Friday, December 17, 2010

"What is this 'Canada' of which you speak?"

Following up on Joseph's last post, I remember a discussion about careers I had with a group of friends including Joseph a few years ago. I was looking to make a change and Joseph asked if I'd considered the Canadian term for substitute teaching. I looked at him as though he had suggested I apply for a job scraping roadkill. It took several minutes for him to convince me that where he came from, substitute teaching was actually a sought-after career.

This is consistent with Canada's approach toward teaching in general. Canadians have long worked under the assumption that, if you give teachers security, respect and good salaries, you will attract good teachers. This is just one of the ways that Canada has done the opposite of what education reformers have recommended in this country. Here advocates like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee insist that without charter schools and the option of mass firings the education system is doomed and yet, by the reformers' own favorite metrics, our northern neighbor consistently kicks our ass.

Demographically, economically, culturally and historically, Canada would seem to be the obvious country to look to when trying to determine the effectiveness of potential U.S. policies but it has been conspicuously absent from a number of debates. Before we start looking across half the world to countries with radically different situations and backgrounds, isn't it possible that we can learn something from a spot closer to home?


  1. It's a consistent feature of American policy debate that all other countries in the world will be ignored unless they are being vilified.

  2. I still think Canada is still a special case. We were certainly beaten over the head about how well countries like Finland and Singapore are doing in education, but Canada NEVER made list despite being in a statistical dead-heat for the lead.

  3. I attribute at least part of it to cherry-picking examples. Variance properties suggest that, in a sample with both small and large countries, at least some of the small countries will outperform the large countries (assuming that they all have the same true underlying mean). So people pick the country that is ideologically useful . . .