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

Where Should We Begin In Education Reform? by Nigel Barriffe

One of the most interesting educational blogs in Ontario is by Doug Little. It’s called The Little Education Report (http://thelittleeducationreport.com/). A few days ago, Doug set out what he called “a moderate progressive agenda” in education. He figured it might be possible to implement this agenda in some kind of Liberal/NDP agreement (accord, coalition, back room discussions).

I think there is little likelihood the Liberals could be persuaded to move in the direction Little proposes. Wynne and Co. seem to me to be moving in exactly the opposite direction — more “austerity” in education, more emphasis on standardized test scores, more bureaucratic control from Queen’s Park, more links to the private sector, etc. At the same time, I’d argue that the recommendations Little puts forward might be a very good place for a new NDP government to start in strengthening our school system. Here they are:

1. Rapid completion of the Full Day Kindergarten Plan to create ‘facts on the ground’ that any future Tory government would be loath to even consider curtailing. Commission a study to consider going further with Early Childhood Education.

2. Return to FREE Collective bargaining across the public sector and for our purposes within the education sector including post secondary.

3. Get tuition and student debt under control. Many poorer European societies offer free public post secondary education. We propose that first year university or college be free of tuition.

4. Far greater support for poor kids outside of school or in conjunction with school. This would include free vision, dental care, and free nutritious meals at breakfast and lunch at school, incentives for outstanding teachers to work in poor schools, after school academic support and free summer school that combines museum, zoo, art gallery, sports, and museum trips with literacy and numeracy support.

5. A complete halt to school closures and the institution of a community schools hub model.

6. A serious study of Robert Mighton ‘Jump Math’ and a pilot program in an entire board to consider the merits.

7. A very slow but relentless reduction in class sizes focused on poor schools first and districts with weak graduation results.

8. Resistance to any privatization or commercialization of the schools.

9. A winding down of the EQAO by eliminating tests altogether and using random sampling for those that remain.

10. A re-examination of ‘Streaming’ AKA tracking as THE major barrier to poor and working class advancement within the school system and in society. The role of special ed, French Immersion, IB, and the applied/academic split needs to be on the table.

What do you think of these recommendations? Are they a good place to start?


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