The Vancouver Sun has an article on how public schools are outranking private schools in academic performance. Given all the hoopla about public education this year, I feel compelled to share my own experience as a parent in the Vancouver school district, #39.

My son, who’s in a first grade Vancouver public school class, is studying things I didn’t learn about till high school and university. For example, he’s currently exploring Kandinsky circles, which the teacher is using in combination with geometry. You, like me, may recognize Kandinsky circles from Ikea prints. My son is also studying Ogden Nash poetry (including an exploration of First Nations culture), Venn diagrams of class social-cultural experiences and community helpers. He wrote an essay on Gregor as tax collector, paper pusher and social housing and road work infrastructure advocate and included his own enthusiasm for the electoral process. He free wrote his own fairy tale, in which he invented Darth Cucumber, combining his own creativity with Star Wars archetypes and his class field trip to see Aesop’s Fables. In the same class where he studies Nash and Kandinsky, my son feels encouraged to cite examples of Star Wars characters throughout his lessons on alliteration and literary devices, since that’s what interests him. He’s also been playing tennis, freewriting to classical music and Ella Fitzgerald and learning about boundaries, empathy and healthy communication.

What’s amazing is that his teachers have somehow achieved this in a public school class, with limited funding, while dealing with the stresses of job action and balancing multiple special needs, a carousel of student circumstances, a variety of learning styles and intellectual/academic capabilities that may be up to six years apart. Most significantly, his class was not not “hand picked” for guaranteed success.

Oh, and his schoolmates speak a range of languages, live everywhere from houses near the water to non-market housing. He thinks one friend is interesting for coming from a country with a fortress city and not for having two parents of the same sex. I can’t imagine he’d ever have the same diversity in a class of students handpicked for “fit” and “ability”.

His teachers, in my opinion, are amazing. They’ve found some way to deal with all of the above challenges and bring in concepts that some of us only learn in university and post-secondary. How they’ve managed to do that in the face of further funding cuts astounds me.

But, given all that, it doesn’t surprise me that public school kids would outperform those from private schools. The Fraser Institute just looks at output. If you look at input – what that the teachers had going in, without a chance to handpick for success – you’re going to see that public schools do a great job. At least, it sures seems that way from the perspective of this Grade 1 parent. Unfortunately, the Fraser Institute measures different things than I would.

I fear, though, that the cuts we see ahead may cause all this to fall apart and I worry about seismic upgrading. I can’t imagine how the teachers have managed to stretch such limited resources and I’m thankful it isn’t me having to keep it all together. Marketing public school education against the Fraser Institute’s PR machine is a tough sell.

(c) 2012 by Andrea Coutu. Vancouver Marketing Consultant. All rights reserved.