We say: N.B. should adopt and encourage the approach to evaluating the education system that the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies has initiated

The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) think tank based in Halifax yesterday released its first report card of individual schools across the Atlantic Region (except P.E.I. where officials refused to co-operate) and the result is enlightening. So too is the defensive reaction from education officials.

Indeed the reaction is most notable for its defensiveness, something which ironically illustrates how badly we need a regular, consistent evaluation, or educational audit, of schools in the province.

There is no reason for the province to refuse co-operation or participation. Indeed, no excuse. To do so would indicate a fear among the politicians and bureaucrats that the results might indicate they are not doing very well at all. But it is an unfounded fear. It is also to look at the effort from a cynical point of view.

The purpose of the AIMS exercise is to set some standard benchmarks for a reasonable level of chievement by the schools (yes, benchmarks can be arbitrary, but without setting them and being consistent in maintaining them, there is no way to measure how any school is doing from year to year or in comparison with others). This is quite unlike the often vague and confusing approach the provincial department of education has taken through the years, with a constant shifting of standards, more than once leading officials to caution that the results from year to year cannot be compared meaningfully. That is precisely the problem. There is no accountability.

And this is very much accountability an audit of performance that the public can look at and understand; a tool to help them understand what the real picture is, where the system is weak and strong, and perhaps a reliable pointer on what directions are needed to correct problems. For example, a cluster of some of the highest ranked high schools in New Brunswick are all from one district. AIMS suggests it would be worth finding out why and what is being done there that the other districts aren’t doing.

And in fact, in this year’s rankings, 53.5 per cent, or 38 of the 71 schools involved emerged as performing above expectations by AIMS standards. The rest fell below, but even some of those had bright spots. It is not an entirely bleak report although it is clear there is considerable room for improvement.

It isn’t good enough when the bureaucracy is essentially accountable to only itself. A standard independent audit is a valuable tool to help the public hold the government and system to account. It is long overdue!