Charter schools obtained the highest average and private schools came second in the Fraser Institute’s 2011 annual report card on Alberta elementary schools, allowing parents to track and compare the performance of 654 schools over the past five years.
The Canadian think-tank and policy research organization indicates in its rankings whether a school has improved or declined academically over time. The school results, released March 13, are shown in the report card and its free, interactive website: www.compareschoolrankings.org
Charter schools had an average of 8.6 out of 10, and private schools scored 7.7 for the 2009-2010 academic year. Separate schools, including mostly Catholic schools and a few Anglican ones, followed with a 6.3 average. Public schools received 5.8 and francophone schools, including both public and separate, scored 5.5. The average for all 654 schools in Alberta was 6.0.
Fraser Institute’s highly anticipated rankings only deliver info on the schools’ performance rather than the reasons behind it.
“Generally, private schools do better for the all important reason that if they don’t provide what parents want, parents won’t send their kids there,” says Peter Cowley, Fraser Institute director of school performance studies and co-author of the Report Card on Alberta’s Elementary Schools 2011, in an interview with Our Kids Media.
Cowley says no major trends have emerged from this report. Overall, 42 schools showed statistically significant improvement, and 62 schools showed significant decline. (Of the private schools, only Calvin Christian School in Coalhurst showed significant improvement from 6.2 out of 10 to 7.7 from 2006 to 2010. Although it made it as one of the top 10 private schools in Fraser Institute’s recent report, Calgary Jewish Academy showed significant decline during the period, slipping from 8.9 out of 10 to 8.1.)
What that means is a lot of schools out there are just staying static without significant decline or improvement, which begs the question on why the school hasn’t been improving, Cowley explains.
Despite critics who call the popular report cards a “gross oversimplification,” Cowley says it provides useful objective data to help schools improve and is much more than a “snapshot” of a school’s performance in a single year. The Fraser Institute also considers it as a valuable decision-making tool to help parents choose schools.
“Because the report card encourages comparison, a poorly performing school can identify other schools serving students with similar personal and family characteristics that are more successful and then, hopefully, learn from them,” he says.
Rather than looking only at the most recent year’s result, parents and educators should look at how the school has done over time, he says.
“The truth is a useful commodity, which can lead to improvement,” Cowley says. “Call it a ‘motion picture’ every parent and educator needs to see.”
The website (www.compareschoolrankings.org) allows you to compare 654 Alberta elementary schools on seven key indicators of academic performance based on provincewide-testing results. You can compare up to five schools at once based on many subjects, percentage of exams failed, and each school’s overall rating. You can also download user-friendly graphs.
Moreover, it shows the average parental income at each school and the percentage of ESL and special needs students enrolled.
“Many parents moving from one city to another find the Fraser Institute report card indispensable; it provides them with insight into a school’s academic history and the demographic make-up of a school’s population,” Cowley said in a press release.
While many place importance on Fraser Institute ratings and articles on them are among the most widely read on the Our Kids blog, Our Kids Media encourages parents instead to choose a school based on its educational philosophy and community in order to find the right one for their specific needs and values. Regardless of the type of school, each school has its strengths and weaknesses.
As useful as school rankings may be, the Fraser Institute’s Cowley acknowledges there is more to school than tests.
“Although academics are a fundamental part of education, many other aspects of a school should be considered in finding the best school for an individual child,” he says.
Top 10 Private Schools in Alberta (based on 2009/2010 overall rating out of 10)
1. Clear Water Academy, Calgary, 10
2. Webber, Calgary, 10
3. Calgary French & International, Calgary, 9.6
4. Strathcona-Tweedsmuir, Okotoks, 9.4
5. River Valley, Calgary, 9.3
6. Rundle College, Calgary, 9.2
7. Lycee Louis Pasteur, Calgary, 9.1
8. Trinity Christian, Calgary, 8.4
9. Bearspaw Christian, Calgary, 8.3
10. Calgary Jewish Academy, Calgary, 8.1
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Watch for more upcoming Fraser Institute report cards, including Ontario rankings which are slated to be released this month.
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What do you think about the value of Fraser Institute’s school rankings? Should Fraser rankings be a big factor in determining the best and worst schools, and which schools to send your children to? Join the discussion in the Comments section below.