Monday, November 17, 2003

The craziness continues. Today there is an editorial in the Vancouver Sun about our little learning centre. It's weird. I know organizations that would kill for the press coverage we have got, and we never even seeked it. CBC radio and TV have run stories about us, the Sun and the Province have run articles and now this editorial.

I'm sad that the story seems to actually be one where the writers are using what we are doing to find division and negativity in the system. If it bleeds it leads I guess. The good thing that has come out of this is that lots of folks have started emailing and phoning us for information about what we are doing and how to do it where they live.

My advice is be positive and inclusive and remember that this is about suporting a community of learners, not setting up some kind of alternative to school just for opposition's sake. We're not about that.

Here is the editorial in full:

Choice in schooling a necessity, not a luxury: Bowen Island program shows how entrepreneurial system works

Vancouver Sun

Monday, November 17, 2003

Despite the West Vancouver school board's misgivings, the New Westminster school board's unprecedented decision to open a school on Bowen Island -- which lies within West Vancouver's jurisdiction -- is good for everyone involved.

The new school -- the Bowen Island Supported Home Schoolers' Program -- brings home-schooled children into the public system and gives them contact with certified teachers. It also provides them with the opportunity to leave their computers and participate in meaningful group activities, something educators argue is crucial to learning.

Education Minister Christy Clark praised the New Westminster board, saying its entrepreneurial actions are exactly what she has advocated. Parents of students enrolled at the school seem thrilled with the program, since it offers them the less structured environment they've long wanted.

Not surprisingly, the only people who seem disturbed by the development are members of the West Vancouver school board.

"Competition between school boards is ludicrous," said trustee Jane Kellett, who also worried that the new school might draw down the enrolment of West Vancouver's Bowen Island Community School.

Those two concerns are entirely unfounded, and for the same reason. The children who will benefit from the new school were all home-schooled, and were not members of the community school. Therefore, there's little reason to believe the new school will have any effect on the old one.

Similarly, the development of the new school doesn't attest to any direct competition between school boards.

If both West Vancouver and New Westminster were attempting to provide the same service to the same kids, that would really be competition. But in this case, New Westminster is simply providing a service that didn't exist before.

In fact, West Vancouver, and all other school boards in the province, have much to learn from this affair. If school boards don't provide the services that parents and children want, then another board could well step in and fill the gap.

Boards should therefore learn that they must be entrepreneurial and offer choice in education. That's something the provincial government -- and this newspaper -- have long advocated.

Choice is something that shouldn't be viewed as a luxury, but as a necessity.

Some years ago, the provincial government noticed that parents were sending their children to private school in ever greater numbers, because private schools offered things the public system wasn't matching.

That trend was not seen in places like Edmonton, though, because that city has long stood as the model of school choice in Canada -- there's virtually nothing private schools can provide that the city's public system doesn't offer.

The Edmonton approach gets high marks from parents: Fully 90 per cent of parents are satisfied with the city's educational system, compared with a 63 per cent satisfaction rating in B.C.

If this province wants to raise that level of satisfaction, it has to ensure that school boards provide the broadest choice possible. That's easier said than done, of course, because board trustees are sometimes set in their ways and have to be nudged into making changes.

The New Westminster decision could be just the nudge they need.

It could also herald the beginning of a new era, an era where British Columbian children's educational opportunities are limited only by the imaginations of B.C.'s school boards.

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