What can we learn from Ontario?

Filling the pail

Since the advent of PISA, Canada and the Canadian province of Ontario in particular have been held up as something of an examplary education system. This is reasonable enough because Ontario has consistently performed above the average for OECD countries. On the PISA standardised scale that is intended to represent equivalent levels of performance over time, the OECD average hovers at or just below 500. The following chart maps Ontario’s performance since the first PISA assessments in 2000:

It would be easy to conclude that states that are not performing as well as Ontario should try to copy what Ontario is doing. There have certainly been efforts to study the Ontario system and disseminate the knowledge gained through this process. However, I think we need to be careful in making inferences in this way.

Firstly, mean PISA score differences between countries and states do not simply depend upon the quality of…

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