Monday, January 30, 2012


Though the speculation today is all about what changes may be coming to the healthcare system (delisting things from OHIP, etc.), I have no doubt the players in our provincial education system are watching carefully.
The reports came out earlier this month across all media about consultant Don Drummond's pending report to the McGuinty government with its cost-containment recommendations. As health and education are (in that order) the province's biggest bills, keeping an eye on how the overall report is released and its recommendations received is important for both sectors.
What did we learn earlier this month?
The biggest ed-related item was a call for the province to re-evaluate its primary class size (PCS) program. As most familiar with it would know, this investment in education came out of the Liberals' first mandate, when it was a centrepiece of the party's education platform. With the odd exception here or there within a handful of years, 90% of the province's kindergarten through Grade 3 classes had ratios of 20 students to one teacher. The remaining 10% had a hard cap of no more than 23 students to one teacher.
That ratio changed a bit in the early years / kindergarten classes as full-day kindergarten gets rolled out across the province, as it allows up to 26 students to one teacher and one early childhood educator.
The edu-academics were all over the PCS from when it was first announced -- as were some school boards who identified they would have issues with providing the necessary physical classroom space. The research is, to be fair, varied on class size vs. other factors when it comes to student improvement. Fewer than 20 students with a poorly trained teacher do worse than 30 students with a well-trained teacher, etc.
The PCS always sold well with parents however. Parents who vote. Who were tired of seeing a blended class size average in elementary of 26 (with boards being allowed to push that to 27 under some circumstances). Some of that excitement faded with the increase in split-grade classes caused when PCS was implemented, but a big portion of that was how the system reacted to a class cap combined with overall declining enrolment.
Will it become the sacrificial lamb to squeeze money out of education spending? I'm doubtful a government led by a premier who has long fashioned himself as an "education premier" would start hacking away at one of the key parts of the platform that won him a first majority government.
Similarly, most new funding in education is being directed at FDK implementation-- something all three parties supported in the campaign, so it's doubtful there'll be many chainsaws taken to that program unless people change their tunes (again).
Something that didn't come out? Both the PCS and FDK initiatives have helped stem job losses in the ranks of teachers as they bolstered staffing in years that declining enrolment was having its biggest impact. That population decline is now set to move through high schools twice as fast as it moved through the K-8 panel-- and with all of the Learning to 18 programs now fully implemented, there won't be many new programs to save jobs when the student numbers are no longer there to support them.
Given it's doubtful the province will ask its education-sector employee federations to agree to zero-increase contracts, the path ahead for the Liberals may be in trying to balance the expected decline in staffing (particularly in secondary) with any increases in wages and benefits. Keep it at a net-zero level and you can make it through a mandate without allowing education spending to balloon.
More on this once Drummond's recommendations go public.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

January browser-tab dump

Back to my recent habits of tabbing up by browser until I hit this point.
Governance / Curricula
Haven't touched too much on the continuing gay-straight alliance kerfuffles (my views on this for regular readers are well-known), nor the speculation over what Don Drummond might include in his recommendations, which I'll write a separate post on.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Looking in both directions

Here's to looking back at 2011 and looking ahead to 2012 in the world of K-12 education in this province, as well as a chance to reflect on what's been in this space in the last 12 months. As I wrote about for my employer, 2011 was a year of change from the fellowship back to my former job to a new post starting in August.
In the past year this space has seen just over 3,800 visitors, a slight majority of whom had been here at least once before. Traffic was highest in the winter and early spring when the fellowship granted lots of time for posting and waned throughout the rest of the calendar year as I went back to work (bad blogger, bad).
Here were the posts that drew the largest audiences:
  1. Full-day kindergarten = ECE shortage? (a post from 2009)
  2. Keep those EQAO envelopes sealed
  3. Mapping our Full-day Kindergarten
  4. Bil 177 (another post from 2009)
  5. Ontario's next education minister is (noting my guesses were all wrong)
  6. On teaching (from 2010)
  7. A thought on teacher education and the job market (another from 2010)
  8. DSBN Academy coverage keeps growing
  9. My long goodbye to OISE
  10. Defenders of the faith(-based)
When 40% of the most-viewed posts are not from the immediate past year, it's a signal to me I need to be posting more in this space. Alas, I have been negligent in living up to the promise of its purpose when it was launched in early 2009. I've reflected on just how I was able to do it then-- I would come home at whatever hour and commit to writing at least one new post a day. If it wasn't comment on coverage elsewhere, it would be original opinion, analysis or outright reporting. My posts on Bill 177 and Bill 242 are among very few that look at the legislation that are out there, and both keep drawing traffic.
Here's my cut of the top issues in K-12 Ontario education of 2011:
  • Bullying became the worst thing ever about any school system this year. Unfortunately helped by a number of well-publicized suicides where this harassment was either known or suspected to be the primary cause, along with the politicization of Gay-Straight Alliances as some sort of bullying cure-all, bullying has been on everyone's tongue throughout the year. I'm curious as to whether it will result in meaningful action in 2012.
  • School accommodation / demographic shift continues, though not as noisily in most areas of the province as it has in the last few years. Many boards outside the GTA have tackled their first few rounds of school-closure reviews, petitions and post-review openings. The Toronto boards also began tackling this, though not as assertively as they probably need to in order to keep up. Towards the end of the year the Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School decision raised eyebrows (and the dander of many) showing accommodation issues are by no means ever a dead issue.
  • A new minister came to the portfolio in October after the scrappy Leona Dombrowsky was sent into political retirement by the voters in Belleville and area. Laurel Broten was appointed minister to the surprise of many (or maybe just me) after previous stints in Environment and Children and Youth Services. She's been pushed with the reaction to Bill 13, but like every minister since Sandra Pupatello and her predecessor Gerard Kennedy, the steps out of the spotlight to allow Premier Dalton McGuinty to fulfill his "education premier" desire.
  • Full-day kindergarten continues to drive the education agenda provincially. Though the 2011-12 crop of new schools is the smallest cohort of the five years, the issue of before- and after-school care for four- and five-year-olds isn't settled across the province. Its popularity even drove the PC Party of Ontario leader Tim Hudak to do a 180 on the program, going from labelling it another Liberal Cadillac program to saying he would support implementation as proposed. While the components of the original Pascal Report flowing from FDK for 6-12-year-olds were part of the Liberals' election platform, rollout timing is indeterminate in this minority Parliament.
In a similar vein, here are some thoughts on what should be tracked in the coming twelve months:
  • Money will be key to everything in 2012-- the province's debt and deficit will become a focus of the pending provincial budget. While no one in opposition would likely defeat a budget based on health care or education spending (which will likely be almost 3/4 of all provincial spending), those in the know are well aware that every passing year will be a bigger budget challenge. New spending on capital projects will by and large be to support implementation of full-day kindergarten. There will likely be a kitty to tap into for employee contracts (more on that below) and some token amounts to keep up with rising utility and other non-staffing costs, but the years of pilfering to support old buildings over programs and people in those buildings are coming to an end and boards that are supporting too many older buildings or vacant pupil places will have a tough time tackling 2012-13 budgets in June.
  • The bullying theme will stubbornly stick around-- a Liberal minority in the legislature may very well capitulate on controversial sections of Bill 13 in committee if it wishes to see the bill come back for third reading before the legislature rises for the summer break. This will serve as the next step in the premier's initiative to get character development further entrenched into the curricula.
  • Just for kicks, it might be worth tracking whether election-campaign promises, such as the wraparound programming for 6-to-12-year-olds, the two-year teachers' college and the one or two others get implemented in the coming year.
  • Finally, I do think the contracts will be an issue in this year. They do expire on Aug. 31, after all. I would have a litter of kittens if any agreements of significance were ratified (at provincial discussion tables or locally) before the end of this calendar year however. I don't believe any of the parties have given big signals on priorities for the next agreement -- other than the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario trying to reach the parity their executive pissed away in the standoff over the 2008-12 agreements. The back half of this year will likely, particularly after annual meeting season in the summer, feature an entrenchment as the various unions and federations stake out what they think a minority Liberal government can get them and the Liberals mark their turf. I wouldn't expect any battle stations to be manned until some time between March Break and summer vacation 2013 though.
 This space has been less in 2011. All the same, thanks to those who stop by searching for something and those who continue to read and comment on the posts. At some point in the coming months the blog will see its 30,000th visitor and though small as far as the web goes, that's better than I could have predicted when I started doing this.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's browser-tab dump!

How seasonal!
Here's what I've been clicking on these last few weeks:
  • The Welland Tribune on how the Niagara Catholic DSB handled some after-semiformal dance destruction;
  • The Ingersoll Times on a push for busing to a new school;
  • The Hamilton Spectator on a trustee arguing a probe into her own conduct was unjustified;
  • An Op-Ed from the Windsor Star on the role of principals;
  • The Goderich Signal-Star with an Avon Maitland DSB chair preview of the year ahead;
  • The Spec with a survey piece on working conditions for local trustees;
  • Moira MacDonald previews what she believes will be the battle ahead with contract negotiations in The Toronto Sun;
  • The Belleville Intelligencer with a look at the "stormy seas" ahead; and,
  • The Sault Star on a lawsuit settlement between the Huron-Superior Catholic DSB and a former director of education.
Curriculum / other

A good smattering of items. I remain bemused by the campaign around PCVS, which with every ready seems more about saving a building than it is saving programs or students. The suggestion in Goderich to reverse the flow of students from urban to rural is interesting.
I really liked that Metroland Kawartha tackled the Sec. 23 schools. I've written about alternative schools before, but never Sec. 23 schools. Nor do I remember reading about them elsewhere.
While I do predict a battle ahead on teacher contracts, I don't see that happening in 2012 based on how long it's taken in previous rounds to settle contracts.