St. John’s Telegram

If you teach at Swift Current Academy, you’re probably pretty happy with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) and its analysis of high schools in this province.

If you teach at the Holy Cross school complex, you’re probably pretty annoyed.

That’s because the two schools are at the opposite ends of the study’s spectrum — one with an A, the other with an F.

If you’re the provincial Department of Education, you’d be circling the wagons pretty quickly. And it’s not hard to hear the wagon wheels hard at work.

A news release from the Education Department included unanimously damning comments on the study, not only from Education Minister Gerry Reid, but also from Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association president Winston Carter, Denise Pike of the Newfoundland and Labrador School Councils Federation and a host of other education professionals.

Their concerns are primarily about something the AIMS study admits up front; that the methodology used in the analysis of high schools in this province is weakened because it is based, in part, on predicting Grade 12 results based on test results from Grade 10.

That is a legitimate concern.

Other concerns about the study question the way its authors use socioeconomic factors to weigh the performance of schools in varying urban and rural settings.

But while there are questions about the work, there’s also value in it. One of the most interesting parts of the study has nothing to do with the ranking of high schools, and it’s a part that no one has questioned — its introduction. The researchers point out that Atlantic Canadian schools perform very badly in particular standardized tests, often near the bottom of Canadian rankings, and Newfoundland and Labrador performs near the bottom of even the Atlantic levels of the same test. Granted, the test results are not new, but the concern is valid.

That’s perhaps how we should be looking at the entire AIMS report — the study, like or lump it, is an extensive and expensive effort, and the think-tank should be congratulated for its initiative.

There is great value in talking about what makes schools good or bad, and looking at ways that various schools can learn about their comparative strengths and weaknesses, and, as part of that, how they can improve.

This report will certainly stimulate discussion; it has already. Some of its harshest critics tell people not to even read the report, because it will only unduly concern parents about the prospects for their children — that is a most ostrich-like approach for someone to take, especially if they are working in the field of education.

All that being said, this type of study certainly beats the heck out of the usual AIMS fare. That is, putting the boots to the Atlantic provinces for their dependence on federal subsidies, while — at the same time — taking the moral high ground of effectively receiving federally subsidized donations.

AIMS is, of course, a charitable foundation under Canadian tax laws, and is able to issue tax receipts for donations to those who support its particular policy directions.

Look at this study. Consider the source, the material, and the methods.

And then start the discussion.