In the wake of an international test of 15-year-old students, some Manitobans were quick to remind critics that, given a high rate of child poverty, socio-economic status must have played a role in Manitoba's dismal showing.
Right and wrong. Recent analysis of the Programme for International Student Assessment results showed that, generally, children of parents with higher-income jobs did better at the math tests than those of parents in lower-skilled jobs. That overview holds true for Manitoba.
PISA's breakdown, however, also shows that all Manitoba students fell behind markedly, regardless of their parents' employment class, compared to most other Canadian students. The discrepancy was stark in comparisons with Asian countries where children of parents in "elementary occupations" outscored all Manitoba's 15-year-olds.
The dismal cross-the-board results for students in this province indicate income cannot be used to explain the alarming results, nor the fact that Manitoba has seen its rank slide over a decade of assessment. While socio-economic status does make a difference, Manitoba's real problem is systemic. A hint of this was revealed earlier in the fact the PISA assessment showed a slide in performance across the strata -- there were many fewer students managing a high score, many more who had slipped into the lowest performer category.
Education Minister James Allum is right to expect more of our public schools and in his belief that this is not about money and budgets. The provincial government has made a step in the right direction in demanding that teachers focus on basic arithmetic skills in primary grades and in requiring higher math skills be taught to all high school students. Socio-economic status can indicate which children need more help, but it cannot be a scapegoat for a system that is shown to be failing all students.