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Independent school study dispels myths, stereotypes

Written on May 18th, 2007

ANCASTER – When Dr. Derek Allison presented his findings from an Ontario private school study, he said he and his colleagues found “anyone” sends their child to an independent school – not just the stereotypical rich and religious.

There were 919 households in the province that responded to a questionnaire for the study, titled Ontario’s Private Schools: Who Chooses Them and Why? Allison and his co-authors spoke on the study results at Redeemer University College’s Education Symposium May 10.

The study breaks private schools into two streams: academically/pedagogically-defined day schools and religiously-defined day schools. These two streams cover 90 per cent or over 107,000 students who attend private education in Ontario.

For all respondents, many said they are religious. “We were astonished to find … 82 per cent of parents reported some sort of religious affiliation,” says Allison.

The study compared characteristics of Ontario’s private school families to the general population reported in Statistics Canada. The comparisons show differences between the average Ontario parent and the average parent who chooses to send their child to a private school.

The characteristics show parents who choose private education tend to have higher levels of education. Three-quarters of private school parents attended university, compared to just over a third of the average adult population.

Parents who choose private education are on average more involved in the community, despite popular belief.

“You will hear in some quarters that private school parents are aloof in society,” says Allison. “Our data shows that is false.”

The study states: “Parents choosing private schools are more likely to vote in federal (98 per cent versus 61 per cent), provincial (93 per cent versus 59 per cent), and municipal (82 per cent versus 49 per cent) elections than other Ontario parents with school aged children.”

The study also found private school parents have higher civic participation in different organizations and associations.

When it comes to income, results show parents who choose private schools with a religious focus have lower incomes than those who choose academically-defined private schools.

One-third of religiously-defined school parents reported incomes of $120,000 or higher compared to 77 per cent of families sending their children to academically-defined schools.

“Religious school parents have lower incomes than academic school parents,” says Allison, “but even so, it’s not just rich people who send their kids to academic or religious schools.”

He adds that though there are some wealthy families, there are also some whose income is under $30,000.

The top reasons parents reported they chose a religiously-defined school were: it teaches right from wrong, the dedicated teachers and the school supports the family’s values.

Dr. Adrian Guldemond, executive director of the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS), responded to Allison’s presentation.

“From a political point of view, this is part of an effort to eliminate the stereotypes against the sector, which is prevalent in this province, probably more so than in any other province in Canada,” says Guldemond.

“I think the data provided here will go a long way to removing this kind of elective stereotyping or mythologies that we’ve had.”