On School Performance and Demographics

Some time back, John Chow wrote a blog post about why he lives in a rich neighborhood. While having the nicer home is a definite plus, he said the biggest motivation for him had to do with the educational opportunities that the area would provide for his daughter Sally. He said he moved there because it was one of the best school districts in Metro Vancouver.

That’s true. Students who go to schools in West Vancouver typically outperform those of many of the other districts, but I don’t necessarily think that the improved performance can be linked directly to having a “better school” in the rich neighborhood. Instead, it has a lot more to do with the demographics of the area.

Here’s what I had to say:

The school issue is a little chicken-and-egg.

Schools in poorer neighborhoods are typically populated by immigrants, low-income families, and so on. If they have English as a second language (not to mention cultural concerns), the children will probably struggle. It also means that the parents are less able to help them with their homework, because these parents may not be educated and/or may not have English as a primary language.

On the flip side, schools in affluent neighborhoods are typically populated by well-to-do families. The children are given every opportunity, receive additional help through tutors, and the parents (who are probably more educated and affluent) can help them with their homework. As a result, the better scores by the students may not necessarily be reflective of the quality of the school or the teachers.

Not that John would be very helpful with Sally’s English homework.

It is also very notable that parents who live in these affluent neighborhoods are more inclined to pay for more expensive equipment and field trips for their children, because it is more likely that they can afford to do so. This goes above and beyond the government funding that the district may receive.

A friend of mine, who lives in a richer neighborhood, went on a class trip to France. My high school, in a more multicultural community (read: immigrant), went to a quaint French cafe in Vancouver for crepes. I think you’d agree that the experience of traveling to Paris is a slight step ahead of hopping on a public bus to a small local eatery.

I know that there are a few teachers and others in the public education domain who read this blog and I think they’d agree that the quality of the education is not necessarily reflective of the district. The teacher who works in the poorest neighborhood is not necessarily any “worse” at teaching than the one who works in the richest neighborhood. It just means that the benchmark for success could be different. For an immigrant family, seeing their children graduate from high school at all could be a major accomplishment.

This is yet another example of the quandary of elitism. We all aspire to live in nicer neighborhoods and we all want the best for the next generation, but this does not necessarily mean that we have to move to the richest neighborhood in town. The multicultural and multi-faceted experience of living in East Vancouver has very much shaped me into who I am today. I wouldn’t change a thing.