Feb 9, 2009

School ranking: public shaming with a statistical veneer


By printing the Fraser Institute rankings of elementary schools the Vancouver Sun gives unwarranted attention and a gloss of respectability to a cynical attempt to create anxiety among parents and educators through public shaming of students, families, educators and to place public schools in a negative light. The FI’s ranking calculation is not a legitimate comparative measure of schools’ qualities — so many variables in educational settings are not quantifiable and the students can change dramatically from year to year. And comparing public schools who take all comers with private schools who can choose to exclude some students should make any statistician cringe.

It has always been apparent to me that the purpose of publicly ranking schools is twofold: to convince parents that their children’s education should be a commodity they have to shop and pay for, not an entitlement in a democratic society, and to insinuate the public schools’ “monopoly” (FI’s Peter Cowley’s favorite descriptor) makes them unaccountable. The irony is that public schools have elected trustees, public policies governing everything from admissions to school safety, and requirements for financial reporting that private schools do not. The FI doesn’t seem to mind public funding of schools (private schools get public funding), they just want private control of how the dollars are used.

The Minister of Education should know better than to facilitate this annual charade and stop releasing this data to be misused in such an illegitimate and harmful way. The Sun should stop offering free annual advertising space to this campaign against one of our most precious institutions. Parents can still get their child’s results, without the bogus comparisons.

(Note to the Sun: there is no FSA testing in grade 10 anymore).

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