School Choice in Canada

In Canada, the province of Alberta has long encouraged school choice. Historically, Alberta has had two school systems between which parents may choose: the "public" system and a "separate" system. Other Alberta choices include charter, private and French-language schools. Homeschooling is encouraged and supported by the provincial government, and "blended" programs are available where children can take some courses at home and others at school. This large variety of educational choice has led to positive results.

  • In 2006, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) placed Alberta's students second in the world (up from fourth) in science (the focus subject for the 2006 tests).

  • Alberta was also the only province whose overall science score, as well as each individual test score, was significantly higher than the Canadian average.

  • In the two minor areas of study tested that year, reading and math, Alberta tied for third and fifth in the world, respectively.

  • Immigrant children have scored equal to or better than native children – a result that within Canada occurred only in Alberta and was a unique result for PISA.

    The relevant lesson for American policymakers is that widespread educational choice has kept public schools more accountable, encouraged competition in the delivery of quality education, and entrenched a culture and expectation of school choice in Alberta.

    Because of constitutional and other differences between the United States and Canada, several of Alberta's choice-based options would not translate into the context of American states. But the key aspect of Alberta's school system that can be copied anywhere is the climate of choice that the province has long encouraged. American policymakers should consider:

  • Legislation that allows schools and school boards to create alternative education programs that emphasise a particular subject matter – for example, some public schools that specialise in music, others in art.

  • Explicit legislative support for a wide variety of schooling options.

  • "Opt-out" provisions that allow parents to choose what subject matter their children will be exposed to when a question of conscience arises.

    Source: Mark Milke, School Choice in Canada: Lessons for America, Heritage Foundation, November 8, 2010.

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    First published by the National Center for Policy Analysis, United States

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 23 November 2010
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