How is our school system doing?
According to (shudder) standardized measures and expert studies, B.C.’s school system is doing fine.
Why wouldn’t we?
Our children have universal access and our schools have generally equality of funding. In addition, B.C. schools are not insular but outward-looking in their perspective.
Educational experts and researchers pretty much agree that Finland has the best school system in the world, followed by South Korea and Canada. B.C. school districts are routinely considered as among the top in Canada. In short, the B.C. school system is among the best in the world.
But it’s not our fault.
In B.C., we spend less on education each year. “Increases” touted annually do not meet inflation. Fixed costs rise twice as quickly as the modest funding increases offered. The downloading of costs from government to local districts has been staggering in the past few years. Per-pupil “increases” are just enough to allow the latest education minister to feign government support for public education.
If public schools are important, we need to fund them adequately — and we’re not.
Teachers’ salaries are too low — at least 20% too low. We need to value the teaching profession.
We need scientists and computer specialists and brilliant mathematicians to be able to go into the field rather than not even considering it as an option.
If we treat and pay teachers like clerks, they will feel and act like clerks.
After six years of university, we pay beginning teachers $36,000 or so annually to start. After 11 years experience and another two years of education, a top salary is about $75,000.
This is not enough.
Teachers don’t like to focus on salary but they should, and we should help them.
If anything will negatively affect our school system, it is the paltry salaries we offer these important people.
We also apparently haven’t learned from the U.S., which ruined its public schools in 25 years. Americans accomplished this with chronic, referendum-based underfunding. It went something like this:
• Failing referenda were rationalized by using “test scores” as a measure of public school failure.
• Poor test scores were used to rationalize low teacher salaries.
• Low teacher salaries resulted in the most talented avoiding the profession.
• Poorly paid and poorly motivated teachers allowed test scores to go even lower, which rationalized even lower salaries.
• The American public could be counted on to defeat education ballot initiatives, which allowed governments to avoid the blame for the serial underfunding of American schools.
• Because the public schools’ test scores were so low, private schools were encouraged. Charter schools, voucher systems and merit pay became buzzwords of the day.
The aggregate effect of its dependence on test scores as a measure of school effectiveness, is that the American school system is now one of the worst in the Western world.
And we have not only not learned from the American accountability failure but, in B.C., we are copying it. We are educational lemmings approaching the accountability cliff.
I’m sorry, but there is no test that will accurately assess your local school’s effectiveness. It cannot be done and should not be attempted. We need to get over it.
There are too many variables involved in our children’s school experience. These variables can only be assessed by you, your child and your child’s teacher — the one who works with your child daily. We should not accept any number that someone else gives us to describe our children or their school.
The B.C. school system is doing well. Our children are still well served and educators are still working hard for our children. Other than chronic underfunding, low teacher salaries and a misguided , dangerous preoccupation with American-style “accountability,” things are just peachy for our children and teachers.
I urge you to support your local, public school system. Although we’re trying hard to screw it up, it’s still one of the best in the world.