Fraser Institute report cards don't tell the whole story, ministry says

By Stanley Tromp, Globe and Mail,  24 July 2007


Bureaucrats in the B.C. Ministry of Education criticized the methodology of the influential Fraser Institute report cards on provincial schools on 23 counts as biased, inaccurate and misleading, as they prepared their minister for media questions.

The report cards are published in several B.C. newspapers as "education supplements" and are intended to influence parents' decisions on which schools their children should attend.

The briefing notes, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, were written to prepare Education Minister Shirley Bond for questions she might be asked on the topic. The reviewers protested that there is "no consideration of context, region or socio-economic factors" by the Fraser Institute.

Peter Cowley, the institute's director of school performance studies, agreed that his organization's report is narrowly focused - that being the point of the publication.

"We do that by design, strangely enough," Mr. Cowley said, chuckling. "The report cards were made to answer a very specific question for parents - how is the school doing academically compared to all the rest?"

The ministry also argued that the report cards' indicators are too narrowly focused on grades.

Three of the institute's measures for high schools are based strictly on the provincial exam, but "it does not take into account factors that help make a school great but are harder to measure," such as arts and sports programs, and caring teachers.

Mr. Cowley agreed with that point, but said that schools do not provide the data that would allow for a wider focus.

In addition, the ministry objected to the report's claims of providing a "detailed picture of each school that is not easily available elsewhere," pointing out that the ministry's school and district reports can supply much of the same information.

Mr. Cowley replied that "the difference with our report cards is that they bring all the data together in one place. It does what government, I think, doesn't do, and that is, draw some conclusions from the data."