300,000 reasons why ranking B.C. schools is a valuable activity: Peter Cowley

The Report Card on British Columbia’s Secondary Schools is all about comparing schools from student success.
Last year alone, about 300,000 parents, teachers, school principals, and others interested in B.C. schools visited the Fraser Institute’s school performance website and did just that.
But the BC Teachers’ Council—the body that decides on teachers’ qualifications—has a different view. It believes that the practice of ranking schools is “inherently racist and classist and has negative impacts on all students, teachers, and BC’s education system.” Apparently, the Council feels that ranking the schools is an egregiously harmful activity.
Of course, as all the Council members know—or certainly should know—there is much more to the Report Card than just a ranking list. But, if they are truly unaware of the Report Card’s value, they need only consult with any of the 300,000 or so British Columbians who take advantage of its findings each year.
Parents consult the website when choosing a school for their children. Its objective, comparable information about each school’s academic results helps them make a more informed choice of the school to trust with their children’s education.
Once the choice is made, parents then compare each year’s academic results with those of the recent past to see if their school is improving, declining, or just standing still.
Parent advisory committees use this information as the basis for discussions about current performance and possible improvement. Indeed, when a school shows little sign of improvement over some years or its academic results fall into decline, parents often become strong and effective advocates for change.
But, perhaps Ms. Blair and the other Council members believe parents are unable to judge the value of the Report Card results correctly.
In that case, they might get in touch with a few principals to see how they use the website and how much they value it.
Principals committed to improvement scour the website for aspects of their school’s performance that can be improved. Comparisons among schools of the detailed course-by-course results may even bring attention to opportunities for improvement that might otherwise go unnoticed.
The website also makes it easy for principals to compare their schools with others serving students with similar characteristics. For example, the principal of a small rural school with a high proportion of students with special needs can quickly find similar schools with which to make more useful comparisons.
Among these similar schools, the principal will likely find some that consistently perform better on one or more of the Report Card’s academic indicators. This substantial evidence that improvement is possible offers both hope and motivation to the principals of less-successful schools.
And, of course, these same higher-performing schools all come with a telephone number. Undoubtedly, their principals will happily reveal the ingredients of their success. The principal of the less-successful school can then adopt or adapt these above approaches for the benefit of her students.
With each annual update, we find that improvement takes place at all types of schools serving students with many different characteristics. In the recently published Report Card on British Columbia’s Secondary Schools, 21 of the 294 schools showed statistically significant improvement during the last four school years.
The BC Teachers’ Council is responsible for establishing standards for the education, competence and professional conduct required of B.C. teachers. If the Council is, as it claims, “…always mindful of the public interest and the needs of students,” its members would do much better to embrace the Report Card for its contributions rather than making simplistic, baseless, and irresponsible claims about its results and value.

Peter Cowley is director of School Performance Studies at the Fraser Institute and co-author of the Report Card on British Columbia’s Secondary Schools.