New Canadian Media

By: Charles Lammam and Milagros Palacios in Vancouver 

With home prices rising across the country, many of us would likely assume that housing costs (including rent and mortgage payments) are the most expensive budget item for the average Canadian family.

In reality, however, the average Canadian household spends more on taxes than any other expense—including housing. Specifically, in 2016 the average Canadian family (including single Canadians) earned $83,105 in income and paid $35,283 in total taxes. That’s 42.5 per cent of income going to taxes.

Surprised? You’re not alone.

For most of us, the income and payroll tax deductions on our paycheques do not total anything close to this percentage. But to understand the full cost of taxation, you must consider all the taxes—both visible and hidden—that we pay throughout the year to federal, provincial and municipal governments including sales taxes, property taxes, fuel taxes, carbon taxes, import taxes, alcohol taxes and much more. All these taxes add up and make our overall tax bill expensive.
So how does the overall tax bill compare to housing costs?

The average Canadian family spends 22.1 per cent of its income on housing—only about half as much as it spends on taxes (again, 42.5 per cent).

In fact, taxes consume more of the average family’s income than all the basic necessities of life combined. If you add up the average family’s spending on housing, food and clothing in a year, it comes to 37.4 per cent of its income—still quite a bit less than what we pay in taxes.

With 42.5 per cent of income going to taxes, Canadian families may rightfully wonder whether they get good value for their tax dollars. Of course, taxes fund important government services. But we shouldn’t simply assume that higher taxes always provide better government services.

While it’s ultimately up to individual Canadians and their families to decide if they’re getting the best bang for their money, you must know how much you pay in total taxes to make an informed assessment. That’s where our annual calculations help. They estimate the cost of government for the average family. Armed with this knowledge, Canadians can then determine if they think they’re getting good value in return.

Some perspective might help.

In most provinces, more than 50 per cent of our tax dollars finance generous pay for government employees. In fact, government employees, on average, receive 10.6 per cent higher wages than comparable private-sector workers doing similar work. And that’s on top of the much more generous non-wage benefits (pension coverage, job security, early retirement) the government sector also enjoys. Of course, we need qualified and well-paid government workers, but is this pay and benefit premium the best use of our tax dollars?

In the case of health care, which consumes around 40 per cent of most provincial budgets and is a fast-growing expense, international comparisons show that, despite high levels of spending, Canadians have comparatively poor access to technology and doctors, and endure longer wait times for surgery. It’s hard to see how we get good value for our money in public health care when measured against other countries that also offer universal access.

Most troubling is when our tax dollars are outright wasted on boondoggles and failed government programs. A recent study documented more than 600 cases where the federal government failed to meet its own objectives over a 25-year period, resulting in up to $197 billion of wasted tax money.

Bottom line—if Canadians are more informed about the true cost of government, they will be better equipped to hold government accountable for how it spends our tax dollars. And that leads to a more robust public debate about the overall tax burden and whether we’re getting our money’s worth.


Charles Lammam is the Director, Fiscal Studies, at the Fraser Institute and Milagros Palacios is the Senior Research Economist at the Fraser Institute. This piece was republished under arrangement with the Asian Pacific Post.

Published in Economy

by Charles Ungerleider in Vancouver 

It isn't often that I have the luxury of watching television, but, when I see Discovery Channels’ Mythbusters, it makes me smile. The hosts use their knowledge of science to entertainingly debunk myths. I've often thought that, if the program did some education myth-busting, it would be doing a public service.  The problem with my idea is that busting educational myths depends on logic and research, topics that don’t have much visual appeal.

I’m guessing that’s why David Berliner and Gene Glass, two educational researchers with international reputations, chose to write book to expose 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools (Teachers College Press, 2014). Their book makes use of logic and evidence to refute common myths and outright lies that are made about American public schools. Some of those myths and lies are applied to Canadian public schooling, too: Private schools are better than public schools; Teachers of the poor are not very talented; Homework boosts student achievement, and others. One myth often applied to Canadian schools that Berliner and Glass do not tackle is that immigrants drive down school rankings.

Before tackling that myth, it is important to know that school rankings are, at best, misleading and, at worst, dishonest. It is important to recognize that the methodology used to produce school rankings compares each school with every other school being ranked. Those comparisons are normalized, meaning that the results of the comparisons are manipulated to distribute the results (school scores) so that half of the schools fall below the average school score and the other half of the schools above the average.  When I point that out to parents, someone correctly points out, “That means that, if all schools improved by 50%, there would still be half of the schools below the average score.”

While it is true that immigrant students have lower levels of print literacy upon entering school, the differences between them and their non-immigrant peers is reduced over time with good instruction and exposure to positive English language role models.

Flaws in school ranking

People who produce school rankings based on student achievement conveniently ignore some of the other flaws in the logic. For example, they ignore that student achievement is a product of all of the prior in-school and out-of-school experiences that a student has had up to the point when the achievement is assessed. One implication of that in a highly mobile society is that holding a particular school accountable for the achievement of the students currently enrolled in that school probably places too much weight on the school’s influence and understates other influences.

What we know from the lengthy history of studying student achievement is that, while schools – and especially the quality of instruction that students receive in schools – matter, factors outside of school matter more. Parental influence is one of the factors affecting how and how well students achieve in school. The amount and quality of interaction between parents and their children makes a difference. The value that parents ascribe to school and the respect they accord to teachers affects how their children view their school experience and their teachers.

Family income affects student achievement in several ways. Families living in impoverished circumstances (see report on research done in Ontario) have children who are less healthy. Those children are typically less likely to have seen a dentist or a doctor than their more advantaged peers. One reason is that parents struggling to make ends meet often work multiple low-paying jobs. If they take time from work, they lose pay. If employers think they are taking too much unpaid time off, they risk being replaced. Under such circumstances, the necessity of a visit to the dentist or physician can become a luxury that they cannot afford.

[I]mmigrant students often perform as well or better in mathematics and science than their Canadian-born peers.

On the other hand, more advantaged parents have time and resources they can invest in their children. They can ensure that their children receive regular dental and medical checkups. They can afford more nutritious food. They can attend school meetings and meetings with their children’s teachers. In addition, they can afford experiences such as after school activities and summer camps that are beyond the reach of their less advantaged peers. All other things being equal, children whose parents are better off reap educational advantages and benefits.

Challenging circusmtances

Children who live in more challenging circumstances sometimes struggle with school work. If they are classes where the students come from varied backgrounds, they benefit from having peers who are not struggling – especially if the more advantaged peers are in the majority. If poor children live and attend school with children from the same background, they are deprived of the positive peer influences of those more advantaged youngsters.

While it is true that immigrant students have lower levels of print literacy upon entering school, the differences between them and their non-immigrant peers is reduced over time with good instruction and exposure to positive English language role models. However, immigrant students often perform as well or better in mathematics and science than their Canadian-born peers. If school rankings take into account performance in a variety of subjects, the performance of immigrant students should not diminish the overall ranking of the school.

It is interesting that the reverse is not true. More advantaged children do not suffer from being in a school where most of the children are poor. This is likely a consequence of the very strong influence that having advantaged parents confers as well as living in communities that are relatively more advantaged. In other words, affluence appears to be a protective factor for advantaged learners.

Socio-economic segregation is another story.  A concentration of low income students will have a negative effect on a school’s rankings just as the concentration of high income students will have a beneficial effect. As you have probably inferred, I do not have much interest in or regard for school rankings.  But I have a very strong interest in encouraging school boards to ensure that school boundaries do not separate groups on socio-economic lines. 


Charles Ungerleider, a Professor Emeritus of Educational Studies at The University of British Columbia, is Managing Partner of Directions Evidence and Policy Research Group, LLP,  a partnership of professionals with experience in applied research, policy analysis and evaluation in a variety of domains, including K-12 and post-secondary education, social services, justice, and health. He has served as Deputy Minister of Education in British Columbia, Director of Research and Knowledge Mobilization at the Canadian Council on Learning, and Associate Dean (Teacher Education) at The University of British Columbia. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Education
Friday, 07 November 2014 23:03

NCM NewsFeed: Weekly Newsletter Nov. 07

 


 

NCM NewsFeed

 

Here and Now

We lead off this week’s lineup with a question from a professional communicator in Calgary who has a dilemma. Her agency, the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS), finds itself dealing with refugees from a multitude of nations – with different languages and dialects. How many languages can CCIS actually accommodate? It’s surely one of those tensions that arise in a bilingual, but multicultural, country: To translate or not to translate? We encourage you to help Patricia Gallagher resolve this dilemma.

Suffice to say, this was a busy week. We are delighted to have covered the waterfront, with reporting and commentary on terrorism, diversity in public schools, reforms to the caregiver program, the Fraser Institute’s school rankings, an interview with a renowned authority on temporary foreign workers and the military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

You’ll find all of these on our home page.

Ripples

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is on a five-day tour in China to help promote more trade between Canada and its second largest trading partner. And, although the issue of human rights and alleged espionage caused frosty relations in the past, it hasn’t held the Conservative government back from announcing the opening of new regional trade offices this time around.

Three Canadians are still being held there under murky or outright unfair conditions, including Kevin and Julia Garratt, a couple detained by the Chinese government there for alleged espionage. Another victim, Huseiyen Celil, has been in jail for eight years following an unfair trial, according to Amnesty International. His wife and children live in Toronto.

Former ambassador to China, David Mulroney, captured the dilemma best, when he told the Globe, “China is an amazing opportunity for Canada and also a potentially problematic presence in the world and one that will pose problems for us going forward.”

The PM’s trip closely follows the publication of a report that identified China as a high on the index of religious persecution of its minorities.

Britain’s Prince Charles highlighted that same report this week, saying it identified the growing persecution of Christians in regions in which they had lived peacefully for centuries. He called it “an indescribable tragedy”. The report, published by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, said that religious freedom has suffered immensely in recent months.

These findings build on the Pew Research Centre’s study earlier this year that noted religious hostilities have reached a six-year high in 2012. The centre found that both Christians and Muslims were harassed in the largest number of countries worldwide. Jewish communities have also seen a six-year peak in the numbers reported.

 

Following up on the ripples these critical issues raise here in Canada, TVO’s evening program “The Agenda” hosted a heated discussion on the issue of Christian persecution earlier this week.

Harmony Jazz

While much of the commentary relates to the Government’s stated intention to further strengthen anti-terrorism legislation, and the need for balance between security and civil liberties, some reminders of the difficulty in prosecution in How to prosecute radicalized Canadians a quandary, Senate group hears and a good overview of deradicalization programs in 

Deradicalization programs aim to get ahead of the curve in stopping extremists.

Good discussion on Why online Islamophobia is difficult to stop, which applies also to antisemitism and hate speech. Harper’s silence on anti-Muslim backlash disheartens Muslim groups, most of whom have been highly vocal in their opposition to radicalization, and is in sharp contrast to most other world leaders.

Good conversation between Ratna Omidvar and Dana Wagner on their forthcoming book about refugee stories entitled Flight and Freedom, the same week the Government argued unsuccessfully for a stay on refugee claimant health care coverage (Refugee health care temporarily restored in most categories).

Lastly, for those who missed it, the YouTube video that has gone viral on a racism experiment that both had a good result - people standing up for a Muslim being attacked - and a bad one - a punch to the person playing the part of the ‘provocateur’ in Hamilton racism social experiment ends with a punch.

Back Pocket

Please take a moment to look up our Arts & Culture section.


With that, have a great weekend and don’t forget to look up the next edition of NCM NewsFeed every Friday morning! We will soon be launching an e-mail version of this newsletter, so please subscribe by clicking here.

Publisher’s Note: This NewsFeed was compiled with input from our Newsroom Editors and regular columnist, Andrew Griffith. We welcome your feedback.

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Published in Other Regions
Wednesday, 05 November 2014 11:16

Why Ranking Schools May Not be Such a Smart Idea

by Charles Ungerleider in Vancouver

The Fraser Institute has added Ontario’s schools to a growing list of school rankings in the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec.  The Fraser Institute justifies its ranking as an aid to parental choice of schools. According to the Institute, “Where parents can choose among several schools for their children, the Report Card provides a valuable tool for making a decision. Because it makes comparisons easy, it alerts parents to those nearby schools that appear to have more effective academic programs.” 

The Fraser Institute believes that parents will seek to maximize educational benefits for their children when choosing the schools their children attend, but the research indicates that parents choose schools on other grounds.  On what basis do the parents who choose schools select the schools that their children attend?  Do the children of the parents who make a choice of schools benefit academically? If they benefit, by how much do they gain in achievement?  What are the consequences for the children of parents who do not choose, and for the schools from which some children have departed?

Like all parents, immigrant parents are concerned about the educational welfare of their children. They have often made great sacrifices in migrating to a new and unfamiliar country. Less familiar with the schools in their new community, these parents often ask me about the Fraser Institute rankings. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned from the research about how parents use rankings to select schools for their children. 

Lesson 1: Parent decisions are not typically based on the evidence available.

Beginning in 1981, Scotland gave parents the right to request that their children attend a school outside the school attendance areas to which they had previously been assigned. The legislation required that educational bodies responsible for schools in their region publish brochures providing information about each school (including examination results), required that they take into account parental requests, and limited the grounds for refusing a parent’s request to send their child to the school. This experiment in school choice was the subject of considerable research.

One group of researchers interviewed more than six hundred parents who chose the school their children attended in three Educational Authorities in Scotland. Rather than seek the academically best school for their children, parent choices were fuelled by a desire to avoid the school in the area to which they had been previously assigned. Most parents were more apt to consider a school’s general reputation and how close it was to their home than they were educational factors such as examination results. In other words, they based their decisions on hearsay and convenience rather than evidence.

Those who made a choice were better educated and better off than those who did not choose the schools their children attended. Moreover, those parents tended to choose the older, previously more selective schools whose pupils were of more advantaged backgrounds and had higher academic achievement.

Lesson 2: Parents do not always make the best choices for their offspring.

When choosing among the previously more selective schools, parents were unable to differentiate those that were more or less effective. Instead, they choose schools whose socio-­economic compositions and examination results were marginally higher than the schools to which their children had been previously assigned. They did not necessarily choose schools that would maximize their children’s educational advantage. They inferred that, because children with higher examination scores attended the schools they selected for their children, that the school had caused the higher examination scores.

While schools obviously exert an influence on student achievement, they only account for approximately 30% of the difference in student achievement. The remaining 70% of the difference in student achievement is due to factors over which schools have no control. The many factors outside of school that influence student achievement include: parental education, educational aspirations and expectations, family income and living conditions, and community economic makeup.

Canada takes prides in being a multi-ethnic society that relies upon immigration and is accepting of immigrants

Despite having a wide range of schools from which to choose, more than 60 per cent of the parents requesting a placement considered only one alternative to the school to which their children had been assigned. Advantaged parents paid more attention to the information provided by teachers and school administrators and to direct observations made from their visits to the school than did less advantaged parents. Less advantaged parents were more concerned about the reputation and the disciplinary climate of schools.

Lesson 3: Parent choice has only a small impact on their child’s school achievement.

The school choice literature indicates that children whose parents choose their school will make only a modest gain in achievement: on average three to four percentage points. It is not particularly surprising that choice appears not to improve performance very much. If parents do not choose schools to maximize educational advantages for their children, such advantages are not likely to occur.

Lesson 4:  Parental choice leads to increasing economic and ethnic-­group segregation.

Economically advantaged families have resources such as time and transportation that enable them to choose, so they are more apt to do so. And the schools they are likely to choose are those with student bodies from families much like their own. As a consequence, choice produces higher concentrations of children from advantaged backgrounds in some schools and increasing concentrations of less advantaged students in the schools from which the more advantaged children have departed.

Doug Willms at the University of New Brunswick points out that, for poor students living in poor communities, there is a double disadvantage. There is the dis­advantage that comes from their own poverty and the additional disadvantage from the influence of their peers who are also poor. When choice removes the most able students from the peer group, the similarities among the remaining students increase. When most of the students who are left behind live in poor circumstances, their segregation amplifies and reinforces their difficulties.

Lesson 5: Inclusive schools – schools that have a healthy mix of children from the local neighbourhood – enjoy a balance of neighbourhood political support.

Charter schools are sometimes seen by parents as a way to maximize educational outcomes for their offspring, though the evidence suggests that this is not the case. Charter school student bodies are often more homogeneous than the public schools from which the charter students were drawn, resulting in ethno-cultural and/or socio-economic segregation.

In 1999, researchers studied the ethnic composition of fifty-­five urban and fifty-­seven rural Arizona charter schools. They found that nearly half of the charter schools exhibited evidence of substantial ethnic separation “large enough and consistent enough to warrant concern among education policymakers.” They observed that students who attend schools segregated along ethnic lines do not get the benefits of integration with students of a rich variety of backgrounds.  

They found that nearly half of the charter schools exhibited evidence of substantial ethnic separation “large enough and consistent enough to warrant concern among education policymakers.”

“Ethnic and class-­based separation,” the researchers argue, “polarizes the political interests which look out for neighbourhood schools, which results in further disparities in resources, quality of teachers, number of supportive parents, and the like. Schools without political support struggle and the students suffer.”

What seems clear from the evidence is that, while the achievement gains from school choice are modest, school choice has the capacity to fragment Canadians, reduce the influence that Canadian schools exert on the transmission of common values, and diminish social cohesion. Canada takes prides in being a multi-ethnic society that relies upon immigration and is accepting of immigrants. It can hardly afford practices that have, in other contexts, polarized and segregated communities along economic and socio-cultural lines. We need to take a closer look at the motivation of the Fraser Institute in fuelling parental anxieties through emphasizing differences among schools.


Charles Ungerleider, a Professor Emeritus of Educational Studies at The University of British Columbia, is Managing Partner of Directions Evidence and Policy Research Group, LLP, a partnership of professionals with experience in applied research, policy analysis and evaluation in a variety of domains, including K-12 and post-secondary education, social services, justice, and health. He has served as Deputy Minister of Education in British Columbia, Director of Research and Knowledge Mobilization at the Canadian Council on Learning, and Associate Dean (Teacher Education) at The University of British Columbia. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary

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