IPE/BC Fellows on privatization and distributed learning

On Saturday, September 22, 2018, Larry Kuehn and Liz Blackwood will be participating in a forum, Public Education: Championing Lasting Change,  sponsored by First Call and Your Education Matters.

Their presentation…

Privatization and Distributed Learning in BC: Impacts on Educational Opportunities for Special Needs Students

With parental dissatisfaction with learning opportunities for their special needs children many are turning to private, for-profit schools that offer education primarily through distance strategies. There is a conflation of issues here including privatization and the appropriateness of distributed learning strategies that need to be more public and better understood to facilitate change.

Are Private Schools Better than Public Schools?

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

Are Private Schools Better than Public Schools?

Perception Versus Reality

By E. Wayne Ross

Last year the BBC ran a story with the headline “How Canada Became an Education Superpower.”  The BBC pointed out that Singapore, South Korea and Finland usually get mentioned as the world’s top performing education systems, “but with much less recognition, Canada has climbed to the top tier of international rankings.”

Whenever the OECD releases the Program for International Student Assessments (PISA) results, breathless reporting usually follows. There are many reasons to be skeptical of international rankings based upon a single test given to 15 year-olds.

Despite its international “superpower” status, a majority of Canadians don’t believe their public schools measure up to private schools. Less than seven percent of Canadian students attend private schools, but the majority of Canadians believe private schools provide a better education than public schools. In a 2012 Ipsos-Reid poll, 58% of respondents stated they believe private school education is better than public school education; 63% said they would send their children to private schools if they could afford it.

In British Columbia, there has been a 12% drop in public school enrolment since 2000. Meanwhile private school enrolments have increased from nine percent in 2000 to 13% in 2017, almost double the national average (Source: FISABC).

Between 2000–01 and 2016–17, the full-time equivalent (FTE) student enrolment in BC independent schools increased from 57,462.7 to 81,180.6. This is an increase of 41.3% (Source: BCTF)

So, if more parents in Canada and BC are choosing to send their children to private school is this an indication that private schools are really better than public schools? Not necessarily – indeed the research evidence suggests the answer is “no.” I will come back to this point in moment, but first let’s explore the conventional wisdom that private schools are better than public schools.

In BC, key factors that coincide with private school enrolment increases is an historic era of labour conflict, budget cuts, school closures and overcrowding in the public school system from 2000-2016.

Another factor related to increased private school enrolment is marketing. Extensive marketing campaigns touting a private school advantage cannot be underestimated.

In addition, while BC public schools were under a funding siege for the first 16 years of this century, private schools were enjoying significant funding increases and a wealth of positive (and free) press from publication of school ranking schemes, which consistently placed private schools at the top.

Between 2000–01 and 2016–17, funding for BC independent schools increased by 95.9%. This is larger than student enrolment increases by 54.6%, and larger than funding increases for public schools by 90.0%. (Source: BCTF)

All of these factors feed the idea there is a private school advantage.

But, reality is more than appearances and focusing exclusively on appearances—on the evidence that strikes us immediately and directly—can be misleading. This is particularly true when we examine school rankings because private schools’ higher average test scores are at the heart of the conventional belief that private schools are better than public schools, along with their typically well-funded programs.

Anyone who scrolls through the rankings of BC schools will find evidence that students who attend private schools have better on average academic performance than public school students. But the key question is to what degree do private schools actually produce those results?

There is a growing body of research evidence that attempts to answer this question.

In 2011, OECD’s analysis of PISA results found that while students in private schools tended to outperform their public school peers, the difference was primarily the result of the higher socio-economic status of private school families.

“Students in public schools in a similar socio-economic context as private schools tend to do equally well,” according to the OECD report, which concluded that “there is no evidence to suggest that private schools help to raise the level of performance of the school system, as a whole” (OECD, Private schools: Who benefits?)

In their 2013 book, The Public School Advantage, University of Illinois researchers Sarah Theule Lubienski and Christopher Lubienski found that compared to private schools students, public school students performed the same if not better on achievement tests once demographic factors were taken into account.

Statistics Canada echoed these findings in a 2015 report, which found students in Canadian private schools have more educational success than their public school counterparts because of their socio-economic characteristics, not because of private schools themselves.

The StatsCan report identifies two factors that consistently account for differences between public and private school student academic outcomes. “Students who attended private high schools were more likely to have socio-economic characteristics positively associated with academic success and to have school peers with university-educated parents … School resources and practices accounted for little of the differences in academic outcomes” (Statistics Canada: Academic Outcomes of Public and Private High School Students: What Lies Behind the Differences?)

And, in a study published last month, University of Virginia researchers Robert C. Pianta and Arya Ansari examined the extent to which enrolment in private schools between kindergarten and grade nine was related to students’ academic, social, psychological and attainment outcomes at age 15. This longitudinal study of over one thousand students concluded:

“… children with a history of enrollment in private schools performed better on nearly all outcomes assessed in adolescence. However, by simply controlling for the socio-demographic characteristics that selected children and families into these schools, all of the advantages of private school education were eliminated.”

In addition, Pianta and Ansari found no evidence to suggest that low-income children or children enrolled in urban schools, benefited from private school enrolment.

Are private schools really better than public schools? Conventional wisdom may say they are, but the evidence suggests that is a myth.

Parents send their children to private schools for a variety of reasons that make sense for them. But, there is substantial and growing evidence that there is no value-added in private school education.

For more research-based resources on private schools see “Resources on Private Schools” by National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado.

E. Wayne Ross is a Professor of education at the University of British Columbia and an IPE/BC Board Member and Fellow.

Inequality and International Student Tuition

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

Inequality and International Student Tuition in BC School Districts

A just released BCTF Research Report, International student tuition income increases—and inequality grows, authored by IPE/BC Fellow Larry Kuehn describes the increase in international student enrollment in BC schools, resulting in a substantial increase in resources for schools in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.

The policy has been a success in an economic sense. International education is the third highest “export” from BC, behind only forestry products and minerals. Education—K–12 and post-secondary—is considered an “export” because it brings in income from across borders for tuition and living expenses. However, given the way it is structured, the increases in tuition revenue also increase the inequalities.

A few report highlights:

  • Eleven school districts (out of 60) received 73% of the total funds in 2016–17: 10 districts in the Metro Vancouver area and the Victoria area.
  • International student tuition is generally $15,000 for an academic year, twice what BC provides for each Canadian student.
  • West Vancouver and Coquitlam school districts benefit the most from international student tuition revenue.

Tuition from international students was promoted by the previous administration to increase financial resources during a period of government austerity policies. The question now is how the inequality this revenue stream has created will be addressed in the future school funding formulas.

Click here for the full report.

The Many Faces of Privatization

IPE/BC has released this occasional paper introducing and providing examples of ways privatization intrudes on public education.

The paper can be accessed HERE.

Public funding for private schools may be the most obvious way public education in British Columbia is being privatized, but there are other less obvious privatizing strategies at work. This is a working paper for an IPE/BC workshop that offers analysis of 1) the common narratives that legitimize and promote privatization thus drawing the public into a manufactured consent of privatization and 2) specific contexts in which this privatization in manifest, such as personalized learning (especially with technology), choice programs, school fees and fund raising, business principles of school administration, corporate sponsorships, fee paying international student enrollment, and publicly funded private schools.

How GERM is Infecting BC Public Education

IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education. Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows to share their ideas in short, accessible essays.

How GERM is Infecting BC Public Education

By E. Wayne Ross

The Institute for Public Education BC is committed to public education for the good of all children, families and communities and this is reflected in its tag line, “public education is a public interest.”

This proposition may seem obviously true, but it’s not.

Public education in British Columbia, across Canada, and globally faces serious challenges when it comes to serving the common good. Over the last half century, the dominant world view has privileged the individual over the well-being of the general public.

This view and the policies that flow from it are referred to as “neoliberalism.” Governments across the political spectrum, both the politically conservative and liberal, share belief in the major tenets of neoliberalism, including fiscal austerity, privatization of public goods and services, government deregulation, and free trade.

In education, neoliberalism is manifest in what Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg has dubbed the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), which:

  • prioritizes and imposes a business model on public education;
  • increases competition among students, teachers and schools (test-based accountability; performance-related rewards; league-tables; attacks on teacher unions);
  • supports an audit and accountability culture that takes education out the hands of teachers, students, and the public;
  • commodifies education via “school choice,” which positions students and parents as consumers in an education marketplace;
  • promotes the privatization and marketization of public schools (education becomes a service sector open to trade and investors; off-shore schools; and selling seats in schools and universities on the international market);
  • sees public education as an opportunity to maximize human capital (i.e., a narrowly educated workforce) as opposed to maximizing the common good and social cohesion.

These reforms are backed by many governments as well as The World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Despite rhetoric linking GERM to benefits for all within the vast constituency of public education, the fact is that those who regulate both knowledge and the economy work for their own political and economic agendas, acting as though the public extended no farther than their privately secured office buildings and comfortably gated communities.

GERM in British Columbia

GERM has infected public education in British Columbia and the symptoms are obvious.

  • School closures – In the past 15 years, over 200 public schools have been closed in BC.
  • Government destruction of agreed upon guidelines on class size and composition, which have had deleterious effects on learning and teaching conditions.
  • Reduction in the number of teachers, teacher-librarians, and classroom aides. Educators in BC are responsible for more children on average, than educators in the rest of Canada, a gap that is widening.
  • Selling school and universities seats on international market has become a major source of income growth for schools and universities in BC.
  • Off-shore schools – BC public school districts have been encouraged to create private business companies that are owned by school boards and operate to sell education overseas.
  • An estimated $5 billion in deferred maintenance for school buildings.
  • School rankings that oversimplify the characteristics of good schools; commodify education; and rely primarily on standardized test scores, which advantage schools with students from wealthy families.
  • Commercialization – Corporate incursion into schools that encourages competition; injects corporate advertising, exploiting underfunded schools.
  • Expansion of private tutoring companies, many of which are owned by international corporations.
  • British Columbia now spends $1000 less per student than the Canadian national average.
  • Reduction in government spending on public education. In 2001, the BC government put 20% of its total spending into education, now it spends just 11.8% of its budget on education.
  • Reliance on parent fund-raising via Parent Advisory Committees; it is estimated that parents now spend $132 million yearly in subsidies to public education.

Examining BC education funding trends, we can see how neoliberal education policies shift social costs on to individuals. These same trends can be found in other public services such as the health care and transportation.

At the same time, the BC government gives public money to subsidize private schools, many of which serve the rich and charge thousands of dollars in tuition.

Public Funding of Private Education is Undemocratic

Public funding for private schools is at odds with creating a more equitable, just, and democratic society.

It is a policy that almost always privileges families with more disposable income over the less wealthy and poor, and often privileges religious education over secular education. Moreover, public funding of private schools supports a two-tiered system of education that allows some schools to cherry-pick who attends, and undermines the concepts of the public good and community in favour of individual gain.

Public-school budget cuts result in closed libraries, reduced special-education services and increased class size, while private schools are publicly subsidized to provide the advantaged with more benefits. These advantages include smaller class sizes allowing teachers to be more responsive to student needs, to customize learning activities, and to provide private-school students with enriched curricula in art, sports and music programs.

For the first hundred years of British Columbia history there was no public funding of private or religious schools. The Social Credit government introduced public funding of private education in 1977 and only then did private school enrolment begin to increase, taking a larger share of the provincial education budget.

Under the BC Liberals, British Columbians have been subjected to a steady stream of ideologically driven public-policy decisions that shift responsibility for providing and financing public services from the public to the private domain. As with other public assets, their aim is to privatize the commonwealth of the province.

Public funding of private schools is a form of privatization consistent with fundamental ideological positions of the BC Liberals in particular and neoliberalism in general. Privatizing public enterprises, goods and services is usually done in the name of increased efficiency, but mainly has the effect of concentrating wealth in fewer hands (the gap between the wealthiest and the majority of BC families has grown dramatically over the past 30 years) and making the public pay more for its needs (see, for example, BC Ferries).

Not unlike academy schools in England or charter schools in the US, public funding of private schools in BC is privatization through the back door.

Elite private schools are subsidized by the public, while public schools are told to look to the market — recruiting tuition-paying international students, setting up school-district business companies, or opening their doors to corporate programs — or to parent-fundraising, to solve a budget crisis imposed by government’s distorted priorities.

The fundamental idea of public funding for private schools is based on the false premise that private schools do a better job. In reality, public-school students outperform private school students. A 2012 study of first-year physics students at the University of BC found that those who had graduated from public schools in Metro Vancouver outperformed their private-school peers. This finding is reiterated in a study just published by the University of Chicago Press, which concludes public schools achieve mathematics results the same as or better than private schools with demographically similar students. In 2006, the Educational Testing Service reached similar conclusions, finding that US public-school students outpaced private-school students in both reading and math.

Private-school enrolment is soaring because it is encouraged by public policies that divert public money to support private interests and by ideologies that promote individualism and private gain over community and shared interests.

It is time for education policy in BC that recognizes public education is a public interest.

E. Wayne Ross is a Professor of education at the University of British Columbia and an IPE/BC Board Member and Fellow.