Implications for growth in public “alternative” schools

Every year we hear about one or more “alternative or independent” publicly funded schools opening up somewhere in Canada. The latest, of course, is in my neck of the woods in Niagara. To be called the DSBN Academy, it is scheduled to open in September 2011 and will be geared towards college and university preparation for economically disadvantaged children and youth — students who would be the first in their extended families for such an opportunity.

Now, we can agree or disagree about the DSBN Academy or other similar schools, such as the Africentric school in Toronto, but that ignores ‘why” they are cropping up in huge numbers and the implications for the future of “traditional” public education.  Is it because parents simply want choice and advocate for alternative schools as a way to get it? Is it because the phenomenon goes even deeper than that and reflects a public dissatisfaction with the current “one-size-fits-all” provincial public school systems we already have? Or is it a combination of those reasons?

So, what exactly are alternative or independent schools? Well, according to Wikipedia, they are schools that: “have a special curriculum offering a more flexible program of study than a traditional school,” as well as a wide range of philosophies and teaching methods…

Need proof that the notion of alternative schools is growing faster than policy makers seem to realize? Well, in less than five minutes, a Google search turned up information that the Toronto public board already had 41 alternative schools by 2010, 267,000 results related to other Ontario alternative schools, 270,000 results related to the Province of B.C., 177,000 to Alberta , 64,800 to Saskatchewan, 76,000 to Manitoba, 164,000 to Quebec,  and 134,000 related to New Brunswick.

Now, I am all for choice because it gives parents and their children some options and competition among schools is good for everyone (in spite of what the teachers’ unions believe) as far as I am concerned. My son had severe learning disabilities, so schools that specialized in special education techniques and methods were necessary for him to be able to graduate with a high school diploma.  

However, as I suggested earlier in this post, does having too many alternative schools pose a very real danger to traditional schools, particularly high schools, that do their best to accommodate all students? Specifically, will traditional schools eventually become obsolete and close because so many students leave to go elsewhere?

Something to think about.

Update: While some visitors will wonder what is meant by “traditional” education versus “progressive” education, what most think of traditional are the academic subjects, the quantitative/experimental scientific method, desks in rows, standardized tests, and the teacher lecturing to the students, as well as the kind of rigor associated with them. Here is a good comparison. It’s rather long but it is thorough nonetheless.  The crux of the matter is, of course, that parents might actually start calling for alternative schools that are based on such traditional methods.

5 thoughts on “Implications for growth in public “alternative” schools

  1. Sandy – there are seriously traditional schools in Alberta as well. I think there’s even one with a military bent. We see pictures of its students around Remembrance Day.

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  2. Interesting Frances. The point of this post was to show the general growth in alternative schools, not just traditional. But, if I have time I will try and find out which themes are the most popular among parents — traditional or progressive. Way back in the 1970’s when I started teaching, it was the non-traditional that were popular, like Summerhill in the U.K., for kids that didn’t do well in traditional environments. The Summerhill model is at the extreme end of progressive. In Ontario we have a military school, Robert Land Academy, but it is a private school. Our son (who is mildly autistic and has learning disabilities) went there for a year in the early 1980’s and it helped him a lot — although he would still tell you how he hated his time there.

    Anyway, it would be an interesting study to find out which alternative schools are the most popular and why.

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  3. There are no alternative “traditional” schools in TDSB–at least not like the ones that use direct instruction, phonics, uniforms–that kind of thing.

    The Christo Rey school is a private indepdendent school for low income students and is undertaking a feasablity study for locating in Toronto.

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  4. There is no desire in the TDSB for a traditional school. The alternative policy is wide open but no takers. I’m surprised that the “blob” as some reformers call it does not grant one somewhere.

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