I have a different take on private school K-12 education than some in the public system. I like it. I think private schools are good for the public education system; the competition for enrolment from private schools forces us to stay at the top of our game. While some debate the funding they receive from government, their existence, and the choice they offer for parents in the community ensures public education is not just a default option. This choice is especially true in a community like West Vancouver, with many families who can afford a private school education and excellent private schools in the community. While we rattle off a lot of statistics over graduation rates, and post-secondary transition, one statistic I am most proud of is the decade-long trend we have seen in West Vancouver, with families increasingly selecting public school for their children. We have outstanding teachers, and our schools continue to refine their programs to meet the needs of the community.
In public education, we generally go quietly about our business, the work we do in our schools, in all public schools, the important work of improving life chances for the next generation. And I usually let the most outlandish critiques of our system roll off. But not this time.
When reading the most recent Business in Vancouver, and seeing an article: “What are the real costs of private school?” on page 14 of the September 4-10, 2012 edition under Member News, (unfortunately I have not been able to locate an online link,) I didn’t expect to find this quote:
Given that private schools have proven to give students a leg up when it comes to attending university, networking, and surpassing academic standards, a private school graduate is very likely to land a high-pay job. Tuition can be considered a down payment for a child’s future salary.
With all due respect to author Carly Maga, ENOUGH. I just can’t let you get away with saying something like this. I am the first to admit we often do ourselves a disservice in the public system; the decades long labour tension takes it toll on everyone, and yes, we have a system that can improve, but I will put our public schools side-by-side private schools any day. And it is more than a “gut feel”, just last week the Globe and Mail brought attention to a recent UBC study of over 4,500 students that indicated public school graduates outperformed private school graduates in first year sciences. As I said to our staff at our Opening Professional Development Day for the year:
We are in a profession that is regularly challenged and often undervalued and underappreciated by those who look from the outside. Our world is changing so quickly – it is an exciting time to be a teacher; and teaching is still the greatest job in the world.
I struggle to properly compliment the excellence I see and hear about in our classrooms – too often comments like “we have great teachers”, or “fabulous things are happening in our classrooms” appear trite. We have a great system, great schools and great teachers.
And, as a parent, I understand it is not just what my kids get from school, it is also what they give. A K-12 education is not like buying a dishwasher, it is a relationship. My three older children are right now getting “a leg up” by attending the public school in our neighbourhood. My kids and our family have a lot to offer the school. And while I want my children to receive an excellent education, I also want all students to receive an excellent education. I am less concerned about “winning” school, and far more interested in the rich learning experiences that arise when a complex and diverse student population pushes boundaries to create an organic jolt of innovation in a classroom. Siphoning off some students, particularly those of affluence, to exclusive private schools is a “real cost” both to these children who have so much to gain and contribute, as well as their public school peers.
Of course, public schools need to be more than just a default, and strong private schools help public schools get better. We also need to be exceptionally clear about the state of public education – the world is changing rapidly, and schools need to change as well, but there is no system with the diversity that we see in British Columbia, and in Canada, meeting the levels of academic excellence we have here. You do not need to go to a private school to “get a leg up” – my experiences as a public school graduate, as an educator in three districts, and as a parent of three children in the public system, say you need to go to your local public school to gain an advantage. And, if you have an extra $20,000 you want to spend on your children, put it toward opportunities for life-long learning and take an extra family vacation (or two) each year.
On a related note, I will be participating in a forum for CBC Radio this Wednesday, (September 12) entitled “Is Our Education System Broken?” The forum is hosted by Stephen Quinn and begins at 4:00 p.m., and I encourage you to come and participate live at Vancouver Technical Secondary School (2600 E. Broadway) in Vancouver. Of course you can also follow along on the radio, online and engage on Twitter with the hashtag #otcforum.