Education

Frontiers Project

Studies consumer-centered schooling models that offer choice, with decentralized school governance systems and merit pay for teachers. Our school report card project provides independent rankings of the quality of Manitoba and Saskatchewan schools.

Post-secondary institutions and employers are finding that far too many high school graduates are unable to perform simple mathematical tasks, have poor oral and written communication skills, and lack an acceptable work ethic.

The Frontier Centre believes that a better performing education system is necessary for our region's continued social and economic health. Frontier’s Education Project will focus on improving the performance of the existing public school system, while also building a case for a more diverse and innovative range of schooling models.

Common sense needs to be brought back to our schools. Spending needs to reflect the needs of students and teachers.

Education

Earlier this year, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies published a report I wrote that showed that the cost of public education in all Canadian provinces and territories has been increasing at rates far above the growth in the economy, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI).1 Moreover, the study showed considerable variability across the provinces and territories. The rising cost of public education was highest in Newfoundland and Labrador at 111.1 per cent and lowest in British Columbia at 53.3 per cent. Manitoba was in the middle of the distribution for...

All parents want their children to receive a great education. This desire is understandable because a solid education significantly improves a young person’s chances of success in life. In particular, literacy and numeracy have been and still are the foundational skills that will never become obsolete. No one should ever graduate from high school without mastering these basic skills.

There are more than 170,000 K-12 students in public or fully funded separate (Roman Catholic) schools in Saskatchewan.1 The vast majority of Saskatchewan parents rely on public education to provide their children with the skills and knowledge that they will need in the future. In many cases, things...

All parents want their children to receive a great education. This desire is understandable because a solid education significantly improves a young person’s chances of success in life. In particular, literacy and numeracy have been and still are the foundational skills that will never become obsolete. No one should ever graduate from high school without mastering these basic skills.

There are more than 650,000 K-12 students in Alberta. Most attend public schools or fully funded separate (Roman Catholic) schools, while relatively few, approximately 5 per cent, are enrolled in private schools.1 This means that the vast majority of parents rely on the public education systems, non-denominational and...

Accountability, measured by results rather than inputs, is fast becoming a reality in Canadian universities, but administrators still claim they need more resources and fewer constraints on their spending. Over a seven-year period from 2001 to 2008, the resources for Canadian universities increased substantially, but the number of degrees awarded did not increase at the same rate. At the University of Manitoba (U of M), for example, some faculties and schools received substantially
more resources during a time when the number of degrees awarded decreased. In fact, the evidence shows that there is virtually no relationship between resources allocated to faculties and schools and the number...

Executive Summary

• Professor William Baumol coined the term “the cost disease” to indicate that the cost of consumer products has increased at the rate of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), while the cost of education and health care have increased at an exponential rate.

• From 1999-00 to 2010-11, for example, enrollment in Canadian public schools decreased by 6.8 per cent, the number of educators increased by 8.0 per cent, and expenditures increased by about 60 per cent from slightly over $37.3-billion to almost $59.2-billion.

• If the public education expenditures increased at the same rate as the increase in CPI, it would be $46.8-billion and...

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Many progressive educators believe that handwriting is obsolete in the 21st century. It isn’t hard to see how they came to this conclusion. Computers are everywhere and an increasing number of schools expect students, even those in grade 1, to do their work on handheld tablets. So why bother teaching students how to handwrite?

Unfortunately, much of the debate about handwriting tends to dwell on minor issues. For example, supporters and opponents of handwriting argue about how often students will find themselves in situations where computers are not available. They squabble over whether handwritten signatures on legal documents will eventually...

An important and historical court case recently concluded in California that has implications for Canadian public schools. In Vergara v. California [2014], the Superior Court for Los Angeles ruled that some of the state’s teacher tenure, dismissal, and layoff laws are unconstitutional.

A non-profit organization, Students Matter, assisted nine children in arguing that the laws violate their rights to a quality education and equal opportunity to succeed, because they keep ineffective teachers in the classroom. Moreover, evidence shows that ineffective teachers are disproportionately found in the schools attended by poor or minority children.

Students Matter argues that the permanent employment...

Imagine that you are a fly on the wall in a faculty of education classroom or in a teachers’ professional development session. What would you hear?

Chances are that you would hear about the need for teachers to establish a student-centred classroom environment in which a hands-on discovery approach prevails. In fact, teachers are regularly told to focus more on the so-called process of learning than on specific academic content.

The degree to which factual knowledge is de-emphasized and even disparaged in educational circles usually comes as a surprise to most parents and taxpayers. After all, school is generally assumed...

The results of Manitoba students on the latest Pan-Canadian Assessment Program (PCAP) tests are, to say the least, very disappointing.  Over the last fifteen years, the reading, math, and science scores have declined from near the Canadian average to the bottom of the pack even though Manitoba spends more per K-12 student than every other province except Alberta.

The current government has been in power since 1999. It should be ashamed of these results. So should educational leaders who have supported this government’s education agenda.

However, it didn’t take long for the government’s supporters to offer excuses. Predictably, Manitoba Teachers’...

Well that didn’t take long!

Ontario’s school boards, teachers’ unions and Ministry of Education recently began bargaining in an effort to reach agreements across the education sector. The previous agreements, imposed on the sector in 2012 by the McGuinty government’s Putting Students First Act, expired on Aug. 31, 2014. Within less than a month, one of the teachers’ unions representing the majority of Ontario’s public high school teachers, OSSTF, declared an impasse and now provincial bargaining in that sector has stalled.

This early sign of trouble has created angst among many in the sector as this current round of collective...

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A new study published by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy shows that per-pupil education costs are soaring in Manitoba. Taxpayers shoulder an ever-increasing burden, but there is little evidence that higher spending results in better educational outcomes. 

In “The Cost Disease Infects Manitoba Education,” Professor Rod Clifton examines expenditures on education in the province between 2002/03 and 2012/13, showing that while public school enrollment decreased by 3.5%, the number of educators increased by 5.8%.  More significantly, the expenditures increased by about 48.5% from slightly over $1.3 billion to more than $1.9 billion, when the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased...

Saskatchewan parents who are frustrated with fuzzy math assignments, confusing report cards, and low academic standards are about to get some much-needed help. Today, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy has released A Parents’ Guide to Common Sense Education in Saskatchewan. This handbook, written by Frontier research fellow and classroom teacher Michael Zwaagstra, shines a light on the many education fads promoted by the Department of Education.

“Parents are tired of the endless stream of failed education fads that keep resurfacing in our schools,” explains Zwaagstra. This handbook shows parents that, contrary to what they hear from superintendents and curriculum...

Alberta parents who are frustrated with fuzzy math assignments, confusing report cards, and low academic standards are about to get much-needed help. Today, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy has released A Parents’ Guide to Common Sense Education in Alberta. This handbook, written by Frontier research fellow and classroom teacher Michael Zwaagstra, shines a light on the many problems with the Alberta government’s misguided “Inspiring Education” initiative.

“Parents are tired of the endless stream of failed education fads that keep resurfacing in our schools,” explains Zwaagstra. This handbook shows parents that, contrary to what they hear from ‘Inspiring Education’ advocates,...

A new Frontier Centre study supported the NDP Minister of Education’s decision to shut down the Council on Post-Secondary Education.

The NDP Minister of Education, James Allum, planned to fold the Council on Post Secondary Education into the Department of Education.  A new study by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy supported the Minister’s decision.  Unfortunately, the Minister backed down as universities and faculty unions mounted their attacks. Nevertheless, taxpayers and students have been shouldering an ever-increasing burden, but there is little evidence that higher spending at the University of Manitoba resulted in higher graduation rates for undergraduate students. 

In...

A new study jointly published today by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies shows that per-pupil education costs are soaring all across Canada. As taxpayers shoulder an ever-increasing burden, there is little evidence that higher spending is producing better educational outcomes for Canadian students. 

In “The Cost Disease Infects Public Education across Canada,” Professor Rod Clifton examines expenditures on education in Canada’s provinces and territories between 1999 and 2010, showing that while public school enrollment decreased by 6.8%, the number of educators increased by 8.0%.  More significantly, the expenditures increased by about 60%...

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The federal government has begun intensive consultations in preparing a First Nations Education Act.

Right now, the Indian Act is silent on educational standards, or even any kind of educational system for that matter. The federal government aims to fill that gap by creating legislation.

Government and First Nations leaders should ensure that any new system focuses on parental choice and accountability. A new First Nations education system should ensure that families have as many choices as possible, including voucher and charter school options.

The default option should not only be band-operated schools. Independent school authorities should emphasize...

As the holder of two academic degrees, I'd like to think that formal education is still relevant. But it's not hard for anyone to find a friend, acquaintance, or family member who spent four or more years in university, and is having a tough time finding gainful employment. The reality is that while education is important, it isn't everything. Unfortunately, many students don't seem to realize this going into post-secondary education. The most successful people I know all sought out other opportunities while in school, and shortly thereafter. Many volunteered with political campaigns and NGOs, others blogged (not just for...

Listening to Alberta Minister of Education Jeff Johnson, one would think that he was a modern visionary in education. His vision, however, as he has himself acknowledged, is half-baked:  “There is a vision developing,” he's been quoted to say in the context of changing Alberta's school testing system. Johnson's yet-to-be-developped vision in education is driven by political calculation and considerations. On testing, it has little to do with education and rather serves a political agenda propelled by teachers' unions and...

I think Barry Cooper is correct in saying that Alberta's minister of advanced education is mostly clueless about the goal of universities.  I myself am on record against the minister's desire to establish dominion over our universities in Alberta, but I am not (and neither is Professor Cooper) against universities keeping their fiscal house in order.

Alberta Deputy Premier and Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education.

In this post, Alex Husher provides an eye-opening analysis of university finances in Alberta. He places the 7% cuts in context with salaries and...

In their dealings with teachers and doctors, the Alberta government of Alison Redford is showing preference to one group and derision to another.  But before we get into the arguments, let me state two things right off the bat: I have nothing against paying people well for work done well, and in my preferred world doctors and teachers would not be forced into state employment any more than lawyers and welders as a labour class would be.

All 40,000-plus Alberta teachers received a sweet deal in 2007 when then Tory Premier Ed Stelmach had his eyes on a soon-to-come election...

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Teachers in many Canadian classrooms are being encouraged to de-emphasize factual knowledge, in favour of a more hands-on discovery approach with students.

But some basic facts will always be essential in making higher-level learning possible.

For example, it's difficult for students to understand the grievances of the Métis, without knowing the facts about Louis Riel.

A student who memorizes multiplication tables is more likely to succeed at algebra than one who uses a calculator to multiply 5 times 6.

Students who don't know the tables are more likely to become bogged down and confused by the steps that are needed...

Nothing is more important than giving our children a good education, but getting rid of bad teachers can be very difficult.

A recent court case in California may change that in the United States.

A judge in Los Angeles has declared as unconstitutional, the sections of those laws that give teachers tenure within two years, protecting them from dismissal, and allowing lay-offs only on the basis of seniority.

Lawyers for a group of students argued successfully that the laws violate their rights to a quality education and equal opportunity to succeed, because they keep bad teachers in the classroom and...

It is estimated that as many as 300,000 young Canadians work as unpaid interns, and there are moves being made to regulate the practice as it affects university students.

An NDP Member of Parliament has introduced a private member's bill aimed at curbing abuses, and the University of Toronto’s Student Union wants to see all unpaid internships banned.

Many small businesses and non-profits simply can't afford to pay the interns, and they do provide students with valuable work experience.

Rather than forbidding unpaid internships, governments should push universities to develop reasonable policies to protect the students.

Students should be allowed...

As classes resume at Canada's universities, students are paying mandatory fees of as much as 200 dollars each to student unions.

These organizations do several things for students.

They administer health and dental plans, fund a variety of activities including sports teams, and they advocate on behalf of the students to the university administration and government on matters like tuition fees.

But quite often student unions are dominated by political activists rather than acting as representatives of the whole student body on a university campus.

They fund political causes not every student agrees with and often focus their efforts on...

In less than a month, it will be back to class on Canada's university campuses.

Some schools like the University of Alberta, are more focused on research, while others, like Brandon University, concentrate more on teaching undergraduates.

Students enrolled in research-oriented universities will soon discover that teaching undergraduates is not a high priority.

In the research-oriented universities, students often find themselves in large classes, taught by less experienced recent graduates rather than veteran professors.

Such professors tend to be valued more for the research they produce, rather than on their teaching skills.

This means they have less time to focus...

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Michael Zwaagstra is interviewed by Peter Watt on Alberta Morning news about no-zero policies.

Why are we last? It's a question many people are asking after test results showing Manitoba students are getting the lowest grades in the country in math, science and reading. Michael Zwaagstra is a high school teacher and policy researcher with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Education researcher Michael Zwaagstra has a new handbook out from the Frontier Centre. Parents’ Guide to Common Sense Education in Saskatchewan covers issues ranging from standardized testing to report cards and teaching strategies. What issues are the most critical in education today?

Education researcher Michael Zwaagstra has a new handbook coming out next month from the Frontier Centre. Parents’ guide to Common Sense Education in Saskatchewan covers issues ranging from standardized testing to report cards and teaching strategies. (CJME)

Michael Zwaagstra discusses the B.C. teachers union strike on CBC's The Current. Should the make up of classes be part of teachers' contract talks?

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