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Statscan explains why private school students perform better

Students who attend private schools, such as Upper Canada College, perform better than public school students, Statistics Canada reports.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Canadian high school students who attend private schools perform better than those who go to public schools, Statistics Canada reports, but it isn't because of the schools' resources.

The Statscan report, released Tuesday, says the reason for the higher performance of private school students is their socio-economic status, which includes a higher family income and higher-educated parents.

The study followed more than 7,142 students starting at the age of 15, looking at their scores on standardized tests and their completed educational qualifications by the age of 23.

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"No differences in outcomes were attributable to school resources and practices," the report concludes.

Marc Frenette, one of the two researchers who conducted the study, said the school resources analyzed include student-to-teacher ratio, computer resources available, teacher qualifications and number of teachers available to tutor students.

The study did not look at classroom-based factors, including teaching style, classroom lessons or extracurricular activities offered to students, Mr. Frenette said. It also did not consider the curriculum the schools teach.

Schools from Atlantic Canada were excluded because of a low number of private high schools in those provinces, Mr. Frenette said.

The higher socio-economic status of private school students and their peers accounts for half of the difference in the average score of standardized tests between private and public school students and "two-thirds of the difference in university graduation rates" between the two groups of students, according to the report.

Jim Power, principal of Upper Canada College, an all-boys private school in Toronto, said the selection process that private schools undertake means that their students are more motivated.

"Private schools, by definition, are selective. We're fortunate. We take one out of three students who apply," Mr. Power said.

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"The kids we get tend to be highly motivated, and parents tend to be very supportive and very ambitious. So it's hard to pull socio-economic issues out of the mix because I think, in general, it's a culture of high expectations," he said.

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