Friday, November 22, 2013

Private schools should not be publicly funded

The Alberta School Board Association (ASBA) announced a new policy calling for the end of funding private schools with public dollars. 

The Alberta Government funds provides public funds to private schools with 70% of the per student basic education grant that public school boards receive.

Newly-elected president of ASBA Helen Clease made a statement that included:
  • We don't have an issue with there being private schools. But we believe that the public dollars should go to public schools where every child can have access to that education.
  • At a time where every bit would help in the public education system, whether it's substantial or not, I think we have to support public education.
  • We're there to take every child and we have to make sure that we can meet many, many diverse needs with our children in our communities.
We all would like to believe that education is the great equalizer. Some even go so far as to say that the antidote to poverty is education.

However, without mindful and purposeful policies that fund and support public education in pursuit of equity for all, schools will merely perpetuate and reinforce the worst injustices and inequities of our society. Funding private schools with public money is a kind of pyramid scheme that benefits the wealthy few and is ultimately unsustainable.

Too many private schools have selective admissions -- which means private schools get to use public money to select which children will and which children won't attend their private school. In his article Whom We Admit, What We Deny: The Meaning of Selective Admissions, Alfie Kohn explores the ugly truths behind schools with selective admissions. Here are some of Kohn's key points:
  • When schools deny a student admission by saying they are "not a good fit", they are really saying that the child is "not good enough for this school."
  • There are two assumptions driving the admissions process: (1) Schools falsely believe that they can predict which students will be academically successful in the future -- standardized tests make this assumption even more damaging. (2) Schools come to see their primary role as sifting out all but the most promising children and then persuading their parents to enroll.
  • Because accurately predicting a student's future successes can be very difficult to do, schools often end up evaluating children on their past successes which usually is a reflection of the student's affluence and opportunity and the family's socioeconomic status. This is how private schools with select admissions privilege the privileged and reproduce it in another generation.
  • The troubling truth is that selective schools help to perpetuate the deep inequities that define our society, not just failing to make things better but actively making them a little worse.
If we are to believe those who like to rank schools according to their standardized test scores, then many private schools that have select admissions are the best schools in Alberta. And if these private schools with select admission are the best schools, why would we only admit the most capable students to these schools? If these private schools with select admissions are the best, shouldn't we populate them with students who need the most help?

The sad irony is that Martin Haberman was right when he said: "The children we teach best are those who need us least." 

David McLelland put it another way: "One would think that the purpose of education is precisely to improve the performance of those who are not doing very well." 

James Moffett coined the (unofficial) mantra of private schools with select admissions to be: "Send us winners and we'll make winners out of them." 

Alfie Kohn puts it this way: "Institutions that get to choose whom to admit tend to look for the applicants who are good bets to succeed: those who seem smart and compliant, will require the least time and effort, and are most likely to make the school look good. And that means those who most need what your school has to offer are turned away."

As bad as schools with select admissions are, I can think of few things more morally bankrupt and intellectually indefensible than publicly funded private schools with select admissions. 

I've been an outspoken critic of the Alberta School Boards Association. Despite my affinity to the idea of locally elected school board trustees, I've often wondered whether the Alberta School Board Association is relevant.

And yet, I'm fully prepared to give credit where credit is due. The Alberta School Boards Association may have just taken a step towards being relevant by rightfully rejecting the idea that private schools should be publicly funded.

Well played, Alberta School Boards Association. 

Well played.

1 comment:

  1. Joe,

    I am very interested in your post. I am a teacher in a private school. We are not a school as you described in your post. We do not have a selective admissions process. We are a Designated Special Education Private school.

    I agree with much of what you write. In the past 13 years, I have taught students who did not have success in public systems. The reasons for this are varied but the common theme from families was the teachers were not equipped to provide the level of programming necessary to help the students. This was not because teachers did not work hard enough or were not knowledgeable about their needs. Rather, the teachers were overworked. They dealt with class sizes well over 30 students and therefore were unable to individualize to a level needed.

    I believe schools such as mine provide a much needed service to LD students. Should we receive public funding? I'm not certain. We are a non-profit organization. We do not turn students away. Maybe the funding model needs to be reevaluated but there most definitely is a place in the system for DSEP schools.

    Thanks again for your post.

    Sean Beaton


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