Monday, June 3, 2013

School choice and segregation

A fascinating report was issued last week by People for Education - an Ontario based non-profit organization that promotes public education. The report looked at demographic data in the Ontario school system and drew some frightening conclusions about the growing inequity in access to educational opportunities.

For example:

* students in high income school are more likely to be identified as gifted
* high income schools fundraise five times more per year, on average, than low income schools
* the top 10% of fundraising schools raise as much as the bottom 81% altogether
* between 2001 and 2013, the average ratio of special education students to special education teachers has risen from 22:1, to 36:1 in elementary schools
* average family income in schools with a high proportion of applied math students is almost half that of the schools with the low proportion of applied math students

The full report is available here:

Unfortunately, I am not aware of any similar analysis for schools in British Columbia, but a quick look at a few facts suggest similar trends and other worrisome indicators related to the impact of school and program "choice" on how students become segregated and streamed.

The Ministry of Education provides five year data sets of a variety of statistical measures. Here are a few quick facts from schools in the Greater Victoria district:

* Craigflower elementary has gone from 76% aboriginal students in 2008 to 95% aboriginal students in 2012
 14% of all non-aboriginal students with a special needs designation are gifted, whereas 2% of all aboriginal students with a special needs designation are gifted
* Central Middle School, a dual track French Immersion/English school, was just about equal in the proportion of female and male students five years ago, but today, the school is 57% female and 43% male
* In contrast, Rockheights Middle School, which does not have a French Immersion program, is 57% male and 43% female...the same trend is occurring in another non-French Immersion Middle School that is in a higher socio-economic area of the city, Monterey, which is now 55% male and 45% female

A raft of research from the United States has documented the impact of segregation and the benefits of inclusion to enhance equality of educational opportunities. For example, a study entitled "Trading in Futures: Why Markets in Education Don't Work", explains the problem:

"Throughout the English-speaking world, and now Western Europe and parts of East Asia, parental choice and educational markets are being seen by politicians and policy advisors as the panacea to problems of low educational standards and social exclusion. This book tests the key assumptions underlying the faith in markets by linking an analysis of parental choice to flows of students between schools and their impact on school effectiveness. The results of this study suggest that the ability to realize choices is dependent on social-class, gender, and ethnicity, and that this can have a negative impact on some schools' performance. Rather than raising standards, the impact of markets is to polarize them, leading to an impoverished education for many students. Contrary to current orthodoxy, markets are likely to lead to a decline in overall educational standards because they have a negative effect on the performance of working-class schools, while leaving middle-class schools untouched. Education markets trade off the opportunities of less-privileged children to those already privileged. Students from professional and managerial middle-class backgrounds are able to exercise greater choice and are more likely to travel greater distances to enter schools with high socioeconomic status mixes. In these terms, markets do not work because they are neither efficient nor equitable." (

Rather than the destructive influence of the Fraser Institute school rankings, which exacerbate these inequities, it is time that a BC research institute, or better yet even, our government, took a look at how school choice has impacted racial, gender, and socio-economic stratification here in BC.