Independent schools meet an important need

Cardus, the Canadian independent think tank recently published an article on its website entitled “Independent schools meet an important need”. The story resulted from the refusal of a school board in rural Ontario to sell an empty school building to the highest bidder because the bidder was a denominational (Christian) independent school.

We refer to the story not for the details of the refusal but rather for some of the observations and heartening truths noted by the authors, Brian Dijkema and David Hunt, about the necessity and the importance – for society and for individual families – of easing access to independent school education.

These observations and truths apply to the situation of families in independent Jewish schools:

• “The preponderance of evidence – 24 of 26 rigorous studies – finds public schools actually improve when parents have alternative options, such a debate misses the forest for the trees.”

• “Ontario independent schools are not in competition with public schools. All K-12 education is intended for public good, as it is of benefit to not only the students and families directly involved but society as a whole, even when administered independently.”

• “Research shows that students from independent schools…are major contributors to their communities. In Ontario they are 2.5 times more likely than the average student to collect and deliver food to the needy, 2.1 times more likely to coach or referee on local sports teams, and 2.4 times as likely to be involved in teaching or mentoring youth in their community.”

• “Both independent and public schools meet different needs in important ways, making us all better off.”

“Diversity of needs requires a diversity of delivery systems, so that all kids have a fair chance at a quality education. This is what Cardus found in its recent study, “Who Chooses Ontario Independent Schools and Why?

• “Most independent school parents are regular, middle-class Ontarians. And the overwhelming majority went to public school themselves. Many tried public school for their kids, but for a seemingly endless variety of reasons, it didn’t work out. Their child needed something different.
Surprisingly, academic performance – a key determinant of economic growth that is front-of-mind for researchers, government, and many voters – did not top parents’ priorities. Although important, parents prioritize independent schools in Ontario for their safety, supportive and nurturing environment, and character development.”

• “Despite their ordinary means and paying taxes to the public system, the study found parents will make almost any additional financial sacrifice to ensure their child gets the education she or he needs: extra jobs, taking on loans, giving up vacations, even asking family or friends for help. And, for one in fifteen Ontario families, this means enrolling in an independent school. They also want to be respected and listened to.”

There is a great deal of evidence – educational and financial ­– that demonstrates that the public educational system is enhanced when independent schools are included, to some extent at least, into the public school realm.

Brian Dijkema is vice-president of external affairs and David Hunt is a researcher and B.C. director at think tank Cardus.

Shabbat shalom.


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