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Are School “Rankings” Admissible as Evidence?

 “One-quarter of Kelowna elementary students 'below expectations',” a headline recently read.

As a parent, and as a lawyer, I confess that I am puzzled by the prominence given in the media to these “rankings”, year after year.

Would the Fraser Institute’s ranking of schools be admissible in court for the purpose of proving the validity of the rankings?

Probably not.  

It may be admissible for other purposes, though.

They are not reliable. They reveal an opinion. They say little if anything about the quality of education provided.

The Institute’s website demonstrates an interest in “education policy.”  Articles are posted on its website include:    “Canadian families may soon benefit from U.S. education reform”, “More spending doesn’t equal better results in government-run schools” and “Reality check—smaller high school classes don’t improve student performance”.

“B.C. education system performing well while holding the line on spending.”  “Quebec and B.C. spend less on education than other provinces—while outperforming most provinces.”

“Student performance does not reflect education spending hikes in Alberta.”  

It now also produces a “report” on “Education Spending in Public Schools in Canada.”

The Fraser Institute supports large class sizes. It also supports massive cuts to public education.

Every year, private schools dominate its top “rankings.”

But curiously, its ranking formulas are not disclosed. 

The lack of transparency alone makes the results questionable at best.

Garbage in, garbage out.

Income is one factor that the Fraser Institute considers in formulating its rankings.

Clearly those of limited means do not generally attend private schools. They cannot afford it. 

Of course, income level has nothing to do with a child’s intelligence.

Years ago, a small local public school in Calgary which was largely unknown, Holy Name school, was “ranked” for many years below 200th place.

Then, school boundaries were re-drawn. The new boundary included a wealthy area up the hill.  Immediately, this school’s ratings shot up to 59th in the province. It became one of the most highly ranked schools within the province, most recently 10th in the province.

Adding wealthy neighbourhoods does wonders for one’s ranking!

There is every reason to believe that income is an important, and maybe even a primary, factor in the undisclosed formula.

Is the intention of the “report on schools” to encourage increased enrollment in private schools?  Is the idea that fewer children in public schools means less government funding and therefore lower taxes for the Institute’s wealthy donors?

The Institute is privately owned.

Donors have included Exxon-Mobil, the Koch brothers and the Weston Family Foundation.

Several journalists have reported that prominent billionaires associated with the American oil industry donate regularly to the Fraser institute.  

Here in Canada, we do have oil. We do have pipelines. We do tax oil companies, a share of which goes to public education.

A 2010 article by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker stated that certain of these individuals:

 … are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry – especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers' corporate interests. ...

Fortunately, our laws have some fundamental differences from American law.   These laws protect our public institutions.

Is the intent to eventually erode our public system of education, by encouraging an en masse movement into private schools?

If so, it may be working, particularly in B.C., which has been reported to have lowest percentage of children in public schools.     

Encouraging enrollment in “highly rated” private schools may have far reaching implications for students, families, our public educational system and Canadian society.

Whether or not public schools are “below expectations” must be determined based on a transparent and reliable methodology. Not by private criteria established by a private organization whose interests may not align with those of parents or children.

Even if it were true that public schools are “falling behind,” that only reinforces how critical it is that our public educational systems be adequately funded.  

Against this background, it is not surprising that the B.C. Teachers’ Federation refers to the rankings as “bogus.”

Parents, when considering which schools your children will attend, seek out reliable information.  

Will a school, school board, teachers or parents one day commence an action against the Fraser Institute for encouraging parents to enroll their children in “highly rated” private schools, based on the questionable assessments that underlie its “report on schools”?  In such a proceeding, various interesting information including the formula may be relevant and subject to being publicly disclosed. 

This is a modified version of a December 6, 2020 article appearing in online publications including the Kelowna Capital News. The content of this article is intended to provide very general thoughts and general information, not to provide legal advice. Advice from an experienced legal professional should be sought about your specific circumstances.  We may be reached through our website at inspirelaw.ca