Improving education is a priority for New Brunswickers – and with a provincial election campaign underway, it will receive plenty of discussion.

It’s important to keep the education debate focused on the central issue: how to get better results out of the provincial school system. Every change the government makes must be geared to improving outcomes, and the impact of new policies must be measured.

Politicians tend to approach education in terms of dollars spent, as if spending more automatically produces better results. It doesn’t, any more than paying a higher price for food guarantees you’ll enjoy the flavour.

Rather than arguing over how many millions political candidates are willing to invest in education and whether it’s enough, wouldn’t it be better to debate the value their investments would produce?

On Friday, the Telegraph-Journal published a commentary by Charles Cirtwill, vice president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies. He argues that New Brunswick’s approach of throwing more money at education has not been working. As evidence, he cites the decline in outcomes, such as test results, that has taken place even as the amount the provincial government spends on education has risen.

The argument that it’s not how much you spend on education that matters, but what the money achieves and how you track the results, stands on its own merits.

Effective education is not a question of cost alone, but of value – and it is the issue of value that Conservative Leader Bernard Lord and Liberal Leader Shawn Graham must address in their election campaigns.

What policies will make New Brunswick’s classrooms the most effective environment for learning? What approaches to education – at the school, district and provincial levels – will produce the best results for students? How will government assess the results?

Both major political parties have made an effort to come to terms with the problem in recent months. With a detailed report on inclusive education in hand, the Conservative government has begun to revise its Quality Learning Agenda. The Liberals also have responded to the concerns of parents and teachers, by rolling out an election platform heavy with new education initiatives.

The political debate should focus on the value of these policies – but already, New Brunswickers are starting to hear the discussion reduced to the argument “we’ve spent this much more on education than you ever did (or will).”

Mr. Lord, Mr. Graham – we know you can do better than this. It’s time to turn the debate around – time to explain to New Brunswickers what you’re going to do that will produce more literate and better equipped high school graduates.

If New Brunswick’s public schools can’t produce graduates who are prepared for the challenges of post-secondary education or skilled employment, the education system has failed. Whichever party forms the next government should spend what it takes to get better results – and be able to account for the value of the policies it adopts and the money it spends.

To read the complete Commentary by Charles Cirtwill, click here.