When families move into new communities, what is one of the first things parents ask their real estate agent? You guessed it. They ask: Where are the best schools and how do you know they are the best? And, on the basis of the answer, the parents decide then and there where they want to rent or purchase housing.
Now, just how do people find out where the best schools are located? In the past, they speak to everyone they know who lives in the community where they are moving. Then, they make an informed decision. Now, it seems, the Fraser Institute’s school rankings is the primary source parents are using.
But, is that all there is to a school? Do the rankings alone “really” reflect the quality of a school? Or, should other criteria be used as well? For example:
- Is there a strong emphasis on academics?
- Is there a good sports program?
- Are there extra-curricular activities in the arts?
- Is there a school choir or band?
- Is there a strong school spirit?
- Do children like attending?
- Do the teachers communicate well with the parents?
- Are the staff dedicated?
- Do the staff undertake professional development?
- Is the principal approachable?
- Does the principal treat parents with respect?
- Are there a lot of parent volunteers?
- Is the school council effective?
And, so on. Or, do the rankings themselves mean enough — as in — if the children do well in the annual tests, then that means there are good teachers and the school is good. Is that a fair analysis? Or, is this whole process a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Not long ago I wrote about the Ontario school rankings and how the teachers’ unions and Ontario trustees association did not like them one bit. They complained that the tests are designed to be used to improve teaching practices but not to compare one school with another. That to do so was demoralizing to everyone concerned — staff, students and parents. Now, we find out that they may have had a point.
In today’s National Post there is a very long, well researched, article by Natalie Alcoba. It is called “Making the Grade” and it makes very clear that parents are not only comparing one school with another, totally based on the Fraser Institutes school report rankings, but they are actually selling their homes and moving to school catchment areas that have the highest performing schools. And, while this article is about Toronto parents, it is completely within the realm of reason to generalize that behaviour across Ontario and Canada.
While some may say it is all about parent choice and that they are making decisions with their feet. There is another side to this argument. If you empty out urban schools completely, what is going to happen to entire communities? When businesses move out of the core of cities and towns, what happens? It is called the donut affect. Entire downtown communities die and are filled with boarded up stores and run down streets — becoming a situation of the haves versus the have-nots. In the U.S. they are called “ghettos.” That is not what I think publicly funded education is supposed to be about.
In the print version (that I have not been able to find online) of today’s National Post, under the Alcoba article, is a table of the Fraser Institute’s rankings — showing “some of Toronto’s hottest public schools.” I am sure many parents will cut that out and hold on to it because it very clearly shows 18 city schools that ranked anywhere from 7.4 to 10.0 with 8 ranking 9 or better.
While I have more questions than answers on this topic, it is certainly something to think about.