Wednesday, October 28, 2009

ELP roll out

What a day to be ill. Life has a coincidental way of unraveling itself.
Tuesday was the big day, the day details on the implementation of the "Early Learning Program," the most recent government jargon for full-day kindergarten, was rolled out by Premier Dalton McGuinty and Education Minister Kathleen Wynne in Toronto. As usual, no shortage of media coverage, although I'll note with some interest Tyler Kula at the Sarnia Observer was one of the first clips I saw Tuesday to spell out for his readers what the first year of the roll out would mean for his readers: roughly a dozen schools.
Of note, Moira MacDonald chimes in today as well, noting the financials of the implementation decision over the other factors.
The ministry released a so-called "B-memo" yesterday to all school boards, accompanied by a series of appendices: board-by-board allocations, board-by-board funding, breakdown of the benchmark, site selection criteria and deputy minister's memo.
If anything, the ministry documents show the prep work and thought that has gone into implementation. Boards are being told to consult and plan where the first spaces will open and they have to show the ministry how they made those decisions. The good boards are already a few steps ahead on this sort of consultations -- particularly those who got further ahead in Best Start implementation before the program was axed in 2006.
My one disappointment?
I'm happy to see the mix of teachers and ECEs, but I think using both full-time goes beyond what Pascal intended in his recommendations.
Overall, Tuesday was an important step-- now the grunt work is out of the government's hands to some extent and in the hands of school boards to implement the first two years of this program. The successes and failures are going to be very closely watched, particularly with a provincial election in the fall of 2011. The full roll out of this program will be dependent on whoever is in government after 2011, so its first two years are critical to its overall survival.
I reject the argument of those who call for this program to be trimmed or axed in the face of the mounting deficit. It doesn't mean I'm not as worried about the deficit as everyone else, but this is and should be a priority program whose need has been proven. Abandoning it now would be the wrong decision, and the government's decision to stick with it is one that should be remembered by every family with young children who chooses to enroll their four- or five-year-old child in this program in the years ahead.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Early learning strategy out Tuesday

It appears Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne and/or Premier Dalton McGuinty will be launching the government's early learning strategy Tuesday morning at an event in Toronto.
How do I know?
Dr. Charles Pascal's office is offering up media interviews.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Protest vs. high school

This article from the Owen Sound Sun Times was picked up by a number of media across the country earlier this week after Wiarton student Jennifer Rankin was kept isolated in her high school for participating in the Pro-Life Day of Solidarity.
Rankin believes the school principal violated her right of free expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“I felt very discriminated by it. I don’t think it was right at all what happened,” Rankin said.
School principal Pat Cavan confirmed the protest could not be allowed under school policy, which prevents any group from spreading one-sided information on any religious, political or other contentious subject.
“School property is not a public place,” Cavan said. “So while absolutely we support the right to free speech in a public space, that’s not school property."
“I understand that it is a public school and they’re concerned about everybody’s safety, but, you know, they have no problem doing a Gay Pride Day where everybody wears pink shirts,” (Sauble Christian Fellowship youth pastor Ken Holley) said. “I’ve been up there for poetry nights and I’ve seen the art work on the wall and it seems like if they call it art work or poetry they can say whatever they want and put whatever they want on the wall. I mean there’s nude pictures on the wall. My students have to go to school and deal with that, and as soon as they try to stand up for anything, it’s like, well, just be quiet, go home. I don’t think that’s right.”
Cavan said the annual Pride event at the school differs. It targets homophobia and supports an anti-discrimination view upheld in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I actually support the board's views on this and the school's decision-- nor do I believe Rankin's rights were violated. It's always easy to forget when arguing Charter issues what Sec. 1 of it allows, that is the "rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits (my emphasis) prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society."
Rankin could have stayed home, she could have joined others, including her youth pastor, in a public space elsewhere. By its nature a public school system has to be secular, even in geographical areas where there is little to no diversity in culture and religion amongst the population.
As to the pink-shirt day... I'm not sure what Holley is really trying to say there. In many schools that have adopted this, it's an anti-bullying program to openly discuss homophobia and other discrimination that leads to bullying in high school environments.
I am always intrigued by these sorts of issues -- for example, the Gideons and the Grade 5 Bible distribution is another similar issue -- as a graduate of a Catholic school. Matters of Bible distribution and/or pro-life advocacy were never really an issue since the faith that underpinned the school had some pretty clear direction on those topics. It's always intriguing to see how a secular system based largely on white, Anglo-Saxon protestant values struggles to remain open to all when the vast majority of its population is still Christian. Would this sort of protest have even gained any traction at a high school in a larger, more diverse, more urban area? Likely not-- although it might surprise some to see how many allies this issue would have among the other faith communities.
To flip this sideways, would it be appropriate for teenaged Young Liberal Party of Canada members to setup a protest / display against the governing Conservative Party of Canada's policies? Many would agree that's a clear politicization of the public system that shouldn't take place.
Certainly, public and private, there are plenty of options for those who feel the public-board system is far too secular for their children's education. To consistently and fairly be open to all, the public system needs to enforce its secularity. At the end of the day, despite my own educational history, I strongly believe the only place for education in faith and spirituality is within the home and within the faith community, not in a publicly funded school system.

Bluewater update No. 12

The Owen Sound Sun Times and the folks over at MendEd are as usual ahead of me on updating folks on Bluewater District School Board stuff.
Maria Canton reported Wednesday on the increase in the number of Grade 7-8 classes using a rotary instruction style over the previous school year. The rotary instruction issue was one of a few that led to the outcry from parents, the resignation of a board chair and the appointment of two "Mr. Fix-its" to visit the board and complete a review on how it could fix its problems of accountability and transparency.
There are 108 intermediate classes in 35 different Bluewater elementary schools.
The rotary model of instruction uses specialty teachers, such as science or music teachers, for certain subjects instead of homeroom teachers.
The topic became an issue almost two years ago when Bluewater moved more classes to the homeroom teacher model over the rotary-based model.
The decision prompted great outcry from the public, particularly from parent and school groups in the Kincardine and Port Elgin areas, who argued they were not consulted and that students would suffer if they weren’t given the option of being taught by teachers who specialized in certain subject matters.
The board relented in June and agreed to reinstate the rotary model of instruction for students in Grades 7 and 8 for up to half of their timetable.
Interesting. Doing the math, it shows an average of three Grade 7 and 8 classes per elementary school in the board. With variations for population distribution, that means there's a good percentage of schools that likely have only one or two Grade 7 and 8 classes, with some having four or five classes at this age level.
Rotary works when there is a critical mass to support the teachers rotating through the various classes to instruct their subject specialties. While the board appears to have appeased the desire for rotary for the time being, the question of its continuance will vary greatly in the coming years with declining enrolment. After all, how much rotary instruction can you do when there's only one intermediate (Gr. 7/8) class in the whole school, and therefor only one teacher?

Upper Canada overhauls

The Upper Canada District School Board is an interesting board to keep an eye on. The board's geography covers a swath of eastern Ontario, horseshoeing around the City of Ottawa from the Quebec border up to just shy of Renfrew, and all the way down to the St. Lawrence.
A number of years ago, it began convening a small high schools forum -- I couldn't tell if this is still being done -- bringing together supporters of small high schools with people who've had experience with administering and programming them.
Then a few years ago (two? three?) it initiated a district-wide 20/20 review of all its facilities and schools. Out of that review came the always controversial recommendation to move all the board's schools to a K-6 and 7-12 format. It marked the first time in its history the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario publicly took on and vocally opposed a board's 7-12 recommendation. (I personally think ETFO fears 7-12 because its members would be too close to witness a federation that has a better track record of choosing its battles and winning them)
These are the things that underpin its current accommodation reviews, with a few examples of coverage in the Standard Freeholder. This article from last week lays out some of the questions for high schools in the Cornwall area.
But (Upper Canada chair Greg) Pietersma didn't deny a major overhaul of board facilities -- including Cornwall Collegiate Vocational School -- is required in order to fully achieve the goals of Building 2020.
Building 2020 is the board's strategy to maximize the use of its facilities as it continues to lose enrollment.
"Even $15 million is not going to build you much of a high school," Pietersma said on Friday as the Building 2020's task force, the Accommodation Review Committee (ARC), prepares for a public meeting Tuesday at General Vanier Intermediate School.
Pietersma was responding to the possibility of building a new or renovating the current CCVS in order to accommodate more students.
ARC is proposing that CCVS, GVIS or St. Lawrence Intermediate be sites for two -- or just one -- high schools hosting grades 7-12.
A followup posted this week shows the elementary component of the Cornwall review is getting all the attention, with the board saying it would like to hear more about the high school end of things.
board officials say they’re lacking feedback on the two draft proposals about Cornwall secondary school options.
... UCDSB officials want to know if parents would rather have one or two public high schools in Cornwall. One school could have increased funding potential, but two schools would give parents geographical options.
The one school option would be either a rebuilding or renovation of Cornwall Collegiate Vocational School (CCVS) on its existing site.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Oh, boy

Holy crap there was a lot of media in the past two days on the Toronto District School Board director of education Chris Spence's musings about an all-boys' school within his board. Even the special interests are jumping in-- the Society for Quality Education blasted its contacts by e-mail today with its reaction (positive) and I'm expecting others who run the spectrum will be chiming in as well.
Is this proposal, which would entirely segregate the school based on boys only and not just boys' only classes or specific grades / programs, any different from the afro-centric school that's already open within the TDSB?
Will it address the "achievement gap" between boys and girls in the public education system?
The data is there to prove it does exist and that boys have not handled the changes in the way reading, writing and math are taught as well as the fairer sex. The success rates for boys do increase, but not as high or as dramatically as those for girls increase.
There have been some programs at public schools (CBC's The National went back to a graduate of one in York Region, CBC featured a Hamilton one in a six o'clock newscast), but this would the first where the entire facility is for boys only.
Is this up there with former minister Gerard Kennedy's musings, supported by Ontario College of Teachers content, that boys would do better if they had more men as teachers? Regardless of his feelings, the split between the genders in teaching hasn't changed since he said it.
It's a concept worth investigating.
The danger is creating a board with too many "alternate" schools. Ottawa-Carleton got into this trouble a few years ago when a budget facilitator recommended cutting down on the number of magnet-type school locations and allowing for the programs parents were choosing to exist in smaller groupings across a larger number of sites. That board was seen to be spending too much to bus students from every part of the city to every other part of the city because Johnny wanted French immersion while Jane wanted an arts-focus. The facilitators recommended looking at offering as many programs as feasible in the community school to keep kids from being shipped all over the place based on programs.
Of course the way to simplify that quandry, if you go "school choice" all the way as already exists in some parts of the country, is to take away transportation. Parents can choose whatever school they want for their kids, but they find a way to get their darlings to the front door and home every day.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Niagara on full-day kindergarten: Us first, please

The St. Catharines Standard's Tiffany Mayer had this posted Tuesday on the Region of Niagara's position that it lead the way when it comes to the implementation of full-day learning for four- and five-year-olds, or full-day kindergarten as everyone outside the government calls it. The article was prompted by a visit from early learning adviser Charles Pascal.
With full-day Kindergarten already in 37 local public and Catholic schools, and being a mainstay in French schools for the past decade, O’Hagan-Todd noted Niagara is already doing much of what Pascal suggests.
The District School Board of Niagara’s new Parenting and Family Literacy Centres, which offer a place to parents with children under six to come, in part, to get accustomed to the school routine, are another point in Niagara’s favour, she said.
Half of the Region’s licensed day-care centres are also housed in schools.
Pascal is quoted telling his Niagara audience the region is set to be a leader in implementing his report's recommendations. One of a few, given Pascal has brought the message on several occasions to the London area as well (including at the event I covered and posted several things about back in August). No quibble there, given locally the only full-day programs are in the French-language boards and there are not anywhere near as many childcare centres in schools (only one in my entire coverage area, with maybe a dozen in London).
I get it-- Pascal's very much in the 'rally the troops' phase of his recommendations. The government has signalled its intent to proceed, purse-string restrictions and all. The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario and the Ontario College of Teachers have signalled their concerns. Getting the different areas of the province in line and pulling towards implementation is a very important next step.

Exit interviews in Bluewater

Late in chiming in on this, given as usual the folks over at MendEd posted on this earlier. The tab has been open in my browser in order to post something here since the Owen Sound Sun Times article was posted almost a week ago.
Communications consultant and adviser Peggy Sattler has recommended the Bluewater District School Board conduct 'exit' interviews with the families who choose to pull their children out of the district board and register them in a school administered by some other board.
“I will recommend that the board conduct some sort of exit survey — the point was made to us and I think it’s a legitimate one. We will also recommend that the board extend the reach of the survey in future years,” Sattler said.
A spokesperson for the parent advocacy group Bluewater Citizens for Education (BCforE) said yesterday that while Sattler’s recommendations will be a good first step, the board should have made a bigger effort to contact parents who have left the system.
“One would think it would be most important to hear the voices of parents who have left presumably because they were dissatisfied,” said Lesa McDougall, an executive member of BCforE.
“The board must be able to locate individuals who have left. These are not people who would have gone quietly, and their feedback shouldn’t be a post-script in this process.”
Of note, a random-sample phone survey conducted recently has captured some of this audience, but what's being advocated for here is a more consistent approach to seek feedback from those who choose to pull their children from the public board and enroll them elsewhere.
I found the concept particularly interesting. Let's remember Sattler is a trustee and current past-chair of the Thames Valley District School Board. A board where, as far as I'm aware after six years of reporting, there is no 'exit' interview for the parents who choose to yank their kids out of public school and enroll them elsewhere.
Surveying this group would produce some interesting results -- and show the variety of reasons why parents choose to do this. Some of the reasons, I suspect, would be surprising, even to a board's critics.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Two different takes on alliance

Catching up to a few coincidental things from this past week-- First came an article in the Midland Mirror regarding town council and Mayor Jim Downer's reluctance to weigh in on the Community Schools Alliance's requests over the summer and early fall. 
“I really don’t think I’d like someone from the school board coming in here and directing us what to do for the Corporation of the Town of Midland,” [Midland Mayor Jim Downer] said.
Coun. Bob Jeffery agreed, stating he is against “riding roughshod” over the school board’s “duly-elected representatives.”
Coun. Gord McKay, however, suggested council has a duty to speak up on issues that affect Midland residents, regardless of whose toes get stepped on.
“If we cannot speak to the needs of families in our community, I don’t know who can,” he said. “Schools are an essential part of the community.”
As for being sensitive to jurisdictional issues, McKay pointed out Midland council has not shied away from resolutions on the controversial Site 41 landfill proposal or local hospital governance.
Coun. Pat File backed McKay, referring to the recent Simcoe County District School Board debate on shuttering Penetanguishene Secondary School. She noted the closure, averted after a public outcry, would have had a major impact that could have spilled over into Midland.
I would quibble the closure wasn't averted-- its fate has been postponed until after 2010 elections because the current slate of trustees couldn't make a decision. The position in Midland is an interesting one, given, I believe, one of the town's public elementary schools has closed within the last five-to-eight years, likely prior to the Kennedy requested closure moratorium. File's characterization -- "spilled over into Midland" -- is an interesting one, given most of the student body from a closed PSS would have enrolled at Midland Secondary School, which was pegged for some renovations and updates.
Compare that to what is being seen as more to type on the alliance request, with this example from CKNX AM920 over the Town of Goderich's response to the same alliance request. Council supported sending the form letter off to its local MPP.
Goderich mayor Deb Shewfelt believes what the Alliance ultimately wants is more input from municipal councils on the decisions to close schools.
Shewfelt says he was very happy with the input Goderich council was able to provide into the recent accommodation review in Goderich, and the result is proof that boards of education and municipal councils can work together.
Shewfelt says part of the solution in keeping schools open is inviting different community groups to share in using excess space in schools. 
Now, as a third and final one, consider this response posted over at my other blog.
Still waiting, as posted here before, for a list of who's in and who's not when it comes to the alliance. I'd also be curious to see how many letters are sent.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bill 177 hearings

Another People for Education newsletter item indicates the Ontario Legislature's Standing Committee on Social Policy is set to conduct two days of hearings into Bill 177 on Oct. 26 and 27 at Queen's Park in Toronto.
I wonder how many boards, trustees or trustee/board associations will line up to speak to the committee on those two days. Based on a board meeting I was at earlier in the week, trustees there wanted to present to the committee and speak about their concerns with the bill's various regulations.
I also wonder how many of these deputations before the committee will cry foul about the proposed provincial interest regulations that stem from Bill 78, which passed in 2006.

Ministry wants curriculum feedback

The Ontario Ministry of Education is putting its elementary curriculum through a review process and has gotten to the point where it's asking for feedback. The ministry web page is here, with a discussion paper PDF file and a link to a survey.
For context and comparative purposes, the existing ministry curriculum documents are here. From the discussion paper:
The working group asked people to share their thoughts about the elementary curriculum overall, and their concerns included the following:
  • Ensuring that the curriculum is engaging and relevant for a wide variety of students, in order to make equitable outcomes for all learners possible and to focus on the development of the whole child
  • Addressing the “overcrowdedness” of the curriculum (Comments included the following: “coherence across the curriculum”, “less is more”, “go deeper on fewer topics”, “address breadth and depth for improved student learning”.)
  • Examining conditions and structures at the school level that affect teaching and learning (e.g., combined grades, class size, adequate time in the school day for planning)
  • It is important to note that the feedback summarized above is consistent with the working group’s findings from secondary research with respect to new directions and trends in elementary curriculum that are being reported in other jurisdictions.
The discussion paper outlines the questions for each group (ie: parents, teachers, students...) it is intending to seek feedback from, and also includes a reminder of what is not included in this consultation.
The following topics are outside the scope of this consultation:
  • Assessment, evaluation, and reporting, which have recently been the subject of an extensive province-wide consultation
  • Specific details in the content of the curriculum (e.g., the study of a particular battle in the War of 1812)
  • Kindergarten and Early Learning, which are being considered in a separate process
  • Programming for students with special education needs, which has been the subject of separate discussions
  • Funding issues, including those relating to class size, which have been the subject of separate discussions
So, read up and then contribute if you have any particular passion for the elementary curriculum in this province. H/T to People for Education, who sent out news of the consultation through its regular e-mail newsletter.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Daily News gets creative

Full marks, kudos, high-fives, etc. to the Chatham Daily News for its editorial penned by Andrew Cornell and posted Thursday. It concerns accommodation reviews initiated by the Lambton-Kent District School Board for schools within the single-tier municipality of Chatham-Kent. Specifically, the ones now underway in Dresden and Ridgetown. As an interesting aside, Ridgetown was the birthplace of the Coalition of Small Schools, who we've heard little from lately.
From the editorial:
So let's get creative. We have valuable public buildings. How can we make better use of them? Well, the school board can rent unused sections or the gymnasium after hours. Given the safety and security of students, potential uses are limited. Still, colleges and universities can use them as satellite campuses for evening classes. How about drama, dance and music lessons? Municipal, provincial and federal governments can use vacant areas to maintain their presence in those communities. That's a few things just off the top of my head.
High schools are extremely important to the viability of a community. Elementary schools less so. If an elementary school is to close, how about having Grades 7 and 8 students attend Lambton-Kent Composite School or Ridgetown District High School? The idea was rejected in Ridgetown a few years ago, but it's worth another look. There's precedent. District School Board Ontario North East did it four years ago at Kirkland Lake District Composite School. Grades 7 and 8 students take classes in one wing and cross over to the rest of the school to use the shops, computer labs, library, cafeteria, art room and music room.
Yes, closing an aging elementary school with declining enrolment might be the wisest move if expensive renovations are needed. But the decision can not be all about dollars and cents. The life blood of communities is its gathering places: town halls, legions, community centres, schools and churches.
We have no more local municipal councils. Legion and community halls are not always owned by the public. Churches are closing. Which leaves our schools.
In communities such as Wallaceburg, Dresden, Ridgetown, Blenheim and Tilbury, high schools are often the busiest and most vibrant places in town. Let's keep them that way.
This is a great position for this writer and newspaper to take at the start of these reviews. It goes beyond the quick hit of simply going to those opposing closure and quoting the oft-cited, passionate reasons why a community facility should remain open (a story I now try and avoid writing because I can write it in my sleep, simply changing the names and locations to match the current situation). Or pandering to the complaints of the most-vocal that they're not being listened to when they themselves refuse to listen to any perspective but their own. It challenges those same communities to become involved.
My media colleagues should all take note, as should other municipalities and communities facing new reviews.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Six motions too late?

St. Catharines Standard ed. reporter Tiffany Mayer had this quick post Tuesday evening highlighting six, count 'em, six notices of motion in a vain, 11th-hour attempt to stave off the inevitable conclusion of the consequences when the Ministry of Education's Oct. 31 count dates shows Niagara District Secondary School's enrolment will lead to its closure.
(Niagara trustee Lynn) Campbell’s first motion, to come forward at the Oct. 27 board meeting, asks that the board rescind last year’s motion imposing the Oct. 31 deadline to hit the 350-student mark or close NDSS after this year.
Campbell outlines several reasons for rescinding the motion, including anticipation of the approval of NDSS’s international baccalaureate program, the efforts of a conglomerate of municipal leaders to convince Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne to impose a moratorium on disputed school closings, and out of respect for the new crop of Grade 9 students who hope to graduate from the beleaguered high school.
Depending on the outcome of that motion, Campbell has other options for those interested in saving NDSS, which has an enrolment of about 250 students. Subsequent motions will ask the board to keep the school open for five years, with NDSS growing its student body to 500 students by Oct. 31, 2013, or else be shuttered.
Should that fail, Campbell will go on to ask that NDSS stay open four more years and then be re-evaluated.
Pending the outcome of that vote, her remaining motions ask that NDSS stay open for three more years, two more years or five more years, respectively, and then be re-evaluated.
Trustee Campbell should be commended for fighting the good fight.
Then her peers at the board should, as they have since they made the unique decision, stand by their earlier decision. Her reasons for reconsideration are... weak. Despite her best intentions, the Community Schools Alliance was firmly told it could stick its "smart" moratorium back on the idea shelf it came from after the group met with Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne on Aug. 17 in Ottawa. There's nothing to suggest an MPP letter-writing campaign (look, we can fill in form letters too!!) will merit any change of opinion on the requested moratorium.
Every one of her other motions simply postpones what looks to be an inevitability. IB programme, no IB programme, football team or not, the school is under the enrolment target set by trustees in 2008. An enrolment target the community (and its political leaders) all but said could be met without a problem as actual enrolment remained stubbornly stagnant.
Now the calendar shows some 17 days to the count date and creating those 100 pupils isn't a reality.
Campbell's throwing motions at the wall like half-cooked spaghetti noodles hoping one of the strands will stick. Problem is, the water's been boiling on a solution for over a year and she's only just remembered to put the noodles in the water yesterday.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

SQE EQAO analysis

The Society for Quality Education today released an analysis it completed of the recent release of Grade 9 EQAO math test results. The related blog post at School for Thought is here.
In it, it went back to the raw numbers to add some context to the percentages reported when the results were released back in September. It states the number of applied and academic Grade 9 students who took the test in 2008-09, along with percentages of students achieving Level 3 or higher.
It then developed a composite percentage (how? this isn't well explained in the blog post or press release) of the two. I would assume they first figured out the number of successful students in each stream, added them and then divided by the total number of students in Grade 9. However the chart doesn't lead me to conclusively determine that, it's based on my assumption. There is also a data gap on the chart. The blog post refers to the students who are exempt, yet this number isn't on the chart. If you take the number of applied and academic in each row, you're still not getting the total number of Grade 9 students. Add some columns please... one for exempt students and another with the total number of Grade 9 students.
The SQE is showing its strength in compiling and publishing public data in one-stop charts and websites.
The chart's surprise for me was something my eye hadn't ever really been drawn to in the past, (context it should have seen, really) which is comparing the raw number of academic and applied students. In some boards they're very close-- 46 per cent of the students in the Simcoe County DSB wrote the applied test, for example, a difference of just over 500 students. Some of the smaller northern boards have a similar proximity in numbers writing applied and academic.


The federations that represent Ontario teachers never cease to amaze with their protests.
The Toronto Sun's Moira MacDonald writes today about the pissing match between the Ontario Teachers' Federation and the Ontario College of Teachers over the 'new' "OCT" designation for college of teachers members.
The college's magazine, where I first read about the designation, has its feature article online for those who hadn't heard what an Ontario Certified Teacher (OCT) is all about.
One the face of it, this seems like a fairly small, simple move on the college's behalf. As the body that regulates the profession of teaching in Ontario (try getting a teaching job without being an OCT member), it introduces a designation to go along with the professional certification of college membership. Yes, there is a certification process-- B.Ed or equivalent post-secondary degree, with successful completion of the New Teacher Induction Program. College membership is provisional until the NTIP is completed.
This designation is no different than those for engineers, planners, financial advisors, accountants, etc. Even, *gasp* early childhood educators are closer to designation than teachers had been, given there is an provincial college of ECEs and some no doubt use ECE as their designation.
From MacDonald's piece:
"We don't need another acronym behind our names in terms of justifying that we are teachers," said Reno Melatti, president of the Ontario Teachers' Federation, the umbrella group for the province's four teacher unions. "Our students, parents, the community, know who we are."
"The only people that represent teachers in this province is OTF," said Melatti, adding the college's role is to regulate the teaching profession in the interests of the public, not teachers.
"If this (professional designation) was a concern of teachers, it should have come to us because the college is not there to speak on behalf of teachers."
Really? The OTF is the representative body for all teachers? What's he smoking? What about private-school teachers? Admittedly a small minority, but the OTF is confusing the dues its member federations collect with some supposedly God-given right to representation.
Rather, the college is the only body that represents all teachers, regardles of which federation they might be compelled to belong to through their employment. In an age where the college has matured to the point where its council certifies all additional qualification programs and even certifies teachers' college programs, a designation is a small, admittedly somewhat insignificant step.
The OTF can hoot and holler all it wants. Perhaps it could have encouraged its members, who are 50 per cent plus one of the OCT council, to quash this before it became reality. The disagreement speaks perhaps to the changes in legitimacy between how we should view the college and how we view the federations.
As to the designation itself? Who cares if teachers use OCT after their names or not. I've never been one to add letters before or after my name (a la Stephen Colbert), facetiously or otherwise. Then again, given the various acronyms a Bachelor of Journalism could lead to...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bill 177 redux

As was noted in an earlier comment, Bill 177 passed second reading, on Oct. 7. It has been referred to the legislature's standing committee on social policy prior to third and final reading. There are no changes to the bill (usually, these come after committee vetting prior to being posted for third reading).
For a summation of the bill written after its first reading was posted, see this post. See this post for commentary, and this one for the related public-interest regulation consultation.
The debates, if you have the inclination to read them, are always interesting to start looking at where the government and the two opposition parties are staking their ground.
A portion of Minister Kathleen Wynne's remarks from the first day of debate:
So we're proposing to amend the Education Act to clearly state that boards are responsible for promoting student outcomes and student achievement, and this would be laid out in provincial interest regulations.
Another change would involve direction on handling school board resources effectively. This would include carefully developing the budget, managing assets in a responsible manner and allocating resources in a way that would support the board's multi-year strategic plan. It hasn't always been the case that we've had access to a multi-year plan. In effect, this bill would help ensure that board resources are managed wisely, effective education programs are delivered and students are encouraged to pursue their goals. As a result, all board expenses would align with board priorities, particularly in supporting student achievement. That alignment has been uneven, and I think that we need to make sure that there are mechanisms to ensure that kind of consistency.
Bill 177 is the next logical step-which I think the sector knew was coming, because Bill 78 had already been passed in 2006-because it clarifies for boards, directors of education and school trustees their roles and duties to support higher student achievement and well-being, so it flows out of the work we did in Bill 78. If Bill 177 passes, the government would establish provincial interest regulations that will outline the supports and interventions to carry out their important work. I come back to that word "supports" because it is about supporting boards to do the work that they need to do.
Other speakers to the bill during second-reading debate included former PC minister of education Elizabeth Witmer and NDP education critic Rosario Marchese. Marchese used his entire allotted hour to do a clause-by-clause dissection of the bill, with frequent references to other events and criticisms of the McGuinty government. Leg. assistant Leanna Pendergast kicked off the second day of debates, along with Rick Johnston for the government, with responses by Julia Munro, Paul Miller and Peter Kormos. John Yakabuski, Michael Prue and John O'Toole wrapped the last two days of debate.
I'll leave you with a snippet of Marchese's comments.
But trustees are elected. They should have some responsibilities that are not purely and completely defined by the government. What this bill does is to define their role, to constrain what they can do, what they can say. It's a shameful piece of legislation. It is an utterly shameful piece of legislation, and I hope to find stronger words as I go in the next 45 minutes to an hour to be able to decry elements of this bill, the content of this bill in its entirety. It will hurt those elected politicians, and I will say by the end of it that under these conditions and under what is given in this bill, what is written in this bill, it is no longer important to run for school trustee and it is no longer important to knock on doors and get elected given the way this bill circumscribes their role.

After-school, poverty reducing health promotion

Just as everyone was settling in for the long weekend and whatever it was to bring, the Ontario government released the latest on its after-school initiative. (Release and information links)
From the release:
Ontario's After-School Initiative supports community-based activities and requires local partnerships that can enhance the delivery of programs. Almost 60 per cent of the sites will be in schools, while others will be in settings such as community and recreation centres.
Funding under the Ontario After-School Initiative supports costs related to delivering the program, including:
  • Staff costs such as salaries, benefits
  • Staff training
  • Healthy food, cooking and food service supplies
Program equipment, including sports equipment, arts and crafts supplies
In some cases, funds have been requested to support special needs for program delivery. These include:
  • Transportation costs to get children and youth from the main venue to other locations (e.g. to the community swimming pool, to the library); and
  • Equipment for the facility to encourage teen engagement in after-school programs such as music and gymnastic equipment.
The funding and program are actually under the Ministry of Health Promotion, but one wonders, given Pascal, whether this will be folded into the Ministry of Education-- no doubt there is some involvement there as Minister Kathleen Wynne chairs the cabinet committee dealing with the government's response to poverty (or, at least, she did at one point).
The supported programs are being rolled out in areas with higher at-risk populations first, with the remaining areas to follow. According to the release implementation began at the beginning of the school year.

DSBN parking lot

This is just another accommodation review article from the Welland Tribune -- on the commencement of a five-school elementary review in Welland -- but the nugget of info I was surprised by was actually at the bottom of the article.
For future meeting dates and more information, visit the board's website at — click on the Accommodation Review button and then East Welland. Kartasinski said those looking to see the process in completion can view the Niagara-on-the-Lake accommodation review online that was recently wrapped up.
A “parking lot” has been set up online. Anyone with questions about the accommodation review can post it on the parking lot, and expect a timely answer also to be posted online.
Each Friday all answers are collected and answered, she said.
All information from the parking lot is printed and given to all members of the committee for future reference.
I think this is a fantastic idea that should be used by every school board for every accommodation review. It should even be expanded, so that any committee-member questions and such are posted online as well. I've been to a few meetings -- and I imagine this is repeated elsewhere -- where the committee members and staff are passing around information, answers to questions, etc. and the rest of us in the audience sit there stumped.
It's a great measure of responsiveness and accountability for the DSBN to take this step. Is anyone aware of any other board doing something similar?

G&M on book killing

Coincidentally, the Globe and Mail takes on the Harper Lee / To Kill a Mockingbird issue in Monday's paper. The article by Kate Hammer lays out the information cleanly and I learned a thing or two-- for example: I wasn't aware the Toronto board allowed parents to exempt a child from reading a particular text, if a suitable replacement can be found. As stated, it provides a good middle ground to allow a parent to exercise their prerogative without killing a book for hundreds or thousands of students.
In fact, a parent had merely raised a complaint with Ms. (Line) Pinard about the book's language, and had suggested The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill as a suitable alternative for the Grade 10 curriculum.
The parent's child isn't even in Grade 10, Ms. Pinard noted.
That didn't stifle the outcry. Staff lined up outside her office pleading the case for Boo Radley and Calpurnia. Ms. Picard's inbox was flooded with page-long e-mails from parents who had written veritable dissertations on the life lessons contained within the book.
“You can't imagine the hours I've spent on this,” Ms. Pinard said.
This week school trustees will be asked to debate the policy anew.
“I think that we're setting a precedent where we're allowing some parents to micromanage a public system that's supposed to be delivering a common curriculum,” said trustee Josh Matlow, who plans to appeal the policy at a board meeting on Wednesday.
“My concern here is that I think we're being very politically correct,” Mr. Matlow said. “… It's a very interesting discussion: What is the line between intolerance and acceptance, and then the line where we are not supporting our basic values as a progressive society.”
Murielle Boudreau, co-chair of the Greater Toronto Catholic Parent Network, said that exposing children to controversial books gives parents an opportunity to discuss important issues at home.
“If it's out there, in my opinion it's better to expose the child and explain whatever it is, rather than not to expose them,” she said. “… If you really have objections you should do home schooling.”

Sunday, October 11, 2009

To kill a book

I've not jumped into this yet, but saw an opportunity with Kingston Whig-Standard freelance columnist Frasier Petrick's piece published Friday. The subject is the recent hubbub over "To Kill a Mockingbird," in a Toronto board after a complaint from a parent about the language in the classic novel.
FYI, that novel was one included in my Grade 9 English curriculum. We also read "Merchant of Venice" that year, and in later years, to tie back into Petrick's piece, read "Hamlet," and "Oedipus Rex."
From the column:
Not to belittle it, because it is significant -- to a point -- but the objection commonly cited is that the book contains the "n-word." A respectful realist could point out that the story is set in the 1930s, and, like it or not, the "n-word" was common parlance then everywhere, not just in the much-maligned American south -- and even in holier-than-thou Canada.
A disrespectful cynic might come back, tit-for-tat, with the suggestion that Hamlet, too, should be banned. After all, in the story the Danish prince assaults his own mother and kills off half the cast.
Nevertheless, To Kill a Mockingbird comes up just about as regularly as Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species does in the American Bible Belt as something to be forbidden. Both works are perpetually in the cross-hairs of book burners, the benign ones and the hysterical ones.
One parent -- and all it takes is one -- will complain to a school principal or a school board that Harper Lee's masterwork is required reading or is available in the school library. The milquetoast administrators go into cover-your-behind mode. Instead of taking a stand, they retreat to the warm and fuzzy confines of political correctness, a culture-destroying phenomenon universally despised but, regrettably, despised only privately and safely behind closed doors. One parent will complain, legitimately or petulantly about To Kill a Mockingbird or some other book, and the controversy-averse administration will fold like a house of cards: "Oh dear, oh dear, someone is unhappy. Someone has had their feelings hurt. Someone wants to sanitize literature or history or science. Let's form a committee."

Context is king here, isn't it?
Mockingbird is in the curriculum for a valid reason-- what Lee had to say about race relations and humanity in 1930s southern U.S. It's not in there because of the now-impolite, innapropriate word it contains. The list of great literature available for curriculum would be mighty thin (and have the culture and literature variety of Pablum) if every text containing questionable or objectionable vocabulary or scenes was omitted.
The proper response? I would think there could have been a way to acknowledge the offensive nature of some of the vocabulary and use that as an opportunity to educate (wow, imagine that happening in a school) instead of just calling for a ban.

NP on merit pay

Kate Tennier's piece in Friday's National Post caught the eye as she advocates for merit pay for teachers. Tennier's own website makes for some interesting reading, as she puts together the pieces of a position on increased parental involvement in education and explains a graduated scale of home schooling. A change advocate who says our classrooms should change because almost everything else has over the last 40 years-- a statement that leads me to believe Tennier hasn't witnessed the machinations of a real classroom in that long.
From the NP piece:
Teacher merit pay exists in Canada. Every time a parent chooses a private school or tutor for their child, the pay these educators receive is based on “merit.” I know of two Toronto teachers who founded small but thriving schools at the behest of parents — parents who determined that these teachers “deserved” the fees being paid to them.
We even have government sanctioned merit pay now: Alberta’s culture of educational choice sees state dollars flowing to those institutions that parents have decided “merit” their child’s attendance. Subsidies for childcare mean that parents use government dollars to choose the adult they want their child to be with based on the merit that person brings to their child’s life. And, the government’s matching post-secondary tuition grants mean it is funding only those institutions students have deemed meritorious of their own dollars.
Everywhere educational choice exists, the remuneration teachers receive is based on true worth because it is a “worth” determined by the learner. When we expand this choice to all levels of learning, the pay teachers receive will not only be fair but will become a catalyst for further wide-reaching educational reforms.
She closes the piece with these three paragraphs, but the intent here is to suggest that all teachers in the publicly funded system should receive merit pay. Earlier in the piece, she uses examples from public schools in the U.S. where teachers are bonused for their students' achievement in testing and for increasing enrolment.
First, I don't agree with the analysis that merit pay exists in Canada due to the availability of private schools, tutors, etc. A private school teacher is rarely paid more because they're better or worse at teaching than their peers. I would hazard guessing many private schools aren't rolling in that much money and pay their teachers less than the public systems do (I know this to be the case in a few schools locally, but most are faith-based around here). Similarly, a voucher or charter school likely doesn't pay better / worse given the number of parents who choose those schools for their children. The kids would still be in a "system" if they weren't attending the charter school and I could just as easily argue those "merited" teachers would be teaching in other schools as a result.
Tennier seems to have confused merit with choice. Parental choice is what has created and, possibly, allowed those teachers to benefit from those options.
A great part of my difficulty with this is defining what merits pay in education. Kids aren't widgets. They're not an automotive part being pumped out of a factory where the faster the employee works and the higher-quality pieces they manufacture the more money they make for their employer, a situation where that person might merit a share of the increased profits.
Perhaps in other areas like the U.S., where schools' performance has a very real impact on grants (do better and you earn more) and poor performance can lead to closure this argument would carry more weight. We're not there yet, I would hope, in Canada and specifically in Ontario.

Ottawa DSB reviews addendum

As promised, a few links showing what the reaction / action was Thursday evening at the Ottawa-Carleton DSB meeting when two reviews -- one elementary, one secondary -- were presented to trustees.
So, CTV Ottawa, two from the Ottawa Citizen (here and here), and the Ottawa Sun.
My favourite was the Citizen's stuff on the reaction from Lisgar Collegiate parents to the high school review. It appears they're concerned the few Rideau High School students who might go their way if the "lower-class" school closes would threaten their darlings' ability to transfer into Lisgar to attend gifted and music programs.
“We are not in a position to take a position. We don’t have the information we need to do that,” said Rachel Eugster, co-chairwoman of the school council at Lisgar.
“You can’t say, ‘Let’s close X and Y schools’ without taking into account that a strong program at school Z will be affected,” Eugster said. “It could have major effects in far-flung places.”
Far-flung indeed. Although separated by only about three kilometres as the crow flies, the schools are vastly different.
Lisgar ranked fourth in Eastern Ontario and 21st in Ontario in the annual Fraser Institute high school rankings last spring, based on results in standardized tests. (St. Michael’s, a high school in Kemptville, placed first, followed by Colonel By and Garneau, both in Gloucester.)
Rideau was third from the bottom in Eastern Ontario and 626th in the province.
Meanwhile, 96 per cent of Lisgar students passed provincial literacy tests on the first attempt last April, compared to 61 per cent of participating students at Rideau, where only 69 per cent of those in Grade 10 took the test.
School board staff have calculated that, if Rideau High School is closed, 19 Grade 9 Rideau students and as many as 38 older students might transfer to Lisgar. However, Lisgar is already at capacity with about 1,070 students. About 100 of those are “cross boundary transfer” students from other parts of the city, many attracted by the school’s reputation
It's not that ripple-effects shouldn't be part of trustee consideration, but if the sole interest here is to preserve the gentrification of Rockliffe-Ottawa-Beacon Hill-North Gloucester's high schools, then why bother having a review at all? I also note that there are enough inferences here to suggest Rideau is getting the shaft in the recommendations because of its reputation. Colonel By, which has been under capacity for decades (since I was a high school student in the area), has always managed to remain open due to its specialty programs, for example the International Baccalaureate high school program.
If the impact on Lisgar was really going to be that great, it should have been included in the review when it began. To come at the 11th hour and want to be part of the process suggests self-interest more than any motivation to seek the best learning conditions for all students.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Picturing joint use in Brantford

It's been mentioned several times in this space that some school boards and municipalities in Ontario already get it. They're already doing a great job of co-operating and planning together, taking each others' needs into account when considering closure, consolidation, expansion and new construction.
I've reviewed this in the past in my own reporting, when I wrote about why our local boards treat joint facilities like an anathema. In the piece I looked at the joint facility in Brantford where the Grand Erie and Brant-Haldimand-Norfolk Catholic district school boards operate Branlyn Community School and Notre Dame School in the city's north end. The facility also includes a City of Brantford's Branlyn Recreation Centre.
I forget when it opens(ed), but the two boards recently co-operated again on building a joint facility in another section of Brantford.
The Brantford Expositor's Michael-Allen Marion had this published Friday showing the public school board and city are again at the same table, speaking about how they can work together to maximize use of a public space.
Before them was a concept plan to build a new high school and outdoor sports complex in the Shellard Lane area over the next decade.
According to the plan, they would locate the school and system of sports fields on a 172- acre patch of city-owned land on the north side of Shellard Lane just west of Conklin Road.
They all agreed they had interests in common. The city wants to move right way to build two baseball diamonds and a football field to replace what will be lost in the construction of the new four-pad arena at the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre.
Coun. Mark Littell, the task force chairman, is anxious to see them built in the growing southwest, a section of his ward that is devoid of sports and recreational services.
"I recognize an opportunity for the city to meet the needs of the football community, of relocating the baseball diamonds and bring recreational complexes to the southwest," he said in an interview.
Jamie Gunn, superintendent of business for the Grand Erie District School Board, told the gathering a new high school is on the board's five-to 10-year planning horizon and is committed to building on that site.
There you go. No need for a draft policy. No ministry direction. Just a board(s) and a municipality that get along and realize pooling their resources provides the greatest benefits.
Other boards and municipalities out there -- particularly whose relationship is not as productive as this one -- take note.

Huffing Purel?

The local school board spokesperson here had actually brought up concerns with alcohol-based hand sanitizers prior to the start of classes this year when I was speaking with him in regards to flu prevention. Today, CBC in BC posted this story, in regards to the concerns over the use of these alcohol-laden products in schools. The local board had an American advisory on the products as part of its H1N1 page, but it's been replaced by a Ministry of Health and Long-term Care memo that only briefly states schools should consult fire departments over sanitizer placement.
From the piece:
Lacey Butler is one parent who learned of the risks firsthand when her four-year-old daughter Halle was given a squirt of hand sanitizer with an attractive fruit scent by a teacher at school.
CBC News tracked down Butler in Oklahoma, after her email warning to parents became an internet hit of its own.
Butler's daughter actually got sick two years ago, but the recent surge in use of hand sanitizers in schools turned her old message into an internet hit once again in recent weeks.
"The teacher says she went around to all students and squirted one squirt into each students hand," said Butler.
But rather than rub it on her hands, Halle licked and swallowed the gel, likely because it smelled of fruit.
"It was like someone her size drinking something like 120 proof [alcohol]," said Butler.
Halle became lethargic and incoherent, and at first nobody could figure out what was wrong with her, and she was rushed to hospital by her father.
It also touches on high school students ingesting the stuff-- imagine, getting wasted for free in the local high school bathroom. Of course, kids being kids... they also set the stuff, which can contain up to 60 per cent alcohol, on fire.
Is there not a common-sense solution to this? Really? Proper hand washing with warm water and soap is undeniably the best way to reduce any hand-to-hand transmission of bacteria and viruses. Sanitizers should be used only when and where there is no access to a sink.
While it's not every school that has a sink in its classrooms, these hand washing routines can be built into the routine-- IE: before lunch or snack breaks, troop every student past the sink or nearest washroom to wash their hands. Ditto for when they return from recess.

School absences lead to conviction

Wow. That was the only word I could sum up when I read this Peterborough Examiner article posted today.
She was found guilty Thursday of failing to cause a child under age 16 to attend school. She was placed on one year of probation with conditions that include her son “must attend school each and every day,” starting today, said justice of the peace Carl Young in Ontario Provincial Court.
“Such conduct is not acceptable,” he said.
School board officials must also be made aware of any medical conditions that would cause her son to miss school.
Her son’s attendance problems date back to 2007, the court heard.
He missed 20 days from May 26 to June 30, 2008 and has missed 12 days of this school year, from Sept. 14 to Wednesday.
She said her son would be absent again today because he has “pulled muscles."
Wow (again).
This is so foreign to me, from the prosecution standpoint and the actual situation. I anecdotally hear all sorts of stories about tweens that are absent from school all the time (usually because the parents don't care and the kids just wander instead of showing up), but aren't prosecuted under the Education Act. Attendance counsellors, local PD and social workers are all involved, but in one memorable case from the time I was embedded in a classroom, one of the Grade 8 kids in the same school just rarely bothered to show up, period. No charges there.
It's also foreign because my parents would have never done this. From six to 19 (and beyond while in university) it was my job to go to school and everything else was secondary.
This is so very rare that a copy should go to every board and school in the province.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Community policy comment from central Ontario

The (Sterling) Community Press posted this late last week, where the local Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic and Hastings and Prince Edward district school boards were polled on the draft policy released after Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne met with the Community Schools Alliance in August.
Dave Rutherford, superintendent of facilities with the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board, said the policy would mean some additional steps boards would have to go through in terms of sharing information with the community.
“If we were planning to build or renovate and existing facility, we would be required to communicate with community partners,” Rutherford said.
He said he and other board officials didn’t have any concerns with the proposed policy.
“It makes sense,” Rutherford said.
I can't see boards having any other response than this when asked what they think of the draft policy. As has been pointed out here in posts and comments previously, good school boards already conduct much of the consultation urged in the draft policy.

Orillia review urges closure

Nathan Taylor at the Packet and Times had this story posted Wednesday regarding a Simcoe-Muskoka Catholic District School Board review of two Orillia schools. The most recent board report on the review is on the SMCDSB's website.
The review committee's recommendation is to close and consolidate both current schools at a new site.
Parents, including Monsignor Lee parent council chair Mardi McLaughlin, explained some of the issues and inadequacies of which the board is already aware.
"We have a very dangerous bus and drop-off zone," she said, noting the heavy traffic volume in front of the school, which is located on Fittons Road at Peter Street. "This is a safety issue that must be addressed before there is a serious incident."
The schoolyard is too small, she said, adding they almost had to cancel some sports due the small playing field. At Monsignor Lee, it works out to 20 square metres per student, she said, while, at Notre Dame School, it's 155 square metres.
Two other parents spoke in favour of the PAC's recommendation for similar reasons, and praised the committee for its hard work.
"We know that we're headed in the right direction," said Jeff Waite, whose son attends Monsignor Lee.
The matter comes before trustees Oct. 14.
It's a second recent example of where a review committee has been able to, while acknowledging the difficulty in closing a school, been able to see how the dreaded option leads to improved schools for their children. This is a review's biggest challenge-- to move past the status quo and see how they can get the best for all students whose schools are included in the review.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ottawa looks at three schools

A few accommodation reviews are coming to a conclusion in Ottawa, with reports yesterday about their pending appearance before the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board later this week. Check out the Ottawa Sun story (by a former co-worker of mine), the Ottawa Citizen, CBC Ottawa and CTV Ottawa. The board has reports on both the high school and elementary reviews.
I've got some significant familiarity here-- Gloucester High School is a stone's throw from the family home in Ottawa (though not my alma mater) and Colonel By isn't much further away, about five minutes as the raven flies. Rideau High School -- with a population just over 500 pupils -- is recommended for closure in the high school review, with students and programs mostly transferred to Gloucester High School.
Dealing solely with the high school review, the committee had recommended status quo-- keeping all three high schools open when none of the three is at capacity. Knowing the Gloucester-Colonel By area quite well, and the Rideau neighbourhood too, these are communities whose glory days of children with heaps of young families have passed. Not to say there aren't any young families, but as an example, in the family abode's immediate neighbourhood, there haven't been any school-aged children at all for some five years or more. Like me, we've all graduated and moved on, with precious few of us having kids since leaving the nest.
This sets up another situation where trustees will be forced to decide between a staff recommendation that attempts to address changing dynamics, and a set of committee recommendations pushing for the status quo. Who will "win?" If the committee's recommendation isn't followed, will it accept the decision? Or will Ottawa be the next member of the Community Schools Alliance?
If time allows, I'll update post committee-of-the-whole meeting Friday.

Flood your MPP: CSA

The latest from the Community Schools Alliance, as reported by the London Free Press' Deb Van Brenk, is to form-letter e-mail flood MPPs across the province, going on the theory that the squeakiest wheel gets the grease.
The alliance sent e-mails yesterday morning to all elected municipal officials.
The "Dear MPP" letter template says in part that, "the current system for determining which schools stay open and which schools are closed is a flawed process and school boards are closing schools, amalgamating schools, transporting students out of their community, and building new schools without reviewing the impact of these decisions on our communities."
It goes on to say that a joint process among school boards and municipalities is needed to address issues of declining enrolment and funding to schools in rural and small communities.
But school boards maintain the communities already have plenty of input into decision-making in the accommodation review committee process set out by the province.
Indeed, many municipalities did have plenty of time and some opportunity to contribute their opinions and solutions to many of the schools whose closure they continue to oppose. The Middlesex County municipalities are among these and should be commended for the work they did in the two reviews whose final reports I read and whose presentation to trustees I sat through. Trustees didn't follow the recommendations these municipalities helped develop.
While in this story CSA chair and Southwest Middlesex Mayor Doug Reycraft speaks about a York Region school closure, I'm still waiting for that ever-elusive list of the municipalities who returned the alliance's request for membership over the summer months. Come to think of it, I'm also still waiting for a letter sent from the City of London to the alliance in regards to that very request.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Deutchland v. Canada — Dropout edition

Quebecor Media (QMI) / Sun Media sent reporter Sébastian Ménard to Germany to look at some people and programs in place in that European country having a dramatic impact on dropout rates. For the bilingual amongst us, you can read Ménard's original pieces en Français as run by Le Journal de Montréal in September — the articles are summarized on this page. The Ottawa Sun started running the series in English this week with articles here and here on Monday.
Independent school administrations, an arsenal of specialized learning programs and a competitive edge have helped 94% of its students graduate high school.
In 2005, Canada's national dropout rate was listed at just over 10%. In Alberta and Quebec, 12% of students dropped out, as did 9% in Ontario. The numbers vary, and there have been improvements, but no Canadian province can match Germany's success.
One difference is the lack of school boards in the German educational system, which leaves school principals free to decide for themselves how to help their students graduate.
"All schools are different and they all try, each in their own way, to have the fewest dropouts possible," explained Manfred Paul, a principal in Aachen, a city in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Since the municipality maintains the schools and manages staff, Paul has a lot more time to focus on education.
I look forward to reading the complete series (I'd only dug up the French-language links, not read them in their entirety) to see how this comparison continues. Considering the few very large differences in our education system and others, it should be an interesting read. More later.

SQE Sunshine

Also delinquent here... the Society for Quality Education sent out an advance invitation to a new website, Sunshine on Schools, launched last week. Moira MacDonald writes about it in Monday's Toronto Sun.
It could get you clicking and comparing for hours with plenty of info on individual school board costs, spending, how students do, teacher salaries, how much each school board spends per student, and in-depth financial reports. Every Ontario school board is covered.
As tech lovers might say, it's got great functionality, with each mouse click leading smoothly to another layer of information, using easy-to-understand graphs and charts.
"It's all stuff anybody could look for if they knew where to look," says Doretta Wilson, SQE's executive director, who gathered the stats from government and individual school boards.
"People can play around with it. We don't want to make judgments. If it piques more interest and causes people to dig a little deeper it's accomplished its mission.
This collection of public information in a one-stop format will be useful, even with the data gaps that exist on the site where a a particular number isn't available for a given school board in a given year. It will pique interest and lead to conversations such as the one MacDonald had with the head of the province's French-language public school boards.
French language textbooks are more expensive and school services "of equal quality" to what other students receive must be delivered to French public students wherever they are in the province.
With only 22,000 students spread across Ontario, that means higher transportation and staffing costs. As well, the system has seen a 25% enrolment increase in the last 10 years, requiring the purchase or lease of new schools.
Fair enough. That's the sort of dialogue Wilson hopes the website will inspire.
As advocates of school choice, the SQE's optics on publicly education education are on display at its website and on its related blog, School for Thought. I haven't had time to go poking around on this site yet, other than to notice one of the boards I cover is ranked second in the ratio of $100K+ earners to students. I had touched on the $100K+ and education issue in a previous post here, noting the huge lack of context and explanation that plagues reporting on the list's annual release— spurred by a release at the time from the SQE on $100K+ earners and school boards.
What MacDonald doesn't do is draw a strong enough, or any, link between the SQE's politics and this Sunshine website. The way the site was built and the way the numbers are compared is no doubt ideologically motivated to induce conversations leading to the society's goals.

Spending money in schools

I've been delinquent in keeping up with the London Free Press' Kelly Pedro's reporting on the money families pitch in to their children's schools throughout the school year. Pedro's year-long look is in its fourth (fifth?) iteration so far, with recent stories published Saturday and Monday. The goal is to follow a series of London-area families throughout a full school year and track the money they spend on school-related activities.
Saturday's piece showed two elementary school families (one public school, one Catholic school) and what they've doled out for their kids so far this year. Monday's touches on a high school student and the dollars thrown at his involvement in the football team.
As previously stated, I'm envious of this series. Great idea and the collection of stories by year's end will be an eye-opener for many.
Follow the series and related spreadsheet online at
It's being noticed too— the London District Catholic School Board trustees touched on the series' first few iterations at its Sept. 14 meeting. The minutes are taken down after the subsequent board meeting, so I've uploaded the pertinent comments to my GoogleDocs.
The questions raise an important contextual point I hope is explained as the series continues. Schools do a lot of fundraising that covers a gamut of causes— from school trips and activities to supporting various charitable causes such as United Ways, disaster relief, etc. The school-based funds that must now be consolidated and reported in school board financial audits have to include all this money, even though it simply funnels through a school-based bank account on the way to other causes.
I would hope this sort of fundraising is explained and broken out from what the series has highlighted so far— the money for student planners, locker deposits and the like.
I'm also looking forward to the continuing installments.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

ARCing in my own backyard

It's not my custom to post about my own reporting here on a regular basis, but given the track record here on accommodation reviews and how committee members and others approach the task, I feel it's appropriate. Mostly because it's the first review I've covered where the committee voted (in a 5-4 split) to close a school.
Other commitments have kept me from being at every one of this Thames Valley District School Board committee's meetings, but between myself and my newsroom colleagues we have covered every one to-date and will continue doing so until after the trustee decision— expected some time early next calendar year. However, from the first meeting I covered I was instantly aware this committee was perhaps better prepared to accept closure as an unpalatable compromise to improve the learning conditions for all the students attending the four schools represented. When Woodstock Coun. Ross Gerrie — attempting to put forward a "keep the school open, but if you do decide to close" series of recommendations — said he didn't think anyone on the committee would support a closure of Hillcrest Public School, some of the parents said his assumption was wrong.
I used the strongest quote in the story.
"It's going to happen, let's just admit it and say, 'close the school' and this way all other (schools) benefit," Springbank 'holding zone' representative Belinda Montague said. "If we say don't close (Hillcrest), then the message is that everything in all the other schools is OK just to leave it as is."
The committee, thorough in ensuring it wasn't simply backing Hillcrest into a corner, also polled the principals of the four schools, whose quotes didn't make the newspaper article.
"The upgraded gymnasium is probably the most important thing (in proposed upgrades)," said Springbank Public School principal Iggy Ferrara. "The upgraded library and general arts rooms, again, we were built as a JK-5 school and we can't offer instrumental music and we need the specialized room.
"This will help is to have enhanced places to deliver our arts program. They're wonderful and it really will enhance the school."
D.M. Sutherland Public School principal Susan Davis acknowledged it was early still, given practice is to strike a design committee to finalize the what's and where of the new components.
"We would always like more than we have, but what would be coming our way is an absolute treat," Davis said.
The committee spent substantial time ensuring its recommendations covered all the bases to ensure the three remaining schools would have the best learning environment possible for the funding that might be available from ministry and board funds. Let's see how its public input night unfolds at the end of the month and whether the committee changes any of its recommendations before finalizing its report and sending it off to trustees.