Children should all have a chance to succeed

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Appeared in the Calgary Herald
Back in March, I wrote in the Calgary Herald about schools that year after year find themselves at the bottom of the Fraser Institute rankings. After more analysis, here is an update.

Poor results; no improvement. That's the way it is at 41 of the 276 Alberta high schools rated by the Fraser Institute this year. Three of the high schools -Bishop McNally, Father Lacombe, and Crescent Heights -are right here in Calgary.

What does this evidence of persistent low academic performance mean and what can we do about it?

The Institute's report cards bring together a variety of objective information on individual school performance including provincewide test results, grade-to-grade transition rates, and graduation rates. These academic indicators are combined in a statistically valid way to produce each school's annual overall rating out of 10.

You would think that those responsible for these poorly performing schools would quickly fix whatever was wrong so that future classes could look forward to greater academic success. But, the fact that a good many schools in the province continuously record very mediocre results suggests that their principals and teachers as well as school district staff and Alberta Education officials simply do not know how to improve the results.

Most disturbing, the public statements by hundreds of school and board officials over the years imply that the reasons for these schools' low ratings are found, not in the school, but in the homes of the students. They state that the report cards don't take into account the socioeconomic characteristics of the families and the learning challenges of the students. The implication is clear: if parents are getting by on relatively little income, or if they are a First Nation family, or if their kids have learning challenges, well, you cannot expect such kids to do well at school.

As one school principal scolded me, How dare you compare the results of my school to those at some school in a rich urban neighbourhood when, for this school's parents, the most important decision they will make this week is where to play bingo on Saturday night!

Clearly some children have tougher circumstances than others, as do some families. But can't we, as a society, make it possible for all children, regardless of their personal and family challenges, to succeed in school?

With help, we can. Let's demand bold action on the part of the provincial government. Instead of letting kids attend chronically low-performing schools, let's demand that Alberta Education open the province to school operators from around the world who have found ways of successfully meeting the challenges of children with personal and family characteristics not unlike those in Alberta's lowest performing schools. Let's encourage these more successful school operators -some of whom are already profiled on -to establish themselves here in Alberta so that they can duplicate their success with those same kids that the current Alberta system is now failing.

It's an idea that can be implemented immediately, so let's get started. Alberta's children cannot wait.

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