As America's educators and politicians grapple with the growing complexities of school choice, they may want to cast their eyes toward the Great White North.
Canada has more than a 100-year history with the practice in some form or fashion, with most such efforts involving publicly financed religious schools and government grants to independent ones.
Now, a report finds that student test scores are higher in provinces that offer more alternatives to traditional public schools. "Learning From Success: What Americans Can Learn From School Choice in Canada" was released jointly by the Indianapolis-based Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation and the Fraser Institute, an education and economic think tank in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The report points out that, on average, Canadian students outperform their American classmates on various international assessments. The study sees a link between that superior showing and the fact that 92 percent of Canadians live in regions that have a form of school choice available.
This year, a new incentive to try education alternatives will be launched in Ontario. Parents of pupils in independent schools will qualify for refundable tax credits for a percentage of the tuition they pay.
According to the study, student achievement—especially for poor children—is generally higher in provinces that finance independent schools.
Poor children also attend independent schools in greater numbers and represent a higher share of the total independent school enrollment in provinces that pay for such schools.
While independent schools that receive government aid must adhere to curriculum and operational guidelines, the study found that those schools continue to maintain their distinct identities.
Robert C. Enlow, the vice president of programs and public relations for the Friedman Foundation, said the report once again shows that school choice isn't "some big, bad boogeyman." Instead, he said, the report shows that school choice has a successful history outside U.S. borders.
"We as a country need to look at other countries and how they approach education reform," Mr. Enlow said. "Best practices are best practices."
The Friedman Foundation plans to research school choice in other foreign countries. The next study will examine vouchers in Sweden.
—Karla Scoon Reid
Vol. 21, Issue 32, Page 12Published in Print: April 24, 2002, as International