The Opposition grows in Ontario to Health Curriculum Changes – Minus a Catholic Voice

 

The summer is usually a quiet time for education news in Ontario.

Not this year. The declaration by the new Conservative Government of Doug Ford rescinding the current (2015) Health and Physical Education curriculum is causing a virtual firestorm in the province.

The story just gets more interesting by the moment. Andrew Campbell is doing an amazing job at keeping track of the school boards in Ontario that are coming out with statements in support of teaching the 2015 Health Curriculum.

Here is a portion of the TDSB (Toronto Public) statement:

We want to let the TDSB community know that regardless of the Health and Physical Education curriculum, we have a responsibility guided by the Human Rights Code, the Education Act and supported by TDSB policies, to ensure that each and every student, such as LGBTQ students, feels included and reflected in our schools and classrooms.

Similar statements are being put out by many of Ontario’s Public school boards.

It is important to note that none of the boards making public statements are Catholic school boards. Before I go on, I want to state that I was a Catholic educator for 31 years in Ontario, the last six years as an elementary principal.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Principals Council of Ontario seem to be silent on this very important issue. They may have made statements, but nothing is available on their websites or twitter feed. These two organizations are important components of the Catholic voice in this province. Just like the bystander who doesn’t stop the bully, these organizations are becoming part of the problem when it comes to delivering an important curriculum to our children.

Liz Stuart, the President OECTA, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association has made a positive step to become the lead Catholic voice in the province.

And I say again Teachers need relevant, up-to-date information and resources to help students manage relationships and personal well-being.

She was interviewed by CBC Toronto a few days ago. In the interview, she makes it very clear that the current Fully Alive Program taught in Catholic schools complied with the 2015 HPE Curriculum. Why then are Catholic school boards reluctant to publicly support the retention of the 2015 curriculum?

Good for OECTA and Catholic teachers in the province. However, the Catholic hierarchy seems to be taking the position that a return to the earlier 1998 curriculum is a relief. No mention of cyberbullying, same-sex couples, issues relating to LGBTQ people, consent or sexting. No uncomfortable conversations.

Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board chair John Caputo was quoted in the Sault Star as being satisfied by the current regression by the province.

“Being Catholic, we don’t agree with the lifestyle,” Caputo said. “(But) we’re not here to judge people or to crucify them for their lifestyle. We’re here to educate, and that’s what we’re trying to do with our children is try to educate them so that they’re well prepared for the real world.”
There was, however, a “sigh of relief” within his board, Caputo said, when the new government announced the older curriculum would be brought in.
“It was a lot easier to deliver it, based on our faith,” he added. “The newer one did have some challenges and we were struggling on how we were going to present it.”

While it is inspiring to see the position the Public boards are taking, it is very discouraging to see Catholic boards favouring a position of abstinence rather than speaking out for the protection of their students.

It seems to me there are two reasons for the silence. First, this is uncomfortable ground for the Catholic leadership. As school board chair John Caputo stated the 1998 curriculum was easier to deliver, it was based on Catholic faith.

I would argue that our faith is much more inclusive than that. As Catholics, we have a responsibility to support those who are underrepresented in society – that should come first. Respect for the Dignity of the Human Person should come first. Instead, we are falling back on old ideas.

Second, the Catholic boards do not want to say anything to anger the current government at a time where the idea of amalgamating Public and Catholic school boards is gaining currency.

Hardly surprising, but troubling.

When so many voices are missing from a crucial public debate you have to ask if the Catholic voice in public education is losing credibility. As a former Catholic school principal, the absence of Catholics in a debate that really centers on what is best for our students is a loss for everyone.

Students, parents and teachers deserve better than this. There should be a stronger, braver Catholic vision in Ontario right now.

Where to go now? Education in Ontario

wordl of 251 responses to our survey on education issues in Ontario

Over the past three weeks, I have conducted an entirely unscientific survey on education issues in the Province of Ontario. I have closed the survey down now, but you can still see it here along with the responses – all 251 of them! 

This was an interesting exercise, largely hijacked by the opponents of Regulation 274 (Read – ‘Rescind Regulation 274 (2), Eliminate Regulation 274, Put an end to Regulation 274 finish what Lisa MacLeod started!’)

If you sift through the noise, there are some interesting comments in the last section of the survey. Here are a few:

Make the funding for support teachers in school libraries, special education and guidance equitable in staffing and budget by school per student. Monitor this spending.

There are way too many classrooms across Ontario that don’t have enough textbooks, novels, access to technology or breakfast/snack programs for students that need them. There needs to be WAY MORE equity in education. It has become the schools that have versus the schools that don’t.

Class size needs to be capped at 20 for Kindergarten to grade 8 for the mental health of the students and the teachers.

Why do we only fund one religious board? Don’t the other faiths/religions matter?? Shame on Ontario for not fixing this sooner! Discrimination is deadly in today’s culture.

Not a remarkable collection of ideas, but at least people took the time to write these and many other comments. Maybe some of these should be addressed. If there are 251 comments on a Google Form, even if there are lots of repeated grievances, doesn’t this mean we need to hold a public dialogue on education?

There are more voices out there. Stephen Hurley wrote this yesterday:

Along with health care, education is the largest financial commitment that any provincial government makes to citizens and, vice versa. Yet, when was the last time that we were able to step outside the fury of political cycles in order to have open and honest questions about the complex array of issues that have emerged over the last 50 years?

We can do better than a prolonged discussion on Regulation 274. We can do much better than an ideological argument about turning back the clock on health curriculum.

There are smatterings of intelligent debate all over social media, well beyond the current debate that really belittles the conversation. This morning, prompted again by Stephen Hurley, a group of us had a wide-ranging conversation about the possibilities and options for one publicly-funded system of education here in Ontario. I tried to collect the spirit of the conversation here.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Obviously, nothing was resolved, but at least it is an airing of the issues and the people in the conversation are credible and have a very effective voice. What would happen if this conversation caught fire? What would it be like if people really got involved in discussing public education in this province?

I hope the conversation continues and I really hope someone is watching all of this. As Stephen Hurley writes, public education is one of the biggest ticket items in Ontario so we need to have some good, serious conversations that go beyond a 30-second sound bite.

Thanks to those out there who are encouraging the conversation. We deserve this, we need this.

Teachers Stepping Up in Ontario

I did a quick informal survey of edutwitter this morning. I found the usual interesting tweets about education initiatives, conferences and new ideas. I was encouraged to see that teachers, especially in Ontario continue to push back on a number of local and national issues.

This is really important. Educators need to understand that especially if they are active on social media they have a role to play in making statements against policies and practices that are unjust and that need to be opposed.

Yes, all the other Twitter traffic in education is fine, but at a time when there is so much going on in the province and the world, can an educator actually have a public profile and not make statements about what is going on? If an educator doesn’t take a stand are they avoiding an important responsibility?

The issues are so important. VoicEd Radio, Derek Rhodenizer and Debbie Donsky are actively promoting Seven Fallen Feathers through podcasts, tweets and Facebook posts. Because of them, I am reading the book and am horrified by the long history of abuse and injustice against First Nations people that has yet to be resolved in this country. I knew about this sad story, but when you bring it down to single students, it really hits home – a huge shame against individuals and a people.

At the same time, educators are also reacting to the ludicrous actions of the new Conservative Government in Ontario who are unilaterally censoring public Health Curriculum for students, a document that received a full consultation including parents from every school in the province.

Now some people are publically declaring that they will continue to teach about social media, same-sex marriage, consent and other issues vital to the education of our students. As one parent stated – these are issues too important to be left up to parents – we all need to be aware of how these issues are being addressed in the public forum of our schools.

Associated with Seven Fallen Feathers is another issue, the ending of curriculum writing directed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Ontario Government is actively trying to head back to the old days, not only when it comes to Health Curriculum but also how we look at issues surrounding indigenous people in Canada. The blatant ignorance that prevailed up to the recent past is something the current regime wants to return to. All teachers worth their salt need to publically condemn this action.

Teachers teach. It is their vocation. To remain silent at this difficult time is not responsible. It should not be up to a valiant few to protest the actions of the new populist government or to publically examine our shameful history regarding indigenous people. It is the responsibility of all educators.

So, educators, continue to tweet about what you are reading and learning about this summer, but make sure you make yourself heard on social media about the bigger picture. Silence is acquiescence and we don’t do that.

 

Some Suggestions and more responses on what to do with Education in Ontario – a rolling blog

results 1

This image has been updated from July 7th. This wordl includes some of the key words in the 148 responses to our survey.

This past week a very interesting article was published in the Hamilton Spectator by a retired teacher, Ken Durkacz –  An open letter to Premier Ford on education

So, I have to say I find all of his suggestions appealing and it would be interesting to see what others think. Here are the author’s main ideas, I will paraphrase, but you can click on the link above to get the details:

1. Eliminate standardized testing. It would save tens of millions per year, which could be reinvested.

2. Move to one publicly funded school system. It would save millions in the duplication of services.

3. If you must cut from boards, cut from the top. There is a widespread feeling among front-line workers in schools that boards are bloated with people in positions that have little to nothing to do with the day to day education of students.

4. Reintroduce principals and vice-principals back into teacher unions.

We tried to survey people interested in issues during the election and it did work a little. You can read how people responded to an open-ended survey I wrote here. Thanks to Google, the 44 responses to the survey are summarized here. If you ignore the obvious overrepresentation on Regulation 274, there is no clear consensus on what the major issue in Ontario education is. So, I think Dan is heading in the right direction by making some very practical suggestions on how to improve education in this province. People who took the survey certainly echoed what he wrote.

Rather than giving my opinion on what might be the most popular ideas, let’s open this up to others who have an interest in public policy and education in particular.

Here are some ideas:

  • a survey (who doesn’t like a good survey) on what are the best ideas to pass on to Mr. Ford
  • a series of podcasts on some of the key ideas in the article. We will take care of that using our series – First Hand Stories on VoicEd Radio.
  • (a postscript – here is the first of our podcasts  and here is our second podcast
  • our third is here
  • a summer panel discussion – what are the key ideas that the new government should be considered in education? I think this would be a great discussion for VoicEd Radio. Maybe one episode per idea?

Summer is a great time for wondering about new ideas and initiatives. Maybe the new Minister of Education, Lisa Thompson could be a special guest on one of these shows? I will certainly share the survey with her.

We will start with number 1 – a survey for all of you. How would you rank the four suggestions? Do you have your own suggestion? Let’s see if we can generate some interest in education issues here in Ontario for the summer.

Postscript:

After 59 responses in less than a day, the results can be seen here

It is a little hard to interpret the results except to say all four issues seems to be important to respondents. What is most interesting so far are the comments at the end of the survey.

It is unfortunate that most are dominated by the Regulation 274 robots. This is to be expected, but what is a bit disappointing is that other educators in the Twittersphere are not all that willing to enter the debate, retweet or even like this discussion. I do hope this changes, the debate on the future of education deserves to be joined by more education opinion-makers.

We have completed our first podcast on our response to the article – you can listen here

A follow-up podcast is now out here

Our third in the series is here

Responses to Education Election Issues: Are we creating the optimum learning environment for our students?

Over the past two weeks, I have been collecting ideas and suggestions on what needs to change in Ontario’s education system. Clearly, there are lots of issues that are on the minds of voters and it would be great to see some of these important ideas debated during the current campaign.

Obviously, some issues are overrepresented by people who really have a bone to pick – Regulation 274 being one – but we can still get a sense of what some of the major concerns are, none have to do with returning to a ‘kill and drill’ math curriculum.

So what are some of the big issues?

School safety and mental health are related issues. There are several comments on the need for better mental health supports in schools and for the need to protect students and staff from violent outbursts. The safety of students and current class sizes comes into this. One respondent wrote that they did not feel that having potentially 36 students in a kindergarten class was safe for their child.

I think you could wrap all this into one overall issue – the quality of care in the classroom. Do we have enough support for children in our schools and are we creating the optimum learning environment for our students? Are schools really equipped to adequately deal with mental health challenges and the complex needs of children?

I don’t have a good answer to this question, but it is certainly asked a lot in the survey.

My daughter was supposed to be entering JK in the Fall and we’ve chosen not to enrol her, because 36 kids stuffed into a play-based program with limited resources and objects being thrown at the teacher’s head is not my idea of a good learning environment for ANY child. It fills me with sadness that as a public school teacher I don’t feel safe enrolling my own child in my local public school.

This is actually something that can happen. When we had half-day kindergarten, there was a hard cap of 20 students in the classroom. If you went over 20 students, there was a good chance that another class would have to be created. That cap really disappeared once we went to full-day kindergarten. Sometimes you will be able to split a class of 32 to 36 children into two classes, but there is no guarantee that this will happen and if it does take place it is usually a month into the school year.

Yes, there are other issues that need to be addressed based on this survey. EQAO, teacher hiring practices, the overlap caused by funding Catholic and Public schools, EQAO etc. But let’s start with this issue. Are we doing our very best to ensure a high-quality environment inside the classroom? Are we living with less?

If we could be doing better for our students in very concrete ways why are we not doing this? Why are more educators not saying anything? This is the time for debate, let’s hear more from parents and educators in our province.

People Respond: Education Issues in the Ontario 2018 Election

 

We are heading into an election here in Ontario. I am always really interested in election debates, especially how the discussion circles around education issues.

So far, we seem to be talking about sex education and how we need to return to some other time when parents and the church were the arbitars of essential information.

Oh yes, and there is the old rallying cry – back to math basics!!

Can we do better than that? Are there other issues that we should be discussing?

Really, we only get a chance to do this every four years and public education is vital to the maintenance of democracy. Actually, we need democracy to flourish and we have to step up and declare how our schools can best do this. At its heart, that is what education is all about.

So, I am conducting my own little survey. What are the issues that are important to you? Especially if you are an educator, what should we be talking about as we lead up to June 7th?

We only get to do this once every four years so it would be great to weigh in and record your answer.

Let’s let this survey run and see what we come up with. I will summarize the answers in this blog.

Let’s use this time wisely – just so you know, you can fill this survey out as many times as you want!

After five days, people are beginning to respond. Here are some of the issues that people are writing about:

Why are we publically funding Catholic educational schools and no other religious educational schools?
Standardized testing.
Class sizes (especially kindergarten) and resulting violence and behaviour issues.
Mental health support
Violence in the classroom

On Twitter there are more comments

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

We need to see this kind of discussion, these are essential issues and it is really important that politicians listen and respond to these comments.

Each of these points deserves to be addressed, no matter how uncomfortable it makes politicians.

Publically funding only one religion in a publically funded school system is blatant discrimination and against the Human Rights Act of the Province of Ontario. Catholicism should not be promoted as the major religion in Ontario, and yet it continues to be provincially funded as such. Why?

The money spent on EQAO from start to finish, as well as release time for staff, could be put to better use in teacher training, lower PTR, resources and engaging families to support learning. There is little research backing the educational benefits of standardized tests. But they have to be replaced with what does work and in an equitable way.

My daughter was supposed to be entering JK in the Fall and we’ve chosen not to enrol her, because 36 kids stuffed into a play-based program with limited resources and objects being thrown at the teacher’s head is not my idea of a good learning environment for ANY child. It fills me with sadness that as a public school teacher I don’t feel safe enrolling my own child in my local public school.

Because students with and without learning disabilities, with and without strong home support, with and without basic math skills and reading skills….everyone may at some point in their school career need mental health support. Our part time counsellor is a former EA with little training. She is trained to support children with small grief issues, or those how need help with social interactions or managing their parent’s divorce. Instead, she is spending all of her time supporting kids with some really big mental health challenges. There isn’t anyone else who can support them at school. We need full time counsellors, even in elementary schools

Many occasions of violence towards other students and staff with no consequences

This is becoming a really long post, but it is important. There is a lot of excellent information here and I hope someone takes a look. All of these are issues that have caught the public’s eye in the past. Collectively, they are a call to take a hard look at our current system and seek out ways to make it better and more responsive to the concerns of parents and educators in our province.

We can do so much better than a few sound bites about ‘new math’.

Update – the responses to the survey continue – you can go to this summary to see what people are writing

Of all the issues what are the most important? You can have your say here