By HEATHER MCLAUGHLIN
The authors of a controversial study on the performance of the province’s high schools are telling provincial education ministers to put up or shut up.
The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) which wrote the Grading our Future report card on high schools in the Atlantic provinces – is publicly calling on education ministers in those provinces to defend or retract defamatory comments about the study.
Since the release of the report prepared by the Halifax-based economic think-tank more than a month ago, teacher associations and government leaders have categorized the study as misleading, flawed in its data and demonstrating poor methodology. But AIMS president Brian Lee Crowley said none of the government recipients of the study has yet been specific in its claims.
AIMS has continued to communicate with the four governments on their view of the study, but is ready to press the point. Crowley has called on the four education ministers – including New Brunswick Education Minister Dr. Dennis Furlong – to publicly recant what Crowley said are unjustified and defamatory comments. “Publicly repeating vague and unsubstantiated claims of ‘flawed methodology’ is meaningless and unfair, because you are casting aspersions on our work, but denying us the means to respond,” Crowley said.
AIMS has called upon academic experts to look at the report, and Crowley said it has been reviewed and endorsed by well-respected academics in the region, including Jacquelyn Thayer Scott, former president of the University College of Cape Breton. Charles Cirtwill, director of operations and co-author of AIMS report, said the Newfoundland government has committed to sending the study to a formal review by the Atlantic Provinces Education Foundation. “I think we’ve nudged them into action from inaction,” Cirtwill said.
AIMS remains somewhat skeptical about sending the report to the foundation because the educational policy group draws its advisers from its provincial government member departments. Those are the same bureaucrats who are on the defensive since AIMS relied on data collected by provincial education departments. “They argue the data are flawed, but the danger they get into there is where they’re attacking the data, they’re attacking their own (provincial government) measures that they’ve reported,” Cirtwill said.
AIMS relied exclusively on government-supplied information to calculate its outcome measures, Cirtwill added. “The methodology is sound, and it’s innovative,” Cirtwill said. The report factored in socio-economic status in reporting on high school performances, and Cirtwill said the data used went beyond Statistics Canada sampling and went straight to census information.
Cirtwill said the New Brunswick Education Department – through a school-by-school educational review process – is not doing the exact same socio-economic analysis of school performance. “Clearly, they’re going down the right road,” Cirtwill said. Although the official provincial responses have varied from “Newfoundland circling the wagons to attack AIMS to New Brunswick hiding in a hole and not saying anything,” Cirtwill said, the AIMS study is doing part of what it intended: to make parents, students and educators take note. “Clearly we’ve done what we’ve set out to do; it’s time to start talking about whether we need to fill in some things,” he said. “The fact is the people in the system themselves – educators, parents, students – are using this study as a starting point for conversation. We’re not worried about being ignored.” In the aftermath of the study’s release, Cirtwill said, all four provincial governments have made announcements about improving their school accountability.