Do Fraser rankings “really” reflect the quality of schools?

When families move into new communities, what is one of the first things parents ask their real estate agent?  You guessed it. They ask: Where are the best schools and how do you know they are the best?  And, on the basis of the answer, the parents decide then and there where they want to rent or purchase housing.

Now, just how do people find out where the best schools are located? In the past, they speak to everyone they know who lives in the community where they are moving. Then, they make an informed decision. Now, it seems, the Fraser Institute’s school rankings is the primary source parents are using.

But, is that all there is to a school? Do the rankings alone “really” reflect the quality of a school?  Or, should other criteria be used as well? For example:

  • Is there a strong emphasis on academics?
  • Is there a good sports program?
  • Are there extra-curricular activities in the arts?
  • Is there a school choir or band?
  • Is there a strong school spirit?
  • Do children like attending?
  • Do the teachers communicate well with the parents?
  • Are the staff dedicated?
  • Do the staff undertake professional development?
  • Is the principal approachable?
  • Does the principal treat parents with respect?
  • Are there a lot of parent volunteers?
  • Is the school council effective?

And, so on. Or, do the rankings themselves mean enough — as in — if the children do well in the annual tests, then that means there are good teachers and the school is good. Is that a fair analysis? Or, is this whole process a self-fulfilling prophecy? 

Not long ago I wrote about the Ontario school rankings and how the teachers’ unions and Ontario trustees association did not like them one bit. They complained that the tests are designed to be used to improve teaching practices but not to compare one school with another. That to do so was demoralizing to everyone concerned — staff, students and parents. Now, we find out that they may have had a point.

In today’s National Post there is a very long, well researched, article by Natalie Alcoba. It is called “Making the Grade” and it makes very clear that parents are not only comparing one school with another, totally based on the Fraser Institutes school report rankings, but they are actually selling their homes and moving to school catchment areas that have the highest performing schools. And, while this article is about Toronto parents, it is completely within the realm of reason to generalize that behaviour across Ontario and Canada.

While some may say it is all about parent choice and that they are making decisions with their feet. There is another side to this argument. If you empty out urban schools completely, what is going to happen to entire communities? When businesses move out of the core of cities and towns, what happens? It is called the donut affect. Entire downtown communities die and are filled with boarded up stores and run down streets — becoming a situation of the haves versus the have-nots. In the U.S. they are called “ghettos.” That is not what I think publicly funded education is supposed to be about.

In the print version (that I have not been able to find online) of today’s National Post, under the Alcoba article, is a table of the Fraser Institute’s rankings — showing “some of Toronto’s hottest public schools.” I am sure many parents will cut that out and hold on to it because it very clearly shows 18 city schools that ranked anywhere from 7.4 to 10.0 with 8 ranking 9 or better.

While I have more questions than answers on this topic, it is certainly something to think about.

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16 thoughts on “Do Fraser rankings “really” reflect the quality of schools?

  1. I do appreciate your thoughts about tests and quality schools.

    I supply teach in the Toronto area. I will say that in my board, the teaching practices are similar among schools. The EQAO tests alone do not determine quality schools. Your bullet points listed will help parents decide the quality of schools.

    The Fraser Institute rankings are not always a good indicator of school performance. I have taught at one school that has a gifted program but no lower level special education classes. A neighbouring school hold several classes for students with autism and for other special education students. All these students get included in the Fraser Institute’s calculations in determining the scores for schools. If students do not write the EQAO tests, they are counted as a zero. Principals are now getting many of their English Language Learners to write the tests so that they will be included in the percentage of students that wrote the tests. These students may only get a level one; it’s better than a zero.

    You are correct about parents shopping for schools. One school performed poorer than the neighbouring school. Some parents want to move their children to the better performing school not realizing that their own children were still officially or unofficially English Language Learners. The students at the neighbouring school were less likely to be ELLs. (I’m using the new terminology.)

    Back to the school with the gifted classes. Yes, that school performed very well. That school gets a Fraser Institute score of 10/10 or 9.8/10 practically each year. The teachers are great; so are teachers at other schools that don’t rank so high on the Fraser Institute scale.

    The EQAO tests do matter to schools. They do help improve teaching practices. However, a simple Fraser Institute ranking does not determine how well students are taught. Look at the the bullets listed in the Crux blog to help decide which schools are great.

    Like

  2. I do appreciate your thoughts about tests and quality schools.

    I supply teach in the Toronto area. I will say that in my board, the teaching practices are similar among schools. The EQAO tests alone do not determine quality schools. Your bullet points listed will help parents decide the quality of schools.

    The Fraser Institute rankings are not always a good indicator of school performance. I have taught at one school that has a gifted program but no lower level special education classes. A neighbouring school hold several classes for students with autism and for other special education students. All these students get included in the Fraser Institute’s calculations in determining the scores for schools. If students do not write the EQAO tests, they are counted as a zero. Principals are now getting many of their English Language Learners to write the tests so that they will be included in the percentage of students that wrote the tests. These students may only get a level one; it’s better than a zero.

    You are correct about parents shopping for schools. One school performed poorer than the neighbouring school. Some parents want to move their children to the better performing school not realizing that their own children were still officially or unofficially English Language Learners. The students at the neighbouring school were less likely to be ELLs. (I’m using the new terminology.)

    Back to the school with the gifted classes. Yes, that school performed very well. That school gets a Fraser Institute score of 10/10 or 9.8/10 practically each year. The teachers are great; so are teachers at other schools that don’t rank so high on the Fraser Institute scale.

    The EQAO tests do matter to schools. They do help improve teaching practices. However, a simple Fraser Institute ranking does not determine how well students are taught. Look at the the bullets listed in the Crux blog to help decide which schools are great.

    Like

  3. Sandy,

    As you know, my kid’s school is one of the 18 that ranked a 10.

    We are quite proud of this acheivement, obviously.

    At our school council meeting we actually discussed how we will have to be much more stringent about our school’s boundaries as we fully expect more people to want to try to get their children into our school. Word spreads fast…but we don’t have space.

    Although I do think that the score represents a “perfect storm” of teachable students, talented teachers, and involved parents and community, if a school is able to consistenly score high within the ranks of fraser, I think it does suggest the school is doing something right.

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  4. Sandy,

    As you know, my kid’s school is one of the 18 that ranked a 10.

    We are quite proud of this acheivement, obviously.

    At our school council meeting we actually discussed how we will have to be much more stringent about our school’s boundaries as we fully expect more people to want to try to get their children into our school. Word spreads fast…but we don’t have space.

    Although I do think that the score represents a “perfect storm” of teachable students, talented teachers, and involved parents and community, if a school is able to consistenly score high within the ranks of fraser, I think it does suggest the school is doing something right.

    Like

  5. As with everything else associated with statistics the results have to be looked at in context. I am from BC and we have had the Fraser Institute do an assessment for a long time. Every year many cry foul ans there is some justification. The statistics are only representative if you have a large enough sample size which is not a problem in large urban districts but create havoc in smaller rural ones.

    A good example is the school my daughters attended. Over the years the school was all over the map as far as rankings. It was because it was a small school and when there were a few really bright students it skewed the stats up and when there were a few challenged students it skewed the stats down.

    That is why you will see that rursl schools can change dramatically from year to year.

    Having said that it is still a good idea to measure these things, just keep them in context. Cheers.

    Like

  6. As with everything else associated with statistics the results have to be looked at in context. I am from BC and we have had the Fraser Institute do an assessment for a long time. Every year many cry foul ans there is some justification. The statistics are only representative if you have a large enough sample size which is not a problem in large urban districts but create havoc in smaller rural ones.

    A good example is the school my daughters attended. Over the years the school was all over the map as far as rankings. It was because it was a small school and when there were a few really bright students it skewed the stats up and when there were a few challenged students it skewed the stats down.

    That is why you will see that rursl schools can change dramatically from year to year.

    Having said that it is still a good idea to measure these things, just keep them in context. Cheers.

    Like

  7. Thanks Paula — You were very brave to try to come up with that definition. I say brave because one of the questions I asked in my Ph.D dissertation research was just that question. And, what I found was that the answer depended pretty much on what you said — what each educator “believes” about teaching and learning.

    However, that was where it ended. Out of dozens of responses, there were some core beliefs by everyone, pretty much as you state, but over and above that, a VERY wide range of priorities. That is why it is so hard to get consensus — because apart from the main issues — that is where it ends.

    You actually have people in today’s world saying education is about socializing our kids, that academics are not nearly as important as they once were.

    Given this Post article, obviously the majority of parents are not tuned into that view at all — thankfully.

    Like

  8. Thanks Paula — You were very brave to try to come up with that definition. I say brave because one of the questions I asked in my Ph.D dissertation research was just that question. And, what I found was that the answer depended pretty much on what you said — what each educator “believes” about teaching and learning.

    However, that was where it ended. Out of dozens of responses, there were some core beliefs by everyone, pretty much as you state, but over and above that, a VERY wide range of priorities. That is why it is so hard to get consensus — because apart from the main issues — that is where it ends.

    You actually have people in today’s world saying education is about socializing our kids, that academics are not nearly as important as they once were.

    Given this Post article, obviously the majority of parents are not tuned into that view at all — thankfully.

    Like

  9. No problem, Sandy. I’ve written many Vision/ Mission statements,and I always find it a valuable exercise to try to frame a concept in one or two sentences. I also find that many people can’t stand leaving ‘space for interpretation’ so they write long winded drivel that loses all it’s meaning. Simple is best- in decorating- and writing 😉

    Sandy said;
    “You actually have people in today’s world saying education is about socializing our kids, that academics are not nearly as important as they once were.”

    We need a publicly funded system that values both. Students need to be in safe and nurturing environments that ‘support and promote psychological, physical, and social wellness’, to be able to learn, and to use their learning.

    The other factor that no one has commented on is the Principal. This person can make or break a school. Boards need to ensure that successful principals do their fair share of time at challenging schools, and that they are given the resources they need to help those schools.

    Like

  10. No problem, Sandy. I’ve written many Vision/ Mission statements,and I always find it a valuable exercise to try to frame a concept in one or two sentences. I also find that many people can’t stand leaving ‘space for interpretation’ so they write long winded drivel that loses all it’s meaning. Simple is best- in decorating- and writing 😉

    Sandy said;
    “You actually have people in today’s world saying education is about socializing our kids, that academics are not nearly as important as they once were.”

    We need a publicly funded system that values both. Students need to be in safe and nurturing environments that ‘support and promote psychological, physical, and social wellness’, to be able to learn, and to use their learning.

    The other factor that no one has commented on is the Principal. This person can make or break a school. Boards need to ensure that successful principals do their fair share of time at challenging schools, and that they are given the resources they need to help those schools.

    Like

  11. Paula — You mentioned the need for good principals in one of your comments and I just wanted to let you know that I am about to post an article that was in the Goderich Signal Star this past week and written by a regular guest writer here by the name of Cathy Cove. Hope you enjoy it.

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  12. Paula — You mentioned the need for good principals in one of your comments and I just wanted to let you know that I am about to post an article that was in the Goderich Signal Star this past week and written by a regular guest writer here by the name of Cathy Cove. Hope you enjoy it.

    Like

  13. Tori – is your school now closed to parents who wish to send their kids there? That worries me only because it gives the impression that your council might be trying to keep folks out. I’m sure that’s not the case, but I got a weird feeling when I read that a public statutory school council might want deter others from the success you’re experiencing. I’d welcome a clarification.

    As long as the child lives in either the school’s immediate boundaries or the holding boundaries, the child is able to attend.

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  14. Tori – is your school now closed to parents who wish to send their kids there? That worries me only because it gives the impression that your council might be trying to keep folks out. I’m sure that’s not the case, but I got a weird feeling when I read that a public statutory school council might want deter others from the success you’re experiencing. I’d welcome a clarification.

    As long as the child lives in either the school’s immediate boundaries or the holding boundaries, the child is able to attend.

    Like

  15. I know we disagree, but between my goal of one publicly funded school system and your’s of funding allocated to parents to utilize according to their choice ( I think?), there is much area for agreement. In the one school system network we have many different opinions on how to work towards ending the preferential funding for Catholic people. Some think it must be done in one step with the constitution and education act amended and both systems merged. I think only the Greens have the backbone to do that, and recognizing that they won’t form the provincial government any time soon, we should also advocate for less radical change. Shared facilities, open enrolment for all resident children in all publicly funded schools, all religious programming and classes to be elective for all students, in any community where there is only population to support one school, that school must be public. These changes promote human rights and they need not be disruptive. The group I coordinate, a chapter of Educational Equality in Ontario, is actually neutral on the question of funding for alternative schools, as long as the funding is modest enough to prevent a mass exodus from public schools, and it applies to all alternatives, including the currently 100% publicly funded Catholic schools.
    I also think you and I agree that more alternatives in publicly funded schools- that are research supported and are designed to improve student outcomes- should be encouraged- one size doesn’t fit all.

    Like

  16. I know we disagree, but between my goal of one publicly funded school system and your’s of funding allocated to parents to utilize according to their choice ( I think?), there is much area for agreement. In the one school system network we have many different opinions on how to work towards ending the preferential funding for Catholic people. Some think it must be done in one step with the constitution and education act amended and both systems merged. I think only the Greens have the backbone to do that, and recognizing that they won’t form the provincial government any time soon, we should also advocate for less radical change. Shared facilities, open enrolment for all resident children in all publicly funded schools, all religious programming and classes to be elective for all students, in any community where there is only population to support one school, that school must be public. These changes promote human rights and they need not be disruptive. The group I coordinate, a chapter of Educational Equality in Ontario, is actually neutral on the question of funding for alternative schools, as long as the funding is modest enough to prevent a mass exodus from public schools, and it applies to all alternatives, including the currently 100% publicly funded Catholic schools.
    I also think you and I agree that more alternatives in publicly funded schools- that are research supported and are designed to improve student outcomes- should be encouraged- one size doesn’t fit all.

    Like

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