Alberta "offers the greatest degree of school choice in Canada", according to a cross-Canada comparative analysis Measuring Choice and Competition in Canadian Education, published by the Barbara Mitchell Centre for Improvement in Education.
Alberta's impressively broad range of education choices include government public schools, separate (Catholic) schools, Francophone schools, independent schools, home education, charter schools, as well as a wide array of alternative programs within public and separate schools.
But what is education choice? Is it simply ensuring that different education settings are available? Or, is it more than that?
Learn more about the key components and benefits of authentic education choice, and the areas which strengthen or hinder education choice.
What is authentic education choice?
Authentic education choice requires two key ingredients:
- Parents must have the freedom to access educational settings that genuinely meet the needs of their children while honoring their family’s culture and values.
- Schools must have the freedom to provide settings that fulfill the expectations of families who attend.
In this respect, supporting education choice reaches far beyond simply supporting the mere existence of different education settings.
- A parent's freedom to access education settings is compromised when some education choices are fully funded by taxpayer dollars, yet other education choices require parents to pay their own way. Should a parent's income dictate the education choices which they can (or cannot) access to meet their child's needs, especially when all Alberta citizens contribute to the funding of education?
- A parent's freedom to access education settings is compromised when laws, policies and practices unnecessarily limit the existence of other education options. These could include regulations limiting the number of charter schools, or decisions of school board trustees to limit the expansion of alternative programs, despite growing parent demand.
- A school's freedom to provide a setting that meets the needs of their students and families is undermined when laws, policies, or particular resources and regulations are imposed upon them, thus transforming their unique education setting from the inside out into a one-size-fits-all institution. These could include requirements to teach curricular outcomes using a specified methodology, or laws which force principals to permit school-wide activities dictated by students, with no consideration for the expectations of the school community.
- A school's freedom to provide a setting that meets the needs of students is compromised when regulations and bureaucratic practices within Alberta Education allow for an uneven application of standards, leading some settings to be disproportionately mired in cumbersome red tape and monitoring procedures while other school settings are not held to the same standard. For example, private schools in Alberta have been subjected to extensive and invasive monitoring procedures, as well as a requirement to request permission to operate every year, whereas public government-run schools have not been held to the same demands.
Thus, issues of education choice are complex and when considering any proposed changes to our education system, it is critical to ask:
Will the proposed change enhance or impede the capacity of parents and schools to access or provide authentic education choice to Alberta families?
Why is authentic education choice important?
As stated in a 2019 report by Mark Milke and Paige T. MacPherson, commissioned in part by Parents for Choice in Education:
Alberta students have a diverse range of needs and interests and maximizing genuine diversity in the education system supports that reality...
Independent schools, charter schools or home education may prove a better academic fit for many students’ individual learning needs than their neighbourhood government-public school. Academic lessons are not what drives every child to attend and enjoy school. Other factors, such as a focus on sports, music or culture, could drive school attendance and engagement, and in turn, improve students’ academic results... Supporting educational diversity is all about finding the best educational fit for every student to maximize their educational experience and success. (Milke and McPherson, page 13)
A high-quality, choice-driven K-12 education system helps empower our next generation toward building a strong and prosperous future in three important ways:
1. Maximizes success for children
Children experience maximum success when education settings are freed up to meet their unique needs while honouring their family’s culture and values. Children don’t come one‑size‑fits‑all. Education shouldn’t either.
2. Maximizes genuine diversity
Variety in education options ensures that the diverse needs of students and families are met, and that graduates can successfully contribute their diversified skill sets and expertise to a flourishing future for Alberta.
3. Maximizes quality
Choice motivates all educational settings to reach higher standards through innovation and strengthening of best practices.
How do we strengthen school choice in Alberta?
Four key pillars support authentic education choice. The strength or weakness of these pillars will directly impact the freedom of parents to access education choice and the freedom of schools to provide choice:
1. Equitable Funding
Equitable funding ensures education choice options are accessible to all Alberta students regardless of family income and not just reserved for the wealthy. Learn more from PCE's page "Facts on Funding".
2. Curriculum & Resources
Education providers must have the autonomy to select the methods and resources that are cohesive to the setting and most effectively meet student needs and parent expectations. Learn more from PCE's page: "Curriculum and Resources".
3. Parent Autonomy
Genuine parental autonomy is only possible when there is a commitment to open, transparent communication between home and school, as it is only fully informed parents who can ensure the chosen educational setting is effectively meeting the needs of their children.
If their child’s needs are not being met, parents must also have the capacity to choose a different education setting.
Any law, policy or practice that purposely withholds information from parents, or prevents parents from accessing a different education setting for their child, will erode parental autonomy and undermine essential student support.
Learn more from PCE's page: Laws & policies that strip parental rights
4. Local Decision-making Authority
Local education decision-makers must be equipped with meaningful authority to ensure their education settings are responsive to student needs and parent expectations within their unique community context.
Authentic education choice can only flourish when legislation, regulations, policies and bureaucratic procedures support local decision-making, rather than undermining local authority with unnecessary and unreasonable levels of interference and red tape.
To learn more in-depth information about Alberta's wide array of education choices, visit our page "K-12 Education options in Alberta", or access other pages in our "Be Informed" section to learn more about current challenges we face in the education choice landscape of Alberta.
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