I tend to take statistics as less of a truth and more of a vague indicator of what's happening. They don't explain complex systems like human education very well but they do take the temperature.
Since Ontario is the largest single education system in Canada we lend a lot of weight to the country's successes and failures in these UN tests. If Ontario is performing well it tends to push the country's scores in that direction, so we must be doing a pretty good job if we're sixth in the world.
There are a variety of statistics pulled out of the OECD PISA data that are interesting to consider. To begin with, the top Asian countries only pitch their most gifted students at PISA while Canada, Finland and Estonia are representative of their entire populations. From that perspective all Canadian students were only beaten by the highest streamed students in Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore. If this were an apples to apples comparison we'd have done even better.
Another interesting statistic is truancy (on the left). There are a number of countries, Finland among them, that have seen a surprising jump in truancy. Unsurprisingly, the countries that are only putting their strongest students in also don't tolerate truancy. Canada, as in every aspect of the results I've seen so far, exceeds the OECD average and performs well in this area, even when we include all socio-economic and geographic areas of the country.
The other argument I'd be expecting from the neo-con right is that we pour tons of money into education so of course we get good results, except we don't. When compared to OECD countries world-wide, Canada is mid-pack in percent of GDP spent on education. Australia spends slightly more than us and the US only slightly less to get significantly worse results. Finland spends significantly more of their GDP on education than Canada does and finished behind us this time around.
It's a quiet time in Ontario education right now but I'm sure the Ontario Liberal party is already concocting stories in order to villify Ontario educators in the next round of bargaining. While that's going on I guess we'll just keep producing world class results at a reasonable cost.
Playing with the data in the World Bank is always interesting:
The official results page:
Teacher pay by country.
I wonder if publicly funded private religious education systems in Canada brag about these UN numbers because they ignore this: