Education Bloggers and Podcasters in Ontario – Make Your Voices Heard

If you are not an educator or healthcare worker, you might things are OK here in Ontario. We now have buck a beer and tailgating is not far behind. We have a government in Ontario that is catering to the base interests of many people in the province. The government for the ‘people’ is reducing class sizes, getting rid of thousands of teachers, diverting money away from repairing schools and delving dangerously into the math curriculum. They say the system is broken and they are here to fix it.

The situation will remain grim and we are probably heading towards a political showdown between the teacher federations and this government. This will not go well and a chill will descend over education in Ontario that will not be lifted for years to come.

It is very sad and frustrating that every 15 years or so we need to go into one of these destructive cycles. There still exists in this society a belief that educators make too much and that we lavish our children with an education system that is too rich for the collective blood. The system needs to be culled every decade or so to make sure money is being spent in a ‘responsible’ way.

If this were not the case, we would not have a government who says with impunity that student protests were controlled by union bosses and that teachers are engaging in political protest using their bulletin boards. The public, by and large, is accepting this.

Over the weekend, thousands of teachers travelled to Toronto to protest against this assault on our public education system. This is a good thing, but it is not nearly enough. In a world of the 24-hour news cycle, more must be done.

So, I have a proposal. While there are a number of great bloggers and podcasters who have made their voices heard, more of the province’s education opinion-makers need to weigh in. It is very possible to look at a day of podcasts and blog posts and see people writing about the same thing. This is OK up to a point, but I would argue that all writers and broadcasters need to dedicate at least 15% of their time to political protest.

Will this turn the tide? No, but that is not a strong enough argument for not doing this. When an excellent education is under attack by politicians who simply want to save tax dollars everyone has a role to play on a regular basis to speak out against this injustice.

Let’s make no mistake here. This is an injustice. Yes, this involves the loss of teacher jobs, but much more importantly, one of the best education systems in the world is being hijacked by politicians who are catering to society’s base economic interest.

So writers and broadcasters, let’s not beat around the bush. Come out and call this an injustice. Write more about how these changes have nothing to do with improving the education of our children and everything to do with leaving a few more dollars in the pockets of voters.  Call this what it truly is – an assault against the learning environment of children and young people in this province.

Please stop worrying about how this will look or what your followers might think. If you are able to put together a post on any other educational topic, this one really should top your list.

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Public officials should not destroy what they cannot understand.

nothing against this person, but Lisa Thompson is not an advocate for a strong public education system in Ontario

Like many concerned educators, I have been following the education news in Ontario as closely as possible.

It seems to me that the political leaders in our province are doing their utmost to follow the lead of the much more flamboyant political dilettante south of us when it comes to public audacity.

In the last few weeks, some crazy ideas about education have been floated out there.

First – let’s get rid of the kindergarten cap of 29 and the hard cap of 20 in grades 1,2 and 3.

As a former elementary principal, this seemed to be thoughtless and irresponsible hogwash. It was soon followed by another thought bubble – let’s see if full-day kindergarten is all that effective!

Again, as an elementary principal, I have to say that FDK was easily one of the most innovative and successful education initiatives that any government has proposed over the past thirty years. Especially in my last school in a high poverty community made up of immigrants from all over the world, FDK became the great leveller. Children who did not speak any English, who had never had the opportunity to socialize with other kids were all brought together in the same classroom.

It was a little hectic, but we had gifted, truly wonderful teachers and ECEs who worked hard to socialize these children. They had them all day. They made sure they got a good nap. They taught them how to play in a larger social setting, they brought them into a wider society.

I can say the same about the caps in primary and kindergarten. In the most important years of education, class sizes were kept small. No school in the province could sneak in more students and save costs through larger class sizes. In the most vitally important years, a calm learning environment was given a chance.

These wonderful innovations had one important thing in common – while they were great for kids and educators, they were expensive. The number one expense in education is staffing and small class sizes mean more teachers, more salaries.

We have been very fortunate in Ontario. Over the past two decades, we have had some truly visionary leadership in education, inspired and guided by some of the best minds in the education world. I have been so proud to be an Ontario educator.

Now, something has changed. Call it the rise of populism in Ontario or whatever you want, but the expert is now not needed or wanted. We can get rid of great policies by floating an idea out there with no consultation and absolutely no wisdom or vision.

A wise person once remarked that we are experiencing the death of the expertise era. In a populist wave, public ministers are moving into positions of power with little or no experience. But they are for the ‘people’ so experience no longer matters.

So, as a way to start turning things back to sober discourse on what is best for children, I am suggesting that the current Minister of Education, Lisa Thompson resign.

I have nothing against this person and good for her for becoming a public servant, but she doesn’t know anything about education and she is certainly not a strong advocate for a vital public education system.

She is being moulded as a hatchet person for the current premier who certainly has no love for public education. As you would expect, the Toronto Star has come out against Doug Ford as the anti-education premier – The results show education is enemy number one for Premier Ford, but there is a good point here. The current government is looking for the vulnerable points in our education system.

What costs lots but serves a population that certainly cannot speak for themselves?

Lisa Thompson really has little idea of what she is doing, but it is the job she was assigned and she is going to do it. Calling for her resignation will go nowhere, but the call does need to go out.

We deserve an excellent system. Our system is excellent. Public officials should not destroy what they cannot understand. In the end, we will rebuild, but why put children through all of this?

 

Class Sizes Really Matter

Why is it that conservative-leaning governments always feel the need to go after public education? Is it public education in particular or is it all public institutions?

I really don’t know, but I have seen along with many other educators in Ontario the latest trial balloon put up by the provincial government in an effort to relieve the strain on taxpayers. Lisa Thompson, the Minister of Education is about to start consultations on a variety of education-related issues – class size being one of them. This is what she put out today.

We’ve launched consultations with education partners on many topics including class sizes. Let me be clear, no decisions have been made. We look forward to the sector sharing their experience and perspective so we can ensure tax dollars have the greatest impact in the classroom.

I added in my contribution to the consultation. Not that I was asked, but I am a taxpayer too, so why not.

Smaller class size for kindergarten and primary are certainly a good investment. You obviously could save money with larger class sizes, but you would be responsible for decreasing the quality of education in Ontario. Better idea – hard cap in kindergarten of 25.

This got way more attention than my tweets usually do. I think this is a good thing, there are many educators who are concerned about class size in kindergarten and primary. As a former elementary principal, hard caps in grades 1-3 made a huge difference in the learning environment for children and their teachers.

The not so hard cap of 29 or 30 in kindergarten did make some difference. I would argue that if we were really serious about the learning environment in kindergarten, there would be a hard cap of no more than 25.

Some people, including some education writers, argue that class size does not make a difference. I don’t think these people have ever spent enough time in a primary or kindergarten classroom.

These spaces can be real battlegrounds. Especially in neighbourhoods where kids have never been in group care situations, kindergarten is very challenging. Many of the children may not speak English, many have no idea how to play together and for some families, this will be their first introduction into the formal education system in Ontario.

While ‘battleground’ may seem like a strong word, the world of kindergarten and primary is something really different and very special. It is not something you want to get wrong, and you certainly will not benefit from an overcrowded classroom.

No caps mean you can put any number of children in a classroom. This is actually one of the key issues teachers in Los Angeles are striking about right now. No caps means you can save money on staffing, you may get a few dollars back at income tax time. If you don’t have kids in the system, you will never know the difference.

An important political issue for the taxpayers of Ontario.

Do we not have any primary principles in our society that stop us from making decisions that negatively impact the most vulnerable?

Trick question.

I know we don’t, but we should. The education of our children – and very important decisions affecting our children’s education – should not be treated like other public forum decisions, like extending LCBO hours or charging for tourism signs on provincial highways. No trial balloons to the general public on an issue such as kindergarten class size.  This is not about saving the taxpayer a few dollars.

We must, we deserve to, have higher-quality discussions about significant issues. Bantered taunts on Twitter and angry exchanges between strangers do not constitute informed public debate. And, often that debate should be guided by well-briefed, informed leaders who have spent a day or two with this province’s future voters – the kindergartners.

 

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.

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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.

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