Ontario’s continuing unwillingness to include some measure of funding for independent schools is perplexing. The province’s approach is entirely out of step with that of the next five largest provinces. It is out of step with proven best educational practices and with proven budgetary efficiencies. Indeed, it is out of step with the educational approach in most of the western world.
But that the province maintained its “principled” funding boycott of the children in independent schools in the challenging throes of an unprecedented pandemic health crisis was disappointing and, truth be told, cruel.
Not wishing to attribute the Minister of Education’s decisions to malice or indifference, we imagine he and his advisors are operating on the basis of old, stereotype-laden opinions and incorrect information concerning the nature of independent schools in Ontario. It is therefore incumbent that we attempt to inform and update the minister, his advisors, his cabinet colleagues, his parliamentary colleagues and ultimately, the premier with current, empirically unassailable data about independent schools, the children who attend them and the parents who send them there.
A good beginning to this vital endeavour is to call attention to a recent interview given to The Hub by Deani Van Pelt. As described by her interviewer Sean Speer, Van Pelt, is “a senior fellow at the Cardus Institute, as well as the Fraser Institute, a visiting fellow in Charlotte Mason Studies at the University of Cumbria in the United Kingdom, the president of Edvance Christian Schools Association, and one of the country’s most thoughtful and compassionate voices for what she describes as educational pluralism.”
We have pointed to Van Pelt’s expertise in this space before. She is a highly qualified and highly recommended spokesperson on the subject of independent schools. The interview is an excellent primer, in summary form, of the information we need to bring to the men and women at Queen’s Park.
Van Pelt defines an independent school as “a school that is operated by a non-government agent. So what is that? Typically, it’s a not-for-profit, a good set of community folks get together and say, “Let’s design a school around various ideas,” whether they’re pedagogical, philosophical or other convictions, and the school gets set up, registers as an independent school in its area of jurisdiction and moves forward. Does it mean it’s not regulated? Of course not. Does it mean it gets government funding? In most cases across the world, yes, it does. Educational pluralism is very simply, as we said, just that space for more providers than government agents.”
Van Pelt offers four categories of benefits for developing a pluralistic model for students and for the educational system as a whole.
“There’s this argument about good fit. When there’s a good match between the family, between the student and their own convictions, and the school that the child attends, you see better academic outcomes….When the fit is good, a child thrives and the success academically is measurable in quite a significant way.
“Secondly, it makes access to diverse forms of education more equitable. So, there’s a very large OECD, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, study that looked at 65 countries that partially fund independent schools. And in the countries that partially, or even more significantly, fund over 50 percent of the cost of the independent schools, the socio-economic disparity across families that choose independent schools or families that choose government schools almost disappears.
“The third reason would be about social cohesion. An excellent study about that was done by Ashley Berner recently out of Johns Hopkins University…found that taken together, the contribution of independent schools towards civic engagement actually outperforms
their colleagues in government-provided schooling. So, it contributes, in a nutshell, to good citizens.
“The last thing is we get good results when there’s more choice. There are strong incentives for a school to look over its shoulder and say, “They’re doing well over there. They’re attracting some folks over there. Let’s take a look.”
The entire interview is worth reading or hearing and forwarded, in turn, to our elected representatives. They should educate themselves on the actual, not imagined, true, not false, nature of Ontario’s independent schools.
The full interview with Deani Van Pelt is available at:
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Grassroots for Affordable Jewish Education (GAJE)
October 14, 2022