Editorial: Grades don’t mean everything

By Katy Anderson

Al walks into the classroom with his new duds and after a summer at camp, he is eager to start class. Once school is done for the day, he’ll be off to his beloved guitar lessons. On the other hand, his peer Berta groggily stumbles in, tired from last night’s shift and not looking forward to going home to watch her younger siblings after school until her mom returns home from work.

While a family’s economic position doesn’t directly translate into quality of life, money brings advantages. However, these advantages should not carry over into the classroom.

A. Egerton Ryerson, an early engineer of the public school system in Canada in the 1800s, said schools should allow “children of the rich and the poor… [to] commenc[e] the race of life upon equal terms.” Dominant public discourse since then has dictated that democratic social order is built by schools providing equal educational opportunity to all.

The Fraser Institute released its annual Alberta high school report cards June 8. The report grades schools on a 10 point system based on eight factors including grade 12 diploma exam marks, percentage of exams failed and the number of students graduating in three years.

These rankings are helpful for schools looking for ways to compare themselves to their peers, as well as evaluate their own performance over the years. However, these rankings must be taken with a grain of salt. The Fraser Institute, a right-wing think-tank based in Vancouver with a heavy presence in Calgary, openly advocates “competitive market solutions for public policy programs.”

Like health care, the biggest concern for private solutions in education is that service provision is unequal. Those that can afford it receive higher quality service and those that can’t are left to a system that has been sapped of resources–experts, because the best have moved into a private system that offers better rewards, and funds, because the portion of the population that doesn’t use the public system is less willing to pay taxes for it. This outcome is unacceptable for a society that hopes to ensure equal opportunity.

As can be expected, private schools topped the institute’s list and inner-city schools, like Calgary’s Forest Lawn High School, finished near the back of the pack. But Forest Lawn has been cited as a force to help combat Alberta’s high secondary school drop-out rate. Students, instead of leaving high school to chase high paying skilled labour jobs, can learn trades while still working towards their high school diploma. Among other programs, Forest Lawn offers a car garage and hair salon open to community members–a factor not considered within the Fraser Institute’s rankings.

Children within the municipalities of this province and the country must be provided with equal tools in order for them to succeed. Canada remains the only federated nation in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development whose national government is not involved in the direction of elementary and secondary education. While it is impossible to provide equality of opportunity in their home life, we can, and must, do it in the classroom by providing quality public schools and acknowledging all the aspects that make a school great.

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