Anew study that evaluates and ranks Atlantic Canada high schools has been thoroughly denounced by the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association and the province’s Department of Education.
It may be easy to dismiss the report, but education authorities may be doing so at their own peril.
Conducted by the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies (AIMS), an independent economic and social policy think tank with headquarters in Halifax, the report examines each of the high schools throughout the Atlantic region in several categories, including academic, economic, and social.
In announcing the study, AIMS said it “has released the broadest set of public information ever presented on Atlantic Canadian secondary schools.” Called a “much-anticipated report card,” it “paints a rich, complex picture of the unique nature and performance of each high school.”
Citing that schools in the region “lag behind the rest of the country in academic achievement,” AIMS says “the objective of this study is to begin the examination of why this trend exists and what can be done to fix it.”
Response from the NBTA and the Department of Education was quick and condemning. Both sides indicated the report was demoralizing and statistically flawed.
NBTA president Mary Wilson said the report fails to consider what schools are really about.
“I hope the public will ignore this research because it really is misleading.”
She said schools “are successful in many ways and this report misses that completely.”
Steven Benteau, spokesperson for the Department of Education, said “the people within the department were saddened” by this report, which “looks at schools like they were all apples, and they are not all apples.”
He said “it is really demoralizing for the schools.”
Rick Audas of the Faculty of Administration at the University of New Brunswick, the principal researcher and one of two writers of the report, defended the AIMS study saying it “has managed to provide parents with information they haven’t been able to receive before.”
Mr. Audas dismissed the criticism of both the teachers and their employer. “Neither the Department of Education or the teachers’ association holds a monopoly in caring about our kids,” he said.
On the AIMS Web site, the researcher said “our report card is intended to open the debate on what we want to see in our schools,” because “we want all schools to be successful.”
Those who want to see an end to the AIMS work should be prepared. Work has already begun on a second annual report.
There should be a mixed reaction to the AIMS study. It is one that does take a look at a number of variables. It is especially severe on some high schools in major urban centres whereas others do quite well.
In Fredericton, for instance, Fredericton High School is ranked 42nd in the region while Leo Hayes High is in 61st place, but Ecole Ste-Anne ranks second among high schools in the Atlantic provinces. Such widespread standings among the three schools may be a cause for concern, but the complete yardstick for measurement has to be examined first.
It would appear that one of the contentious issues in the AIMS measurement may focus on student enrollment in college preparatory courses. Schools providing a more broad-based curriculum, which will give more programs and have advantages for all students, seem to get lower rankings. That is an observation by The Daily Gleaner.
Nonetheless, it is important for the experts to state exactly where the flaws are in the AIMS report. It is easy to dismiss the report as flawed, but where are the flaws? Exactly why should the public ignore the report? It is of interest that the AIMS Web site gives credit to the Department of Education in Nova Scotia which “fully co-operated in the study” and to “the Conseil economique du Nouveau-Brunswick for helping collect valuable information from francophone school districts in New Brunswick.”
There is no reference to the New Brunswick Department of Education or other bodies responsible for education in other provinces.
We know this will not be the end of the AIMS study, especially since a second report card is planned. We also know that the voices of public education in New Brunswick will do no more than dismiss the think tank report.
The public, however, is making public education its business. In the future, there will be more studies like the AIMS report. This region, and especially New Brunswick, has nothing to brag about when it comes to national and international assessments. It is open season on education.
There may be wisdom in examining exactly what AIMS is trying to accomplish. It would be better to do that now rather than have to swallow a painful pill later.
We invite the Department of Education and the NBTA to place their concerns firmly, clearly, and rationally on the table. Only then will the public be able to dismiss and condemn or accept and praise the AIMS work.