A small grassroots coalition called One Public Education Now (OPEN) is calling for the elimination of the separate Catholic school system in Ontario, claiming that doing so would save money.
But it’s difficult to see how reducing the already-limited education options available to Ontario families will protect what really matters: the quality of education everyone’s child receives.
It’s a curious argument OPEN makes – not unlike the child in the playground who stamps her foot and says, “If I can’t have it, no one can!”
There’s good reason to maintain Ontario’s public funding of a Catholic system. The Cardus Education Survey shows that the graduates of the Catholic school system are more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree and to earn a higher income than are graduates of the secular public system.
Just as important for Catholic families, attending a Catholic school affirms religious habits and faith. These are matters that strike at personal identity, and go well beyond mere private beliefs or preferences.
And despite the religious distinctiveness, the survey finds that graduates of Catholic and public schools are equally engaged in civic life within religious and non-religious communities.
So rather than trashing the Catholic system, wouldn’t it be better to improve the secular system?
Clearly, the solution is not to opt for the lowest common denominator. If anything, the solution is to expand the levels of genuine choice, just as they do in Alberta and British Columbia. And that means welcoming independent schools to the table.
We’ve seen great strides towards personal learning, creating pathways to success for all children and a commitment to 21st century competencies in the Ontario curriculum. That’s why it’s frustrating that the logic doesn’t extend to the system itself.
I agree with OPEN on one thing: Ontario’s bloated bureaucratic policy approaches are the problem. They don’t encourage choice in education for families.
Early childhood and adolescence are when funding genuine diversity in education matters most, so the potential of every child can be nurtured in the virtues and values that matter most in each home.
One of the plaintiffs in the case OPEN hopes to bring is desperate to have access to real choice: a nearby secular French language school. It’s difficult to see how closing the Catholic French-speaking school to force the issue brings greater choice for similarly frustrated parents looking for better special educational or a funded faith school.
Limited choices become even more difficult in Ontario, given the trend toward school closures. Rural parents already face proposals to close 121 schools over the next three years, which will devastate local education.
Even so, policy-makers tend to overlook independent schools as alternatives. Yet, independent schools are the true grassroots movement in education. They have proven track records, offering nimble models of governance and staffing that seem to meet parents’ expectations, fluctuating enrolment and student needs with minimal fuss.
Keeping Ontario’s schools under the thumb of the government and making them the same isn’t the answer. Going after religious groups isn’t the answer. Blowing up the Catholic education system won’t help.
OPEN has missed the key point: public doesn’t have to mean government-run. Set the schools that are doing a good job free and fund them.
Make the decisions based on the evidence about the impact attending a school really has on graduate outcomes.
Dr. Beth Green is education program director at think tank Cardus.
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