Jordan Bateman: Private school growth deserves to be studied, not attacked, in B.C.

If the business across the street from yours, with fewer resources and higher prices, had increased its share of customers every year for 35 years, wouldn’t you be curious why?

Wouldn’t that interest intensify if your own customer base had shrunk in 24 of those 35 years? This is the situation B.C.’s schools find themselves in.

Enrollment at B.C. independent schools has increased every single year since 1977-78. Public schools have only recorded student increases in 11 of those 35 years—all from 1987-88 through 1997-98.

Even during that boom decade for public schools, the public system’s growth still badly trailed the independent system: private schools went up 71 percent, while public school enrolment increased 27 percent.

Market share for independent schools has nearly tripled from 4.3 percent of all B.C. students in 1977-78 to 11.6 percent last year. This share has increased every year for 35 years; there is no reason to believe it will stop any time soon.

These are families who pay twice for their children’s education: once through the same school taxes we all pay, and then voluntarily with tuition fees. While some are wealthy, many are middle-class parents sacrificing and reprioritizing to put their children in these independent schools.

Independent schools receive 35 to 50 percent of the per-student provincial funding a public school gets, and no tax money for capital projects, property purchases, or equipment.

Independent schools are considered enemies by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, and, according to union president Susan Lambert, unworthy of representation in Victoria. “[The new position of parliamentary secretary for independent schools] sends chills up and down my spine. The most significant concerns that we have had with the policy directions of this ministry and this government is the privatization of public education,” she told the Tyee. “I am very concerned that the purpose of such a role would be to promote again the privatization of public education.”

How typical. Rather than looking at how and why so many families are being drawn to independent schools (especially their distance learning programs), Lambert suggests they don’t deserve political representation and trots out privatization like a boogeyman hiding under the bed.

Lambert is the same union leader who told a B.C. government budget committee last year that personal income taxes should be raised 25 percent to give her members $2.2 billion in improved wages and benefits—hardly money well spent for a system she claims is in crisis. And quite a raise: the total 2009-10 public school teacher payroll was $2.9 billion.

The BCTF complains that education funding has dropped as a percentage of the provincial budget but never mentions why: health care spending has exploded due mainly to an aging population. Makes sense, doesn’t it? If we have fewer students, it’s probably because we’re all getting older. If we get older, it means we need more health care. This is a demographic, not philosophical, shift in government spending.

Lambert’s bitter attacks on nearly 12 percent of B.C. students do nothing to advance the cause of education in this province.

When Edmonton, led by former B.C. education deputy minister Emery Dosdall, embraced competition with independent schools and refocused the public system on student achievement by allowing parents to send their kids to any school they wanted, Time magazine called the City of Champions, “the most imitated and admired public school system in North America.”

It’s time for B.C. education champions—the minister, the parliamentary secretaries, trustees, administrators, principals, teachers, and parents—to step back and take a positive, hard look at what is attracting B.C. families to independent schools.

Education’s “customers” are voting with their feet and their pocketbook, and we should learn why.

Jordan Bateman is the British Columbia director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Comments (19) Add New Comment
jonny .
I think private schools that focus on one race or religion of people are wrong. If a school said only whites were allowed, there would be huge outrage. And rightfully so. But it is the same with these schools popping up to cater to certain races. Segregation is bad, even if you do it to yourself. This is canada, we all should learn to live and work together. That is the only way to get rid of racism. Many churches and communities provide education enhancements for their members, which is a great option so the students are not segregated for their whole education experience.
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Dianne
This article is a snooozfest. Same old arguments/slams and attacks on public education and not for profit motives of public education champions.

BBBBBoring at best. Annoying and misquided and skirts the real issues affecting public education and the lack of political will to adequately resource classrooms and teachers.
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Ke Dongshan
Nothing in this article is new. For a right-winger who claims he is innovative, Bateman simply recycles old trash. Any one person can go into the archives of the Fraser Institute and other so-called conservative groups and pull out the same arguements from 20 or 30 or even 50 years ago. Bateman cuts and pastes these old arguements into place, grafts on up-to-date misinformation and interpretations and Voila! a seemingly smart article is born. I'm curious as to why Bateman didn't reference the Fraser Institute's school ranking system. Perhaps he knows that that ranking system would betray its glaring misanalysis. There are socio-economic divides between private schools that can discriminate its student intakes towards rich spoilt brats, and public schools that have to deal with all kinds of students that come through its doors. Private schools are seemingly more successful as a result. It is rather interesting to note that universities prefer students of public institutes over those of private institutes because the educators there are regulated and trained by the government. Private schools are harder to evaluate for competence and performance, that's why. Out the window goes Jordan Bateman's arguement. Excuse me while I take my nephew to a public school, where I'm assured he will get a high quality education.
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Slackermagee
Article observes trend, doesn't bother to examine causes of trend, draws blanket conclusion of 'private=better'.

Could be that BC (or rather, Vancouver) has a higher concentration of wealthy people who see private school as preferable to public school, regardless of the actual merits? If private schools are truly better, what is making them better? Smaller class sizes, better teachers (via better paid teachers, something the author disparages), etc. etc.

Needs more data, corroboration.
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Paul J
Why, oh why does the Straight continue to give space to the secret society of unaccountable people called the Canadian Taxpayers Federation Why don't you demand they come clean on there structure and donors BEFORE another single quote is published ??'
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chowza
Unfortunately, like the BCTF, the approach is to attach Bateman without answering the question.
If one looks at the Fraser institute survey, what accounts for the better results of the elite private schools is money and the educational level of parents. More money for schools. Jason, Mr. anti public anything, are you in favour of more money per student. As the head of York House once said, "if we didn't do better with a tuition of $15,000 per student, there would be something wrong.
Higher education. Well, higher educated parents tend to be more involved with their kids education, whether in private or public school. Jason, how do you duplicate that?
But there is another unspoken factor that leads to elite private schools getting better results. It's called no special needs or ESL kids. Jason, what say we put Special needs kids and ESL kids in segregated schools?
There, don't you feel better. You have an answer and no expensive study.
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Eastendian
Oh please - this analysis is a waste of ink (good thing I'm reading this on-line!) West Vancouver has increased enrollment in their public system because they have a variety of programs for parents/students to choose from. Surrey's public school enrollment increases every year because it is a more affordable community to live in than Vancouver and more students are moving there.
Could it be that enrollment in private school is increasing because public school funding is decreasing? As public school class sizes increase, those who can afford it go to private school instead.
I have kids in public school (grades 9 and 12) and they are in the French district, another public system where enrollment is increasing. Class sizes in Vancouver were too big for my kids to learn as well as they do in the smaller classes they are now in. My kids are bright and were totally bored because the teachers (who all did their absolute best) had to deal with other children with undiagnosed learning disorders. I think my daughter, who was assessed as gifted in grade one, was one of the last to get such assessment from the school because the waiting lists for assessment are so long that most parents get private assessment once it is clear things are going horribly wrong for them.
This article has a very hostile tone toward our valuable teachers, who have many years of education and are not making big salaries. The author does not understand any of the nuances in the statistics he is throwing around. Clearly he has another agenda than opening up a discussion about what we have to learn from private schools. Thankfully new research is showing that the students who do the best tend to have morals and ethics, which they can learn from their parents and from either public or private schools.
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Doctor
Are schools for-profit institutions? That's certainly the premise that Bateman starts from and proceeds to base his arguments on. But if our schools were entirely built upon a free-market model, then our schools would be seriously impoverished and their students even more so. If education is a commodity and parents are consumers, then the goal for the school would be to offer the lowest quality service for the highest price (as per Bateman's own example in his first paragraph). What parent wants that for their child, except one that is perhaps more concerned with the 'brand' of the school, rather than the actual education? Today it seems, there are many parents who send their children to private schools because of the 'brand'. The school itself is often taught by poorly qualified teachers, who are not held to same standards as their public-school counterparts. But this is far less important to consumers of private school who are predominately fixated on the branded good. To say that public schools are somehow inferior in education to their private school counterparts based upon (spurious) enrollment numbers is rather short-sighted at best and simply stupid at worst. The 'why' of that question - the real motive behind enrollment - remains unanswered in Bateman's 'analysis'.
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Please, Please, Please
Slackermagee
"Article observes trend, doesn't bother to examine causes of trend, draws blanket conclusion of 'private=better'."

That is the standard MO from the CTF, CFIB and Fraser Institute.

Bateman (and the others) repeatedly demonstrate an inability to conduct professional and objective financial analysis without partisan overtones.

Look at the qualifications of the staff and members of these organizations and you will see exactly what I am talking about.

Not a lot of economists, accountants, or statisticians to be found. You can sure find a lot of people who have lived their lives in the professional conservative/corporate welfare circuit, though.
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Natty
Politics aside, maybe it has something to do with the quality of the teachers themselves (and hence the education). You only need a "C-C+" average to get accepted into teaching programs in BC.
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Cathy Burtch
Wow! Sounds like SOUR GRAPES.............of course private schools are BETTER! Who are you kidding? You are defending the choice you made to give your kids an inferior education. YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR cheapskates!
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grover
Yeah, we could be like England, where all the Prime Ministers and power brokers come from the same, independent school (Eton) and we can permanently put a wedge between those in society that have and control everything and everyone else.

FINALLY! Our nightmare of social cohesion is over, and the 1% can pull away for good.

No wait.. this is a terrible and stupid idea.
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Exu
i susoect the increase in private schools is directly influenced by the new immigrants in the lower mainland who refuse to integrate into canadian society. private schools based on racial/spiritual backgrounds should be identified and be set into an increased tax bracket with the money going toward helping these groups integrate into canadian society. our economy and democracy will both benefit.
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West Vancouverite
Profit is not a dirty word. I, for one, am sick the the teachers' union attempting to indoctrinate my children whilst simultaneously using them as political bargaining chips. This needs to stop. A private school allows for less distractions from students whom are, quite frankly, a hinderance from my children from living up to their full potential.
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teth adam
private schools are a haven from a school system riddled with leftist, politicized teachers coupled with a student population riddled with ethnic gangs, drug addicts, learning disabilities and other undesirables. this does not reflect my culture or political beliefs.
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Martin Dunphy
teth adam:

So you are saying your culture is one of insufferable snobbery, elitism, racism, and a complete lack of compassion for the disadvantaged?

What school taught you that?

West Vancouverite:

Way to live up to the stereotype of the residents of Mortgage Mountain. Sorry that the peons' offspring are holding your brats back.
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teth adam
@Martin Dunphy

allow me to clarify. the public school system has become an environment not conducive to learning because of politics and political correctness. consider the following:

1) labour strife of teachers
2) gang activity
3) exposure to drug using students
4) large class sizes
5) inadequate assistance for children with learning disabilities to give them the help they need
6) high numbers of ESL students

all of these factors work against a child receiving a quality education.

are the Khalsa School and Catholic schools a "culture [...] of insufferable snobbery, elitism, racism, and a complete lack of compassion for the disadvantaged" too?

is a stricter, zero tolerance policy for drugs and criminality a bad thing? now wonder this younger generation riots after hockey games. acceptance of the unacceptable and permissive attitudes towards drugs and crime have turned some youth into under-educated, self-entitled douchebags.

private schools in my opinion are far less prone to the above mentioned problems.

how is wanting my child to receive the best possible education free of distractions a bad thing? if the public school system cannot deal with these problems, then private schools will fill the void.

who are you to tell others how to raise their children?
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Martin Dunphy
teth:
I did not say a word about how anyone should raise their children.

It sounds as if you get your "information" about schools from the Province and Global "news".

I stand by every word I wrote.
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Baggage
Public school gives kids a look at the real world where labor strife will continue, where new immigrants need ESL training, where 1st nations kids struggles are apparent and where my son will gain awareness of the less fortunate, the mentally handicapped, the autistic...all of whom private schools avoid.Not to say that the education system doesn't need a stern changing. Public system embracing schools of excellence given our well-rounded kids focused opportunities as well. All without the opiates for the masses.
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