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FWIW, I blogged on similar themes here and here. Two additional points were made there:

- Of the 13 'above-average' Ontario school boards, 11 are Catholic.
- Of the 10 'below-average' Ontario school boards, none are Catholic.

And in Quebec, anglophone parents also have the option of sending their children to French schools, and since so many anglophones have francophone partners, this is often a feasible choice. If the English schools in Quebec City had a poor reputation, we would have sent ours to French school. As it is, other parents envied us our opportunity, and the English schools are overwhelmingly populated by students whose parents don't speak English at home. The result is consistent with the Ontario story: the school system that has a captive market (ie, the French system) does more poorly.

Typo? "In Ottawa, Ontario, there are four public school systems: an English public (secular) school board, an English Roman Catholic or "separate" school board, a French public school board and an English public school board."

Nick, thanks, I fixed it. Stephen, thanks for the links. On typos: "the school system that doesn't have a captive market (ie, the French system) does more poorly." - surely the system that has a captive market does more poorly?

Thinking more about *when* people exercise school choice - presumably a critical school choice moment is when people first move into a neighbourhood. If areas with a lot of new housing also have a lot of new people moving into the neighbourhood, there would be more people making that "which system should I send my children to?" choice. Hence more competition. But it isn't obvious that new housing always equals more turnover - 40 or 50 year old neighbourhoods can also have high turnover rates when all of the original home owners begin to sell.

Frances wrote, "If limited competition between the public and separate boards fosters better outcomes, one would expect more competition to provide even better outcomes." Is this consistent with the General Theory of Second Best?

Stephen wrote, "the school system that doesn't have a captive market (ie, the French system) does more poorly." Is that one negative too far?

Gah. Fixed - thanks.

Non-Catholics do of course have a way of accessing the Catholic system - convert. I know people who have.

This is interesting. It's similar to, but not identical to, the standard argument for competition. The difference is that schools (in Canada anyway) can't charge different prices. I think that leads to a common property resource problem. Trying to get my head around this:

Assume 2 equally sized schools, one bad, one good. Let parents choose, and kids flow from the bad to the good school, reducing crowding in the bad, and increasing crowding in the good. Until in equilibrium, the average benefit of the two schools is equalised. But optimum requires the kids be distributed between the 2 schools to equalise marginal benefit.

This ignores incentive effects, of course, and holds constant the "size" (i.e. capacity, number of teachers and rooms etc., not number of kids) of the two schools. In other words, it's very "short-run". But in the short run, it's not obvious (to me) whether the common property resource problem means there's a worse or better outcome under freedom of choice.

In the long run, if capacity adjusts proportionately to number of kids (implicit vouchers), there should be constant returns to scale, and the bad school board either gets better or gets driven out of business.

The long run can be closer than you think. A few years ago, the English system here in Quebec City was starting to be a bit crowded, while the French system was closing schools. So the English school board simply bought an empty one from one of the French boards.

Jim: "Non-Catholics do of course have a way of accessing the Catholic system - convert. I know people who have."

Competition between schools is just one aspect of competition between religions? Isn't that one theory of high US church attendance? With no established church, competition between denominations improves quality.

When I was a kid, non-catholics could pay an extra fee and have their child attend a catholic school (they had a study period during religion classes). Is this not allowed anymore?

I think there's some discretion, but not much. From the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board website:

Children attending one of our elementary schools must be either baptized Catholic or have a parent who is Catholic. In certain circumstances, at discretion of the school superintendent, some exceptions may apply.

I understand that the eligibiliy restrictions at the high school level are more relaxed. OTOH, the empirical studies cited above are for elementary schools, where the criteria are applied more strictly.

Brett - on the theory of second best. A possibly unrelated observation - in BC, where there is much less competition *between* boards (there's only one public board), there is often more competition *within* boards. Now that may be a reaction of public school boards to competition from the partially-funded private school system. But I wonder if there's a political competition story one could tell here, that is, the existence of a separate board means that there is less political pressure from parents for greater choice within the public (secular) board.

Pedro, you are right that there is some amount of wiggle room - that's why I wrote "A non-Catholic, non-Francophone child has no guarantee of a place anywhere other than the English public school board." If schools are more strict about requiring baptismal certificates for some students than others, that's another potential source of inequality in the system.

Nick, I'm hoping that soon some of our West Coast commentators will join in soon and point out some of the downsides of school choice - high transportation costs, decreased parental mobility (you can move to North Vancouver, but the only school willing to take your child may be a lower quality school relatively far away from where you live), more limited choices for parents who are unable to afford high transportation costs, ghetto-ization of special needs children, etc. One school, no choice was good enough for me, it should be good enough for everyone!

There are two high schools in my Burnaby neighbourhood. One scores well on the Foundational Skills Assessment, the other not so much. The one with good scores is full to bursting. The other school is trying to attract students by offering imaginative programs such as hair dresser training in grades 11 and 12. So it looks like the ability of families to choose their schools is encouraging effective schools. But my question would be: does school competition provide effective schools for the kids who need them? I want to see public schools teaching children, whose parents can't read, to read and write. My children read well because I taught them to read. They both say they would not have learned had it been left to their schools. The parents who move their kids from school to school are largely the ones whose kids would do fine anyway.

I have rarely seen a post so astoundingly ignorant of how Ontario's school system actually works. I'm disappointed.

As for the contention that the presence of the Catholic system promotes school choice, that's not really true. For one part, Canada has a relatively low number of private schools compared to other countries. Furthermore, the private schools that do exist generally do not do Grades 1-8. Lakefield College School doesn't, Upper Canada College doesn't. When the Dutch Royal Family lived in Ottawa during WWII, they sent their daughters, including the present Queen Beatrix, to Rockcliffe Park Public School. They were told there was no private alternative and it's what everyone did.

This is a straight consequence of Ontario's religious history. The public school system was founded in its present form by Rev. Egerton Ryerson, a Methodist minister. The Methodists passed into the United Church in 1925 and the United Church supports universal, quality public education right down to its genes. My parents and one grandfather are United Church ministers. We're tied to Public Education like nobody else. The Roman Catholic Church also never developed a system of private "parochial" schools like those seen in the US since it secured provincially funded and run "Separate" schools across the province. Therefore due to culture and history Ontario has seen relatively little need for private schools.

Second, in Ontario the Separate School System is a constitutionally-entrenched protection of minority religious rights. Remember, Public = Protestant. The full secularization of the public school system did not occur until 1990. Before then there was a religious curriculum which was a compromise between the United Church, Anglicans, Presbyterians and Baptists.

Third, the right to attend a Catholic school isn't a question for the child, it's a question for the parents. It is absolute if one parent is Catholic. It's an "favour" if the family isn't Catholic. You also can't send one child to the Public system and one child to the private system. You have to register as a family and all siblings have to attend the same system. The parent's must also be registered on the appropriate tax roll too. Switching isn't easy and it's not encouraged.

Fourth, English or French IS an unrestricted choice. French-immersion students are part of the French Public Board. Ontario has no counterpart to Quebec's language requirements.

Fifth, full funding to Separate schools to the end of high school wasn't extended until 1984. Before than it had been limited to Grade 10, and before that Grade 8. The separate elementary school near my (public) high school was just as much a feeder school for the public high school as the nearby public elementary schools were in my parent's day. This is also why Catholic high schools are generally newer than Public ones.

Education in Ontario isn't about competition, it's about protection of minority language/religious choice. Always has been.

Determinant: "Education in Ontario isn't about competition, it's about protection of minority language/religious choice. Always has been."

There's what it was *designed* to do (protect language/religion), and what it may *actually* do (create competition, perhaps in addition to doing what it was designed to do). They are not co-extensive.

As I said, inter-system transfers aren't easy. It's based on family enrolment and who you pay your taxes to, not the child's needs, wants or the parent's desire for an individual child. Thus the feedback mechanism is weak.

Second, with standardized provincial grants per student, there are no more tax differentials to drive differences between systems anymore. Or between boards in the same system. Toronto may plead poverty but it was long known as a profligate public board because it was one of the few that could make its own way through property taxes alone without provincial grants. Ottawa was the other board in that situation due to Payments in Lieu from the Federal Government. This drive toward standardized funding further weakens the feedback mechanism.

Third, it has always been the policy of the provincial government to provide the same treatment to all students regardless of system (outside of Catholic funding). It goes all the way back to Rev. Egerton Ryerson who repudiated the English model with grammar schools and admission exams in favour of a more American model of universal treatment for all.

Fourth, who says that competition in the school system is good? It really isn't. Aside from complaints over frosh math skills (which I already dealt with in a previous thread), it's far more important to achieve an acceptable standard across the spectrum than have a few high-flyers. That's another impact of the Ryerson philosophy. It is far better for society to have an acceptable level of education and consequential productivity for all than have a large number of also-rans.

Fifth, no school system has a captive market. It's rare for a Catholic family to attend the Public system. The public and separate systems truly run in parallel. The English public system is just the choice of the largest number of people.

Oh, and Nick, I dare you to do a "competition is good for religion" thread. Just don't use American figures, they aren't applicable to Canada at all. Our religious history and complexion is quite different. Ever wonder why you don't see a Methodist church in your neighbourhood?

Determinant: "Oh, and Nick, I dare you to do a "competition is good for religion" thread. Just don't use American figures, they aren't applicable to Canada at all."

I wouldn't dare do a "competition is good for religion" thread. Too much data hunting. But I vaguely remember one economist arguing it, somewhere. But you would have to use American figures, and compare them to Canada, and the UK, etc.

I used to wonder why lots of "Non-conformist" (I use that word in a very specific sense, of course) denominations didn't seem to be represented in Canada. They all merged into the United Church, didn't they? But, like all mergers, it's an open question whether it gained or lost them customers. Economies of scale (especially with small dispersed congregations) vs loss of product variety.

Determinant "I have rarely seen a post so astoundingly ignorant of how Ontario's school system actually works. I'm disappointed."

I wrote "The amount of choice a child has between boards depends upon his parents' religious beliefs and language. A non-Catholic, non-Francophone child has no guarantee of a place anywhere other than the English public school board (there is no "French as a second language" program offered in the French board)."

I cannot see anything in what you have written that contradicts this basic statement.

On language, you wrote: "Fourth, English or French IS an unrestricted choice. French-immersion students are part of the French Public Board." That is not true in Ottawa, where the large Francophone community is served by a separate school board.

"It's rare for a Catholic family to attend the Public system." I was just having dinner this evening with a family whose Catholic children are in the public system.

Re Nick Rowe's comment about the economics of religion - there is a very well-known article on the Economics of Religion by Iannacombe (that's more or less how the name is spelled) published in the Journal of Economic Literature in around, I think, 1995 (type economics religion journal of economic literature into scholar.google.com). The US has much higher rates of church attendance than other countries with a similar income level, and some economists do believe that this is due to the extent of religious competition, which is relatively high in the US.

Given the consequences of the influence of religion on the polity in the US I would suggest it as an argument against competition in religion.

Jim Rootham: "Given the consequences of the influence of religion on the polity in the US I would suggest it as an argument against competition in religion"

There are two questions here:
1. Does more competition increase the quantity of religious observance produced? This is the question that most economists have focused on. As someone raised in the best European (non-competitive) religious traditions I am always fascinated by the comfortable seats in many US churches. Comfort? In church? How can that happen? The answer: competition.

2. Is more religious observance a good thing? I'm not even going to begin to do go there.

On religion in schools in general: it would be interesting to trace out, in a few years time, the consequences of the UK experiment with re-introducing religion into the school system - does it have any long-term effect on religious observance?

A discussion of this nature should surely touch on the last Provincial election, where the only party who argued for a fully secular public system was the Greens, and the Tories managed to let the Liberals paint them as divisive and cutting into public education resources despite the Premier's children attending a religious school and the Premier's wife teaching at one.

I received a private Catholic boarding education (in Ireland, some private schools received a basic amount of funds per pupil which meant boarding charges basically covered non-teaching costs) but came to believe as a result of the division in Northern Ireland that a multicultural society must have a unified school system which has internal diversity and flexibility, not a melange of separate school systems which delay integration between communities.

As for quantity of religious observance, I think that is hilarious that parents essentially choose to both promote their deemed piety but also outsource the work involved for little additional cost. This would be basically the amount that they might choose to give a public school's fundraising vs a catholic school's and any contribution by their parish on the back of Sunday collections.

They then demand that schools teach their children religion and limit public health (see HPV) and public health education (see linked article above) to what they deem meshes with their religion, rather than sitting their child down and explaining to them the nature of being a religious person in a secular society - perhaps with Venn diagrams.

Rachel has made an error. I do not know about Lakefield College, but Upper Canada offers classes from Kindergarten to grade 12.

Mark Dowling: "but came to believe as a result of the division in Northern Ireland that a multicultural society must have a unified school system which has internal diversity and flexibility, not a melange of separate school systems which delay integration between communities."

That's a very interesting observation.

Lakefield College does not offer elementary school levels. I lived in that village and my Grade 1 class also included the headmaster's daughter. At the public elementary school.

Ottawa has its own French school board due to its large francophone minority. As an example it's decidedly atypical of Ontario. In Peterborough, for instance, Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB does the French Immersion programs. There is no (separate) French Public board with authority in this area. Or schools, for that matter.

Nick:

Hehehe, actually Canada is the land of Church mergers. The United Church has twenty or so separate denominations in our history. The main merger was in 1925 so the suburban churches built after WWII were never anything but United Churches.

The 1925 mix was the Methodists, Congregationalists and 70% of the Presbyterians. Each of those churches was itself a merger of four to five different churches too.

[mock outrage]Actually, much of the United Church's terminology and culture comes from the Church of Scotland-descended Presbyterians. As the Church of Scotland was just as "official" as the Church of England, calling them (and us) 'Non-Conformists' was always a stretch and good way to start an argument. Besides, the United Church and the pre-1925 Presbyterians always outnumbered the Anglicans. [/mock outrage]

Determinant: twenty! Wow! I didn't think it was that many.

The Church of England vs. Non-Conformist split was very big in the village in my parents' time (1920's 30's), from what my father told me. My grandmother, as an NC, was not allowed to teach in the CofE school. Fortunately she was hired to teach in the local aristocrat's/landowner's school for his tenants and workers' children. So there was still competition in schooling, both for kids and teachers, due to that denominational split, though, surprisingly, the lord himself was presumably CofE/Tory, and there wasn't a specifically NC school.

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