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More autonomy for teachers and principals would improve academic results

Montreal, August 27, 2015 – Giving teachers and school principals more control over course content and teaching methods, all while rewarding or penalizing them according to the consequences of their decisions, could improve academic results, according to an Economic Note published today by the MEI.

“When autonomy and accountability are jointly applied, students generally achieve better grades, even when standard of living variances are taken into account,” says Mathieu Bédard, author of the publication. “In Japan, for example, which is among the top countries in the most recent PISA rankings, teachers and principals are free to choose their student evaluation policies in 98% of cases, and the content of courses in 89% of cases.”

The success of this approach is partly explained by the fact that teachers who are more autonomous in their work are happier, and as a result, more effective. Pedagogical autonomy also allows for a wider range of alternative models to be offered to students, who have different interests and aptitudes, and who learn in different ways.

The study points out that Quebec is the Canadian province with the highest degree of pedagogical autonomy, even though it remains a little lower than the OECD average. Not only does Quebec have the largest proportion of students registered in private schools, which enjoy a decent amount of pedagogical autonomy, but the province’s public schools also enjoy greater autonomy.

When it comes to accountability, on the other hand, there remains much room for improvement. Indeed, teachers and principals do not experience any direct consequences if students’ grades or graduation rates are lower than in other schools. It is practically impossible to dismiss teachers for reasons of incompetence, and the successes of teachers and principals are not rewarded.

“It is therefore possible to increase pedagogical autonomy and accountability within schools, ensuring among other things that the minimal standards imposed by the government are sufficiently flexible to allow for different kinds of pedagogical systems,” emphasizes Mr. Bédard, adding that these standards should not impose a particular method, but rather the general results to be obtained.

“International experience shows that when we give more autonomy to teachers and school principals, and when they are accountable for their decisions, academic performance improves,” says Michel Kelly-Gagnon, President and CEO of the MEI. “And since these are, moreover, changes that would cost governments nothing, Quebec and the rest of Canada should take some inspiration from countries that have successfully gone down this path.”

The Economic Note entitled “Pedagogical Autonomy and Accountability: A Recipe for Improving Academic Results” was prepared by Mathieu Bédard, Economist at the MEI. This publication is available on our website.

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The Montreal Economic Institute is an independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit research and educational organization. Through its studies and its conferences, the MEI stimulates debate on public policies in Quebec and across Canada by proposing wealth-creating reforms based on market mechanisms.

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Interview requests: Mariam Diaby, Communications Director, Montreal Economic Institute / Tel.: 514-273-0969 ext. 2231 / Cell.: 514-668-3063 / Email: mdiaby@iedm.org

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