Last week, according to the latest Fraser Institute rankings of British Columbia elementary schools, the polygamous commune school, Bountiful Elementary-Secondary School (BESS), along with twelve other mostly lower mainland top independent schools, received a perfect score of 10 on the 2011 Education Report Card.
After several years of turning a blind eye to these ‘rankings’ which, in fact, do very little to actually improve BC elementary schools (We all know the problem with many of the results is that the solutions to improving the schools lie not just within the schools themselves, but within society, as a whole.) I decided to learn what and how a close-minded, highly censored, group of people that rarely follow British Columbia curriculum standards could pull off such an astonishing feat. Or was it really that astonishing?
And while, in some respects, this rather odd anomaly (as many educational bloggers have labelled the result), offers far more questions than answers, it is important to understand how the Fraser Institute, a conservative, free-enterprise-focused think-tank, formulates its annuial rankings and then releases its Report Card on BC elementary schools.
So, what is the criteria?
For the most part, the rankings are based solely on a set of standardized tests known as the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) which are administered annually to all students in Grade 4 and Grade 7. According to the British Columbia Ministry of Education website:
The main purpose of the [foundation skills] assessment is to help the province, school districts, schools and school planning councils evaluate how well students are achieving basic skills, and make plans to improve student achievement. FSA is designed and developed by British Columbia educators. The skills tested are linked to the provincial curriculum and provincial performance standards.
According to the Fraser Institute, its Report Card is an altruistic tool to help parents, teachers, and all other shareholders, gauge the effectiveness of their elementary school and make appropriate remediation (we all want improvement, no?).
An excerpt from the Fraser Institute’s website declares the Report Card’s mandate:
The Report Card on British Columbia’s Elementary Schools: 2011 Edition collects a variety of relevant, objective indicators of school performance into one, easily accessible public document so that anyone can analyze and compare the performance of individual schools. By doing so, the Report Card assists parents when they choose a school for their children and encourages and assists all those seeking to improve their schools.
The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), the provincial teachers’ union, does not support nor endorse the administration of FSAs, and in fact, each year many teachers refuse to participate with their classes. Teacher administration of FSAs has been a heavy sticking point for many years between union and government. While educational socialists like Donald Gustein refute the validity, reliability, and the actual purpose of FSAs, the government, the public, and many other ‘special-interest’ groups argue the need for a form of meritocracy, fairness, accountability, and regular evaluation of schools, teachers, and school administrators (and, oh yeah, ensuring that all students are receiving appropriate levels of learning.).
But, how does Bountiful climb to the top of the heap from literally out of nowhere?
Over the past few days there have been many arguments proffered as to why the tiny school of the Mormon breakaway cult in Bountiful made it to the top of the list this year. After having taught at St. George’s School for seven years and now in my current role working with Aboriginal youth in the public system, it has become readily apparent that the influence (both positive and negative) of school population homogeneity (i.e. race, socio-economic, etc.) plays in predetermining ranking results colours the rankings as racist, biased, and highly inaccurate.
While St. George’s year after year sits atop the rankings, there are those elementary schools that regularly fall to the bottom–those predominantly on First Nations reserves or those predominantly made up of First Nations children–and languish in the dregs year after year. Of course, this trend is really no secret to anyone in education. And yet, both the rankings themselves and their publication really do very little to redefine and change the status quo. And in this light, perhaps Bountiful Elementary-Secondary School and St. George’s School have more in common than we think…
But far be it from me to attempt to rehash the debate (it’s not my intention anyway). I do feel, however, that perhaps a bigger and more encompassing question for us to ponder in months ahead is: Will BESS continue to remain at the top of the ranking in future years? And if so, why? Are there some fundamental shifts in approaches to teaching and learning that the vast majority of the schools in British Columbia need to take note of?