It’s just broken: parents on B.C.’s public education system

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bacchusYup…she went there.

After learning that Christy Clark’s Liberal government plans to appeal a B.C. Supreme Court order that the teachers’ working conditions are restored to pre-2002 levels, VSB President, Patti Bacchus, took to Twitter to express her frustration.  In doing so, she brought up the fact that Clark’s son attends an elite private school, while her government continues its battle with the province’s public education system.

Is it hypocritical for Clark to send her son to a private school?  Would her government be doing better by our public education system if he were in it?

I’m not sure.

Here’s the thing, though.  Time and time again, we keep hearing about how private and parochial (government-subsidized religious schools) are better than public schools.  Whether it’s coming from Fraser Institute reports, other parents or the schools themselves, a private education is believed by many to “set the stage” for success later on in life.  On top of that, parents in the public system are waning and feeling a real loss of control over what is happening with their children’s education.  Perhaps a lean towards private schools is a result of this loss of control.

When I was looking for schools for my daughter I attended an open house for a Catholic school.  I attended a school much like this one when I was a child and, actually, was quite certain I wanted the same for my kids.  Not because I’m super religious but because I believed…I had been warned…that if I wanted the best education for my children I couldn’t trust the public education system.  “It’s just broken” was a phrase I heard over and over again; a scary and discouraging statement for a new kindergarten parent to hear.  I was beside myself with anxiety over where to send my kids to school.

At the Catholic school, the principal stood in front of a gym full of eager, nervous parents.  I have to admit, I was impressed.  She spoke about the school’s values, the expectations of parents in terms of monetary contributions and volunteer hours, and the student code of conduct.  Lastly, she very clearly and slowly stated, “please do not apply for this school if you are looking for an affordable alternative to a private education.  Our school is not that.”

Oh, okay…

The sheer number of parents in that gym told me that at least half of them were there for the “affordable private education alternative.”  Tuitions for private schools in Vancouver run anywhere from $15-25K/year.  A parochial school, by comparison, is around $3000-5000…that’s a mighty big savings if you can’t afford the likes of St. Georges or York House or West Point Grey Academy.  Of the 25 kindergarten spaces available at the Catholic school I was considering, only 15 were available.  The rest were allocated to siblings of current students, low odds for parents hoping to get their child enrolled.  It’s no wonder why, if you do get in, it actually does feel elite and privileged.

We were, in fact, offered one of the coveted spaces but declined as we had decided that our local, neighbourhood school was the best choice for our children and family.  Do I regret my decision?  Most of the time, no.  Sometimes…particularly when I tune into the news and hear about the constant dissension between our government, teachers and school boards, I am unsure if I made a wise choice.  As a parent, I believe it’s natural to question your decisions.  I sometimes wonder if it would have been easier to not have gone through my child’s first year of kindergarten dealing with job action for almost the entire year.  I wonder how many children will be in my son’s class when he starts kindergarten next year…how many will have the need for aids (…and how many will actually get them).

Nevertheless, I have faith that, despite the issues, my children will learn.  They have caring and devoted teachers, a fantastic principal and a community around them that will encourage and foster their learning.

So…is Christy Clark right to send her child to a private school while B.C.’s public education system flounders?  As a mother, she makes the best decision for her child.  What I do wonder is if she ever questions hers.

What are your thoughts?

 

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19 Comments

  1. “…my children will learn. They have caring and devoted teachers, a fantastic principal and a community around them that will encourage and foster their learning”
    … and parents who will support their education and their learning at home! Win-Win!

  2. Never surprised WHERE Bacchus goes. However when will people question WHY Private schools have better reps than public? Perhaps it is MORE than $ and that they are on to something when it comes teaching that isn’t mired in union rights and political gameplaying. I could never afford private school so I have to support the public school system and fight for the best for the teachers and my kids right to a decent education. Christy said to us at a roundtable that private school was to mainly protect her son and his privacy…and I don’t doubt it. Frankly tired of both “sides” blaming each other and Bacchus blaming everyone but her own school board for the problems we face.

  3. My second day off with the flu has lead me here… there is a silver lining to getting sick!

    Let me start off by saying I completely understand your dilemma, and our system may be limping a little, but is far from being broken. Teachers are in the unenviable situation of attempting to bolster teaching and learning conditions by bringing to light the government’s plans, all while maintaining public confidence.

    While this is a gross simplification of the problem, the seemingly constant conflict you read about boils down to:

    1.) Teachers’ interests are largely intertwined with those of students. Smaller class sizes and guaranteed support levels for special needs (like the ones that were illegally removed by the BC Liberals in 2002) are better for the students and teachers alike. Teachers gave up wages and benefits in the 90s to have smaller classes, teacher-librarians and special needs supports, only to have those supports unconstitutionally stripped by then Minister of Education, Christy Clark. While admittedly not all students’ interests align with those of teachers (wages, benefits, etc.), the main sticking point for teachers has been class size and composition. In 2001, an elementary classroom had a maximum of 25 students, 2 of which could be designated. My last year of teaching elementary, I had a class of 29, 2 autistic, 1 behavioural, 2 written output issues and 3 ESL- with one ½ time assistant. While I could mostly manage the situation, I rarely had the time for kids who needed a little extra assistance, the ones who needed a nudge to get over the hump.

    Please trust me when I say that teachers would certainly prefer teaching and coaching as opposed to protesting, writing letters, withdrawing extra-curriculars, working to rule, etc. This would be possible if parents took the initiative and told MLAs and the minister that unlimited numbers of students with special needs (for example) is unacceptable.

    2.) The usual doom and gloom sensationalistic media goes out its way to vilify teachers and public education. I believe this is due to the pressure to have a controversial story and journalists not having the time to fact check both sides, relying the provincial government’s substantial press release teams for their reporting. In the past 12 years there have been (I believe) 14 days of school disruption out of approximately 1,900 instructional days- about .07% of all school days, yet Global news, the Vancouver Sun, et al would have parents believe that disruption is regular occurrence. I have seen significantly more instructional time lost from family holidays and auditions for commercials.

    3.) Despite a government that is hell-bent on defending ideological, unconstitutional governance by spending an unknown amount (estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars) in the courts, according to the OECD, BC public schools continue to be some of the best in the world, although a few short years ago we were literally the envy of the world. BC public school teachers want us to be the envy once again.

    I strongly agree with Patti’s tweet. Christy Clark has her child in an exclusive school- exclusive because it admits children who either can afford it, are the right religion or do not have special needs, yet still receives public funding. BC public school teachers accept all comers, as we believe public education is the backbone of a civil, prosperous society. Christy Clark and her pals apparently do not.

  4. I hadn’t clued in that the Premier’s son goes to a private school. I might have heard this before and forgot. I used to be a girl guide leader in the Kerrisdale area. The girls came from the private schools and (mostly) from the local elementary school. Since the Girl Guide curriculum is a vibrant and challenging programme, I can say from my personal observation that all of the girls functioned well. The girls from the private school did not pull out ahead of the others.

  5. I am baffled by the North American hate for education and especially teachers.

    In almost any modern country education is considered to be absolutely essential to every child, and it is understood that money spent on schools and universities is an investment that raises up an entire nation.

    Only in Canada and the US do people – especially elected politicians – argue against funding schools, against making post secondary education available all regardless of income or background, and actively fight for larger class sizes and less resources to support teachers.

    Even here in BC, when I was a kid, we looked up to teachers, and having your kid’s teacher come for dinner was considerable honour. Teachers were considered to be among the most important people in our community.

    As I read the post above though I had one thought.

    Surely the goal should be to improve the public schools so that they match whatever measure of success that the private schools claim to have.

    What kind of insanity is it that suggests that the way to deal with (allegedly) poor quality public schools is to cut their budgets, attack their teachers, and increase the size of classes?

  6. I have 3 kids – two are in public education and one is in private. If you have reasonably motivated kids who like getting good marks then they will succeed no matter where you send them. For the kids that have severe learning problems, there is some help in the public system with the use of student support workers that might be assigned to one child in a classroom. If you have a child who is quiet, non-disruptive and is dyslexic, well, the public system fails terribly. It is like triage where you treat the most severe first and the others are just kept waiting indefinitely. It isn’t the teacher’s fault, it is just the system. Even if a child has an IEP, it does not mean there is an extra resource teacher to help them. There might be some specialized programs available at some far off school across the city but invariably they are full and waitlisted because of lack of funding. That is why we went with a private, specialized school for learning disabilities. At ours there is a tuition assistance program.

    The other downfall of the public system is the “extras” like the sports teams. My son attends a public high school here in Vancouver and the extracurricular sport choices are dismal and the equipment is old.

  7. As a long-time teacher with the Vancouver School Board, this post and subsequent comments are heartening to read. I try my best to retain a sense of humour through it all and not lose sight of my goal which is to inspire, equip, and challenge the young people assigned to my care. I can only say that I think that Christy Clark has the right idea for her son: send him to be educated in an institution with bountiful resources and class sizes of 20 to 22 students. I just wish everyone else in BC could afford that for their own children.

  8. Yes, all public officials and politicians and public sector workers should send their children to public school and utilize public services. If it isn’t “good enough” for their kids, then it shouldn’t be good enough for anyone. Tony Blair’s kids (except for one who had severe learning disabilities) went to state schools in London, and I have an incredible amount of respect for him because of that.

  9. From what I understand, Christy Clark’s son goes to OLPH. Not an “elite private school”, but a Catholic school. Would be nice if people got their facts straight.

    I, on the other hand, do send my kids to one of your so-called “elite private schools”, and from what I can tell, the biggest difference is the school and teachers are ACCOUNTABLE to the parents. The class sizes, resources and teachers`pay packets aren`t really that different from the better public schools. But the attitude is totally different. The #1 reason why we chose private over public is the union mentality and the entrenched resistance to having any accountability to the parents that pervades the public system.

    • Richard…I would argue that because of the distain that parents are beginning to feel for the public system that parochial schools, like OLPH, are becoming somewhat elite. OLPH, for example, is seen by some as an affordable alternative to other Westside private schools like St. Georges and WPGA. I went to a Catholic school as a child and there was not nearly as much competition to get in or fuss around the fact that we went there. Also, I do believe that some people send their children to religious schools, not because they are religious but because they do see these schools as an affordable alternative to elite schools (like the ones your children attend). Finally, it should be noted, religious schools are partially funded by the government…which some see as a problem in itself.

      • My issue is that you have someone who is strongly partisan playing loose with the facts about the choices that someone has made for their family to try to score political points. Not only is it a bit below the belt, but it is a mischaracterization based upon a factually incorrect statement.

        You may well think that OLPH is “somewhat elite”, maybe it is…but then wouldn’t half the Westside or West Van public (esp. IB) schools, along with public French Immersion or Francophone programs also be “somewhat elite”? So if CC sent her son to French Immersion, what would Patti Bacchus say about that? And she did not say a “somewhat elite” parochial school, she said “elite private school”. Not a subtle difference.

  10. Acutall, the pay packets at private schools are less. So are pensions and benefits. Private Schools may have more resources, but public schools are more likely to attract better teachers, with more job security, better pension and better pay.
    Private schools are not better. They just don’t have to accept ESL students, or learning disabled students, or disruptive students, and will lead to better performance. They also tend to have a student population from higher income families. Which means better access to resources for those children.
    I hear the accountablity arguement all the time and it doesn’t hold water. What does that mean? I have worked in both non union and union environments and there is no difference in accountability. Of course in the public system you can’t be fired because you are gay, or pregnant out of wedlock, or you stand up to some tyrant big donor parent. In other words, you have rights. How does that compromise your ability to teach?
    There is no point in blaming the VSB for problems in the school system. The Provincial Government negotiates the Collective Agreements, and those agreements have costs. However they refuse to fund those costs, and the VSB is left to cut where they can and try to maintain service.
    How about we cut off all public funding for Private Schools, and divert that funding to the Public System. Those who think their kids are too good for the public system can pay out of pocket.

  11. Christy Clark can send her child to a private school all she wants. My issue with her is her hatred for teachers, and disdain for fair play and court rulings. She has been very detrimental to public schools in the province every time she’s gotten her claws on the funding. I think private schools should be funded privately.

  12. I am a teacher and parent and have a child entering Kindergarten in the public system in September. I am thinking that the strike will go on into the next school year but I know in the long run, if us teachers are successful, the whole system will benefit and our children will be better supported and educated.

    It is so unfair that parents and children are caught in the middle of this strike but I believe that the all the anger and frustration should be directed towards the BC government. Only when parents and the public say ‘enough is enough’ will the government start to listen. The government will lose their appeal to the court case eventually but that could take another year…. I hear they have hired a hotshot business lawyer at the expense of the taxpayer as well.

    The public school system has been suffering death by a thousand cuts over the last dozen years. I’ve seen it. School boards province-wide are being forced to cut important programs and specialist teachers like counsellors. You know it’s bad when administrators start to publicly complain about underfunding as a Coquitlam v.p. recently did.

    At this point, it is important to support the teachers, administrators, and staff, keep the lines of communication open and contact CC and Fassbender to tell them to find the money to fully fund our precious public education system.

  13. It’s a skewed “false” reality. The “better results” are an overall higher average result because of the absence of the special needs, lower ability, or learning disabled students. I recall that UBC’s math department found that the top students from the public system generally tend to outperform the top students from the private system in the university math programs.

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  16. Overall I have confidence in the public education system, but like any system it does have it’s flaws. The fact is that there are great teachers and not so great teachers. There are teachers that are burned out and teachers that are still passionate about teaching kids. So for me the frustration comes from having my child have a great teacher one year, and then a very average teacher the next. I also get frustrated by the lack of a clearly defined curriculum, or outline of what my child will be learning in any given year. From my experience, trying to get this information from teachers is not easy. Add to that the fact that my child never brings home a text book, so I sometimes feel completely clueless in what my child is learning at school on any given week. I think teachers should have a stronger partnership with parents and do a better job of communicating goals and expected outcomes with parents. We are the other half of the equation!

    In terms of public vs. private – most the brightest students that I met at university came from public schools. I don’t think private or public education can provide a guarantee of success. I think that your child’s success comes more from their god given talents, their attitude towards learning, and growing as individuals, and good modelling from parents at home (i.e. Setting goals, prioritizing, hard work, dedication, etc).

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