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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 5, April 2004

Fraser Institute rankings mislead

by Charles Ungerleider

It’s the time of year that I dread. It is the time of year when the Fraser Institute renews its attack on Canada’s public schools. Thoughts of its fallout provoke anxiety in much the same way as an announcer intoning, "We interrupt this program to bring you a special announcement."

Earlier this week, a friend gave me a book, Portraits of Our Culture: Art by Vancouver School Students (see Teacher, Jan./Feb. 2004). It provides a view of our public schools very different from the Fraser Institute’s relentlessly negative and misleading picture. Portraits of Our Culture celebrates the collaboration between secondary school students and elementary school students. Students in Vancouver’s elementary schools worked with students from the local secondary school to express how the young artists see themselves in a changing world.

Portraits is a series of smaller books within a larger volume. Page 46 introduces the work of Grade 5 students at Tyee Elementary School with a self-portrait of Mario. At the time of publication in 2003, Mario was a Grade 11 student at Vancouver Technical Secondary School.

Conceived as a technical vocational school in 1916, today, Vancouver Technical High School, one of the largest secondary schools in the district, is a comprehensive secondary school. It offers a wide range of programs, including art, technical studies, music, home economics, business education, and physical education, as well as advanced academic placement programs.

In 2001–02, Vancouver Technical was ranked 177th among the province’s nearly 332 secondary schools. Over the previous five years, the school had an average ranking of 155. The Fraser Institute’s depiction of schools is as lifeless as Portraits is vibrant. The FI reports bear the same relationship to schooling as a list of spelling words does to great literature, or your vital statistics do to your biography. Schools with the life sucked from them.

I have never met Mario or his classmates, Mimi, Emily, Michael, and Michelle. But I can imagine their reaction at discovering their school’s ranking. I have come to think of the Fraser Institute’s arsenal of publications as WDPSC (Weapons to Destroy Public Schooling in Canada).

Why use military terminology to describe the Fraser Institute arsenal? Consider the evidence. In addition to its growing list of elementary and secondary school rankings, the Fraser Institute produces Canadian Education Freedom Index, The Case for School Choice, Can the Market Save Our Schools?, Home Schooling: From the Extreme to the Mainstream, and The $100,000,000 Giveaway: Who Says Education Doesn’t Get Enough Money?

The Fraser Institute’s relentless pursuit of school choice is a Trojan horse for its assault on taxpayer-supported public institutions. The FI appears determined to turn a public benefit into a private privilege by undermining confidence in public schooling.

Canadian parents of students like Mario and his classmates Mimi, Emily, Michael, and Michelle would be mistaken to pay much attention to the Fraser Institute’s school rankings. The reports are methodologically weak and error-ridden. Parents should examine the evidence that the Fraser Institute chooses to ignore such as Portraits of Our Culture or better still, visit their neighbourhood schools to see the rich, diverse, and successful programs they offer.

Charles Ungerleider is a professor, Sociology of Education, Department of Educational Studies, UBC.

Ungerleider’s book, Failing Our Kids: How we are ruining our public schools, was recently published in paperback by McClelland & Stewart. charles.ungerleider@ubc.ca.



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