Parents need more information to choose the right school
Yes, it’s summertime. But many parents are already wondering how they’ll find the best school for their children to attend in September. Most students attend their local government public school. Some are enrolled in independent schools while still others are educated at home. Students in Alberta also have the option of attending a few public charter schools.
In short, parents have schooling options to consider, although the number of options depends largely on where they live. Parents in Alberta and British Columbia, for example, have considerably more choice than parents in Atlantic Canada.
The simplest way to expand school choice is to let the money follow students to the school their parents choose—whether public, independent or charter. This puts parents in the driver’s seat since they can choose the school that works best for their children. It’s a much better approach than forcing some parents to pay twice for their children’s education—once through their taxes and again through tuition fees when they choose independent schools that fit their children’s unique needs.
However, providing parents with more choice is not enough. Parents also need accurate and reliable information about schools.
It’s like visiting a car dealership. In addition to having lots of vehicles to choose from, customers need information about the vehicles they are considering. Otherwise, they won’t make an informed decision. Just as there are many different makes and models of vehicles, there are many different types of schools. When it comes to improving student achievement, some schools are more effective than others.
Dr. John Hattie, emeritus laureate professor at the Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne (Australia), is one of the world’s leading researchers on educational effectiveness. His latest book Visible Learning: The Sequel synthesizes thousands of research studies to identify the methods that work best in classrooms.
For example, when it comes to learning how to read, students benefit most from intentional instruction in phonics. Simply put, students must learn how to sound out the words on a page. In contrast, whole language/balanced literacy programs that let students figure out the meaning of words on their own, or look at pictures to guess the words, are considerably less effective.
The same is true of basic math skills. Interestingly, Hattie found there’s considerable research showing that explicit instruction (where teachers directly model how to solve specific math questions) is a good way to improve student math proficiency. Thus, schools should provide students with this type of instruction.
However, in choosing schools for their children, most parents do not have the time or the expertise to evaluate the specific curriculum and teaching methods used in each school. Fortunately, there are tools that could provide parents with necessary information.
The most important tool is the data provided by standardized testing, which are written by all students in a grade or course at the same time each year. These tests should be done consistently, and results for each school should be publicly available so parents can see which schools and teachers are helping students improve academically and which are not. To help parents interpret these data, organizations such as the Fraser Institute publish school report cards based on the information provided by standardized tests.
In addition, considering the growing number of serious violent incidents in schools, parents also need access to key safety information. For example, the state of Kentucky requires school administrators to input behavioural incidents such as assaults and drug use into a state database. This information is then compiled and made available to the public.
Parents in Kentucky can visit a website with key information about the academic performance and safety of each school, which makes it possible for parents to make informed decisions when choosing the best schools for their children.
When students head back to school this fall, parents should have the comfort of knowing that their children are in the right school. This will only happen if parents have plenty of options available and get the information they need to make sound educational decisions.
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