School Choice Works
Special Report - November 17, 2010
Alberta, Canada’s affinity for offering a plethora of educational choices to parents of school-age children has resulted in high international test scores, and should provide encouragement to American school systems to expand educational choice, according to a new report from The Heritage Foundation. The November 8 report, “School Choice in Canada: Lessons for America” explores Alberta’s six educational opportunities from which parents may choose, including two fully-funded systemsa public school system and a separate (sometimes denominational) systemas well as a variety of charter, private, French-language, home, and blended school programs.
The Canadian Constitution offers unique protections for two publicly funded systemsthe traditional public school system and a separate system, usually religiously affiliated as either Protestant or Roman Catholic. Interestingly, “those who pay property taxes [in Alberta] can and do choose which system to fund.” The report recognizes that such an approach is impossible under the American Constitution, but emphasizes two other points about educational choice in Canada. Education in Canada is considered a provincial, not national, responsibility. Secondly, “the key aspect of Alberta’s school system that can be copied anywhere is the climate of choice that the province has long encouraged.” Nearly a quarter of Alberta’s students are enrolled in a separate/Catholic school, while 69 percent of students attend a public school. According to the report, “widespread educational choice has kept public schools more accountable, encouraged competition in the delivery of quality education, and entrenched a culture and expectation of school choice in Alberta.” Alberta students have been ranked as high as second in the world in science, third in reading, and fifth in math.
The report concludes by encouraging American school systems to consider three policy changes to begin on a path toward the successful school choice atmosphere demonstrated in Alberta. Schools and school boards should 1) “create alternative education programs that emphasize a particular subject matter;” 2) support “a wide variety of school options;” and 3) provide “‘opt-out’ provisions that allow parents to choose what subject matter their children will be exposed to when a question of conscience arises.”
In related news, the Illinois Policy Institute has issued a Fact Finder addressing the myth that “Charter schools have a higher-than-usual rate of students transferring out to other places of learning.” According to the report, “Home at Last: Charter Schools Retain Students Better than Nearby Public Schools,” charter schools experience a student transfer rate “roughly half that of the neighborhood public schools which charter students would likely otherwise attend.” The report contends that the lower transfer rate in charter schools, which are “attended solely by choice,” is a result of their “strong academic track record.”
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