Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

In Canada - Going with the Flow

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

In Canada - Going with the Flow

Article excerpt

A NEW REPORT on home schooling from the influential Vancouver-based Fraser Institute is underlining the political Right's efforts to shape education policy and practice across Canada.1 The Fraser, as it is commonly called, signaled an expansion of its education agenda in 1997 in a leaked strategic plan. It concluded that it could not achieve its mandate of "finding market solutions to public policy problems" without addressing how the market could revolutionize schooling. As a result, this corporate-funded think tank has assumed predictable positions on tougher standards (good), charter schools (very good), public funding of private schools (very, very good), and so forth.

At first glance, the Fraser's foray into home schooling is a bit puzzling. Unlike the other reforms it has championed from obscurity to adoption, home schooling isn't forbidden anywhere in the country, although regulations governing its implementation vary considerably by jurisdiction. The one commonality is that no province or territory requires home-schooling parents to possess teaching credentials. Four provinces require parents to "apply" as home-schoolers (although there are no minimum requirements); eight provinces issue curriculum guidelines but do not require them to be followed. Three jurisdictions provide some funding to parents, including Alberta, where school boards are required to rebate to parents a share of the per-pupil grant - usually $400 - for each student registered as home schooled. In exchange, subsidized Alberta home-schooled students must take that province's applicable standardized achievement tests. It's an unacceptable tradeoff for some Albertans, who gladly forgo the cash to keep their unregistered children safe from the clutches of government interference.

There is little agreement on the size of the population affected by these regulations (or lack thereof). In 1996 the combined figures for the Ministries of Education suggested that 17,523 children were being home schooled, but home-schooling associations claimed that the figure should be doubled. The Fraser's Home Schooling: From the Extreme to the Mainstream? - a title that some may consider somewhat disingenuously interrogative - puts forward a current estimate (undocumented) of 80,000 home-schooled children, or approximately .75% of the school-aged population.2 Certainly, the size of the "underground" home-schooling movement is possibly large, certainly unknown, and rather puzzling, given its statutory legitimacy.

But the "right to home school" is not the issue, apparently. The Fraser makes it clear that "mainstreaming" home schooling means convincing governments to stimulate and fund home schooling - no strings attached - as a preferred alternative to what they delicately call "institutional schools." Thus, like many of the extreme Right's favored ideas for education reform, the idea is not so much to change education policy and practice per se but to incrementally undermine the institution of public education itself.

Thus this home-schooling report begins with a quote from Claudia Rebanks Hepburn, the Fraser Institute's director of education policy, in a familiar (if astoundingly inaccurate) diatribe:

Canadian education is not just inefficient but seriously inadequate . . . 27 percent of Canadian adolescents drop out of high school. . . . Of those young adults who have completed high school in the last decade, 33 percent are insufficiently literate to cope in contemporary society. . . . Public opinion polls show that confidence in the education system is at a 30-year low.3

How inaccurate are her figures? Hepburn's remarks were made in 1999. According to 1998 data from Statistics Canada, 87% of those aged 25 to 29 reported high school completion, which means that Hepburn more than doubled the dropout numbers available to her at the time.4 The 1995 International Adult Literacy Survey found that Canadian 16- to 25-year- olds were significantly more likely than older groups to score at levels 3, 4, and 5 on the three aspects of literacy assessed and more likely to score at these levels than their American counterparts. …

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