This week, New Brunswick’s minister of education took a very progressive step. He issued parents report cards on their children’s schools.

In one easy-to-read document, they can see how a child’s school is performing against the Department of Education’s goals – and how it performed in 2006 and 2007, as well. And they can see how schools around the province performed on average.

It won’t be long before the percentages improve further.

A sure way to make the education system more accountable is to grade schools and publish the results. Once parents can see the grading, more people are prepared to get involved in improving the education process.

New Brunswick students write standardized tests as part of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s PISA program. OECD research shows that posting school performance has a definite impact on test results in later years. Schools that post their data tend to improve, because parents are more aware of any systemic shortcomings. Posting results lets everyone in the community know the standard schools are trying to achieve.

According the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, the experience in Newfoundland and Labrador bears this out. Newfoundland has pulled its education system up from worst in the country to the middle rank in just six years. It has done so by focussing on core subjects and posting school-by-school results in areas such as standardized testing and teacher-assigned grades.

Report cards work for schools in the same way that they work for students – by alerting parents to problems in the system. Knowing that their performance will be graded and publicized gives educators an extra incentive to improve.

We hope parents will look at the report cards and start asking questions. And we hope the minister of education will expand the scope of this program.

Parents deserve to see how their children’s schools measure up – and schools need the freedom to bring their performance up through innovation.