Friday, March 25, 2011

Out the nose

Lots of hits today on the People for Education report released Thursday morning on fees levied on high school students across the province. Shock and outrage ensued as we read the things students and their families pay out the nose to do at school. I agree with the broader points of the recommendations in the report, which are:
1. Articulate and fund a vision for education beyond targets for test scores and graduation rates that outlines what materials, activities and programs should be available at no extra charge to all students in every school in Ontario. This should include:
• appropriate learning materials for all courses, including hands-on technology, arts, health and physical education and computer courses
• access to extracurricular activities
• participation in arts and sports programs
2. Require all schools and school boards to provide detailed accounts of all school generated funds, including funds raised through fees, and provide provincial reports on the total amounts.
3. Establish provincial fee guidelines that:
• clearly state which fees are not allowed
• close current loopholes that allow schools to charge fees for courses leading to graduation, and
• mandate that all school fees are to be voluntary.
4. Provide funding to school boards to replace all revenue lost from disallowed fees and revenue lost when fees become voluntary.
I'd quibble with some things, such as the inclusion of all extra-curricular activities in the first recommendation. Some extra-curricular activities are costly and for those who choose to participate, contributing to the cost is fair. That's doesn't mean imposing a barrier to participation if the appropriate policies are in place, such as group fundraising to support an extra-curricular that all students participate in as opposed to a fee levied that some students pay and others have to ask for subsidy.
I'm a huge fan of the second and third recommendations. We get lost in the school-generated funds conversation precisely because we don't have the detail referred to in the second recommendation. With no easy breakdown of what schools and boards are reporting, it too easily all gets lumped in as fundraising for school or classroom purposes, which it's not.
The examples coming out Thursday of some of the fees students have paid in Ontario high schools that go against legislation and regulation are also easy fixes. Get rid of them, period.
Being picky, quibbly at times, I did struggle with the sample size of the survey that led to these results. With some further reflection and after trading tweets with a few people, what makes me uncomfortable with the sample size is more what people like me do with the resulting percentages than the survey itself.
The examples illustrated and the recommendations are still important and due consideration, but I cringe when we start saying "X percentage of all high schools" and similar all-encompassing language when the survey can't reach that conclusion based on what we know about the data. Particularly when the reader can't see whether the sample size was statistically relevant-- ex: was it adjusted to proportionally represent the body of all high schools as happens with population surveys? I don't know. I'm left assuming the sample size is just the schools that responded, which happen to come from 53 of the province's boards and hold 20% of the secondary student body.
Looking at the fine print, PFE received surveys back from 19% of the province's (approximately 2,000) high schools. That encapsulates schools from 53 of the 72 (74%) publicly funded school boards. Those are important to keep in mind when it comes to verifiable statements in the rest of the report.
Saying, as the report does and as was repeated by many of my colleagues, that "92% of secondary schools charge a Student Activity Fee" requires a leap of logic this percentage can be extended from 92% of the 19% of schools that responded to 92% of all Ontario high schools. Ninety-two percent of 19% is actually 17%.
As the quibbler, having said 92% of schools that participated in our survey would be more correct in my eyes. However, it doesn't make as big of an impact.
Yeah, a lot of fuss over something that at the end of the day doesn't lessen the overall point: Many schools charge fees for things they shouldn't. The new fee guidelines were expected Friday (the day this post was written) but I haven't come across them yet.


SQE said...

The bigger question is WHY? Why do school boards need to charge user fees? Are they running short of funds? (hint: look at the amounts they fork out for salaries, benefits, and pensions payable) ;-))

Education Reporter said...

Uh, my flippant, barely thought out answer? Because people pay them.

If the revolt happened overnight (or, say even gradually) and parents started refusing en masse to pay fees for things that should reasonably be covered by provincial grants, the amounts would drop.

When you try and keep up with the Jones, everyone ends up paying more.

May post a more deliberately thought-out response later.


Anonymous said...

Agree with you ER. Parents need to just quit opening their wallets.

With all the bluster People for Education makes in their recommendations, as a parent group you'd think that maybe they'd reassure parents that they don't need to fundraise.

Parents and Kidder need to accept some responsibilty for letting this continue.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anon. person.
Parents have been guilted into fundraising by boards, teachers and governments for too long.

Nothing will happen. Education will still go on because it's not about the money - that's something one learns the longer one is exposed to
the education system.

Anonymous said...

School boards need to be called to account. This is one of the reasons behind Sunshine on Schools. On the other hand, a bigger question is: have they become irrelevant when more and more big money decisions are essentially made at Queen's Park. Are school boards just whipping boys? food for thought.