First up is Christina Blizzard's column from Jan. 13, which ran in the TorSun that day and as usual got pretty wide pickup across the chain's other papers across Ontario. Given the subject matter (most media in the province did some sort of coverage on the year one sites), Blizzard's column was actually picked up by quite a few more papers than usual that Wednesday.
The headline that actually caught my eye and directed me to the original column at the Toronto Sun site was one used by the St. Thomas Times-Journal, semi-quoting a line in the column-- "All-day kindergarten just free babysitting." From the column:
And what did McGuinty want to talk about at his first news conference of the new year in Chatham yesterday?Way to stoke the fire, Christine. So, did you choose to set aside the knowledge that kindergarten is not babysitting? Or do you not know the difference between the two? It's a statement that would both anger supporters of full-day kindergarten and get its detractors saying "you betcha."
All-day kindergarten, which when fully implemented will cost a whopping $1.5 billion a year.
There is massive unemployment and welfare rolls are soaring. Finance Minister Dwight Duncan is under pressure to cut a $24.7-billion deficit. Yet the government is pushing ahead with this Cadillac version of kindergarten, that will require teachers to be in the classroom for the full day, too. Even the government’s advisor, Charles Pascal, suggested early childhood educators only could be used half the time.
The premier said yesterday the new program will employ 5,000-6,000 teachers and close to 20,000 early childhood educators.
This year the program will cost $200 million for about 35,000 kids. In 2011 that will grow to $300 million for 50,000 four and five-year-olds. When phased in by 2015, it will accommodate 240,000 kids.
The premier was vague about where the money was coming from to pay for it, but did suggest that if we don’t do this, we won’t be competitive with the rest of the world.
I’m not quite sure how that works. This economic downturn has hit this province particularly hard.
Many people — especially older workers who paid to babysit their own children — have been laid off. Seniors have seen their pension savings evaporate.
Yet those people are supposed to cough up more in taxes so kids who are four and five years old now will get a job 20 years from now?
Give me a break. This is nothing more than free babysitting for two-income families who could well afford to pay their own way.
As to her main point-- that McGuinty is fiddling while Rome / Ontario / the world / oldsters' pensions burn... the government's 2007 education platform gave very, very high listing to full-day kindergarten. Some might wonder, independent of the other questions, why it took McGuinty so long to take the step taken on Monday.
In comes Moira MacDonald this weekend, speaking in more the more nuanced terms of someone who actually writes about education for a living. She's focusing on how "optional" may not really mean optional at all when it comes to enrolling in full-day kindergarten.
When Dalton McGuinty’s special adviser on full-day kindergarten, Charles Pascal, had his report unveiled last spring, he insisted his plan would allow parents to choose whether to send their four and five-year-olds off for a full day or not.This is not surprising. The government (and any that follow after 2011) has already signalled in its staffing and early decisions on full-day kindergarten that it's not following Pascal's recommendations to a tee. We have the teacher / ECE decision from earlier in the fall, and in the accompanying memo that went out to school boards Jan. 13 from the early learning deputy minister (which I have a copy of and will post here later on Monday), the first details to boards of how to handle things like fee subsidies, etc. for the childcare components. FYI, boards were given a formula for the before- and after-school fees for the kindergarten students-- most of which will fall in the range of $20-40 a day.
“Children’s participation would be by parental choice, with parents having the option of a half, full (school hours), or a fee-based extended day of programming,” reads one of the recommendations in Pascal’s report, released late last spring. The government itself calls the full-day program “optional.”
But, like that earlier sexy and costly education plan — smaller primary classes — this is not rolling out exactly as advertised.
My guess is the government is banking on the majority of “lucky few” parents being so ecstatic about the prospect of lower daycare fees or a few more hours to themselves, the applause will cancel out any minority report squawks.
Parents in the neighbourhoods chosen for phase one of the program — capturing about 15% of kindergarten-age students next year — will gradually learn their options are more theoretical than real.
“Schools that have been selected this year will only offer a full-day program for 4 & 5 year olds (so there will no longer be any half-day programs at these schools),” the education ministry wrote me in an e-mail last week.
Pascal's vision of options may not be feasible from an implementation perspective. With declining birth and fertility rates across most of the province, having full-day and half-day streams in place at every Ontario school would be a nightmare to implement-- a point MacDonald concedes but ultimately said wouldn't make that much more of a difference given other high-cost options already chosen by the government. I don't buy the generalization the kids can't handle it-- one MacDonald makes in assuming a tradition of half-day, every day kindergarten-- simply not a tradition that is in place at every school and in every board. There are some kids who may never do well in a full-day, every day program, just as there are plenty already thriving in full-day programs that won't be that different from what's coming to every school.
Where I agree with MacDonald however is in flexibility. This program will not play as well (perhaps a nod to Blizzard's comment) in some parts of the province as it will in others. It's likely that some parents who may have been willing to put their son/daughter in kindergarten for a half-day (or full-day, alternate days) program won't be willing when it comes to a full-day, every day. School boards -- and more specifically schools -- should be allowed the flexibility to permit a family to make that decision without losing grant. So while running to parallel programs is something that shouldn't happen, local flexibility will allow boards to address local needs.
All that being said, it really also depends on what other options are available out there. Four- and five-year-old childcare programming is one of the industry's few profit centres. If some providers find a way to offer alternate programs (half-day, etc.) that meet a need full-day kindergarten doesn't, some might find a market for it in the right community. Chances are that most parents who don't register their children today for whatever form of kindergarten they have access to still won't after it goes full-day. Why bother chasing this crowd or playing to them?