The measure of success

Do you have an idea for education? An irresistible force will draw the microphones towards the angriest person. At the end of the day, it becomes “a controversy”.

Since Monday, we have had some very fresh news: the idea of ​​the Minister of Education, Bernard Drainville, to create a list of schools. In fact, he doesn’t promise it. He only started the reflection, without giving himself a timetable.

Before examining the idea, let’s start by remembering this: it wouldn’t be entirely new.

Mr. Drainville unveiled this week a dashboard made up of nine indicators. Anyone can now create their own ranking by indicator for each school service center.

Directors of school service centers already meet in “communities of practice,” where they can compare their results and draw inspiration from their successes.

Another example: in Ontario, the Education Quality and Accountability Office publishes the results of schools and school boards, which allows this comparison.

Mr. Drainville’s proposal does not come out of nowhere. Since coming to power, the Coalition Avenir Québec has increased transparency in education. More data is available to the public and researchers.

So much for the positive. But should we follow this logic through and publish an official list of schools? This would carry three significant risks.

The first is that teachers are encouraged to direct their work in class based on assessments, and not on learning.

The second is that school administrators put pressure on teachers and play with grades in order to look good in the rankings.

To get around these pitfalls, Quebec could rely on uniform ministerial tests. But there would still be another bias. And this one is inevitable. It is the inability to know what exactly we are measuring.

School data would be contaminated by their socio-demographic profile. We would not know if the differences come from the school itself or from the profile of the students who attend it. In other words, we would be comparing apples with pineapples.

Added to this is the fear of encouraging school shopping and worsening the socio-economic gap.

In an ideal world, we could statistically isolate this factor in order to put schools on a comparable basis. However, current data does not allow this to be done precisely, explains Catherine Haeck, professor of economics specializing in education at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM). “To obtain the sociodemographic profile of a school, we must rely on neighborhood data. They are not recent – ​​they come from the last census. And above all, they are indirect. They relate to the neighborhood, and not to the students and their families. It’s not reliable enough,” she explains.

Even if the CAQ have improved access to data, a lot of work remains to be done, underlines Mme Haeck. For example, researchers cannot verify whether students in difficulty have an experienced teacher, whether this person is often replaced, or even have figures on intervention plans and specialized workers who help them.

Mme Haeck recognizes that the liner will not change direction in a few weeks. But much remains to be done, she insists. “No organization of this size would agree to be managed with so little information. »

If Mr. Drainville mentioned the idea of ​​a ranking, it is in order to determine best practices and encourage emulation. This objective is relevant and it is not unattainable despite the limitations of the data, underlines Catherine Haeck.

Without claiming to precisely rate the performance of each school, Quebec could highlight certain schools which seem to stand out. An example often mentioned: the Marguerite-Bourgeoys school service center, where schools located in relatively disadvantaged areas stand out despite everything.

Mr. Drainville wants to reproduce success stories, and the track record is not his main means of achieving this. He is banking more on the future National Institute for Excellence in Education, which aims to determine best practices. For example, what is the use of homework? These are the kinds of questions for which we seek more objective clarification.

A lively debate rages between researchers. Some are delighted with the creation of the Institute. Others worry that these evidence-based studies obscure the effect of social inequalities and undermine teacher autonomy.

Without resolving this debate, let us say at least this: the Ministry still lacks data, and even when it has some, it does not take it sufficiently into account. I will come back to it soon.

The idea behind the list, to encourage the sharing of success stories, is a good one. But the chosen means seems very imperfect. Energy should now be devoted to finding other ways, not being outraged at the very existence of this thinking.


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