This will be a HUGE topic and bone of contention for some people, and others might skip this blog post entirely.
This topic gets people’s backs up in many, many different ways. It brings political, social, and economic beliefs and opinions together, and a person’s feelings on public schools and educations will undoubtedly come into play.
Then there’s the topic of the school rankings themselves, and whether they’re biased, unfair, or exactly what people are looking for.
Let’s discuss, shall we?
Those two words, as soon as you read them, made you feel a certain way, did they not?
What did you feel when you read those words? What was your reaction?
Some people see those words, and they get a slight tingle. They’re searching for houses actively, they’re pregnant and expecting, or perhaps have a little one at home already. They’re completely immersed in the real estate market, MLS, and of course – the Fraser Institute rankings for schools they have their eyes on!
Other people see those words, and they get sigh. They feel overwhelmed with a sense of frustration, some resentment, and maybe even some anger. They have kids of their own, and their children and their children’s futures are most important aspects of their lives. Education is important, and these folks are sick and tired of reading biased rankings by the Fraser Institute that puts down their children’s schools, or simply evaluates all the wrong things.
Which side of the fence are you on? Or have you already skipped this blog post and moved onto Photos Of The Week?
Buying a house in Toronto is not an easy task, nor is it in any way “fun.”
I wish it were fun, and I wish it were in any way pleasurable, but Toronto’s market for single family homes is hyper-competitive, and I truly don’t see it changing any time soon. When semi-detached houses on Rhodes Avenue are getting 26 offers, clearly times have changed!
I try my best to provide an accurate description of the market, and market conditions, on my blog and in my Pick5 feature, and one of the things I’ve started doing in recent years is putting a focus on school districts.
People buy homes, conceivably, to have a family.
And if you’re going to have a family, you’re going to send your kids to school……..I hope…
So it goes without saying, or at least it should, that one of the major selling features of a home these days is the school district that the home lays within.
We all have different objectives for our housing search.
We want a certain number of bedrooms and bathrooms, parking, a garage, curb appeal, something renovated, or something unrenovated that we can put work into. Perhaps access to TTC is important, or maybe it’s 2-car parking that we desire. Maybe proximity to a church, park, library, or dog-walk is important as well, or maybe none of the above apply.
But if I had to pick one criteria that buyers have suddenly vaulted to the top of their wish-lists over the last few years, it’s school districts. And that is why I want to talk about school rankings.
Every time I film a Pick5 episode, I talk about the school districts that the homes are in, and what those schools rank according to the Fraser Institute.
This has resulted in several emails from viewers – not angry emails, but emails nonetheless, pointing out the faults within the Fraser Institute rankings, and as recent as yesterday – providing an alternative.
You can type “Fraser Institute” into Google, and the auto-complete will highlight the word “criticism” for you.
Teachers, parents, and even those with no vested interest in education, have criticized the Fraser Institute rankings.
I think any ranking system, anywhere, would come under fire. Just go online and read what people write in restaurant reviews, or movie forums, and you’ll see that everybody has an opinion.
But with something as important as childhood education, and in a day when Toronto’s housing prices are tied closely with school rankings, perhaps it’s important to dig deeper.
What would you say is important in a school?
I don’t have kids, but off the top of my head:
-standardized test scores
-tenure of principal
-average tenure of teachers
-facilities, and age/condition
-special features (ie. field turf?)
I’m not a parent – so please show me what I’m missing.
You all know how I feel about education today. I rant about this on my blog all the time.
In a nutshell, I feel that since I was attending elementary school in the 1980’s, we’ve seen a shift in educational policies towards averaging out the children. It’s a bit of a socialist ideal – removing honour rolls, giving out participation ribbons, not allowing for late marks, giving children second and third chances – and this thing called “credit resuscitation,” where after getting 11% in grade ten geography, they can do extra work in the last week of June to raise their mark to 50%.
I believe, mostly at the high school level, that many schools take accountability and responsibility away from the kids.
Today’s generation is so screwed up because the people in charge have allowed kids to coast, with no accountability for their actions, and no need to learn work ethic, and no understanding of what goes on in the real world, once they’re in their 20’s.
So what I would look for in a school, as a parent, when the time comes, may be entirely different from what you want.
If my child was skipping school to smoke pot every single day, not handing in assignments, not taking tests, not doing his work, and getting 31% in grade eleven science, I would be appalled if some socialist guidance councilor took my child aside, said “there there,” and gave my child a second chance to do 9-month’s worth of work in a week, to pass on to the next level. I would want my child to fail, repeat, and experience the consequences of his actions. That would be my decision as a parent, and it shouldn’t be up to some dreamer who thinks “everybody is the same.”
Agree, or disagree. But I feel for most people, it will be the former.
So, with my rant out of the way, let me tell you how I feel about the Fraser Institute rankings.
I think that despite the criticism, they are the most relied-upon, and biggest “name” ranking system out there.
I think that they are, to a degree, a measure of wealth of the households in the area, and they don’t take into consideration a slew of things I would want to know about, such as the facilities of the school, the programs offered, and the quality of the teachers.
But having said that, I see a ton of value in the rankings, and so long as you’re willing to dig a little deeper, you’ll get what you need.
As for the criticism, here’s an email I received about a month ago, after doing a Pick5 which highlighted a school that got very poor rankings:
“I’m a teacher that has worked at many schools across the city, and just started working at (SCHOOL) this year. It has a low ranking probably because of the large population of new immigrants and their understandably low scores on the standardized tests. That’s the unfortunate thing when using those rankings – that’s all they tell you, standardized score results. Many of the kids that have lived in Canada their whole life are successful on those tests at this school, but the score doesn’t show that. This school has the best teachers I’ve been lucky enough to learn from and the nicest and most appreciative kids I’ve ever worked with. The diversity, amazing initiatives and programs, and caring people is what makes this an amazing school that any kid would benefit from going to.”
I don’t disagree with what’s written above, but I have to be completely honest and say that this is exactly what some people are looking for from the Fraser Institute.
Do I have to address the elephant in the room? Can I say this without being labelled an insensitive bigot?
A client of mine recently turned down a property because it fell within a certain school district, that stated on the school’s TDSB webpage: “The school serves almost 280 students of multicultural background. Approximately one half of the children’s first language is Cantonese or Mandarin.”
He said very honestly and matter-of-factly, “I don’t want my child attending an elementary school where a good portion of time is dedicated to learning English.”
Do you blame him?
If you grew up in Toronto, and your family spoke English, and your six-year-old child speaks English, do you want your child attending school where English is taught to other kids who don’t speak it as a first language?
It’s like sending your child to hockey camp, and they spend days at a time focusing on goalie skills, when your child is a right-winger.
I received another email on Monday, from a teacher who suggested I look at a new website called www.peopleforeducation.ca, which is trying to provide an alternative to the Fraser Institute rankings. She emailed me:
“The article basically explains that what the Fraser Institute is actually measuring is the number of gifted students and how much the parents earn in that area.”
She’s not wrong.
The top twenty elementary schools, ranked by the Fraser Institute have two things in common according to the article:
1) a significantly higher proportion of gifted students
2) a significantly higher proportion of parents with a university education
But do we really need an article to tell us this? Shouldn’t this be common knowledge?
Criticisms of the Fraser Institute rankings suggest that too much of a focus is put on the percentage of special-needs students, the percentage of ESL students, and the average income of the household. But it’s not like the Fraser Institute is hiding this! Their ranking page for each school has a box that looks like this:
So my question is this: is there anything wrong with a prospective home-buyer, planning their children’s education, wanting to know the percentage of ESL students, percentage of special needs students, and average income of the parents?
If you think there IS something wrong with that, then we can agree to disagree.
Every buyer has a different set of criteria for a home. You might put more importance on “move-in-ready,” and another buyer might weigh the overall size of the house more heavily.
Is educational any different?
There are specialty schools for sports and arts, aren’t there?
So doesn’t that mean that parents have different criteria for their children’s educational goals, and look for different features and demographics in a school?
Some people think of a French Immersion program somehow being special, elite, “upper class,” and representing some sort of societal benchmark, when other parents don’t care if their kids can speak French, so long as they can excel in reading, writing, math, and find room to be creative.
There’s a direct correlation between real estate prices and schools with French Immerson programs. Withrow Avenue P.S. actually has lower school rankings by the Fraser Institute than neighbouring Pape Avenue. P.S., but home prices in the Withrow district are higher. Maybe this is the French Immersion program, or maybe it’s just some immeasurable status symbol attributed to Withrow.
But it’s interesting to note that the average income for Withrow, which ranks an 8.3/10, is $99,200, whereas the average income for Pape, which ranks a 9.0/10, is $74,700.
So there are always exceptions to the rule.
I don’t think there could be such a thing as a “perfect ranking system,” and I have no doubt that the Fraser Institute rankings are somewhat incomplete.
But they’re the best we’ve got, the most relied-upon, and they have the largest following and market share of any school ranking system.
So would you purchase a $900,000 asset and plant roots in a given neighbourhood, all based on what a think-tank like Fraser says about a school across the street?