Trolls Creep Into the Education Debate in Ontario

What does one expect a retired principal to say??? You just want leech our system dry and fail our student to line your colleagues (sic) pockets.

Taken from a direct tweet to me – Sunday, March 24

We are entering into a zone in Ontario where debate and protest are again necessary to protect public education here in Ontario.

Unfortunately, when you begin to advocate for a public institution, you do invite the trolls out there to take shots at you. It is incredible how quickly the debate on social media can go south when we start talking about education. I certainly will not be focussing on the negative, but it truly is a shame when people think it is OK to attack teachers for standing up for their students and parents.

Every 15 years or so democracy seems to take a misstep. We elect someone whose interest in public institutions is suspect. Why do we do things like this? Why do we get tired of supporting vital public institutions?

Democracies sometimes head down the wrong road and when this happens the consequences can be very destructive.

In Ontario, the current government of Doug Ford is taking the beginning steps in dismantling many of the gains our education system has made in the past 15 or 20 years. For the most part, we have made these gains because the people in power believed in strong public institutions. Of course, they made lots of mistakes and they could have done more, but I don’t think you can argue that they didn’t believe in a strong public education system.

The current government is having trouble figuring this one out.

When I protest, I’m not standing up for my rights. I’m standing up for my students because my working conditions are their learning conditions & they deserve better than crowded classes, fewer high school options & forced e-learning.

Taken from Twitter – March 25

It is great to see educators fighting back – there are lots of comments like the one above on Twitter right now. Maybe we can drown out the trolls!

There is an important interview you should all listen to. In it, the current Minister of Education, Lisa Thompson struggles to explain why increasing average class sizes to 28 in high school is a good thing.

//www.cbc.ca/i/caffeine/syndicate/?mediaId=1461676099953In a follow-up article, Lisa Thompson is quoted saying that her government is committed to standing by Ontario’s teachers.

I would argue it’s a little more like standing on the necks of teachers, but that’s just me.

This is an important moment for education in Ontario. Increasing class size does only one thing – it reduces the number of teachers you need to employ, nothing else. Anyone who has spent time scheduling high school classes knows that and I have done lots of that.

You have to expect the trolls will ooze to the surface during these debates. Lots of people have real or imagined gripes against an educator and social media gives them a voice.

trying to ‘school’ teachers will not work for Doug Ford

What is great about the current debate is that lots of educators are also taking to social media to write in support of the current system. This is really important. I don’t know if it will make any difference, but politicians should learn that they can no longer make decisions in a personal vacuum. Their decisions will be debated and in some cases protested against in the public forum. Doug Ford warning teachers not to protest his education cuts is a hollow threat.

It is good to reflect on the Twitter comment to me. The troll writes,  “You just want leech our system dry and fail our student to line your colleagues (sic) pockets.”

The day before Doug Ford was quoted saying this, “I love the front-line teachers and we may not see eye to eye with the head of the unions because all they want to do is collect their union dues and start pocketing (them) into their pockets,”

There seems to be a similarity here. This is what happens when our political leaders drag down the debate and make things personal. It gives permission to the trolls out there to do the same thing.

Educators in Ontario should not allow this to happen.

 

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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?

 

Who Monitors Education in Ontario?

Trustees have a fundamental duty to rebuild the essential democratic linkages between citizens and board employees, who are in essence public servants. How to do that, is a fundamental question to all those that aspire to elected office.

Four Questions Ottawa Citizens Should Ask Before Voting for Their New School Trustees

Education is political and to forget this can lead to fundamental problems on how the system is run and managed in Ontario and other jurisdictions across the country.

In an excellent post this week, Four Questions Ottawa Citizens Should Ask Before Voting for Their New School Trustees, Dr Dragos Popa from the University of Ottawa has laid out four challenges for people running as public trustee in the 2018 Municipal elections. It would be a very good idea for all candidates to read this post and come up with clear answers to his challenges.

The public takes education for granted in this province. Unless you have a child in the system and even if you do have a child in the system, very few people have any sense of how public education is managed.

Even at the provincial level, there seems to be very little political will to seriously look at governance issues in public education. It seems that politicians and the public, in general, have surrendered up public scrutiny of the system to school board officials mainly because education is best left up to the experts.

This is a mistake and can lead to serious consequences. Dr Popa correctly points out that schools are nowhere nearly as ‘user-friendly’ as they should be. There is not the sense of public accountability that is more in evidence at the different levels of government. School officials are able to act with impunity because they know their actions are seldom challenged in the forum of public opinion.

To be fair, our education politicians are at a disadvantage. Years ago under Mike Harris, public education trustees salaries were discontinued, replaced with an honorarium as low as $5000.00 a year (The Fewer Schools Boards Act and the Toronto District School Board: Educational Restructuring 1997- 2003). School authority trustees are paid an honorarium at the same rate as was paid on December 1,1996 (Good Governance Guide, Ontario Public School Boards’ Association).

The problem with this is that politicians paid an honorarium cannot be expected to put in the time necessary to act as independent arbiters of school board staff policies and decisions. When it comes to governance issues in Ontario they simply do not play an effective role.

This may sound overly harsh, but it is not a criticism of the people who basically act as volunteers in the management of education in Ontario. I have worked as an unpaid board member before and I know that over time, a board member will become a ‘captive’ of management staff, the people responsible for supplying board members with the information they need to do their jobs.

This is a problem. Trustees are at best part-time employees of their school boards while the people they are charged with monitoring are full-time officials charged with maintaining a system that largely benefits these officials.

There is little public accountability in this system and there seems to be little interest in changing this dynamic. In fact, in a Globe and Mail article by Caroline Alphonso written in 2014 and updated in 2017, attempts by public school trustees in several school boards to raise their honorariums were reversed by the provincial government (Ontario orders school board trustees to cancel pay raises).

This leads me back to the original post by Dr Popa. He is correct in offering up important questions for new trustees to consider before the election, but do we have a system that actually encourages the necessary independence to actually challenge a system that is no longer accountable?

Is this a system that is truly public and accountable? Can we do better than this?