Ranking Ontario schools misses point of existence

  • May 8, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - When principal Angelo Bolotta makes his usual morning rounds down the hallway, he greets each student he meets by name.

It’s this community spirit, he says, that helps Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts students excel.

The school for Grade 7 to 12 students ranks as the top Catholic school in Toronto in the Fraser Institute’s latest report card on Ontario high schools.

The report, Bolotta said, points to the success of publicly funded Catholic schools across the country.

But he adds that comparing schools is unfair because it’s not a “level playing field” for everyone when it comes to the unique challenges that students, families and the schools themselves face.

Critics say the report card is resurrecting the debate about whether education is a public or consumer good. The Ontario Association for Parents in Catholic Education says ranking schools, and in particular, the Fraser Institute’s April 19 report card,  “demoralizes” students, parents and schools which have posted low provincial testing scores.

“We encourage parents not to put any credence to it,” said association president Brian Evoy.

University of St. Michael’s College professor Lee Cormie says ranking schools is a “deeply flawed” exercise involving “highly problematic assumptions.” Cormie, who teaches Christian social ethics, said learning is a complex process that can’t be reduced to quantitative measures.

Former Catholic school principal Fr. Len Altilia said treating education as a consumer good misses the complete picture of what education is.

“(Education) can’t be commodified in the sense that you can package and sell it as a simple commodity in the same way you would package a refrigerator or a TV set,” he said.

“Academic excellence has become a goal, the holy grail of education, but it’s a means to an end, not an end in itself.”

Seeing education as being only about job training or transferring information to young people, he added, misses the social, emotional and spiritual formation which are also key factors in a student’s success and development.

But with millions being invested in public education, the Fraser Institute’s Peter Cowley said the report card is about accountability to students and parents.

The five-year study is also designed to be a “source of hope and encouragement” for teachers and administrators to improve  their results.

Education is both a private and public good, said Cowley, who wrote the report on Ontario high schools.

A copy of the report can be found at www.fraserinstitute.org/reportcards/schoolperformance/ .

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