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Private School Rankings
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Private School Rankings

Private school rankings are always contentious

Private school ranking or rating is a controversial issue that keeps cropping up year after year. Parents are often looking for an easy list that will tell them "the right school for their child." However, every expert on education says that such short cuts are a big mistake.

The only thing that can be said about private school ranking lists is that they might be considered a place for parents to start. Private school authority sites like ourkids.net and Peterson's in the US disclaim the notion of private school ranking and offer no such lists.

Let's take a closer look at what you need to know about Canadian private school rankings.

Canadian private school ratings
Many people are aware of the annual report cards offered by the Fraser Institute. The Fraser Institute's rankings of schools in Canada routinely seem to indicate that private schools are doing a better job of educating children than are the public schools.

You would think that private schools are proud of this, right? In fact, private schools themselves are among the most vehement critics of school rankings of any kind.

Several years ago, when the Fraser Institute released its first report card on British Columbia's elementary schools, one of the schools listed at ourkids.net, Meadowridge School in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, was at the top of the list. Hugh Burke, headmaster at Meadowridge was, however, much more "appalled" than delighted by the attention. In a letter to the Vancouver Sun, Burke decried the notion of ranking schools and cautioned against any school that champions results.

Peter Cowley, the Fraser Institute's director of school performance studies, defended the report card, saying the point of the rankings was to "celebrate excellence."

In 2009, Cowley was again on the defense. Another criticism of the report cards is that public schools are susceptible to lower rankings because they cannot expel underperforming students. They are required to take kids from their neighbourhood, regardless of socio-eceonomic conditions.

Cowley defended the school ratings: "Those opposed to school comparison would tell you that it's not fair to compare [schools in different areas]." He notes, however, that there are schools in lower income neighbourhoods that fared better on the Report Card than some schools in higher income neighbourhoods. "All schools can learn from the findings."

With critics on both sides of the private vs. public school debate, why does the Fraser Insitute keep putting out the report cards ranking schools? Cowley says, "I give parents a good deal of credit for their capacity to understand what (rankings) do and don't do."

That's where the onus of the issue lies, say those in the private education sector. When parents ask "what is the best school," they are asking the wrong question. Parents truly intent on finding the best school for their child(ren) have to do the legwork. In fact, they ought to spend time up front, so that they will not waste time - and/or money - on a school that is not the best school for their child(ren).

Parents can use resources such as the report cards and this website (including the listings, private school video and more) as ideal places to begin. Private school expos are also an excellent resource. In the end, though, there is no better way to find out about the school than to take a look inside.

Principals, admissions staff and teachers at private schools agree. Jack Rice, a Montessori school principal in Nobleton, says, "We have parents ready to write a cheque, and we say, 'Whoa! Is this the right school for your child?'"

Gordon Allan, an administrator at a private school in Vancouver says, "There is no such thing as the number one school. But there is such a thing as the number one school for your child."

Tam Matthews, headmaster of Ashbury College in Ottawa notes that a majority of families at the school found out about the school through word of mouth. Still, parents spend more time ruminating over the decision than they would over a home purchase. And well they should. A child's education is a big commitment - not one to make based on someone else's list.

In spite of the fact that Meadowridge is highly rated by the report cards, Burke advises: "Go look at the school. Notice what is on the walls, look at behaviour during recess, look at how the kids respond to adults. For me, it's always about the child, the family and the fit."

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