Education Action: Toronto

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Education Action: Toronto’s Online Clearing House

May 2014

Dear Friends,

It’s hard to know how to respond to the current Ontario election’s disappearing act when it comes to education policy. Education issues are hardly visible anywhere.

Nigel Barriffe (who is running, with our support, as an ONDP candidate in Etobicoke North) is trying, however, to keep these issues alive in his part of the part of the world ( Attached are two pieces from Nigel: In the first, he introduces Doug Little’s list of “moderate progressive” reforms that have a realistic chance of implementation. In the second he responds to Kathleen Wynne’s austerity agenda in education and Tim Hudak’s plan to cut 100,000 public sector jobs, with the biggest bite coming from education. Both pieces are worth reading.

Ontario’s elementary teachers have made a helpful contribution to a province-wide discussion of our school system by producing a full-scale election program for school reform entitled Building Better Schools. ETFO has also produced a short guide to Bill 122, also attached, which should help readers come to grips with the new framework for bargaining among school boards, their employees and the education ministry.

An issue that really ought to be on the table in this election is the destructive impact of EQAO’s standardized testing. The elementary teachers’ union – with solid membership support – and the NDP are beginning to move away from this testing. Both, unfortunately, are still willing to accept random testing as a sop to hardline neo-liberals, even though most teachers and the NDP recognize that random testing is just as mindless as full-scale standardized testing (though not as draconian) and still points teachers in the wrong direction. In this issue, we’re including Ontario secondary teacher Gord Bambridge’s recent analysis of the impact of EQAO’s international partner in standardized testing, PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment). This program strengthens business influence in our schools, undermines local democracy, presses false standards on both teachers and students, and effectively “deskills” both and guts their programs.

Issues of provincial childcare should also be central to this campaign. Martha Friendly here outlines “the dismal state” of child care programs both Canada-wide and here in Ontario. She also points to the failure of the provincial government to implement its program of “full-day early learning.” This has turned into “full-day kindergarten,” still inadequately funded, while child care has been “moved to the back burner.” Friendly calls on all parties in this election to develop “a robust, long-term, evidence-based ECEC policy framework with principles, goals and targets, timetables and sustained financial commitments” and to include child-friendly staff ratios and decent pay for childcare workers.

Another fundamental issue is that of youth unemployment, which is both a federal and a provincial responsibility. On this subject we’re attaching Armine Yalnizyan’s analysis of what the federal government could do, “if it really wanted to reduce youth unemployment.” The next Ontario government would do well take Yalnizyan’s recommendations to heart. Readers should also look over Trish Hennessy’s figures on “the skills gap trope,” especially as they affect younger workers. We now know the federal Tories have been fudging Canada’s “skills gap” figures to promote a low-wage temporary workers’ program, and Hennessy’s figures reveal the complexity of the issue of work skills, particularly the pressures on corporations to deskill their workforce, and the urgency with which we must tackle it, not only in our workplaces but also in our schools.

In dealing with how schools try to produce a corporate workforce – “human capital” as the Education Ministry likes to describe it – we need to recognize that the corporations themselves are not planning any kid-friendly initiatives on this front. On this subject, we offer Erika Shaker’s tongue-in-check reflections on the suggestion that CEOs improve pedagogy and student engagement as part of their general social outreach. We also present Donald Gutstein’s examination of Galen Weston’s adventures in educational do-gooding. We learn how Weston and his family are massively funding the Fraser Institute’s programs to destabilize the public education system and promote school choice and vouchers. Not a happy story.

In these election moments, it’s good to see the emergence of the Campaign for Commercial Free Schools, whose recent update you can find below. It would be valuable, we think, for the CCFS to ask the candidates in this election where they stand on fundraising, naming rights, and advertising policies as they apply to school spaces. So far, there is no mention of the issue from any of the parties.

As a regular part of this Clearing House, we take you south of the border, where so many destructive initiatives in education take place and then migrate northwards, if they aren’t already flourishing here. Matt Bruenig provides a dramatic set of graphs showing the impact of America’s social class structure on its children and their education. Gord Bambrick reviews Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. Noam Chomsky writes on the corporatization of the university, with its increasing reliance on cheap labour, large classes, expensive layers of bureaucracy and management, and growing tuition fees. He calls instead for “shared governance,” worker control, and honest discovery in academic work that’s loved by both teachers and students. Finally, from Seattle, Diane Brooks brings us some good news – a teachers’ boycott of standardized testing that sparked a nation-wide movement.

Don’t forget: Back issues of Education Action: Toronto Online Clearing House can be found on our website: And, if you know anyone or any group who might be interested in receiving articles from us, please send us along their emails.

In solidarity,

George Martell, David Clandfield, Faduma Mohamed

Education Action: Toronto

From Pro-Test to Protest: A Review of Diana Ravitch’s Reign of Error by Gord Bambrick

When she was the Assistant Education Secretary, under Republican President George Herbert Bush, Diane Ravitch was a strong advocate for testing and accountability, but her new book, Reign of Error, begins with an admission of error in supporting that agenda after she saw it being hijacked and used by big business to justify “the hoax of privatization,” spearheaded by wealthy philanthropists, such as Bill Gates, powerful corporations, such as Pearson, and financial giants, such as Goldman Sachs.

The pretext for corporate reform is always that it is a way to fight poverty and racial marginalization by putting more skilled workers (a.k.a. “human capital”) into the workforce.If the test scores go up, it’s argued, then schools produce more useful human capital, poverty goes away, and the country becomes “globally competitive.” Ravitch, now a policy analyst and education historian with New York University, cites many studies which show that it’s really quite the other way around: America’s shameful child poverty level is the real cause of low test scores, and teachers, especially teachers’ unions, have been scapegoated as the villains in the media and by politicians of all political stripes, who always claim teachers are not “putting children first” and that “failing schools” and “bad teachers” actually cause poverty.


On Hiring Faculty off the Tenure Track by Noam Chomsky

That’s part of the business model. It’s the same as hiring temps in industry or what they call “associates” at Wal-Mart, employees that aren’t owed benefits. It’s a part of a corporate business model designed to reduce labor costs and to increase labor servility. When universities become corporatized, as has been happening quite systematically over the last generation as part of the general neoliberal assault on the population, their business model means that what matters is the bottom line. The effective owners are the trustees (or the legislature, in the case of state universities), and they want to keep costs down and make sure that labor is docile and obedient. The way to do that is, essentially, temps. Just as the hiring of temps has gone way up in the neoliberal period, you’re getting the same phenomenon in the universities. The idea is to divide society into two groups. One group is sometimes called the “plutonomy” (a term used by Citibank when they were advising their investors on where to invest their funds), the top sector of wealth, globally but concentrated mostly in places like the United States. The other group, the rest of the population, is a “precariat,” living a precarious existence.


These Seattle Teachers Boycotted Standardized Testing—and Sparked a Nationwide Movement by Diane Brooks

Life felt eerie for teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High in the days following their unanimous declaration of rebellion last winter against standardized testing. Their historic press conference, held on a Thursday, had captured the attention of national TV and print media. But by midday Monday, they still hadn’t heard a word from their own school district’s leadership.

Then an email from Superintendent José Banda hit their in-boxes. Compared with a starker threat issued a week later, with warnings of 10-day unpaid suspensions, this note was softly worded. But its message was clear: a teacher boycott of the district’s most-hated test—the MAP, short for Measures of Academic Progress—was intolerable.

Jittery teachers had little time to digest the implications before the lunch bell sounded, accompanied by an announcement over the intercom: a Florida teacher had ordered them a stack of hot pizzas, as a gesture of solidarity.

“It was a powerful moment,” said history teacher Jesse Hagopian, a boycott leader. “That’s when we realized this wasn’t just a fight at Garfield; this was something going on across the nation. If we back down, we’re not just backing away from a fight for us. It’s something that educators all over see as their struggle too. I think a lot of teachers steeled their resolve, that we had to continue.”

Parents, students, and teachers all over the country soon would join the “Education Spring” revolt. As the number of government-mandated tests multiplies, anger is mounting over wasted school hours, “teaching to the test,” a shrinking focus on the arts, demoralized students, and perceptions that teachers are being unjustly blamed for deeply rooted socioeconomic problems.


Your invitation to the book launch of Restacking the Deck: Streaming by Class, Race and Gender in Ontario Schools

Dear Friends,

This is an invitation to the book launch and public discussion of Restacking the Deck: Streaming by Class, Race and Gender in Ontario Schools , which you can download here.

It will be held on Thursday, May 15, 6:30 pm at the William Doo Auditorium, New College, University of Toronto, 41 Willcocks Street (at the corner of Spadina), two blocks north of College and two blocks south of Harbord on the Spadina streetcar line.


The staying power of Ontario’s deficit games by Hugh Mackenzie

Six years after the global recession plunged governments the world over into fiscal deficit mode, Ontario remains mired in deficit scare tactics engineered by the previous McGuinty government.

In its waning years, the McGuinty government invested heavily in creating an atmosphere of fiscal crisis in Ontario. The objective was to push the reset button on an exercise in public services rebuilding that had outpaced the tolerance of the Liberals’ more conservative backers.

The government, led by its Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan, seized upon the downturn in revenue caused by the 2008-09 recession. It argued expenditures were out of control and the province was saddled with a structural deficit that could only be addressed by cutting public services and by going after public sector unions.

To put it simply, before Ontario had begun to recover from the deepest global economic recession since the 1930s, the government declared that the obvious was not true – the deficit was not cyclical – and set out to scare Ontarians into accepting austerity as the only viable response.


Tackling Ontario’s Public Services Deficit by Hugh Mackenzie

… Looking forward, it is essential that Ontario consider all of the options available to rebuild the province’s capacity to pay for public services.

The personal income tax – Ontario’s only truly progressive revenue source – could be made more progressive and generate more revenue by creating new higher marginal tax brackets at the top of the income scale.

Increasing the marginal tax on the richest 1% by simply one percentage point could yield up to $250 million in additional revenue.

Doing the same for the richest 10% could expand potential additional revenue by $640 million.

Doing so would also have a redistributive effect on Ontario’s growing income inequality problem.

Ontario could also lead a national debate on tax loopholes that cost the province and the federal government billions…


Can Ontario Get Childcare? by Donald Hughes

At the recent Conservative convention in Calgary, Stephen Harper referred back to one of his first acts as Prime Minister, which was to demolish the national childcare framework. Harper referred to the childcare program as “lobbyists, academics and bureaucrats” and suggested that now the money (in the form of a small tax credit) was in the hands of “Mom and Dad.”

Harper seemed fairly confident that the popular publicly-funded child care program in Quebec could be contained to that province, and that the federal government wouldn’t play much of a role in child care policy for the foreseeable future.

Despite Harper’s confidence, there’s a real opportunity for the labour movement, the women’s movement and other justice-oriented social movements – especially in my own province of Ontario – to push forward on child care and build an affordable non-profit model that meets people’s needs.


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