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Education Action: Toronto: English! Brought to You Today by the Milk Marketing Board: TDSB Opens the Advertising Door to Toronto Students

Education Action: Toronto

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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

English! Brought to You Today by the Milk Marketing Board: TDSB Opens the Advertising Door to Toronto Students

by Dudley Paul

The TDSB just can’t be corporate enough.

It’s clear through ventures like it’s newly announced partnership with the Rotman School of Finance running courses next year in the new renamed Bathurst CI – now JC Polanyi CI – something Board Administration portentously claims “…marks the first transfer of concepts from the world of business education to the public school system”.

Corporate accountability is touted through efforts to quantify learning across grades with literacy testing several times a year monitored by school staff and superintendents with scores pasted up on literacy results walls.

EQAO testing in grade 3, 6 and 9, of course ensures that longer term business plans for students are met in Mathematics and Literacy. These tests police hundreds of fragmented “expectations” that turn learning into skill acquisition in order to prepare student to compete in a globalized world.

Schools now have online School Improvement Plans. Standardized reports have been with us for years. Teachers are evaluated with an online form using standardized criteria to keep Principals from exercising anything as difficult to measure as judgement. Schools must, like corporations, be standardized and results-oriented and those results must measurable to be relevant.

And of course, much of this view of education depends on Information Technology (IT) – wireless classrooms, ready access to computers by everyone. The current fetish is to place monitors in the hallways to keep students informed of the latest details of school life. In a school board that looks to sell schools to pay its expenses, white boards or an announcement over a crackly PA system just won’t do. Board officials appear desperate in their need for this fancy new equipment – a continuation of their understanding of the business model of education.

But since the Board is in rough financial shape, it’s tougher to sell such fancy and largely irrelevant IT equipment to beleaguered trustees.

The solution, of course, is to get such IT to pay for itself.

The Corporate Pitch

Along comes a company like One Stop Media that promises to pay all related costs for putting 4 video monitors in each of 70 schools across the Board and connecting them all through a network shared by the TTC and univerities. One Stop Media installs digital message boards in stores, malls and TTC stations providing, as it says “infotainment” while “promoting loyalty programs, new services and other messages.” According to a recent report to the Administration, Accountability and Finance Committee, this installation agreement would be for 7 years with an option for another three.

This venture surfaced a year ago when Trustee Chris Bolton, introduced it as a pilot project in four of his downtown secondary schools, Heydon Park, Central Tech, Harbord and Central Commerce. Director of Education Chris Spence praised the partnership with One Stop Media as a chance for students to be involved in making the messages that go out to their school – presumably by putting together programs featured on the monitors throughout the schools.

Trustee Bolton argues that this is a good deal for the TDSB because it will let students and staff have a “voice” as they communicate with their counterparts at the schools connected to the system. He says that the network provides for a safe schools voice so that department can make sure kids know about snow days and other dangers – though again, the PA system is probably a better bet for that sort of communication. And he adds that the “corporate voice” may now also given a place.

The corporate voice has a lot to say. Not only is this network free, but the Board report says participating schools could make 5 to 15 per cent of revenue from the advertising One Stop Media plans to post on the screens, something that could amount to $100 000 per year.

And there’s the hitch – ad revenues. Should schools be advertising to students who are required to attend school– who make up a captive market? Is there no place kids can be free of the shill? Well, the Board says it’s only going to allow good advertisers to advertise – so- called non-commercial ones like the Milk Marketing Board, governments and colleges and universities. Since there are no Board rules on what is suitable in advertising and what is not, the Business Development department will make that call.

That it is good business to advertise to students is nothing new. Back in the 1990’s , Youth News Network offered to provide Canadian high schools with TVs and VCRs (yes it was the ‘90’s) in return for the right to have students watch a 12 and a half minute network-prepared news broadcast, during which time students would also watch two and a half minutes of commercials. Even then in the depths of the Mike Harris years with the education budget cut by around $2 billion, the allure of a few extra dollars was just not enough to overcome opposition to advertising in a place where students are supposed to be learning and the proposal was canned .

This proposal also has a small chance of being turned down.

Trustee Michael Coteau says he is not opposed to corporate partnerships, but draws the line at posting ads in message boards in schools. As far as he’s concerned schools have no business telling families which goods they should be purchasing. Admitting that the TDSB is strapped for cash he argues: “…we shouldn’t have to go to advertising to pay for schools. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if the province was paying properly for education.”

Coteau is right about that. Promised years ago, the provincial government still has not produced a funding formula that reflects the needs of students across the province preferring to seed dollars here and there where it suits the Liberal agenda. The comparatively paltry “up to $100 000” return for letting One Stop Media advertise in schools isn’t going to change much – even if it wasn’t a completely wrongheaded idea.

Why? Think for a moment about who constitutes a so-called “non-commercial advertiser”? The Milk Marketing Board, one example offered is as commercial as it’s name suggests says Trustee Chris Glover. What if McDonalds or Burger King decides to promote a healthy diet curriculum, corporate logos pasted everywhere? Are these non-commercial? TD Bank for example might want to help kids make better financial choices – particularly related to developing some corporate loyalty. So are they in? Will Chapters/Indigo admonish kids to improve their reading as it supports the Israeli Defense forces through its “lone soldier” foundation?

Is the Board truly prepared to vet all possible ads to be run on One Stop Media digital signboards?

As Glover points out, the idea of advertising in schools represents a very slippery slope. Schools could become increasingly dependent on the ad revenue, as the province decides schools don’t need quite so much money any more since they can raise it on their own. Let’s not forget the cries of government poverty echoing everywhere. It also draws boards closer to a corporate way of thinking – something maybe taught at the Rotman School of Finance – you do what you need to meet your business plan. If you need money, advertising brings in money – so advertising must be okay. If it’s good that students learn how to better solve problems so they can make greater contributions to a world increasingly dominated by corporate thinking, why not use schools to solidify corporate loyalty?

Another Shot at Trustee Responsibility

What’s just as insidious as the idea of advertising to kids is the way this issue is being handled. Board administration recommends that the Board “receive” the report that advocates for One Stop Media. That doesn’t seem like much to ask except for the detail that “receive” actually means: let Board administration do what it wants. By receiving this or any other report and its recommendations to allow One Stop Media to advertise in schools, the Board simply lets its executives go ahead and do as they see fit. There is no recorded vote, individual trustees can avoid any flack they might get from supporting this. A significant step is taken toward commercializing schools and no one needs to know who supports it.

So much for school board governance.

Schools have no business advertising to kids. It damages the trust between educators who are supposed to be looking out for kids’ best interests and students who will grow more cynical about their school as just another organization that wants to sell them something. In that truth and accuracy are two qualities not generally prominent in advertising, it puts schools in the position of misleading students. And it doesn’t make it any less wrong, that kids are already immersed in a sea of consumerism driven by nonsensical messages to swim harder.

Strapped as it is for dollars, the TDSB is not so desperate that it should trade trust for cash. The only possible benefit of the advertising on monitors throughout the school perhaps is that there will be a ready supply of material for media literacy teachers to critique with their kids.


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