In a nutshell, the institute one-upped its west-coast, righter-wing cousin by doing a different analysis of schools' assessment data and demographic data. While Frasier uses certain demographic data as part of its overall ranking (meaning rich neighbourhoods with well-educated parents always win), C.D. Howe's analysis actually neutralized these demographic traits. The summary is here, the full report, with rankings, here. The institute actually links to the above G&M piece on its site now as well.
From the piece:
Not surprisingly, schools with students from more affluent backgrounds tend to do better, but within that generality Prof. Johnson says there are sharp variations. Based on the above-average affluence of their students, Mount Hope Public School in Hamilton and St. Cecilia Catholic School in Toronto were each predicted to have a pass rate of 5 per cent above the provincial average. In fact, Mount Hope's pass rate in Grade 3 testing wound up 10.7 per cent below the provincial average while St. Cecilia was 22.3 per cent above. Obviously, St. Cecilia is doing something right. Mount Hope has some thinking to do.Gee takes us down the garden path a bit, but the main point I pick out of here is that people make all the difference. You get the right people with the right skillset in front of students, armed with the right resources and you get results. Does life outside the classroom have an impact? Absolutely. But again, it's about having the right people, with the right skills, in the right places. Unless schools and boards are analysing assessment and demographic data, they're never going to know, with certainty, where the 'right' people need to be, and what skills they need to have.
Prof. Johnson found the same variations in schools with less privileged students. Based on its socioeconomic makeup, Cornell Junior Public School in Toronto should have had a pass rate 7.9 per cent below the provincial average. Instead it scored 15.1 per cent above. It is way, way ahead of other schools with students of similar background. What is Cornell doing to give its underprivileged students a leg up?
It's a legitimate question, but the teachers unions would rather keep us in the dark. Though they represent a profession dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, they seem to feel that information of the kind being unearthed by Prof. Johnson is a dangerous thing.
In fact, it is priceless. It shows, to begin with, that background is not destiny. Kids in poor districts don't have to have lousy schools. Kids in rich areas don't always get great schools either.
I have not read the full C.D. Howe study or seen how my local schools have ranked -- that may come in the next few days -- but thought this G&M piece nicely summed up most of what I would say here.