What Are British Columbia’s Independent And Private Schools Selling?


We pay 35% of their tuition

Renee Bernard wrote a piece for News 1130 on May 20 titled “Head of BC’S independent schools responds to demand to cut private school funding”.

In that piece Dr. Peter Froese, the head of British Columbia’s Federation of Independent Schools Association, states that class sizes in most independent schools are not smaller; that class composition in 80% of independent schools is “similar” to class composition in public schools; and that if funding to independent schools was cut off, most independent schools would not survive and the public system would be overwhelmed.

A number of questions arise from these claims.

First, if class sizes are not smaller (even if we just limit our analysis to the Christian schools as Dr. Froese is prone to do) why do so many of these schools advertise that they offer smaller class sizes?  Just look at the Website for Island Catholic Schools, which has a slideshow of captioned pictures on the homepage, one of which reads “Where small class sizes and individual attention are the norm”.  Or look at the Website for the British Columbia Christian Academy where “Smaller class sizes as compared to public schools” are on offer.

If you move out of the Christian field and into the elite schools designed solely for class segregation, you don’t have to look very hard for advertising promoting small class sizes as a key benefit offered by the schools (here are a few examples: Shawinigan Lake and Meadowridge.  Alternately just look at the Our Kids Website and see almost every featured school promoting a small class size or small teacher – student ratio, the same thing).

Where did Dr. Froese come up with his findings about comparable class size?  Did he just base this finding upon his own observations?

The class composition argument made by Peter Froese is so disingenuous that I am having a hard time even choosing a starting place in my deconstruction.  First let’s start with the most obvious target: diversity of belief.  The public system is open to all students.  Muslim, atheist, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Shinto, Hindu…but 45% of private/independent schools in British Columbia are Christian (and yes I know some Christian schools admit non-believers), so the majority of attendees are of a single faith.  Further, the education these students receive, the education taxpayers are funding, is faith-based.

Next we could look at students from poverty.  Any school that requires parents to pay half or all of their child’s tuition cannot be as accommodating to the most poverty stricken students as a free public system.  Perhaps Dr. Froese has just forgot about these students being part of the composition of a class.

Dr. Froese’s argument that independent schools could not survive without public money and therefore should receive public money because if they did not the public system would be overwhelmed is an affront to the idea of capitalism and logic.  If these schools are private then they should not need public money.  Mr. Froese and other advocates of public money subsidizing the private system appear to be taking the same approach that the US banks in need of a bailout took as the world they had sacked collapsed: Our system is too big to fail.

If many students now at private/independent schools were forced to return to the public system because public subsidies were discontinued and if the public systems could not cope, a need for more funding would be necessary.  In addition, as Jim Iker has rightly noted, schools that are now being shuttered due to declining enrolment could be reopened if enrolment increased. Finally, just as British Columbia’s health care system does not subsidize private hospitals, but reinvents itself so that it can cope with shifting demographics, British Columbia’s education system need not subsidize the private/independent system if problems arise.

I am left wondering what these schools are selling?  According to Dr. Froese it is not small class sizes nor or they offering parents a class composition different than the public system.  As far as better academic outcomes are concerned I would note the book the “Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools” by Christopher A. Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski.  In this award winning book (2014 PROSE award) the authors are able to demonstrate that if all variables are controlled, students from the same background, with the same advantages,  will do better at public schools (I must admit these findings are based on US data, but to my mind given the stark differences between the class segregation in that country they are even more telling).

One cannot take Dr. Froese’s claims seriously.  He provides no documented, independent evidence to support his claims.  He doesn’t follow them through to a logical end point or even ask the right questions.  He merely states what sounds good and is likely to placate the right wing readers/listeners of News 1130 who might be thinking that funding an alternate, religious and class based education system is not a good way to spend tax money.  The sad thing is it will work.  The crisis is already passing.  Funding will continue for independent/private schools and it won’t be because people like Dr. Froese and the reporters at News 1130 contributed to an honest debate.