The new ‘culture’ in education

This week Lakes District News reported on the Fraser Institute’s annual ranking of B.C. elementary schools.

This week Lakes District News reported on the Fraser Institute’s annual ranking of B.C. elementary schools.

Of 944 schools compared across the province, Burns Lake’s William Konkin Elementary placed 939 and Decker Lake Elementary placed 929 (Ouch!).

This annual ranking has been widely criticized by a number of educators and institutions, including School District No. 91 (Nechako Lakes), which called the report card “fundamentally flawed.”

The arguments of most critics come down to the report card not including social economic factors such as family income, students with special needs and parental educational attainment when ranking schools.

However, I believe the reason this annual ranking has been so controversial is simply because our education system doesn’t like to rank schools and students.

Last week I contacted Peter Cowle, Director of School Performance Studies at the Fraser Institute, thinking that he might be sensitive about all the criticism his organization has received. Surprisingly, he wasn’t.

In fact, he was eager to discuss the report card point by point and even asked if our newspaper would be interested in sponsoring a debate between him and our school district (I don’t know about you, but I would certainly like to see that happen!).

One good point Cowle made was that, for example, if a school has a high number of students affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, it’s up to the school district to certify that its teachers are well trained to better assist those students. Sure, the tests might not provide a full picture of all the factors that influence education in a particular school, but they do provide some guidance on what needs to be done and where to begin.

But going back to my previous point: one thing is certain, some educators are simply sensitive about the idea of ranking schools.

I believe this is tied to the new “culture” in education, where we don’t like to rank anyone. We believe everybody deserves a medal and we are reluctant to fail anyone. I don’t know exactly when this new approach to education started, but my generation certainly did not get a medal for all our efforts. We had winners – first place, second place, third place – and we had to learn how to cope with frustration and loss.

A few weeks ago I attended the Lakes District Festival of the Performing Arts. The festival is certainly positive for the community and it seems rewarding for both participants and adjudicators. However, one thing really caught my attention this year: the constant (and sometimes over the top) compliments given to participants.

I mean, sure, positive reinforcement is really important. But this was different. It seemed to me that some adjudicators were almost scared to make any sort of constructive criticism. They would continuously compliment participants simply for being there.

Maybe I am wrong and this new generation of students will turn out to be even stronger than mine. But I can’t help to think that the current approach to education seems disconnected with the real world. The reality is that if you are not doing your best at work, you will probably get fired, someone else will get that promotion, or someone else will get your job.

How do schools expect children to cope with the frustrations of the real world when they are desperately trying not to fail anyone and giving everyone a medal?

It’s no surprise that when an organization ranks our schools, the school system would attack the organization that did the ranking.


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