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Private schools have the toughest accountability partner: parents

As the executive director of a private school association (OFIS) that prides itself in growing a membership of schools dedicated to operational excellence and public credibility, the recent series of articles published by the Toronto Star was disconcerting since it fell short of presenting a complete analysis of the issue of accountability in the private school industry.

Private schools have the toughest accountability partner in the education business. Parents who choose to spend their precious disposable income on one of these schools are no fools, and they surely will demand results for the investment of those dollars. It seems more than oversight that no parents were interviewed for these articles insinuating either that they are handing over big amounts of tuition money to their kids without question, or that they are somehow in on the alleged lying and cheating.

The Truth About Private Schools: Regulation and Credit Mills
The Truth About Private Schools: Regulation and Credit Mills

There was no comparison between public school kids, private school kids and grade differentials when credits are repeated during summer school, night school, online courses or independent studies. My own son repeated Grade 9 math at public summer school recently and increased his grade from 68 to 82. Rather than consider the facts – repetition of material, a different teacher with a different teaching style, a smaller class with more individual attention and his own personal determination – that had to do with his academic improvement, the Toronto Star articles suggest I should be suspicious of the validity of that credit. It is likely that many kids, in public and private schools, do better the second time around.

The articles neglect to report that while private schools issuing credits toward the OSSD submit to regular ministry inspections, both planned and unannounced, there is no such accountability process in public schools and yet there is no question about the validity of those credits. The public actually has no way of knowing what is going on public high school classes. School boards are supposed to be monitoring themselves and making necessary adjustments. Some would argue that this is the equivalent of having the "fox guard the hen house," or a matter of necessary self-preservation. The point is, there is no way of knowing.

It is interesting that the main complainants in these stories are a handful of public school principals, guidance counsellors and teachers who assert that private school kids are stealing university placements and scholarships just to flunk out of those universities. How do they know that? Where are the studies and statistics supporting that assertion? What should have been explored is whether public schools have something to gain by marring the reputations of private schools as a whole.

The education market is shrinking as families have fewer children. Public schools depend on achieving certain student numbers to receive provincial funding. There is an increasingly fierce competition for students as evident by advertising campaigns for public education never before seen and school boards hiring marketing directors to woo families to public schools in the last few years.

As in all industries, there will be very few who ruin it for all and the private school industry is no exception. But these articles did not make enough distinction and did not emphasize enough the unique regulatory practice that protects students attending private schools. Parents should be looking for schools belonging to an association like OFIS and should inquire about inspection results before making a school choice. Parents shouldn't be fooled by the smoke and mirrors of sensationalist journalism without asking the tough questions.

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