Dear Fraser Institute,

You SUCK!

In fairness I am telling you this on the basis of a single observation. One salient point. That’s all I need.

I am basing this judgement on my own narrow area of interest, but it is one that is important to me, and it is one that is way too complex to be summarized by a single, poorly executed assessment.

The area of interest is Public Education and the assessment I speak of is the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA’s). To be fair, I must say that the design of these tests are good:

The assessment instruments are developed by BC educators. The development generally involves a year-long cycle in which the Ministry of Education engages teams of practicing classroom teachers and subject area specialists in the process. (link)

Also, having seen the tests, they are indeed well written.

Ah, but then you step in! The Fraser Institute takes the results of these tests, the free and available information collected from every school, and RANKS THEM. After all it seems this is your duty, and in some misguided way, your responsibility to do so:

A free and prosperous world through choice, markets and responsibility

The Fraser Institute measures and studies the impact of competitive markets and government interventions on individuals and society. Our peer-reviewed research is distributed around the world and has contributed to increased understanding of how economic policy affects people. (link)

It is comforting to know that you use peer-reviewed research in other areas of interest but in education:

How Is our Research Conducted?
We use objective, publicly-available data to rate the schools, such as a
verage scores on provincial tests provided by provincial education ministries. (link)

Objective‘? Yes, if you mean ‘unbiased’ in an uninformed way, but not if you mean ‘undistorted’. You see as educators we know better than to cast judgement on students based on a single test, or based on a single objective viewpoint. After all, could my judgement of your organization be true? Should you wait another year to find out if my opinion has changed? Is this fair? Or more importantly is my opinion that ‘you suck’ informative and helpful to you as an organization? (Perhaps if you hear me through.)

Furthermore, I’m not sure what you mean, above, by ‘such as’ when in fact results from one test are the only data you collect. Nothing else. You collect average scores from a single test and publish them in a ranking, because the information is there and because you can. But why?

Let me bare my assumption of your altruistic motives: Apparently you want to inform parents about the quality of the schools they put their children into. Well let me ask you this, based on your single test results can you please inform parents of the following:

When a child is bullied in my school, how is this handled?

Is there value in the peer mediation program we run, or the student leadership program?

When a student has special needs how are these met?

How does my school address 21st Century skills? How do we implement the use of technology?

What are our music and creative arts programs like?

What are we doing to implement formative assessment?

How do we differentiate instruction to meet the needs of different kinds of learners?

What does your test tell parents about the learning experiences their children will have in our school?

But let’s not stop there Fraser Institute… rater of schools and keeper of the objective truth. Let us remove the objective lens and get political. You see, this is where you really start to ‘suck’!

To look at the damage that you are fostering, we need to examine the negatively charged atmosphere your ranking creates. Teachers see the blatant flaws in this sort of testing and in your ranking of schools, (only some of which I have expressed above). As a result they have banded together and refused to administer the tests. In doing so, they are breaking the law and choosing civil disobedience to protest the misuse of these test results and your subsequent ranking.

The tests are no longer administered by the teachers of the students who take the test. The results are no longer reflected upon or used as a tool for learning. Students are placed in a position of writing a test that is not meaningfully used to assess them, but simply to rank schools.

So now, as a parent of a Grade 4 student expected to write these tests, I cannot see myself subjecting my daughter to this testing simply for your gain… and what it comes down to is that it really and truly is your gain since students, teachers and parents are not gaining anything from this testing process.

And this brings me to your not-so-altruistic motives: Your school rankings brings the Fraser Institute a significant amount of publicity. And I am assuming here, that as an organization that depends on private funding, you need this publicity to maintain your survival. Is this responsible behaviour for an organization that wants to serve the public?

In conclusion, I would like to offer a suggestion to help the Fraser Institute serve parents and for that matter our students, our educators and our schools. I would like to suggest to you that perhaps the ranking of schools does not meet the objectives that you may have originally set out to meet, when you started with this endeavour. And I would like to suggest to you that perhaps standardized testing, as it has been delivered historically, is hindering educators from meaningfully improving schools and learning. And finally I humbly request that you examine some of the trends in education and use your influence and peer-reviewed research to help public education progress in a meaningful way.

I sincerely look forward to changing my opinion of the Fraser Institute in the future.

Regards,

David Truss

15 comments on “An Open Letter to the Fraser Institute

  1. Hi David,

    I was glad to read your comments although I think you might be more influential if you tone down the sarcasm a bit.

    It would be great if the report cards could be much wider in focus, providing information to parents of the kind that is lacking in our current editions. Why don’t you help us mount a campaign to encourage BC schools to actual measure their degree of success in these other important aspects of education?

    One indicator that I think would be very valuable is a measure of the progress made by the students at the school in a given year. This is one very important measure that is not captured by the FSA.

    I am sure you and I could think of other measurables in academics as well as many other aspects of schooling.

    Or do you just like to rant?

    Call me any time.

    Cheers,

    Peter Cowley, Director
    School Performance Studies
    THE FRASER INSTITUTE

    604-714-4556

  2. Re: Peter Cowley’s response.

    ‘One indicator that I think would be very valuable is a measure of the progress made by the students at the school in a given year. This is one very important measure that is not captured by the FSA.’

    There is a measure of the progress made by students. It’s called a report card and it goes home to parents 3 or 4 times per year. This, along with parent teacher interviews, telephone calls, and emails provide significant and meaningful personal feedback. A ranking number for schools based on one test does not provide meaningful feedback.

    It would be great if you would actually respond to the issues that David brings up in his letter rather than suggesting weak and, frankly, insincere solutions on how he can help you add more standardized testing to our schools.

  3. Hello Peter,

    Thank you for your response.

    I was sarcastic, and feel free to call what I said a rant if you want to, but as Clayton suggests, your response glosses over the points that I am attempting to make.

    In my Synthesize and Add Meaning post I quote Wesley Fryer, “We need to embrace differentiation, flexibility and high expectations for all students.”

    And I go on to say, “But there is a dichotomy here: Our ‘educational language’ around standardization and accountability juxtaposed with differentiation and flexibility… we seem to have two mutually exclusive camps, yet there seems to be a move to embrace both. To embrace both is to accomplish neither.”

    To be crass, I cannot help you add more pee to the pot when the pot needs flushing. If you are willing to publicly support the idea that ranking schools accomplishes nothing meaningful for students and learning, then you can get my support and the support of many more educators who will help you find meaningful ways to assess learning, (beyond what we already do as Clayton, above, suggested).

    Imagine coaches spending an entire year assessing rhythmic gymnastics for creativity and execution of skills and then having someone evaluate the athletes with a stop watch. More accurate stop watches won’t help the athletes.

    It is easy to say that I could be more influential without the sarcasm, but please also recognize that your organization could be more influential if it focused on reporting out something that meaningfully contributes to the learning of students rather than hindering what educators are trying to accomplish in their classrooms, their schools, and their districts.

  4. I have to say I agree, but what gets me the most is this “competitive markets” nonsense.

    Free markets + schools and kids?? We’ve seen the results of combination with NCLB in the States. Someone thought, hey, you know what we should do with schools that have low standardized test results? We should cut their funding, that’ll make them do much better next time.

    Would you rather have the capitalist model of education where, if a school is failing, that’s just too bad? Where the kids who already have the advantage of coming from a wealthy family can bypass those failing public schools for a private education?

    Or… would you rather see a model of education where “failing” schools are seen as a sign that improvement is needed, rather than punishment? Where resources (not just money) are devoted to raising those schools to the same standard as the others, and a child can expect a quality education no matter what neighborhood they live in, or who their parents are?

    There was a quote that really stuck with me from this article about public high schools in Washington DC:

    “In my American government class, [Ms. Cruz-Gonzales] had brought a test from a private middle school, and the stuff that they were learning in eighth grade, we were just learning now. And I, like, literally started to cry because it’s sad. Like, I understand we go to public school, but that doesn’t mean that since we can’t afford the education, we shouldn’t have it. . . . It made me feel ignorant. Really ignorant.”

    — Tiarra Hall, 17, 12th grade

    I don’t think any kid deserves that. Free market inequality does not belong in schools.

  5. Dave, thanks for writing that letter. It’s unfortunate that those of us on the front lines never seem to have our voices heard by those with less-than-altrustic agendas. You’d think they would be jumping at the chance to work together to find a solution! I just don’t see any value in the FSA’s – I don’t know any teachers that do – and if there’s one thing we know, it’s kids! And assessment! Ok, that’s two. 🙂
    I am so glad that you put your voice out there. You speak for so many of those kids who are hurt by the FSA/Ranking process. Good on ya.
    E!

  6. It is with hesitation that I comment on your post Dave. Not because I disagree, but because of the politically charged atmosphere that I am forced to function within as a result of the irresponsible propaganda that the Fraser Institute (F.I.) puts out.

    You have correctly pointed out some of the “altruistic” reasons the F.I.(Peter, please feel the drippings of pure sarcasm when I use the term altruistic) completes this inane task. I’d like to suggest a couple more motivations the F.I. has for misleading the public with its poorly formulated rankings.

    1. The Vancouver Sun newspaper, in which the rankings are published, is the number one purchased edition of the year. The revenue generated by this publication serves as motivation to perpetuate the lies. And don’t confuse its popularity for evidence of its quality. “Mall Cop” was the number one grossing movie last weekend and I can guarantee it won’t be up for “Best Picture”.

    2. It is in the interest of the F.I. to show that private schools like St. George’s are ranked higher than the public schools because this makes the right leaning supporters of the F.I. feel good about sending their children to these private schools.

    In addition to shedding some light on to the F.I.’s motivation for continuing to defraud the public’s view of our education system, I’d like to ask Peter some open letter questions. Perhaps he can respond to these questions in another comment here.

    Are you aware that for the past 5 years (at least) that the way in which you have been interpreting the data you have been collecting is dramatically flawed?

    I personally know of schools that are ranked near the top of your criteria where more than 80% of the eligible students did not even write the assessment.

    Your fix last year for this glitch (that you fail to publish as a caveat in any significant way in any of your publications) was to count all students who did not write the exam as a “0”. Therefore, schools who had special needs students, students with learning disabilities and low level ESL students who are unable to participate in an assessment like the FSA in a meaningful way were ranked lower on your scale.

    Are you consciously saying that schools with special needs students, learning disabled students and ESL students are inferior to schools without these students? (this is what your ranking system would seem to indicate)

    It is our diversity that makes our schools places of real learning. It is shameful, dare I say discriminatory, to promote homogenous school populations as being ranked higher.

    Peter, this is NOT a rant. It is a series of concerns that I have about your institution. Please respond directly to my points so that we can continue to have a public discussion about the merits of your work.

    As a separate point, I’d like to say that the FSA’s, when used appropriately, are a decent tool for shaping provincial initiatives around curriculum, for guiding district resource funding, for shaping school plans and for understanding trends within our education system.

    This was the intention of the FSA’s when they were first brought into existence. Peter, please tell me why you and your institute are not listening to every voice in education that is saying what you are doing is harmful to our children, teachers and schools?

    Dave MacLean
    BC Elementary School Principal

    ps. Thank you for providing your phone number Peter. I look forward to the opportunity to discuss this further with you.

  7. Whoa Dave tell us how you really feel. Lol

    Fantastic post again.

    I love what Matt Kahn(www.TrueDivineNature.com) says in his beautiful essay

    “…I know that whatever I know is only a point of view based on a past history of experiences, with every single point of view hiding in the minds of all, being equally unique and valid to their past, as similar or as different as it seems from mine. To only be focused on my individual point of view is to build a belief, that how I see things may be more right than the others around me. This keeps me isolated in my own limited world of opinion, without the opportunity to learn from the brilliance that we’re all here to offer.

    I know from the lessons of past experiences, whenever I remained lost in my own view point, I’d have to ignore every other possibility in the entire Universe, just to keep my limiting opinion in focus.

    I could either choose to be right and ignore the entire world around me, or I could choose to be in peace, and invite the world into this opening heart of mine, that only wants to be loved, appreciated, and free from the burden of needing to decide if anyone, including myself, is acting right or wrong…”

    He goes on to say, “… I know that I’ll never be right, without someone else being labeled wrong…”

    As I always tell my kids there is always a solution to every problem.

    So the 64 000 dollar question is how can Peter be praised and rewarded for delivering the positive publicity for F.I. while at the same time delivering meaningful studies that incorporate and benefit educators, students and parents?

    I unfortunately right now do not have the answers. However I know there is a solution.

    Because there always is !

    Learning…Enjoying…Sharing

    David

    P.S. I look forward to hearing that you and Peter found a positive solution. Yee ha!

  8. What a fantastic post David,
    the marketisation of education in industrialised countries has long been a massive inhibitor of true inclusive education. As long as pupils, teachers and schools are marketed the notion of “education for all” will never exsist. I believe that inclusion is the right way for all societies to live, but as long as we continue to measure and validate learning, segregation and bias will always be present. In 1994 The Salamanca was signed by dozens of governments including mine and yours, stating that every child has a right to a meaningful and fufilling education. However, the onset of league tables and sats and all other market driven reforms have meant that inclusion is as far away in 2008 as it was in 1994.
    It is amusing that political rhetoric concerning inclusion seldom matches pratical reality….government can pontificate all they want about inclusive education but as long as policy is concerned with measuring using high stake testing it will never come to frution, because inclusion is about genuine relationships which cannot be measured. A real paradigm shift is needed…..

    sometimes I think our beliefs are poles apart and sometimes I know exactly what you mean….

  9. I’m going to weigh in here again. But first, this is what Stephen Downes had to say about this post:
    The first sentence of this article may take you aback. But I don’t disagree with the sentiment expressed. I have watched the Fraser Institute – and its cohorts, the C.D. Howe Institute and the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies. Though dutifully cited in the press as though they were research organizations, these institutes are well-funded political lobbyists. It is one of the first and deepest failures of the traditional press that it perpetuates this misrepresentation and allows them to promote as authoritative and evident the failed policies that have led us into the recession we now face. January 29, 2009.

    While I agree with David Slocombe’s focus on finding a positive approach, and in the same vein agree with Heidi Hass Gable who says “Let’s Talk”… I also think, like Silvana, that ‘a real paradigm shift is needed’ and I’m not sure that shift is something on the radar with Peter Cowley and the F.I.

    I was intentionally rude and hurtful in my opening remarks of this post. Why? Because the ranking of schools is hurtful and misleading and insulting. I was intentionally judging the Fraser Institute on narrow paramaters just as they do to schools… I did so to make this point.

    And then Peter Cowley says, “I am sure you and I could think of other measurables in academics as well as many other aspects of schooling.”
    But here is the thing, even if I help the F.I. widen the ‘measurable’ parameters, they are still ranking schools and that in and of itself is not healthy or needed.

    I believe that schools should be held accountable to the communities they serve, and that schools have an obligation to provide a plan to improve themselves, (no matter how good or challenged they may be). I don’t believe that ranking schools achieves these goals. I don’t believe that the ranking is meaningful or informative to parents or educators, and I don’t believe that a better method of ranking will improve anything.

    I believe, like Dave Maclean and Stephen Downes, that F.I.’s motives are not altruistic and I cannot see myself investing time to work with people who do not share similar goals. When the ranking ends, the conversation can begin.

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