Monday, May 7, 2012

Is there something wrong with the way math is taught in Canadian schools?

The recent Cross Country Checkup (April 15, 2012:, draws welcome attention to the teaching of mathematics in Canada.

The program’s description makes the claim that, “Canadian students have usually done pretty well in international rankings of math performance but lately they've been slipping.” Murphy infers that performance is slipping because Canada’s ranking among countries in the OECD’s PISA test of 15 year olds went from 7th in 2006 to 10th in 2009. But that inference is not supported by a careful look at the evidence.

First, the number of countries increased, from 57 in 2006 to 65 in 2009.  The significance of a rank depends on a) how many are in the total ranking ( is better to be 10th out of 100 than to be 5th out of 20) and b) the accuracy of the measure on which the rank depends.  The OECD is clear that not all differences among the rankings are meaningful, just as a poll result may vary by 3 or 4%.  Accordingly, it would be more accurate to say that Canadian performance in math is ‘stable’.  That is, in fact, the conclusion put forward by the Canadian report on PISA 2009.

We also note that there is a substantial literature on the effective teaching of mathematics; we would urge interested Canadians to consult this literature (for example that reported by the U S National Council of Teachers of Mathematics or this 2009 report from England -, since the research evidence is not always consistent with public opinion.

Canadians should not be complacent about our national education performance.  There is clearly room for improvement as there is in every country, but the mathematics skills of Canadian students are good and there is no reason to think that they are declining.


·         Ruth Baumann
·         Harold Brathwaite, Executive Director, The Retired Teachers of Ontario
·         Ron Canuel, CEO, Canadian Education Association
·         Gerry Connelly, Co Director Education Sustainability Development Academy, York University
·         Lorna Earl, Director, Aporia Consulting Ltd. and President of the International Congress of School Effectiveness and School Improvement
·         Sue Ferguson, Coordinator, The Learning Consortium, Ontario Institute of Studies in Education
·         Kathleen Gallagher, Professor and Canada Research Chair, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
·         Jane Gaskell, Jane Gaskell, Professor and former dean, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
·         Avis Glaze, President, Edu-quest International Inc.
·         Joan M. Green, Former Director of Education, Founding CEO of EQAO, International Consultant on Public Policy and Performance
·         Sue Herbert, former Ontario Deputy Minister of Education
·         Bill Hogarth, Retired Director of Education, Education Consultant
·         Ken Leithwood, Professor, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
·         Ben Levin, Professor and Canada Research Chair, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
·         Penny Milton, former CEO, Canadian Education Association
·         Karen Mundy, Professor and Canada Research Chair, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education 
·         Jim Slotta, Professor and Canada Research Chair, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
·         Charles Ungerleider, Professor Sociology of Education (The University of British Columbia) and Director Research (Directions Evidence and Policy Research Group, LLP.)


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