The news just keeps getting worse for the teaching and learning of mathematics in Manitoba.
Children of professionals and managers worldwide do better in math than do children of manual labourers, according to a study released Tuesday by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
And that's true in both Canada and in Manitoba, the OECD data show.
But Manitoba's children trail the national average of Canadian children regardless of what occupation their parent or parents hold — usually by significant margins.
The release of those 2012 test scores two months ago set off shock waves in Manitoba, where our scores fell to eighth among Canadian provinces and dipped below the industrialized world's average.
For the first time, in 2012, OECD asked the students writing the test to list their parents' occupations. OECD did not release similar data Tuesday for the reading and science testing it also conducted in 2012.
Math scores among 15-year-olds in randomly selected schools have dropped in Manitoba every three years, each time the OECD conducts its testing among industrialized nations.
The only profession in which Manitobans handle math near the national average is in the kids of skilled agricultural, forestry and fishing workers, and even then, our kids are a tad lower. Such kids were third in Manitoba and fifth in Canada.
Children of managers handle math better in Manitoba than do children of professionals — by a slim margin to be sure, but both well below the Canadian standard, in which children of professionals are tops.
Otherwise, our rankings follow the Canadian rankings, though significantly below: technicians and associate professionals, clerical support workers, craft and related trade workers, service and sales workers, plant and machine operators and assemblers, and dead last, elementary occupations.
OECD officials said Tuesday unemployed parents were not a possible response for students — instead, kids listed the last job their parents held.
An aide to Education Minister James Allum said the province will not comment on the OECD report, but emphasized the Selinger government's commitment to smaller class sizes, a greater focus on teacher education in math, and the recent back-to-the-basics math curriculum.
Manitoba Teachers' Society president Paul Olson dismissed the OECD report. Olson said other factors such as poverty and hunger are crucial to student success, and those factors vary from country to country.
"It completely ignores the reality of kids' lives," Olson said. "The most important influence on student learning is teachers, once they get into the classroom."
While there's generally a global pattern, OECD pointed out children of cleaners and factory workers in China did better in math than the children of professionals in the United States, and there were other deviations elsewhere. Some countries showed little or no difference in children's math levels.
"Finland and Japan achieve high levels of performance by ensuring that the children of parents who work in elementary occupations are given the same education opportunities and the same encouragement as the children of professionals," said the OECD report.
"The bottom line: While there is a strong relationship between parents' occupations and student performance, the fact that students in some education systems, regardless of what their parents do for a living, outperform children of professionals in other countries shows that it is possible to provide children of factory workers the same high-quality education opportunities that children of lawyers and doctors enjoy."
What does Manitoba need to do to get out of the basement of math marks? Join the conversation in the comments below.