September 09, 2005 Features & Images » Feature Story

School’s in 

Choosing, changing and creating schools in the corridor

Part Two

Stepping outside of the public school system is not a decision parents take lightly. When they decide to home school their children, send them to an independent school associated with the Ministry of Education, or to one with no ties to the system at all, how can they know how well their child is doing in the new environment? School Trustee Don Brett considers the issue an important one.

"The difficulty I have with that is that people start off with an issue which can be objectively measured – my kid doesn’t learn well in this school – and then they say, ‘my philosophy is this.’ Okay, you can have that philosophy, but if your starting point is a problem that you can measure, then at some point you’ve got to measure if what you do is having an effect on the problem."

Andrée Janyk, Whistler’s other school trustee, adds: "Somewhere along the line you have to ask yourself how your child is doing. You have to look at some indicators; schools have indicators, the district has them."

Brett points to the Program for International School Assessment (PISA) as an indicator of B.C.’s public school system. PISA looks at test scores from15-year-old students in 45 OECD countries. "Canada ranks, depending on which subject area, in the top two or three or four," Brett says, "and if B.C. were a country, it would score just below Finland, which tends to come out at number one. So there is some very hard evidence that B.C.’s education system is world class and near the top."

Looking within the province, Brett says, "the Fraser Institute puts together a report card of secondary schools, and Whistler Secondary scores in the top 15 per cent of all schools in the province. Half of the schools ranked ahead of Whistler Secondary are private schools. The Fraser Institute looks at the Grade 12 exams – it’s all standard testing."

Independent schools which receive public funding from the Ministry of Education must also subject their students to B.C. exams in Grades 4, 7 and 10, to be ranked against all other students in the province. But some parents question the very value of such standardized testing. Leslie Becker is one of the founding members of the Pemberton Alternative Learning Cooperative, a group of approximately 12 families who started a learning centre in Pemberton which is not affiliated with the Ministry of Education. The learning centre is multi-aged and uses an emergent curriculum which allows the children to help direct what they will be learning.

"Our philosophy," Becker says, "is that as long as the children are doing, they’re learning." She refers to alternative movements in food and health and suggests that education needs to evolve in a similar manner. "The schools are moving toward standardization and uniformity and technology, and moving away from all the creativity that makes up a human being," she says. "It’s the standardization that really scares me. Each child is a complete individual organism, and to rate them by comparing them to children of their own age is completely inaccurate."

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