In 1844, Ryerson was appointed superintendent of education for Canada West. He held this post until retiring in 1876. In 1844 and 1845, he toured Europe to study different school systems. Based on his findings, he wrote his Report on a system of public elementary instruction for Upper Canada (1846). In this report, he made recommendations for improvements to the educational system. Many of his points were adopted in the first two Common Schools Acts (1846, 1850).
Ryerson believed that poverty should not be a roadblock to education and that Canada West should have a free and mandatory public education system. He also believed that schools should teach Christian morals to improve the individual and help society progress. This new educational system, the forerunner of Ontario's current school system, would be overseen by the chief superintendent of schools, who would set common standards across Canada West. Ryerson recommended an efficient system of school inspections to maintain these standards. He also recommended standard textbooks across the system and the creation of an Educational Depository; it supplied textbooks and educational material to schools at affordable prices. A Journal of Education was created to help keep teachers up to date.