In Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education Lessons from PISA for the United States (http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/32/50/46623978.pdf), there are two conclusions in the final observations of the Canada chapter that won’t be surprising to Canadians:
(1) Canada is a unique case because it “demonstrates, rather surprisingly, that success can be achieved without a national strategy….. The power of ideas and the possibilities of diffusion can therefore be sufficient to generate good practice.”
(2) Canada respects education professionals and includes them at the table for system level decision making. This has promoted the level of professionalism, ownership, and sustainable change.
In other words, Canada’s system is one that respects local diversity from coast to coast and relies on the educational professional knowledge and skills to complement political, social, and economic knowledge and skill when constructing, upgrading, or reflecting on systems. When it comes to testing and accountability, this means professional accountability and inquiry-based accountability are the models of choice. And it works!
Although there is research and case examples that demonstrate this approach is valuable and effective across the world, not many countries adopt this level of flexibility in their system or trust in their education professionals.
So why does Canada have this unique approach?
Well, the flexibility inherent in the Canadian model of accountability reflects the idea of Canada as a nation! Canada is a nation aspiring to harmonize the complex array of differences through compromises. Canadian educational accountability respectfully acquiesces to the values of individual communities and relies on the commitment of local leadership to understand the local values and use them in conjunction with the results of large-scale assessment to determine the best ways to support the school for sustainable improvement.
Why is it so unique? It is hard work to be flexible and meet/set international standards of success!
John Rauston Saul (1998, p.113) once wrote:
“The middle way is neither soft nor easy. It is the most difficult of roads, because it is the most fragile and is exposed to easy attack. The ways of ideology and absolute answers, the monolithic view of the nation-state, the dominant centralized view of culture – all of these are filled with bravado.”
Compromise in Canada has been part of its identity since 1867. They have had a long time to practice how public policy can reflect local flexibility through dialogues of shared knowledge between groups of minorities, who together represent the population.(http://www3.ed.brocku.ca/ojs/index.php/brocked/article/viewFile/128/163)
I find it ironic that now, after so many years and years of Canada topping the charts of education success, it still comes as a surprise to the US that flexibility and respect of local communities and professionals is a critical part of then large-scale solution!