provincial election. Today: Highlighting the abject failure of Liberal education policy.
The Liberals pride themselves as the “education government”. Education has been “their” issue ever since the teachers threw in with them back in 1999. In their tenure in office, they have substantially increased public school spending, in real terms from roughly $22B (in 2014 dollars) to $27B. But during the same time, enrolment in public schools in Ontario has fallen by almost 130,000 students (reflecting our aging population), so that per student spending, in real terms has increased from $10,329 per student to $13,478 per student, roughly 30%. That’s good, right? At least, that’s what they would have you believe.
Until you ask, well, what has that done for us? Because, at the end of the day, we don’t really care about inputs into education, what matters is outcomes.
All that extra money has not translated into better education for our children. On the contrary, actual objective measures of student achievement (or lack thereof) suggests that Ontarians – by repeatedly electing the Liberals – have failed a generation of their children. Take math. In 2006 (the earliest year for which I have data), 68 percent of grade 3 students and 61% of grade 6 students were at or above the provincial standards in mathematics. That wasn’t good. In 2016 (the latest year for which I have data), 62% of grade 3 students and a shocking 50% of grade 6 students were at or above the provincial standard. Reread that for a second. A full 50% of our kids come out of elementary school without having mastered basic math. And 20% fewer kids are meeting the grade 6 standard then did 10 years earlier.
That should shock you, it sure shocked me. Math isn’t some airy-fairy subject that, c’mon no one uses in the real world. It is, literally, the foundation for the modern, high-tech economy that we want our kids to benefit from. In this day and age, you can’t be a productive member of society without at least a functioning understanding of basic math. And 50% of our grade 6 students don’t.
And it’s more than just the Ontario standardized testing. The OECD runs the program for international student assessment (PISA) which compared student achievement across OECD countries. Canada’s performance in math has been falling steadily since 2003 – as the biggest province, Ontario bears most of the responsibility for that. And it is an across the board decline – our average math score is falling, our share of high achievers is falling, our share of low achievers is rising. Ontarians aren’t getting dumber – they’re just not getting a proper mathematical education. When you’re the “education government”, you’re responsible for that.
It’s gotten to the point now where it is now routine for middle-class Ontarians to hire private math tutors for their kids – in my little corner of Ontario there are 3 private tutoring companies that do a brisk business. This is not natural – people didn’t do this 20+ years ago when I was in public school. They didn’t need to. And for all their bullshit about social justice, think about the implications of that – the Liberal may be failing middle-class Ontarians, but at least they have the resources to go out and fix the problem themselves (they shouldn’t have to, but they can). But for those at the bottom, who are struggling to make ends meet, they can’t go out and hire a tutor for their kids. The public school system is all they have. And it has failed them.
So this should be Exhibit A in the case against the Liberals in the next Ontario election. Patrick Brown needs a chart, with one line showing the inexorable rise in education spending, and another line showing the precipitous decline in mathematical achievement (as measured by the Liberal’s own tests!!!), and this question: Why should we spend more for an inferior education for our children?