Fraser Report Ranking schools 'damaging, misleading'
By Corey Larocque, Ottawa Sun
First posted: Sunday, March 01, 2015
In the reality-TV era, where contestants jockey to be the "biggest loser," it's tempting to want to rate and judge nearly everything.
But when schools are given ratings, the sense of competition it creates can be "damaging" and "misleading," says an Ottawa educator who cautions the public about reading too much into rankings like the Fraser Institute's annual report on elementary schools whose latest report card was released Sunday.
"We have some very, very vibrant, dynamic, wonderful school environments who may not be performing at the exact same level as another school that might have a different feel to it," said Ottawa-Carleton District School Board superintendent Pino Buffone.
The Fraser Institute has been sizing up Canada's elementary and high schools for five years.
Ottawa schools generally performed slightly better than the average Ontario school, according to the most recent report card.
But school officials can be guarded about what they say about the school ratings -- high or low.
"It's not the kind of environment we work in," said Buffone, curriculum superintendent for Ottawa's public board.
The ratings tend to create competition, but not the kind of "collaborative competition" the board tries to foster.
"We're not in the business of ranking one school over another. All of our schools are important."
The public board turned down the Sun's request to visit a school that got top marks and one of the schools not making the grade. The public board's ratings ranged from 9.3 for Kanata's W. Erskine Johnson public school in Kanata to 0.7 at Queen Mary St. public school in Vanier.
The Ottawa Catholic School Board arranged a visit to Holy Redeemer Catholic School in Kanata whose 9.2 rating was the highest among Ottawa's Catholic schools.
But Catholic board officials declined the Sun's request to interview staff at Assumption Catholic School in Vanier, whose 1.5 rating is the board's lowest.
"It's not something we've done in the past. We're not going to start doing it now," said the Catholic board's communications manager Mardi de Kemp.
A little competition among schools and some external pressure to improve is good for Ontario's educational system, says Peter Cowley, director of school performance studies for the Fraser Institute.
It publishes its report card to encourage improvement, to hold the education system accountable and to encourage parents to be more involved in their children's educations.
"If the results at the school start declining, parents can be a very strong motivating force in terms of turning the direction of a trend around," Cowley says.
Educators should strive for improvement the way athletes and businesses do.
Competition brings out the best in kids, builds character, teaches them how to win and lose, and most importantly, it teaches them that they can improve.
"All those important life lessons are learned in competition with others," Cowley says.