Education Action: Toronto

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Bill 177, Ordering Higher EQAO Scores Won’t Work

by Doug Little

It seems to be all around us but I have never quite understood the fascination that senior levels of governments seem to have with ordering junior levels of government to improve achievement largely by ordering them to raise test scores. It seems odd to me when most of the blame should actually be focused on the senior government. The Americans are just the same. They may be our role models for this commanding exercise in school improvement. “No excuses” “any kid can learn” “tough love” BS emanating from south of the border may have affected our provincial politicians.

Bill 177 is a case in point today. The Ontario government is demanding that the school boards focus on student achievement or else. Or else what? Or else they might be put under trusteeship as they are when they refuse to balance their budgets.

I’m not sure exactly what the government thinks the school boards have been up to. As I watch from the outside now they seem to be building schools and filling them with teachers and support staff, and opening the doors and letting the students in and following the provincial curriculum and sending home reports and sending more kids to post secondary schools than any nation on Earth, so is the province suggesting that the boards are goofing off? Have they closed the doors and gone fishing? No not at all. This is wholly and completely an exercise in shifting the blame from where it belongs to where it does not belong, at least not much of it anyway.

When the province took full financial control from the school boards, established the EQAO to police the boards, the College of Teachers to police the teachers, and centralized the negotiations process to take almost full control of collective bargaining, it seems they want full control of the system but are equally unwilling to accept the blame for the system’s imperfections.

A recent study by Hugh Mackenzie of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPPA) clearly demonstrates that most provinces and most American states contribute more money on a per capita basis than Ontario does. We are still almost $1 billion short on restoring the money withdrawn from the system by Mike Harris and the marauding tribe of Visigoths he called the Ontario PCs and the Common Sense Revolution. The system is clearly being underfunded at the top but what of the other inputs to educational success? Who is responsible for doing something about the unemployment, the poverty, the housing crisis, the drugs, the crime and all of these social ills that make educational success just a far away dream for many? All of this is the responsibility of our two senior governments and we are simply fools if we allow them, by means of deception and totally meaningless legislation, shift the blame for any problems in education to the boards, the teachers, the support staff, the underfunded cities or any other scapegoats they might want to shift the blame. In his piece for the Walrus Magazine Roger Martin singled out the names of Paul Martin and Mike Harris for eternal damnation for destroying Canada’s educational advantage in the 1990’s. If they don’t soon accept responsibility there will be new names of provincial and federal leaders at the top of the “Most Wanted” list of school wreckers. You simply cannot legislate improved educational results whether it is through test scores or graduation rates or any other measure. No Child Left Behind NCLB had some interesting ideas. If you don’t improve we will let the kids go to another school. The kids didn’t want to move. OK if you don’t improve we will close the school and bring in a whole new team with new principal and new hand-picked teachers. They actually did it and it made no difference whatsoever. Arne Duncan, the former CEO of Chicago schools closed poor kid’s schools all over Chicago. Once again, they simply went to other poor schools and it made no difference once again. The province can take over boards, fire directors, send trustees home until they are blue in the face but it will make no difference in achievement levels.

Please provincial politicians I want you to listen very carefully while I say this just once very slowly so you get it. The underachievement in schools is YOUR FAULT. It is not the fault of the local board, the teachers, or the support staff. You are seriously under resourcing the boards and you are allowing levels of poverty that preclude the success in schools that you seem to want. It is time for the province to quit these shifting the blame exercises and accept responsibility for the system they insist on controlling. It is time for the province to pull together the financial and human resources necessary to narrow achievement gaps and lead an exercise in collective responsibility. This is the only path that even has a chance.

This article has been taken with the author’s permission from the The Little Education Report, an extraordinarily valuable source on what’s happening in education today. You can find it at http://www.thelittleeducationreport.com/index.htm


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