COLUMN: Fraser report highlights need for one school system

The Fraser Institute released its annual report on Ontario’s secondary schools Sunday. The report outlined which schools were the best, and which ones were not. The authors of the report touted this as a tool for parents to help decide choosing a school for their children and track how a school is doing. Also mentioned by the authors was that it is to help schools improve, highlighting flaws in the system. Highlight they did, but not with the flawed data and methods used. The report manages to point out the biggest flaws facing the education system in Ontario.

Rankings were based on results of standardized Grade 9 mathematics and Grade 10 literacy testing by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO). If standardized testing was on what was taught in the classroom, then it would be fair. It is not. Students have to be prepped for many of the EQAO tests. What is covered often has not been taught in the classroom or at that grade level. The Fraser Institute report uses data collected by the government with only analysis provided by the institute.

If all schools were equal and balanced, and all school boards were equal and balanced, then comparisons could be made between them. Theory and reality are two different things. Boards which are inclusive, balance students with learning exceptions throughout their schools by geography. Other boards migrate students with exceptions to certain schools to concentrate resources. Doing this causes schools to be unequal in composition.

The Fraser Institute defines special needs students as anyone requiring an Independent Education Plan (IEP). Schools frequently use IEP’s to identify students with a range of learning issues, from being behind in reading or math levels to struggling with French-immersion. That is not the same as students with mental, physical or behavioural disabilities. The report identities gender gaps which is a misnomer for boards that still offer technical or trade-based learning program. This favours one gender more than another, thus causing a more pronounced gap.

What the report does do, by identifying and pitting school against school in the same community, is make it clear that there needs to be an overhaul of the education system.  The needless duplication based on language and religion in the public education system sucks money out of the places where the need is greatest.

In Cornwall there are seven secondary schools between the four boards (English-Public, English-Catholic, French-Public, French-Catholic). The school rankings range from L’Héritage with 7.5/10 to Cornwall Collegiate and Vocational School with 3.2/10. St. Matthew Catholic Secondary School doesn’t even warrant a ranking by the Fraser Institute. If the education system was reorganized based on linguistic lines, as was done in Quebec, or if all the four systems were brought into one, the administration savings could be reinvested to help bring all schools up.

We already have English school boards which offer French-immersion in Ontario. At the secondary school level, you do not need to be Catholic to attend a Catholic secondary school. Nor do you have to take part in Catholic religious instruction at said schools if you are not Catholic. At the elementary school level, you must be Catholic to attend Catholic schools, unless they need students to fill class sizes or run an immersion program in a school. Then exceptions are made. In the last 10 years, the exceptions have become the norm. If the lines between religion and language in schools have become blurred, why do they need to exist at all?

If there was only one school system funded by the public, would there be more administrative and transportation savings to reinvest in our schools. Look at rural communities like South Dundas. English-Catholic secondary students in the south-end of the township are bused 40 kilometers away to Cornwall, while students in the north-end are bused 25 kilometers away to Kemptville. For French-Catholic and French-Public students, similar or longer travel times occur. All while there is an English-Public secondary school located in the municipality. Other rural municipalities have similar issues.

Making the change from four-to-one school system would take a constitutional amendment, but that is easy to get. Quebec did so when they changed their school systems, so did Newfoundland and Labrador. As the amendment only affects one province, only Ontario and the federal government would have to approve of the amendment. The savings is worth the legislative work if it means the end of quadruplication and reinvestment in education.

The Fraser Institutes’ report may have been done as a simple exercise to pit one school against another for a round of headlines for the think-tank. It may have also been done to stick a thorn in the side of the governing Liberals, as the Fraser Institute is considered a center-right organization. If it can lead to changes that benefit educating youth in Ontario, flawed data and all, it is worth it. To fix the real issues in the school system, the province has to look at the picture as a whole, and rebuild from the ground up.