Was Canada’s high school drop-out rate halved by lowering standards?

Yesterday, the news came out that Statistics Canada had found that the high school drop-out in rate in Canada has been cut in half over the last twenty years.  While print and television news reports were all overflowing with praise (e.g., see this Ottawa Citizen report by Mark Iype), my immediate reaction was “why.”  Why did the drop rate go down so dramatically? Unfortunately, Stats Can numbers don’t tell us anything about why more young people are staying in school long enough to graduate.

Well, as a former university teacher, I can tell you it isn’t because students are being better prepared. In my last few years teaching, for example (early in this decade), I found spelling and grammar in written assignments was worse than it had ever been — and remember, like now, that was the age of computer spell checkers. 

In my opinion, and it is the opinion of an awful lot of people in this country, the reason for the decrease in drop-outs are provincially directed “no-fail and social promotion policies.” In fact, I was on the Dave Rutherford Radio Show last May, talking to Roy Green and his callers about that very subject. For those who are interested, here is my blog’s archive on that topic.

Now, I am all for motivating students to stay in school. But, lowering standards to do it is, in the long run, counter productive to society as a whole. Yet, Andrew Parkin, Director General of the Council of Ministers of Education, doesn’t seem to question why the rate had been reduced by half, just that: “It’s a dramatic change over time, and hopefully that means we can keep it going…I think it shows that the value of education and the recognition of that value has been increasing.”

I wish I could say I think it shows the recognition of the value of a high school graduation diploma, but I rather think it simply shows that: (a) more kids are promoted who shouldn’t be, particularly from elementary school into high school, and (b) academic standards have been reduced in order to accommodate those who would otherwise have dropped out. Is that such a bad thing? I don’t know. I guess only time will tell.

Perhaps parents and today’s employers can leave a comment here and tell me if they think their grown children, or staff, were adequately prepared for working in the real world. Because, it is only with that kind of information that we can know the reason Canada’s high school drop out rate has dropped so dramatically.

7 thoughts on “Was Canada’s high school drop-out rate halved by lowering standards?

  1. That would be from one of those long-form Stats Can reports right?
    Canada. Don´t ask. Don´t fail.


  2. Susann — I am not sure how they developed their statistical profile but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was the long form. Remember during the faux scandal this summer, provinces (like Ontario) complained that they needed that data to develop priorities about education. Well, there you have it. Do what you have to improve the statistics next time around. Ah, maybe I’m just being too pessimistic.


  3. In Quebec they have lowered the educational standards, but the dropout rate is still frightful. English and allophone students stay in school longer because their cultures for the most part value education and English students usually have parents who have at least a high school education and often more.

    Of course it has an effect because our students will have to compete against the world.


  4. To be quite frank, I believe that you are at least half right. The state of the economy encourages some students to stay in school but the fact is high school is a bit easier than before. That is not to say harder is necessarily best. We could make HS so hard that almost nobody graduates or so easy that everybody does. Where to land on the spectrum is a matter of judgement.


  5. I am California in the US, so this is very interesting. If they are making HS less challenging, then how are these students getting into college and how are they doing when they get there. I teach in a private, post-secondary college and I am amazed at the caliber of student that we get. These students can not write a decent sentence or do fundamental math, but they are in college trying to make it.


  6. Sandy H. — In order to compare the drop out rates, you’ll have to access the Statistics Canada website. Here is a Google link to all the articles on this topic. Stats Can is at the top of the page. But, unfortunately the site is down this weekend. So, you’ll have to try next week. Hope that helps.


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