A skeptical view of Vancouver’s great education divide

April 25, 2012 4 Comments »
A skeptical view of Vancouver’s great education divide
Illustration of boundaries for Vancouver high school catchments (source: Globe and Mail)

Vancouver's "class war" is being waged using misleading stats and outdated perceptions

The Globe and Mail article plays to an enduring debate in Vancouver. This debate is fueled by an assumption that schools located east of Main Street are under-served and educate a vulnerable population; those located west of Main Street are over-served and serve a privileged population. The Globe and Mail article provides data that seems to support this assumption and its conclusions may be embraced without question. This would be both foolhardy and detrimental to public education in Vancouver.

I am skeptical. Experience and an analytical pre-disposition motivate me always to question the data.

Fifty years of lived experience in Vancouver causes me to marvel at the pace of change. It also causes me identify the many effects of change that seem to be overlooked by those who: first, would perpetuate a concept of a city divided eastside and westside; and second, seem to prefer debate that remains static despite the changes.  

Vancouver is a city of abundant and diverse neighborhoods – some east of Main St. some west of Main St. There are also neighborhoods north of 12th Avenue and South of 12th Avenue; neighborhoods north of 47th Avenue and south of 47th Avenue.

In fact, the Vancouver School Board (VSB) abandoned an eastside/westside boundary mapping and nomenclature some time ago. Recognizing significant changes in the city, the VSB created boundaries that define regions as North, South and Centre. The Centre region includes Main Street between Terminal and 49th Avenue and extends from Dunbar St. to Boundary Road. “Cross-boundary enrolment” in this context would look very different than that presented in the Globe and Mail article.

The Globe and Mail graphs claim to represent migration of students from eastside schools to westside schools. The westside schools are supposedly over-subscribed because they offer “choice programs” that are not available to students on eastside. Therefore, the eastside students must travel west to attend these supposedly preferred programs.

What the graph better represents is the effects of a real estate explosion on the UBC campus that began about 20 years ago. The population explosion of families with children living on campus who require access to schools motivated the VSB and an NPA Board to undertake the UBC to Dunbar Community Consultations. The process brought attention to the critical need for new schools at UBC.

For over 10 years elementary students have been bussed from the UBC campus to surrounding westside schools. Secondary students travel by public transport off the UBC campus to surrounding westside secondary schools most of which appear on the Globe and Mail graph as being “over-capacity”.  They are over-capacity, but not entirely for the reasons suggested by the authors of the Globe and Mail article. 

The UBC to Dunbar consultation process was productive. From it came the concept of “Neighborhood Centres of Learning”, an ability for Vancouver and other districts to cooperate with communities to use “open capacity” in schools for purposes that serve the broader educational needs of a community such as before and after school care, daycare, etc.

As a result of the consultations, UBC, VSB  and government agreed to the renovate the NRC building to accommodate secondary students from grades 9 to 12 and also to renovate the exiting secondary school to accommodate students from kindergarten to grade 8. The renovation of the NRC is underway and others will follow. When this is completed schools that currently accept overflow from University Hill and appear to be “over-capacity” may look more like those currently on the eastside that appear to have “open capacity”.

Looking at the numbers in the Globe and Mail article, I am at a loss to know to what they refer.

The total enrolment in Vancouver is around 50,000 students attending elementary and secondary schools. Even if I assume that the article includes only secondary students, the numbers do not add up. 

It is suggested that there are 9,992 secondary students who live on the eastside. The article claims that 13.6% of these – 1359 students – attend schools on the westside. It is also suggested that 13,287 students live on the westside and 3.1% or 412 of these attend schools on the eastside. The numbers and the analysis don’t make sense.

Even if I assume the article refers only to secondary students, the claim is that total secondary enrolment in Vancouver is 9992 plus 13,287 equals 23,279 – almost 7000 fewer students than actual secondary enrolment in 2010-11.

In 2010-11 there were just under 30,000 secondary school students attending Vancouver secondary schools.  About 17,000 (57%) of these students were enrolled in eastside secondary schools; about 13,000 (43%) were enrolled in westside secondary schools.

Regardless of any other concerns I may have with the analysis, it does not include 7000 secondary students or 23% of the total secondary enrolment in Vancouver. For that reason alone the numbers, percentages and conclusions are suspect.

There is movement of students from east to west and from west to east. There are also equal number of secondary schools on either side of Main Street – 9 east of Main and 9 west of Main. Further, if I quantify and examine the distribution of  true “choice programs” (mini-schools, hockey schools, IB programs, secondary French Immersion, fine arts programs, robotics programs, etc.), there is virtually equal distribution of such programs between eastside and westside schools.

If we are going to debate the value of “choice programs” in schools, first we need to have accurate and reliable data which this article does not provide, then we need to examine other variables that influence “over capacity” as well as “open capacity” including growth in new neighborhoods as well as  growth or contraction in existing neighborhoods. Finally, we need to focus on the many reasons why students select the so-called “programs of choice”.

A better question to address is: Why do we assume in 2012, that a one-size-fits-all approach to secondary education is the preferred model or that secondary students should be prevented from selecting programs that better meet their individual learning needs?

- post by Carol Gibson



4 Comments

  1. Sandra Chamberlain-Snider April 25, 2012 at 8:48 am -

    While some parents may still believe that location is the major factor in secondary school, I believe we are looking at generation of parents (influenced by their student children) who are looking for specific programs no matter where the school is located. It would have been helpful to compare the number of applicants to mini-school programs versus spaces. I know one student who attended almost all the info meetings before selection.

    It hasn’t been one size fits all for awhile now, and I think the push for more programming tailored to the wants/needs of students and parents will only grow. As a parent myself, location doesn’t matter, school culture and programs do.

  2. Paul H April 25, 2012 at 9:29 am -

    Mike,

    Is this post by you or by Carol? Not that it matters, more curious as it has “- post by Carol Gibson” at the end.

    • Mike Klassen
      Mike Klassen April 25, 2012 at 3:22 pm -

      Yes, post by Carol. Now fixed.

  3. Neil Richardson April 25, 2012 at 1:10 pm -

    This is a little off topic but it is still germane to the discussion on education.

    I visited Vancouver last week and had the opportunity to take my grandchild to his school. I was astounded that the school did NOT play or have the students sing O’Canada at the start of the school day. Instead, they played a Beach Boy’s song and that was followed by something called “Thoughtful Breathing”.

    I asked if this was a school specific thing and was advised that it is a policy of the VSB that does NOT require schools to play or have students sing our national anthem. What a shame and missed opportunity!

    I know Vancouver and Canada are diverse but there is no good reason for not playing the national anthem at the start of a school day. If anything, it should be a unifying theme for all students where ever they have come from and we should teach our children to be proud of our country, and to know the words to O’Canada.

    Not being from Vancouver I was not sure whom to contact so I hope Mike Klassen and this forum can investigate to confirm the VSB policy – and forward my concerns (I am sure there are others out there that are concerned as well) to the VSB.