Monday, February 08, 2010

Fraser Institute rankings stir the debate for another year!

Having given the member papers of Black Press (including the Northern View) a sneak preview of their findings from this years survey into education. The Fraser Institute released their numbers to wider circulation Friday, posting their report on the Institutes website.

The Northern View was the first to offer up the details of the Institutes research as it pertained to schools of the North coast, a snapshot of the figures and some feedback from local educators, administrators and school board officials.

This year's report finds Annunciation as the lead school in the region, receiving an overall rating of 7.8 out of ten, up slightly from the 7.6 of 2008, marking its best rating in the last five years. Overall that placed it at number 133 in the province.

Westview was next of the local schools with an overall placement of 5.6, down slightly from 2008's 5.8, they were ranked number 485 in the province.

Pineridge was rated at 5.3 up significantly from 2008 when it was rated at 3.4, they appear at the number 552 spot overall.

Conrad School moved up in the rankings as well, claiming an overall rating of 4.3, compared to the 2.7 of 2008, the Conrad score placed it in the716 place overall.

Lax Keen struggled in this years ratings dropping to 2.7 from last years 4.7, moving it to 727 in the province.

And Roosevelt Community School did not register well with the Fraser Institute as their score was tabulated as 0.5, down from 1.3 in 2008. Overall at 875 that would make the school one of the lowest in the ranking system, with only Prince George's Carney Hill below it.

Port Edward School did not appear in the rankings provided by the Fraser Institute.

Regionally the Coast Mountain District featured two Independent Schools at the top of their rankings with Veritas receiving a rating of 8.1 and Centennial Christian listed at 7.4, this was the first year that Centennial Christian was rated.

St. Anthony's in Kitimat received a rating of 6.5, the highest ranking of a public school in Coast Mountain was Nechako at 5.7.

On Haida Gwaii only Sk’aadgaa Naay was listed, receiving a ranking of 4.7.

The numbers were tabulated according to scores on testing of Grade 4 and 7 students across the province, using the controversial Fundamental Skills Assessment Tests as their baseline model.

The stark utilization of numbers however, as has been pointed many times in the past since these findings have been published, don't take into account some of the many other factors that could go into a learning experience in a particular school.

When one looks at the first twenty schools on their list the majority of them belong to private or Independent schools, most of which are based in Metropolitan Vancouver or Victoria, schools which are able to provide a much wider educational experience due to their tuition process and the pool of students from which they choose to accept.

On a socio- economic basis, we would hazard a guess that the students that attend Stratford Hall, Gleneagles or Maple Ridge Christian to name but a few, did not go to school hungry unless by choice. More than likely those students don't have serious home life issues that could affect their learning curve, and perhaps they have access to such study aids as updated text books, computer and science labs and other accessories that financially strapped public schools don't have. We doubt if they have to wonder from year to year if their school will remain open, or if they'll have to be shipped off as though to be warehoused, due to declining funding options.

And that's where these Report cards fail to provide a genuine picture of education on a student by student basis, if anything it provides a glaring example of the inequities that students can face when measured under significantly different learning situations. Providing a snap shot of a province with very serious divisions both geographically, economically and indeed by its approach to education infrastructure and process.

In the preamble to their presentation, the Fraser Institute suggests that these findings will assist parents in choosing the best possible educational institution for their children, another example of the split that exists in this province when it comes to educational options.

While it may be useful in the Lower mainland or Greater Victoria area to go shopping for a school, such a luxury doesn't exist in many rural school districts like School District 52. While there is an Independent School in Annunciation, it is limited by it's ability to take in students to fit its space, even if parents in an economically depressed region had the cash on hand to pay the tuition. On the public side, the continuing quest for consolidation of schools means that parents have less and less options regardless of the Fraser Institutes ranking.

For instance in Prince Rupert, in the last two years of this report's publication, School District 52 has closed two elementary schools, changing the educational dynamic of those students as they change schools and adjust to a new environment. That process of change will continue next year, as the School District examines which if not all of the three elementary schools that are up for discussion will be closed, as well as the closure of a high school and introduction of a middle school system .

It's that kind of uncertainty played out across the province, that students, teachers, administrators and parents cope with on a year to year basis. One that doesn't seem conducive to a rising tide of academic success as per the Fraser Institute's ambitious agenda.

This is why many suggest that the Institutes bias towards private schools shows through in their findings, by not accepting or accounting for the reality of school board decisions in many communities that have a very real impact on their students.

The province of British Columbia continues to add stresses to its educational system in the way of funding directives and consolidation of schools owing to declining enrollment. But by that funding gap, they create the atmosphere aided by studies such as the Fraser Institutes, where parents seem to be pointed towards the direction of private education if they are to believe the Institutes accounting process that suggests those schools are better educators.

While that sketch is outlined through these numbers, those schools that struggle to educate children across the province on a daily basis, get beaten down by flawed comparisons to schools that may as well be on Mars as for the relevance to the challenges they face by comparison.

Would not a more directed approach to funding, provide for more opportunity for success? Every year the findings seem to be the same, yet school districts continue to try and cope with funding limitations and ministry directives that seem to be providing the fuel for the Fraser Institutes observations.

If the province wishes to make their public schools reach those levels that grace the top twenty of the list, then invest the required capital both in education and social programs to ensure the playing field is a more level one.

Until the province accepts that it has dropped the ball on education and develops a comprehensive plan to make sure that the public schools have all the tools required to the job, the only thing that these studies from the Fraser Institute seem to succeed in doing is highlight the disadvantage that the Government of British Columbia is putting the education of a good portion of its children in.

The full Fraser Institute study can be accessed from their website found here.

Thursday's Daily News provided an article on a study from a different perspective than that of the Fraser Institute, with a study from the Human Early Learning Partnership which examined the effects of neighbourhood poverty at early childhood and early adolescence and the impact that it had on Grade 7 testing. Well worth a read for a bit of balance from the avalanche no numbers crunched in the Fraser Institute report.

On Friday, we posted an item about the release of those early numbers to Black Press ( found locally in the Northern View), part of that post provided a well thought out editorial from Chuck Bennett as published in one of those Black Press papers, the Golden Star.

After you digest all the numbers and read the various rationales behind the Fraser Institutes compilation for 2010, it is worth reading Mr. Bennett's editorial. He provides a reasoned and well thought out examination of these Reports and puts into perspective the impact that they have on schools, teachers and students.

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