This weekend, the Fraser Institute celebrated the release of its latest school Report Card, this one on Alberta’s elementary schools. Last month I took a look at their BC report card, which frankly was not an impressive effort, but did have the surprising effect of catapulting one of B.C.’s most incompetent schools, in polygamous Bountiful, into the Number One spot. No more need be said, perhaps, about the reliability of these studies — except for my obligatory reminder that in the past the Fraser Institute has taken money from tobacco companies to argue that cigarette smoke does not cause lung cancer. No more need be said, perhaps, about the ethical maturity of the Fraser Institute.
So how does the Alberta Report Card’s quality compare with the B.C. one? Pretty much the same, I’d say, which is to say that it’s not a very helpful tool at all. This didn’t stop the first author, Peter Cowley, from earning an op-ed spot in the Calgary Herald this weekend, saying that Alberta needs to roll out the red carpet to “school chains” operating elsewhere in the world who would be interested in investing in Canada. School chains are the new pet project of the Fraser Institute. They even have a website for them, which, ironically, is offline as I write this.
Before I dive into the dubious nitty-gritty of the report, let me just point out Cowley’s first serious ethical lapse. Cowley claims to be particularly excited about a new American chain of schools expanding to Canada, called the Nativity Miguel chain. Really, Cowley? Nativity Miguel? I’m sure it’s purely a coincidence that the investor leading its Canadian expansion company, Mr. Paul J. Hill, just happens to be on the Fraser Institute board of directors, too. Is this yet another case of the Fraser Institute publicly touting “research” that just happens to directly benefit its
lords and masters rich backers?
The undisclosed conflicts of interest don’t stop there, though. Co-author Michael Thomas, incidentally, chairs the School Choice Trust, a private school scholarship fund administered by the Fraser Institute on behalf of conversative donors like the right-wing Weston Foundation and Hunter Family Foundation.
More problems begin when you check out the “Editorial Advisory Board” which, the report implies, were responsible for peer review. Four of its members are dead, in some cases for 20 years, and therefore (one assumes) made very few contributions. I know people joke that Western scholarship is too dependent on dead white males, but surely this is taking things to extreme lengths. A fifth is 97 years old. One of them, Easton, is also a co-author. Most of the rest are economists with no apparent background in education, which means that by reasonable scientific standards, they’re not actually qualified for the task anyways.
Naturally the Herald did not bother to ask who was funding the Fraser Institute’s study, because the institute says it is independent. In the past some of the report cards (namely Ontario’s) have been funded by the Donner Canadian Foundation, a right-wing private foundation which bankrolls the Fraser Institute and other similarly minded groups like the Atlantic Institute and the Frontier Centre — as well as other networks devoted to building the case for private schools, a solution that does absolutely nothing for 90% of society but works out very well for parents who can afford the $15,000-$20,000 tuition at top schools like Crofton House.
Anyhow, to business. As usual, the Fraser Institute has followed its tradition of publishing reports by people with no credible expertise in the subject matter (in this case, teaching). None of the authors, according to their official biographies (here, here, and here) are or have ever been K-12 teachers, although Michael Thomas is a former school trustee. Stephen Easton is an economist at Simon Fraser University. Lead author Peter Cowley, who also wrote the Herald shill piece, is a professional marketer who spent his career working for Proctor & Gamble and a Vancouver furniture company until joining the Fraser Institute in the 1990s.
This post has been focused mostly on what a commenter recently called intimidating ad hominem attacks. Next post in my Fraser Institute series will be much more explosive, though. I have encountered in the Alberta report a sleight-of-hand which is so misleading as to beggar belief. It’s even better than a dead economist being resuscitated to review this junk.Tweet