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Secondary schools in Lower Mainland do a better job for students from families with below average incomes

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Release Date: June 17, 2009

VANCOUVER, BC-Public secondary schools in BC's Lower Mainland appear to be doing a better job of serving students from families with below average incomes than secondary schools in the rest of the province.

The Fraser Institute's Report Card on Secondary Schools in British Columbia and Yukon 2009 shows 19 public secondary schools ranked among the report card's top 100 (based on average ranking over the most recent five years) with student populations from families whose income was below the provincial average of $68,600.

Of these 19 schools, 15 are found in the Lower Mainland: Hugh McRoberts, J.N. Burnett, and Richmond Secondary from Richmond; Johnston Heights, Princess Margaret, and Sullivan in Surrey; Eric Hamber and Winston Churchill in Vancouver; Pinetree and Gleneagle in Coquitlam, Burnaby North and Moscrop in Burnaby; W.J. Mouat in Abbotsford, Port Moody Secondary, and New Westminster Secondary.

Dover Bay in Nanaimo, L.V. Rogers in Nelson, Stanley Humphries in Castlegar and Sparwood Secondary are the only secondary schools outside the Lower Mainland ranked in the top 100 that serve students from families with below average incomes.

"These 19 public schools are among the highest performing BC secondary schools, yet they all serve student populations whose parents have below average incomes. Clearly their success shows you don't need to be in a wealthy neighbourhood or have parents with multiple university degrees to do well in school," said Peter Cowley, Fraser Institute director of school performance studies

"The public school system should be able to educate all children to the same high level, no matter where they live nor how much their parents earn. Educators must try to raise their school's level of performance and find ways of helping students succeed."

The Fraser Institute's Report Card on Secondary Schools in British Columbia and Yukon 2009 rates 316 public and private secondary schools from across British Columbia and Yukon using seven key indicators of school performance. Secondary schools in Yukon follow, for the most part, British Columbia's secondary school curriculum and their students participate in provincial exams administered by BC's Ministry of Education.

The report card also includes key demographic information about a school including the number of ESL students, special needs students, and parents' average income.

Cowley said critics of the Fraser Institute report card too often excuse a school's poor results by blaming them on socio-economic factors. By doing so, these critics are essentially writing off a student's chances of success based on their family's economic standing.

"Why is it that secondary schools in other communities outside the Lower Mainland where parents have a below average income can't match the success of the schools in Nelson, Castlegar and Sparwood?" Cowley asked.

Average income for families with students attending Nelson's L.V. Rogers is $53,600 and the school's five-year average ranking in the report card is 55 out of 267. Sparwood Secondary has a five-year ranking of 64 out of 267 and families with an average income of $55,400. Stanley Humphries in Castlegar has families with an average income of $58,400 and the school has a five-year ranking of 86 out of 267.

By comparison, Wellington Secondary in Nanaimo (147th out of 267) has an average income of $59,600; Elphinstone in Gibsons is ranked 162nd out of 267 despite having an average income of $85,900, South Peace Secondary in Dawson Creek (204th out of 267) has an average income of $67,700, and Columneetza in Williams Lake (229th out of 267) has an average income of $60,300.

But even within communities, there are differences in schools with similar characteristics. Alpha Secondary (204th out of 267) in Burnaby has a similar average income but fails to match the performance of Burnaby North (78th out of 267). Terry Fox in Coquitlam (136th out of 267) does not match the performance of Pinetree (45th out of 267) despite having a higher average income ($68,000 to $59,300).

Cowley points out that in Alberta, rural secondary schools are among the best performing schools compared to their urban counterparts, with almost half of the 50 highest performing schools coming from rural communities.

"In Alberta, attending a rural school can be an advantage. But here in BC, rural schools appear to be at a disadvantage compared to schools in urban areas."