Monday, October 5, 2009

SQE Sunshine

Also delinquent here... the Society for Quality Education sent out an advance invitation to a new website, Sunshine on Schools, launched last week. Moira MacDonald writes about it in Monday's Toronto Sun.
It could get you clicking and comparing for hours with plenty of info on individual school board costs, spending, how students do, teacher salaries, how much each school board spends per student, and in-depth financial reports. Every Ontario school board is covered.
As tech lovers might say, it's got great functionality, with each mouse click leading smoothly to another layer of information, using easy-to-understand graphs and charts.
"It's all stuff anybody could look for if they knew where to look," says Doretta Wilson, SQE's executive director, who gathered the stats from government and individual school boards.
"People can play around with it. We don't want to make judgments. If it piques more interest and causes people to dig a little deeper it's accomplished its mission.
This collection of public information in a one-stop format will be useful, even with the data gaps that exist on the site where a a particular number isn't available for a given school board in a given year. It will pique interest and lead to conversations such as the one MacDonald had with the head of the province's French-language public school boards.
French language textbooks are more expensive and school services "of equal quality" to what other students receive must be delivered to French public students wherever they are in the province.
With only 22,000 students spread across Ontario, that means higher transportation and staffing costs. As well, the system has seen a 25% enrolment increase in the last 10 years, requiring the purchase or lease of new schools.
Fair enough. That's the sort of dialogue Wilson hopes the website will inspire.
As advocates of school choice, the SQE's optics on publicly education education are on display at its website and on its related blog, School for Thought. I haven't had time to go poking around on this site yet, other than to notice one of the boards I cover is ranked second in the ratio of $100K+ earners to students. I had touched on the $100K+ and education issue in a previous post here, noting the huge lack of context and explanation that plagues reporting on the list's annual release— spurred by a release at the time from the SQE on $100K+ earners and school boards.
What MacDonald doesn't do is draw a strong enough, or any, link between the SQE's politics and this Sunshine website. The way the site was built and the way the numbers are compared is no doubt ideologically motivated to induce conversations leading to the society's goals.


Anonymous said...

What is the Society for Education's politics ER and how does it influence the information that upon my reading through it is all public information in the first place?

I'm not sure I understand your comment or why you thought it necessary.

Are you suggesting that the SQE group might be purposely trying to make the public system look bad so that they can take the system over with charters or choice?

I guess I don't look for conspiracies much. Under the NDP and Conservative provincial governments much of what is at the SQE's "sunshine" spot was up on the MOE website. One could go to that place in the site and see how much boards actually spent on things like textbooks and salaries and how much is left for students.

I'm young and new at the education game but I don't see the value in playing politics with all of this.

Have you ever drawn a similar link from People for Education and their relationship with the CAW or teacher unions? Might as well be fair to all no?

Politics diminishes the discussion.

Education Reporter said...

Where there are political optics, it's only fair to point them out. Left, centre, right-- I don't particularly care. Readers can choose to accept that politics motivates these groups' participation in education or not, I'll leave that up to individual readers.

If SQE had the same political bent as Parents for Education, this site never would have seen the light of day. So there's no harm in saying its politics motivates the creation and maintenance of this site, and that it feeds the SQE's overall goals.


Anonymous said...

As long as you're being fair to all and are consistent in your columns.
If you spin political with People for Education and SQE equally when they're both have charitable status and by law can't lobby government or get political, that makes things ever MORE interesting.

It's a shame that politics is what drives this blog. I didn't see it that way actually.

I will from now on though.

Anonymous said...

Why don't the People for Education and Society for Quality Education representatives come here and explain their politics then?

I think parents have a right to know the truth about the groups which claim to speak for them and get government money.

RetDir said...

The connections between the data and anything to do with what's good for students are quite unclear - I spent most of an afternoon on the site and couldn't come up with anything that would have enabled me to make a better decision about my board in my previous life. This may largely due to the fact that they are using strange data, like the 100K club. The only thing that makes a real difference is quality of teaching - and none of this picks that up at all.

Anonymous said...

So RetDir. if there's nothing of value to you, what possible threat could it be to the OSSTF which has very publicly denounced having this supposed "strange data" available to the public.

Good thing that nothing in that Sunshine list would move you to make change.

Perhaps the government should have allowed the public to compare their schools on their own vehicle instead of bending again to the whim of that other special interest parent group.

I still would hope that perhaps Hugo could coax SQE out to defend itself because not doing lends itself to be defined by others and perhaps misinterpreted?

Anonymous said...

It's one thing to put out a nice glitzy report like that Sunshine list, or for that matter People for Education's Annual Report, so one would think that the developers would take the time to explain themselves if they're using the internet and blogs to promote?

Malkin Dare said...

The comments on this blog have been drawn to my attention, and I see that you are asking SQE to defend itself. I'm not sure what we need to defend, but I will do my best.
I will correct one erroneous assumption in the discussion, namely that SQE receives government money. It is true that People for Education receives government money, but untrue that SQE does. We are funded solely by the generosity of our supporters.
I will also comment on the assertion that Sunshine on Schools uses "strange data". Our problem was that Ontario makes public very little data on its education system and we were able to use only what was available. We would LOVE to report on the quality of teaching, but that is not on the public record (or the private record, for that matter, as far as we know).
Lastly, I'm not sure how Sunshine on Schools advances a political agenda. The site gathers publicly-available information together in one spot, making it easier to access. If this is political, I guess libraries and databases are also political.
I hope I have cleared up any questions you may have.
Malkin Dare,
President, Society for Quality Education

Education Reporter said...

Anon 06 October, 2009 15:51

I can't control how others choose to view this blog, nor would I ever try.

I'll continue to post on the wide variety of educational issues that have been featured here, and will continue to point out the politics at play when and where I see them.

To not do so would be to neglect their presence and the impact they DO have on education.

I also find it funny how when I've been highly critical of union politics on here, no similar complaints that I was being political surfaced. Did you forget my posts pointing out their dumbass policies and behaviour?

Or is it just because pointing out SQE's politics hits too close to home?


Anonymous said...

Yes ER you've been fairly consistent, but you say that you try to "point out the politics at play" but you don't actually come out and say what politics?

Is education based on who's right and who's left in the political spectrum.

Tell folks clearly what politics are at play with the Sunshine Report, and People for Education's Annual Report, and MOE's Find a School.

If that's what education and education discussion has become then public education is indeed in much sadder shape than we think.

Oh, and by the way if what you mean that "SQE's politics hits close to home", I'd be interested in knowing(privately if you wish) what you mean by that.

If you mean am I ok with parents and school communities having as much information available as possible so educated decisions can be made for their children then yep, I'll all for the Sunshine Report.

As a writer on education issues myself my columns don't pull either way. Like you I let others make up their minds. I've even sent you some.

I don't insult people or make sideways insinuations.

I chose public education for my kids, who I think received a good grounding in the basics from teachers who KNEW the basics and how to teach them.

Would I do things differently if I knew what I know now and if I'd had the kind of information that both MOE and SQE provide, PLUS the one-stop-shopping features for school special editions that the London Free Press puts out every year? I don't know.

RetDir said...

My last comment got lost in the ether, so my apologies if this is a repeat. As Malkin points out, there are very few variables that actually impact student success - what staff gets paid doesn't (a market thing), class size doesn't unless it gets very small and teachers change their teaching strategies to take advantage of it, and school choice doesn't, so what I would like to know from SQE is what they believe the information they have posted tells us. What are their conclusions, and why do they think the data is valuable? That would be a useful contribution to the debate, since data without that context remains data and does not become knowledge.

Education Reporter said...

Anon 07 October, 2009 12:46:
I think I know who you are now... and as such apologize for any inference or suggestion regarding your personal political views.

The foible about allowing anonymous posting is that when someone comments, I have no idea who you are. So when an anonymous commenter tells me s/he is applying a permanent "political" filter to how they view this site, I respond not knowing who the person really is.

I strongly encourage those who are frequent commenters to either post with their names or create an alias to tag your comments with. Otherwise, I have no way of knowing who you are, and in drafting any response to your comments I have to start from the assumption you've never been here before, never commented before, etc.


Anonymous said...

Thanks ER. You make sense re: sign-offs.

I just wish that if there's a political agenda to be had and cautioned that parents especially know what that is before they decide to support one organization, or any organization.

Given that both People for Education or SQE have charitable status, they risk losing that if they lobby or support any one politics over another.

Both organizations claim non-partisanship. If that's not the truth than parents should know it.

If politics is important in the delivery of public education then parents and school council should be getting instruction in how to play the political game and not How To Hold An Effective Meeting.

Happy Thanksgiving to all here!
Get ready for the snow - UNbelievable!

Anonymous said...

I have just spent some time on the SQE Sunshine site and I think I understand why RetDir feels the need to down play this resource...IT'S FABULOUS!!!

What it does effectively is puts comparisons out in the open and shines light on information that isn't secret...or shouldn't be and makes in available in a one-stop-shopping way.

This is exactly what the MOE's Find a School was going to do, IF People for Education hadn't have pushed Wynne to nix the comparison mode.

Well done SQE!!