It can be argued that the entire strength of a house lies on its foundation. The weaker the foundation, the weaker the structure. If we were to think creatively and consider Ontario as one of the homes of Canada, then Ontario’s foundation is tremendously important. Many people believe that public education is the foundation to a successful and prosperous province and nation. Therefore, changing policy connected to public education is tremendously important to analyze and discuss.

We as civil society, parents, teachers, Canadians, legal guardians, immigrants, tax payers, or anyone who cares about Ontario’s success, should keep a critical eye on any significant change to Ontario’s public education, because education is integral to the growth and progress of youth who are the future of society. Ontario’s education revamp announced in March 2019, has caused a lot of discussion and worry. This article will briefly discuss the who, what, and why as well as ask some critical questions in hopes to demonstrate the importance of public education for the progress of Ontario.

Who?

Doug Ford who is the premier of Ontario and the leader of a majority PC Government, and Lisa Thompson who is Ontario’s Education Minister, declared on Friday March 15th 2019, that they have revamped Ontario’s public education system by implementing the Education that Works for You Plan.

What?

Ford and the PC government and Ontario’s Education Minister Lisa Thompson aim to modernize the education curriculum and classrooms as well as “empower educators to better prepare students for the realities of today’s modern world” (Ministry of Education). According to the Government of Ontario News website, modernizing classrooms in Ontario is for students to have the chance to learn and be prepared for post-secondary education, apprenticeships, and to prepare them for work. (Ministry of Education).

Learn about the plan here: https://news.ontario.ca/edu/en/2019/03/back-to-basics-math-curriculum-renewed-focus-on-skilled-trades-and-cellphone-ban-in-the-classroom-co.html

Why?

According to Lisa Thompson (the Education Minister) as stated on the Government of Ontario News website, over 72,000 parents, teachers, employers and businesses were consulted about the need for students to “build resiliency, as well as other relevant skills” missing in today’s graduates (Ministry of Education).

Examples of Changes 

Class Size Increase

  • Grades 4 to 8: “funded average class size would be minimally increased from 23.84 to 24.5.” (Ministry of Education)
  • Grades 9-12: “adjusted from 22 to 28 students to align secondary class sizes more closely to other jurisdictions across Canada. School boards would be required to maintain a board-wide average class size of 28 or less and the funded average class size would be increased to 28 to support this change. In addition, school operations funding would be adjusted accordingly.” (Ministry of Education)

Financial adjustment

Another change is the Cost Adjustment Allocation which is used for such things as sick leave and maternity leave (Ministry of Education Government of Ontario), and this will be discontinued for the 2019-2020 school year. The plan states it was originally meant to be supplemental funding and the school boards will have access to Grants for Student Needs (GSN) – this varies depending on “per-pupil, per-school, or per-board basis depending on the structure of each grant within the GSN regulation” (Ministry of Education).

Criticism

CBC Metro Morning Interview: Class size increase

The class size increase has received substantial backlash, and Matt Galloway of CBC Metro Morning spoke with the Education Minister Lisa Thompson in an interview on March 20th. She reaffirmed that the changes were due to consultations with post-secondary educators and business owners who say graduates do not have the “coping skills” or “resiliency” needed in a classroom or workforce.

Full interview: https://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/metro-morning/segment/15680089

Matt Galloway asked an important and specific question: “How will larger class sizes help students?” —Lisa Thompson focused her answer around the notion that students will learn resiliency skills and the change is at par with “other jurisdictions in Canada”.

Matt Galloway: “Let’s answer the question though, which is how will larger class sizes help students?”

Lisa Thompson: with regards to students “we’re hearing from Professors and employers alike that they’re lacking coping skills and they’re lacking resiliency […] so by increasing class sizes in high school we’re preparing them for the reality of post-secondary”. She continued to say that when speaking to teachers who like to facilitate group work the ideal number is between 26-28 students.

Matt Galloway: “who in the consultations told you that larger class sizes would be a good thing for students?”

Lisa Thompson: She states again that some teachers who like large group facilitation believe the ideal number of students is between 26-28 and “employers [are] worried about some of the graduates that Ontario has produced under the past administration of the previous Liberal government, because they were lacking resiliency, they were lacking coping skills”.

Lisa Thompson also mentions that one teacher said a larger class size is an opportunity for students to mentor and coach each other. At the same time the minister believes that the responsibility is more with the teacher: “research is showing that the biggest factor in student success is actually how effective the teacher is”. (Matt Galloway)

Matt Galloway asked again specifically how she can ensure success in a classroom, and the minister continued to echo the same sentiments while saying they are open to conversations and ideas.

Toronto District School Board:

A TDSB document and a teacher’s union executive has confirmed that approximately 800 teaching positions from public high schools in Toronto will be gone due to the class size increase, and that number will destroy the secondary school system in Toronto (Hunter). An additional 216 elementary teaching jobs will be gone as well (Freeman). Robin Pilkey the TDSB Chair, confirms that jobs will absolutely be lost from the system (not from termination) even though the PC government is saying the opposite (Freeman).

Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation:

The reaction from OSSTF/FEESO has been nothing but concern: the changes to Ontario’s public education according to OSSTF/FEESO will be “devastating”:

average class size ratios in secondary schools will rise from 22:1 to 28:1. Phased in over four years, this will result in a loss of 3,630 frontline OSSTF/FEESO teachers from Ontario’s public education system – a loss that cannot possibly be absorbed without a significant impact on student learning and success.” (OSSTF)

Moreover, when it comes to students who deal with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and need considerable help from overworked teachers, the OSSTF has confirmed the current changes to public education will further complicate the challenges that teachers already face due to the “the government’s ill-conceived changes to the Ontario Autism Program”. However, ASD students are not the only special needs students and increasing class size is going to overwhelm an already challenging classroom environment with a variety of needs that a teacher is in charge of teaching, controlling, and monitoring.

Cuts to Education

There will be a significant reduction to the Pupil Foundation grant over the next 4 years (12.91%), and overall, the Grants for Student Needs will lose 5.88% which in total will remove $1.4 billion from Ontario’s public education system (OSSTF).

The new plan as well as documents released the same day was analyzed by the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and they found $309 million in cuts: “The government knows what damage these cuts will inflict on children and their families, so it has tried to conceal them amid all the hoopla that surrounded their announcement” (CUPE).

Eliminated Funds:

  • $235 million that funded special education to support children in need and at-risk students – GONE
  • $63.6 million for extra staffing – GONE
  • $10 million in staffing for education workers – GONE
Important Questions to ask ourselves

If teachers are overwhelmed and/or overworked, how can they create an effective and success-oriented learning environment for their students?

How can students get a quality education from an overworked and overwhelmed teacher who simply does not have the time or energy to ensure that all students, especially those who require more attention are learning effectively?

Is the responsibility on the parents to now invest in tutors when many parents are already financially challenged?

The OSSTF has confirmed that these new changes are an “appalling betrayal of the public trust” and Doug Ford is contradicting his original promise in his election that “no jobs will be lost” (OSSTF).

OSSTF believes that “the government has officially declared war on Ontario’s public education system“. 

What do YOU think?

This article has given you some general information about the plan/changes and the criticism, and there are a lot of other articles and sources that discuss these changes too — google, ask around, talk to educators, and parents!

What conclusion seems reasonable? Is Doug Ford and his PC government and Ontario’s Education Minister Lisa Thompson helping to make the public education system modern and/or better? Or are the changes detrimental to Ontario’s public education system according to the analysis and conclusions by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and CUPE and others?

If public education is the metaphorical foundation to the structure of Ontario, then isn’t it logical to invest and therefore, strengthen public education?

Likewise, doesn’t it make logical sense to ensure that students and teachers are supported and protected financially and socially in order to help Ontario and therefore, Canada prosper?

 

Sources:
Anderson, Stephen E., and Sonia B. Jaafar. Policy Trends in Ontario Education PDF. University of Toronto, 2003. Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
CUPE. “Ontario Government’s Changes to Education Include $309 Million in Hidden Cuts That Will “inflict Damage” on Students.” Canadian Union of Public Employees, 15 Mar. 2015, cupe.ca/ontario-governments-changes-education-include-309-million-hidden-cuts-will-inflict-damage-students.
Freeman, Joshua. “Larger Class Sizes Could Mean 800 Fewer Public High School Teachers in Toronto: TDSB.” CP24, Bell Media Inc., 18 Mar. 2019, www.cp24.com/news/larger-class-sizes-could-mean-800-fewer-public-high-school-teachers-in-toronto-tdsb-1.4340598.
Harvard University. “InBrief: Resilience Series.” Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, Apr. 2015, developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/inbrief-resilience-series/.
Hunter, Paul. “Ontario’s Plan to Raise Class Sizes Will Lead to Loss of 800 Public High School Teaching Jobs in Toronto, TDSB Document Shows | The Star.” The Star, Toronto Star Newspapers Limited, 17 Mar. 2019, www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/education/2019/03/17/ontarios-plan-to-raise-class-sizes-will-lead-to-loss-of-800-public-high-school-teaching-jobs-in-toronto-tdsb-document-shows.html.
Matt Galloway. “Education Minister Lisa Thompson discusses proposed class size change.” CBC, 20 Mar. 2019.
Ministry of Education the Government of Ontario. “Education Funding; Technical Paper PDF.” Government of Ontario, 2018,
Ministry of Education. “‘Back-to-Basics’ Math Curriculum, Renewed Focus on Skilled Trades and Cellphone Ban in the Classroom Coming Soon to Ontario.” Ontario Newsroom, Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 15 Mar. 2019, news.ontario.ca/edu/en/2019/03/back-to-basics-math-curriculum-renewed-focus-on-skilled-trades-and-cellphone-ban-in-the-classroom-co.html.
OSSTF. “March 15 Education Announcements: A Statement in Response from OSSTF/FEESO President Harvey Bischof.” Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF/FEESO), OSSTF/FEESO, 15 Mar. 2019, www.osstf.on.ca/en-CA/news/mn-mar-15-2019.aspx.
Teotonio, Isabel. “Teachers Can Still Use 2015 Sex-ed Curriculum in Ontario As a Resource, Province’s Lawyer Tells Court | The Star.” the Star, Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd., 10 Jan. 2019, www.thestar.com/news/gta/2019/01/10/teachers-can-still-use-2015-sex-ed-curriculum-in-ontario-as-a-resource-provinces-lawyer-tells-court.html.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Well sourced! I particularly like the emphasis put on the fact that Thompson repeatedly avoided the “how?” question.

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