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 (www.nigelbarriffe.com). 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: educationactiontoronto.com. 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

Child Care’s Rough Ride by Martha Friendly

Child care in Ontario has been having a rough ride for some years. Most recently, the current election call illustrates the precariousness of child care in the absence of a federal role and without solid, well-developed provincial policy. In Ontario and Canada-wide, the state of child care is dismal in just about every way – spaces unavailable, quality uneven, wildly varied but mostly unaffordable parent fees, low staff wages, weak regulation. Full-day kindergarten-now in seven provinces-follows schedules that leave child care needs unmet while children younger than five (or four in Ontario) are left out. Integration of kindergarten and child care is at best superficial-not the “strong and equal partnership” we’d hoped for. Suitable inclusive options for children with disabilities are scarce. Many (or most) families rely on unregulated arrangements with no public oversight while quality in regulated child care is often not high enough to be called “developmental”.

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Campaign for Commercial-Free Schools: Highlights by Bruce Forsyth

… We are reviewing and considering the implications of some recently-published US research by the National Education Policy Centre. The NEPC annual report on school commercialism largely validates many of our current concerns about
the proliferation of advertising exposure to children through various forms of media. In particular, the use of “pop-ups” and online polling is increasingly taking advantage of students’ trust in pseudo-educational online resources to promote their private agendas. Oversight mechanisms in Ontario will certainly need to be reviewed in light of these new threats to the sanctity of our children’s educational space….

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What The Federal Government Could Do If It Really Wanted To Reduce Youth Unemployment by Armine Yalnizyan

Young Canadians are getting fewer of the jobs that are being created. And there are roughly 265,000 fewer young people with jobs than in 2008. This is almost unchanged since July 2009, the trough of the recession. Over two-thirds of the vanished jobs were full-time positions.

The youth cohort is the only group which experienced continued job loss over the past year.

It is striking that, at least until the 2011–12 scholastic year, the reduction in the number of young people with jobs was practically matched by increases in enrolments at post-secondary educational institutes.

This does not let legislators off the hook. Young people are clearly doing everything they can to attain or upgrade skills to make themselves more employable.

It has not been enough to prevent unemployment or underemployment.

And it is a costly gamble. Yesterday the Hill Times reported that student debt is rising since the recession. The group with the most debt on graduation, over $30,000, saw the fastest growth since 2009, up by 33%.

Not surprisingly, they are grabbing what employment they can. Many are under- employed, in terms of hours or skills.

Solutions for youth unemployment often focus on training and education, changing the supply of labour. But the demand for labour is changing too.

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The Skills-Gap Trope by Trish Hennessy

23%
…. Percentage of Canadians aged 15-29 who are estimated to have been underemployed in 2013. About a third of young Canadians work in part-time jobs, many of which are low paying and temporary….

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Problem? Ask a CEO by Erika Shaker

Parents, take note! Your search for clarity in the education debates is finally over. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) commissioned a report a few weeks ago that set out a fairly bleak picture of general dissatisfaction with public schools and then concluded with a series of recommendations about how to “fix” the problem.

You know, by measuring teacher quality through student outcomes, in addition to having students and other “impartial” parties judge a teacher’s performance through more frequent (possibly surprise) evaluations…and then assigning bonuses to those educators deemed worthy. Because: incentives!

Note the “finally! Enough resources for field trips and extracurricular activities” kind of incentives—I’m talking cold, hard cash, people. After all, what teacher won’t be incentivized to find an hour or two out of their day in which to be extra fabulous — in addition to coaching, tutoring kids after class, and scrounging for change to buy lunch or find bus fare for another student—if it means a little sumpin’-sumpin’ on their paycheque?

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Follow the Money, Part 1 -- The Weston Family by Donald Gutstein

You’ve seen him in television ads hyping President’s Choice dessert ideas, naming fake supermarkets after enthusiastic customers, sitting down with moms around the kitchen table and talking to President’s Choice farmers on their hormone-free farms.

He’s Galen Weston Jr., executive chairman of Loblaw Companies Ltd. And while he, or his media handlers, hone the image of Galen among the common folk — top shirt button always undone — the reality is that he’s next in line to head Canada’s second-wealthiest family, with a 2014 net worth of $10.4 billion, a 26-percent increase over 2013.

The Weston family does many good things with its vast fortune, such as fund health research, university scholarships and private land conservation. At the same time, though, it has probably done more to undermine public education in Canada than anyone else. The family foundation has donated nearly $22 million to the Fraser Institute for its programs to destabilize the public education system and promote school choice and vouchers.

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America's Class System Across The Life Cycle by Matt Bruenig

I am not usually one for a long charticle, but occasionally it’s worthwhile to step back and summarize what we know. Here [in this series of charts] I tackle America’s class system, across the life cycle:

1. Poverty Spikes Stress in Children
2. Income Inequality Means Enrichment Inequality
3. Rapid Schooling Divergence
4. Logical Consequence of Divergence: Drop Outs
5. Further Behind Than Ever Come College Time
6. Traditional College Students: Rich Kids
7. Getting In Doesn’t Mean Finishing
8. Surprise: Poor Kids = Poor Adults
9. Even The Strivers Don’t Do As Well
10. Inheritance Flows In
11. An Adulthood of Serious Inequality

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