The editorial in the National Post on Monday, October 15, 2007 suggests that we listen to Harry Giles .... it says ....
Although his manner of proposing his reforms is somewhat startling, Mr. Giles says little or nothing that we have not already heard from other outstanding older and retired teachers, and in truth there is little that someone who hadn't been brainwashed by an education degree program would find to disagree with. Mr. Giles is a strong advocate of second-and even third-language education, beginning very early in life. He believes parents need to keep their children away from television and get them reading. He sees old-fashioned phonics training as the key to building reading skills. He favours independent, high-stakes standardized testing throughout the career of the student --and not just testing, but tough testing, modelled on classic versions of the British A-levels and the baccalaureat francais. He believes children should be expected to perform acceptably at their grade level before advancing to the next.
It is particularly interesting, at the end of a bitter and somewhat brutal Ontario election campaign, that Mr. Giles should have brought up that loathed A-word: Alberta. He makes no secret of his admiration for public education in that province. "I believe that monopolies are always dangerous to the consumer," he writes, "and given the steady decline in standards in public education, any monopoly must be curtailed. Charter Schools, publicly funded independent schools, [and] Model schools ? should all be considered ? Insofar as independent schools are concerned, I would have them receive 50% of the funding normally given to public schools."
In all these respects, Giles is basically recommending the Alberta system, in which accredited independent schools receive roughly 60% of the per-student instructional grant available to the public schools. Many if not most of these tax-funded Alberta schools could even be described as -- horrors! -- faith-based. Alberta also permits charter schools, and makes fractional funding available to individual kids being home-schooled. These policies, which Ontario educational unions would mostly regard as heretical, have fostered greater school choice and entrepreneurial spirit on the public side, particularly in the widely admired Edmonton system. Parents there can send their children to any school in the city, without regard to postal code, and as a result, what were formerly indistinguishable, cookie-cutter education factories have met the challenge of follow-the-student funding and blossomed into a dazzling array of unique options.
The evidence, as Malkin Dare points out in a foreword to Mr. Giles's essay, suggests that school choice is delivering good results for Alberta students, and that for all provinces there is a visible correlation between performance on international tests and school choice. Yet, strangely, when John Tory proposed to fund what would effectively be "alternative" faith-based schools in Ontario, the debate did not revolve around how school choice can enhance the public system for everyone. Certainly no one pointed out that there exists a real-world example, not so far away from Ontario, of how this actually works. The Conservative leader instead accepted a battle on the ground of "fairness" to religious minorities. As a consequence, he got trapped in a silly argument over how far this fairness ought to be carried and how much it might cost (a great deal, thanks to the top-down centralized nature of his scheme; in Alberta the taxpayer saves money when parents choose alternative arrangements outside the public system).
Small-c conservatives who might otherwise have rushed to Mr. Tory's defence have probably had quite enough of ostentatious cosmic fairness toward minorities. And he failed to provide reassurance to those who believe that public schools are an instrument of social cohesion. Plenty of Albertans believe this, but school choice is widely accepted there, not only because it is a more individualistic-minded place, but because parents know that every child must pass the same departmental tests at the end of Grades 3, 6, 9 and 12. The goal of uniform education in intellectual and civic basics is served by the imposition of common standards, not by uniformity in the schools themselves.
John Tory chose to pose as an apostle of interest groups instead of playing the populist crusader busting up a failed monopoly. One hopes that the next high-profile politician who picks up the school reform baton won't make the same mistake."