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New school studies provide information on benefits of school choice

Written on July 11th, 2008

‘This is the thing that is going to compel the public overall’: Bierman

Barb Bierman is applauding the recently published study on Ontario independent schools and hopes more data is made accessible to the public about school choice in the province.

Bierman, Parents for Educational Choice’s provincial spokesperson, says the results of the survey and study entitled Low Incomes, High Standards, Can private schools make a difference for low income families? are not surprising.

Published by the Fraser Institute, an independent research organization, the survey and study found that low-income parents who send their children to inexpensive independent schools say their children do better academically and have less “social problems” than children who attend public schools.

“(These results are) something that any parent who sends their child to an independent school anecdotally knows to be true, and it is just really wonderful to have that publicly supported (through this study),” says Bierman.

“I really hope that the Fraser Institute continues to provide this kind of hard data on the positive benefits of school choice on education in the province because that is the thing that is going to compel the public overall.”

Families who participated in the survey were selected from applicants for a Children First: School Choice Trust grant to send their children to an Ontario independent school.

“We were astounded to see that small independent schools make such a difference for disadvantaged children, particularly considering that these schools cost, on average, 45 per cent less than public schools,” said Claudia Hepburn, the study’s co-author and Fraser Institute director of education studies, in a news release.

Bierman says the majority of children who attend the province’s independent schools are from middle and lower socio-economic backgrounds, not the affluent families the public often perceives.

“Eighty-five per cent of the schools are set up for some religious, cultural or pedagogical reason and they attract lower to middle class families and kids,” says Bierman.

According to the Fraser Institute, the Children First recipients average tuition cost is $4,398 for independent education. It is estimated the cost per pupil in the province’s public school system is more than $9,000.

Bierman says this indicates independent schools have a good understanding of what parents will pay for a service that is valuable to them, and the schools are directly accountable to these tuition paying parents.

“If (parents) believe it is what is best for their child and it is doing them service they will pay quite a lot, but then they want to be assured – and the schools need to do that job to assure them – that the money is being used in the best possible way that it can be. You don’t hear a lot of that kind of language in and around public schools,” she says.

In May 2007 the Fraser Institute published a study titled Ontario’s Private Schools: Who Chooses Them and Why?

The study was the first of its kind in the province. The conclusions show families who choose private schools tend to have higher education levels and are more involved in civic affairs.

Hepburn has authored previous related studies looking at Sweden’s model of government funding for private schools. In 1991, Sweden began funding independent schools so students now receive approximately the same funding as those who attend public schools.

Hepburn’s 2006 study, titled School Choice in Sweden: Lessons for Canada, shows students with lower abilities most benefit from private schools. The study also cites that public schools respond positively to the private school competition.

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Survey says inexpensive independent schools provide better academics, social conditions than public schools