Parental choice key researchers suggest

Traditional schools make difference says study

by Bruce Mason staff writer

A UBC study is helping inform the heated debate over public school choice, particularly regarding traditional schools in B.C.

Education Prof. Daniel Brown worked with eight graduate students from 1997-99 on the Alternative Schools Report: The Impact of Parental Choice on Three Canadian Public Schools. The study focused on parents' choice of traditional schools over the norm-- neighbourhood schools which have progressive elements that some parents question.

"The evidence strongly suggests that parental choice in public schools makes an important difference in the lives of children, parents and educators," he says.

"We were able to make recommendations that may serve three important needs in the school system at large: elevating student achievement; increasing student sense of safety and community; and strengthening public support in an era in which confidence in public education has declined," he adds.

The UBC research team found that the three traditional elementary schools studied performed above district norms in academic achievement. A pronounced emphasis on respect and citizenship was present and parents and teachers demonstrated a `remarkable' consensus on their mission. All experienced committed family support and high satisfaction ratings.

The schools in the study differ in size, history and circumstances.

Topham Elementary in Langley teaches Japanese language and culture augmented with a technology program.

Langley Fundamental, a large traditional school with 558 students, has offered a distinctive program for more than 25 years. It has a waiting list of 600 names.

The third school, King Traditional, established in Abbotsford in 1995, emphasizes academic excellence and a disciplined environment. Its 304 students wear a uniform and despite its cramped facility and portables the waiting list is long.

The traditional schools were formed partly as a reaction against what were considered to be less effective "progressive" teaching methods. Topham's distinctive program derived from the vision of its principal. By providing choice the three schools draw from large catchment areas, increasing district enrolment and retaining parents who may have otherwise left the system. The report offers recommendations to make the benefits more widely available. They require neither substantial regulatory changes nor increased costs.

The report was made possible through a grant from the Society for the Advancement of Excellence in Education.

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The report can be ordered from