Education gone wrong (2), what if we listen to School together?

I ended the first text in this series with the question: Shouldn’t our education system smooth out inequalities instead of increasing them? In a society that is said to be inclusive and egalitarian, the answer is self-evident; but if we recognize today the existence of a school market in Quebec, solutions to put an end to it are still rare. However, there are some. The École Ensemble Collective has even put together a whole plan “that Quebec could launch tomorrow morning” or almost, if it wants to.

I spoke with its coordinator and co-founder, Stéphane Vigneault, a parent from Gatineau who, when he noticed that a public international school in his neighborhood was recruiting seven-year-olds, didn’t want to stand by. It was 2017. He and other parents got involved and formed a collective to bring equal opportunities back to the center of the education system.

Five years later, after helping to lift the taboo on the famous three-speed, doing their homework better than many education ministers and reading loads of studies, thinking, comparing, analyzing and calculating, they came up with their Plan for a Shared Network of Schools.

Break the vicious cycle

The birth of three speeds goes back a long way, Vigneault reminds me. In 1968, when the National Assembly decided to subsidize private schools to cope with the baby boom, 5% of high school students attended them. Today, that share has grown to 21%. However, as the public has since decided to compete with the private sector by focusing on selective individual programs to attract “clientele”, this means that 44% of high school youth today go to private or selective public schools.

The ordinary public (third gear) is found to a lesser extent, students in a disadvantageous position or with problems are overrepresented, which “increases the attraction of the private sector and certain projects”, stresses the École ensemble. “The more public school is avoided, the more we avoid it!” » said the Gatineau resident. In Montreal in particular, where every second high school student is in the private or selective public sector, school shopping is becoming an extreme sport that is hard to escape… So what are we going to do?

To break this vicious circle, the École ensemble has a bold proposal, different from the unilateral “denial” of private schools: to create a common network that is 100% subsidized, to which private schools can freely join. Those that do so become “contracted private schools”: their attendance is free, they retain management autonomy, but they can no longer choose their students. Those who choose to stay away retain their right to choose, but no longer receive any public funding, direct or indirect, and therefore require substantial tuition fees.

A fairer tomorrow

In this completely free community network, there are only neighborhood schools, each with its own school district. “But let’s see! People will move, there will be more high schools in certain districts, segregation will be restored! » ; I can hear the criticism coming from here – but the École ensemble listened before me. The collective therefore formulated a brilliant proposal, which could represent a Trojan horse of the plan’s acceptability: to create fair and optimized school groups, including approximately the same percentage of families with school-age children with at least one parent with a college degree. He even authorized a Swiss consulting firm, Ville Juste, to conduct an exercise with the city of Laval.

We do not repeat enough: the variable of the parents’ college degree (which goes along with a better socio-economic situation) has a great influence on the school success of the child and his eventual enrollment in college. However, rankings of all kinds are limited to relating the latter to the type of high school they attend (private or public), which wrongly feeds the vicious circle mentioned above. By ensuring diversity within each institution of the common network, the We Learn Together plan (another proposal of which is to offer everyone a free choice of certain courses, without selection and for free) establishes a new circle, thanks to the fact that – this, which would increase academic results, school persistence and social cohesion.

Some resistance is to be expected. But in the Swiss canton where the pools are optimized at the start of the 2023 school year, explanations and advantages (proximity, groups of friends who stay united, saved travel time, a spirit of community, etc.) apparently quickly erased the opinion of parents by passing fears.

perfect? Probably not.

Perfection is impossible, and its expectation borders on stagnation that allows inequality to grow (and asbestos ceilings to collapse). For Stéphane Vigneault, we have to move. There are no new general alliances on education to emphasize what we already know, so he dreams instead of a traveling commission, which would carry out consultations “exactly as Régine Laurent did for the DPJ; here’s the plan, here’s the solution to our problem, what do you think? And we are perfecting it.”

According to the CROP survey commissioned by the École ensemble in 2022, 85% of people support the model proposed by the collective. “When everyone is involved, everyone has an interest in making it work; it’s like the RQAP (Quebec Parental Insurance Plan)! » exclaims Stéphane Vigneault. Do we really need political courage when favorable winds are blowing?

This new system will of course not be homogeneous like good milk. I point out to him that because of the bulk of public school administration, approved private schools that retain their management model will continue to enjoy enviable agility—but Vigneault hopes that we will draw inspiration from this model rather than allow it to be swallowed up by the machine. In addition, certain non-agreed private schools will continue to accept students from high-status families; a percentage “that should peak at 6 or 7%, like in Ontario,” according to him.

For now, it is certain that time is running out – and that the School Together plan would benefit from greater debate. Education is a social issue; everyone needs to talk about it. If ever the show of the same name is looking for a guest.

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