Friday, January 7, 2011


Cathing up to this a month after it hit the airwaves, etc., but the conversation hasn't really progressed since the first day on this one. Those in the know would already be aware of the Ontario government's decision on the before- and after-school component of the full-day kindergarten program. The news release is there, but surprisingly, perhaps, I didn't find a B-memo. Previous FDK implementation items have come out as something less than a B-memo, so that didn't in and of itself surprise me.
Those following what school boards have been wanting from FDK would have found December's change to be no surprise. Those aware of the two-year window given to school boards on before- and after-school programs in the spring of 2010 also wouldn't be that surprised by the change. Boards have maintained since virtually the day after Pascal's report was released their concerns the program would be underfunded.
Once the government decided to put teachers and early childhood educators at the core of the program, but not require any changes to kindergarten teachers' working conditions, it put the burden of before- and after-school on the ECEs. That's not groundbreaking, as ECEs already lead these programs in the boards, non-profit, municipal and for-profit childcare agencies where they all worked prior to FDK implementation. But no board was allowed to hire ECEs at the rates they're paid in those other agencies (which, to be fair, is low). Running their own wraparound programs would cost school boards far more than what it costs non-board agencies.
Further, in the many boards and schools where external agencies were already running programs, boards were being initially told they had to kick those agencies out of the schools because the board had to run all the wraparound programming. Not to mention the whole fee element. Boards did not want to have to be responsible for collecting fees and working out fee subsidies -- things childcare agencies and municipalities already do quite well without school board involvement.
So now boards can maintain those relationships -- and broaden them to include more schools. The community agency can continue to exist within the walls of the school. Isn't that part of the school-as-community-hub vision? The childcare agencies have a proven record of running good programs that are cost-effective for the agency and the public dollar (though not always for the parent).
This (and more) context was absent from everything I've been able to read in reaction to the government's decision. People for Education expressed its disappointment the government was stepping back. I would argue the commitment to a seamless program isn't gone, what changed is the suggestion school boards be responsible for running all of it. Now, regardless of who runs it, the provincial curriculum must guide the program, which is no doubt a step in the general direction from where we are today -- a landscape with some fantastic wraparound curriculum and some not-so-fantastic.
Political opponents took the opportunity to immediately call the premier a flip-flopper. Sandy over at Crux of the Matter had perhaps the most rational explanation from this perspective.
So was it a flip flop?
One person saying 'flip flop' is another person saying 'adaptive to changing realities.'
To look at what Pascal said, he has been consistent in noting that implementation of this program would be messy. Mistakes were going to be made and lessons were going to be learnt along the way. I don't know that he agrees with every decision that's been made (haven't asked-- has anyone? Would he even answer that question?) but he also hasn't let these developments distract him from keeping his eye on the ball.
Nowhere in the announcement do I see a government saying the wraparound programs will be permanently removed from the full-day kindergarten program. Nowhere have I seen (yet?) changes that would extend the two-year reprieve given to boards in the spring on having to run programs where there wasn't enough demand (the before, after and holiday programs were always intended to be based on demand).
So school boards won't have to run this part of the program anymore. So what? Most boards didn't want to run these programs anyway. Most childcare agencies already do, and have done so for years. I don't see this as being the educational policy change that will give any opposition party significant leverage for the coming election when it comes to talking about education.