Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday hiatus

This blog is on hiatus until at least Jan. 4, 2010.
Please take some time to enjoy and celebrate Christmas (if you celebrate— if not, well, enjoy the time off work and celebrate the season) and have a wonderful new year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Reporting on report cards

So Tuesday we were bombarded by a smorgasbord of reportage on report cards.
As best as I can tell from my siftings, the Globe and Mail kicked things off on Tuesday, even including a link to the Ministry of Education memo that hasn't been posted elsewhere in its usual locations. While dialoguing with Kelly Pedro in London, she mentioned she had touched on report-card reform at the end of November— however I did note in a Dec. 23 tweet she was working on report cards again.
Throughout the day Tuesday I noticed report cards as the topic of an Ontario Today phone-in on CBC Radio One as well as a number of localized stories from various sister papers— St. Catharines' stands out most prominently.
It got to the point — and showed the power of certain media outlets — that Minister Kathleen Wynne issued a special statement on the matter Tuesday afternoon. From the statement:
The fall Progress Report Card will facilitate better communication among parents, teachers and students by assessing students early in the school year in a new format. It will evaluate students in the same areas as the report card but instead of assigning a grade or mark, it will indicate how a student is progressing — very well, well or with difficulty.
Those who might look at this as a victory for teachers and their federations should perhaps take a step back and reevaluate.
The change eliminates a grading system, be it letters or percentages, from the fall report card. It doesn't eliminate the actual report. Parents should still receiving something, in writing, from their child's teacher with commentary on the child's progress to-date in the class. While I've never written a classroom report card, I've completed a number of written evaluations over years (Johnny is a great floater... he needs to remember to keep his belly up and his head back when on his back, and so on) and have always found the ones requiring original thought to be more time consuming and hence more meaningful than a system of plugging in grades and choosing from a range of pre-selected commentary. Good teachers should always be able to, virtually on the spot, provide an up-to-date verbal progress report on their student, and be able to back their statement up with written notes from evaluations.
This reportage and reaction also shows, I believe, the ever-present range of parental involvement. For those parents who monitor the children's work at school, keep up-to-date with what's being assigned, attend parent-teacher or meet-the-teacher events at the school, etc., a fall progress report — with or without grades — won't tell them much they weren't already aware of. It's the detached parents, the ones that sit back and react to the news their children are struggling in school, who will see a change.
But even then, this doesn't strike me as something that earth-shattering. That parent can still read the progress report, get angry and take away the Nintendo (I guess a Wii now, as opposed to the predecessor Commodore 64 in my day) until the next report card.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Year in review

I did this on my other blog already, but wanted to put a little more time and thought into the one here, looking at the year and trying to pick out the significant issues that touched on K-12 education in Ontario. It's been an interesting year and one where, looking back, I'm happy to have started and kept up with blogging about. This venue has given me so many opportunities to delve into issues, some provincial in scope, some very local, that I never would have learned about or written about within the bounds of the job I'm paid to do within my newsroom.
So, here are a few significant events from the past year that stand out, in no particular order.
  • Settling the latest round of four-year collective agreements with all employee groups. This year marked the first time all school-board employees settled agreements with their employers and brought their contracts into the same four-year cycle. It was a hugely instructive experience showing which unions could work within the provincial discussion table format and achieve success for their membership, and the few who dug in their heels and may some day feel the wrath of their members when they realize they've fallen behind their peers.
  • Reports, reports, reports. There were a few that will forever change the face of education in this province -- some are broken out into individual items below -- and there are some still underway (curriculum, municipal partnership, education funding formula review) that are due in 2010-11.
  • "Planning and possibilities: The report of the declining enrolment working group," lays out recommendations and a vision for how the province should both encourage the modernization of its schools while respecting a need for local decision-making within the acknowledgment the status quo cannot continue. The draft shared-use policy circulated this summer was in partial response to one of the first things Education Minister Kathleen Wynne said she would take on from this report.
  • "Our best future: Early learning in Ontario," affectionately called simply the 'Pascal report.' This report, and the ensuing implementation of its recommendations -- starting with full-day kindergarten -- will reshape how the government delivers education and a myriad of other supports to families with young children in this province. Its ripple-effect will, whether you support the program or not, be felt for a long, long time. If I were to rank this list, this report and the ensuing developments would be at or very near the top.
  • Bill 177: The Student Achievement and School Board Governance Act, passed and given royal assent in December of this year. The bill, combined with the regulations from 2006's Bill 78, is going to change how K-12 education is governed in Ontario, particularly for those trustees and boards who've not yet adapted to realize their role is one of corporate governance, not middling and meddling with individual issues. A hastily circulated and drafted set of provincial-interest regulations caused a kerfuffle in the summer, however the minister continues to say these regulations will be passed, but in a more consultative fashion. 
  • The formation of the Community Schools Alliance, earlier this summer, provided an outlet for disillusioned, angry, mostly rural municipalities to vent over the school-closure process in place at school boards and the province's own guidelines. The group made headlines as it asked Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne to impose a 'smart' moratorium on school closures where the local municipality and community disputed the closure. She rightfully rejected the request. A subsequent letter-writing campaign seems to have fallen flat and I'm personally still waiting for the alliance to post a list of its member municipalities.
  • ARCs, ARCs, ARCs: Dozens of these school-closure reviews -- the first round for many boards since new guidelines were adopted in 2006, the second for others -- completed their work this past calendar year, foisting recommendations on trustees across Ontario. Some of these committees came up with truly unique and inspired recommendations for the future of schooling in their communities. Too many dug in their heels and adopted a status-quo attitude or a belief everything that's open should stay open forever, just the way it is today or modernized. Revised guidelines were released in June, which many boards have now adopted as they launch the next round of reviews.
  • Oliver Carroll, the Toronto District Catholic School Board trustees ousted after a successful court challenge under the provincial conflict of interest legislation. Ripple effects are still being felt across every other school board, as well as within the TDCSB with two more trustees now under the spotlight.
  • The Bluewater District School Board: It deserves its own mention here, because if boards haven't been paying attention to this group of trustees this past year, it's at their own peril. The BDSB saw resignations, public complaints and the appointment of Mr. Fix-its in an attempt to quell concerns surrounding improper decision making -- some of which still haven't been resolved.
  • Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Niagara District Secondary School. For a decision made in June 2008, its impact stretched into the fall of 2009 as a result of the vote taken over a year earlier. Enrolment remains stubbornly below the arbitrary 350-student level the school was to reach by Oct. 31 to remain open. The fight continues for those unwilling to let this one go, which includes a council determined to use any measure, no matter how legitimate, to cause the school board difficulty.
 As the year has gone on, this has become a place for a handful of people to regularly post their thoughts on my thoughts, and I thank you for dipping your toes into my sandbox and contributing to the discussion. I've received numerous e-mails, some of which have been exciting. Several posts have elicited e-mails with more information that may pop out in future posts as I read, digest and analyze the info. To give an idea of what's bringing people here, I also include my top-10 posts since I started tracking them in April-May. There are a few caveats by definition here as these are the specific URLs that have drawn traffic-- the bulk of you reading this are just reading it on the front page, were I can't track which post necessarily brought you here.
  1. Bill 177 
  2. EQAO and conflicts 
  3. NOTL shenanigans (later updated)
  4. The board, the OMB, the town... and the lawsuit? 
  5. ETFO and EQAO 
  6. The Community Schools Alliance 
  7. Refocusing the sunshine 
  8. Toronto ARC coverage ramps up 
  9. Toronto ARCs it up, finally 
  10. TorSun backs TDSB ARCs 
 As I write this, the blog has attracted over 6,000 visits -- which includes over 2,500 unique visitors -- and over 10,000 page views since I started publishing in March. It's on the radar for those who are interested in education in Ontario, be they trustees, parents, Ministry of Education folk or other journalists. Far better than I ever could have anticipated, so thanks.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Asked and answered

Moira Macdonald asks in today's Toronto Sun whether or not retired teachers are hogging supply teaching jobs. Um, yes. Definitely. Most definitely. I have noted (but not really written) for some time that retirees coming back as occasional teachers is the biggest double-dip scam within the public service that I'm aware of. I can't think of another job paid from the public purse where retirees are treated so well.
As she points out, retired teachers (any certified teachers, regardless of what position they held at retirement) can return to work for up to 95 days without any penalty to their pension.
Not to mention, as Macdonald also notes, current OT contracts have gotten richer and richer over the past two cycles, to the point that you're paid a grid salary virtually from the first day of any supply placement. A few contracts ago, the grid rate only applied on OT placements once they hit a certain number of days. These were put in place so that new teachers could start accumulating seniority during their time in the OT gulag as they waited for a permanent contract— prior contracts would have many of these new teachers working very short-term placements for months and months and months and not gaining any seniority.
I still joke with a former Thames Valley staffer who retired as executive superintendent, was called to be acting director of education and then called upon again to be a superintendent of schools within the past three years. Every time I see him at a board function I ask if he's been pulled in from retirement again— but the point goes to the fact he can be pulled in without any pension penalty within the threshold.
All that said, a local contact within the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation explained to me earlier this year that the number of these double-dippers should start dropping soon. The 95-day penalty free ride is only for the first three years of retirement, after which the number of penalty free days drops to 20. The retirement hump — the milk and honey years for new teachers when full-time permanent contract positions were in abundance due to all the boomers who'd reached their 85 factor and were retiring — has passed in both elementary and secondary. For every year that goes by the number of teachers who are at 20 days will increase. More retirees with fewer penalty free days should make a difference in the number of days that become available as a result. Many of these provisions were brought in anticipation of this retirement hump, in that briefest of times when there may have been a teachers' shortage in this province.
Enforcement of the threshold is key, as Macdonald points out. Some boards are better than others, and some boards are not only acutely aware of the issue but also report monthly on the size of their supply lists and the percentage of each list that is made up of retirees.

Monday, December 14, 2009

ETFO/OECTA v. EQAO, round two

Couple things popped up in recent days in regards to the first stages of what might be a co-ordinated campaign by the teachers' federations in regards to Education Quality and Accountability Office; testing.
First was the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario newsletter, sent out Friday, indicating the federation would feature EQAO testing as its main article in the March edition of its members' newsletter / magazine, "Voice." Don't forget to view the survey, here.
Specific experiences and anecdotes are welcome and encouraged. A selection of your responses will be published in the magazine.
This looks like a selective examination of EQAO from the federation's perspective— an organization that's never been a fan of standardized testing of its members' students and went as far as to suggest random-sample testing earlier this year.
Then, Tyler Kula in Sarnia had this published Monday indicating the St. Clair local of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association's opposition to the test— with a response from the board.
"With respect to our board in particular, it really does seem to have obsessed more than others with performance on these tests," said Liz Holmes, local president of the Ontario Elementary Catholic Teacher's Association.
The St. Clair Catholic District School Board routinely scores above provincial standards in reading, writing and mathematics in Grades 3 and 6. Students also perform well in Grade 9 math testing.
The problem, Holmes said, is that standardized testing decreases a teacher's ability to deliver the provincial curriculum and instead focusses (sic) professional development and classroom supports on improving test scores.
Professional development under the Ontario Focussed (sic) Intervention Partnership (OFIP) provides strategies aimed solely at improving test scores, she said. Administrators say they focus on increasing student success.
"They have funneled a lot of effort, time and money into making the EQAO scores go up," Holmes said.
The best response to this I've ever heard is, "there's nothing wrong with teaching to the test if the test is testing things worth testing." The tests are based on the Ontario curriculum expectations in the elementary years, so teaching to the test is teaching the actual curriculum. The recent AG report served to highlight this reality, complimenting the EQAO for ensuring its annual tests do match the curriculum and are relevant.
Further, if teachers aren't teaching to the test— what the hell are they teaching?
The smart people out there would respond it's not what they're teaching but how. Well, the test is based on multiple-choice, true/false and open response questions. The open response questions highlight comprehension of written material as well as writing skills in different styles (ie: Write a letter to your principal asking for new equipment for your gym. State reasons why.) Again, all important skills and there are a variety of methods to teach them. Are they all being used? Maybe not, but this isn't what OECTA is slamming, it's critical of the test itself.
So we could have a problem of interpretation— where the association sees the professional development its members receive as aimed at improving test results only. Again, the test measures important skills and abilities, so they're actually getting PD on how to do a better job teaching these. Improved test results are a byproduct. They're funneling effort, time and money into doing better at teaching the related skills. The higher test scores are one result.
These two items are particularly concerning as the EQAO and its assessments move into their second decade. These are early-implementation questions and doubts. Further, these are two things I don't think the federations will gain any traction with amongst parents or the public at large.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ottawa-Carleton DSB early budget woes

This is the first 2010-11 budget story I've seen, given most boards likely aren't near the point of getting into the anticipated fun their upcoming budgets will bring.
Staff at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board have prepared a list of options for trustees to debate at a budget committee meeting on Monday, so they can present their recommendations at the full board meeting on Tuesday. Among those options is cutting 88 full-time jobs.
Cathy Curry has been chair of the board for just over a week, but already she is facing a big challenge to keep her board out of the red.
"Yes, [it's] definitely a situation where there is angst and anxiety, but also a very positive opportunity for all the people at the budget table to give their views, and to explain things to others about how things work on the ground," Curry said Thursday.
But the head of the Ottawa-Carleton Elementary Teachers' Federation thinks there are better ways to achieve that than holding up the $14 million as a necessary cut to the budget.
Yes, indeed, there are more ways to find $14 million in a budget that's likely around $400 million to $500 million than going for the jugular. But then, and the CBC Ottawa piece doesn't get into this, what has the board done in previous years? Are support staff levels at the same number they were years ago? Or have they too adjusted with teaching numbers as declining enrolment has taken hold?
I predict this will be a year when the one board that saw an actual reduction in 2009-10 for its grants for student needs (Peterborough, Victoria, Northumberland Catholic District School Board) will have some company. The capital dollars and other one-time funds are pretty much done. Full-day kindergarten's first two years will come with little to no capital dollars, and the staffing in these early years of implementation should pretty much be a wash between the teachers who would have left due to declining enrolment and those needed for the ELP.

Auditor General fun

The Ontario AG's report was released Monday, and contained two sections of importance to public education in Ontario. One has received some reporting (thanks to Moira Macdonald) whereas the other may have been mentioned but received little to no coverage.
The auditor general examined, as part of a cyclical review of all areas of government, the Education Quality and Accountability Office, as well as the Ministry of Education's Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat. The former definitely received a more positive review than the latter. I was personally contacted a few times by the EQAO both in advance of and after the release of the AG's report Monday-- the opportunities to report on it in print for me are few, but this is an appropriate venue to do so. The AG's report is overall favourable to the EQAO, noting it does its job -- testing students against the established Ontario curriculum and reporting those results in a fair and efficient manner. It's also done so while reducing costs by 20% while providing the same level of service. The office has four main recommendations for the EQAO, which I've copied and pasted below without the EQAO responses. I realize this lengthens this post considerably, but it's important to have them here verbatim.
Recommendation 1: To improve the Education Quality and Accountability Office’s (EQAO’s) test development and administration process and to ensure that student assessments continue to be reliable and objective and that all students are given the opportunity to demonstrate their competence, the EQAO should:
• highlight to principals and teachers any significant changes in the compliance requirements outlined in the guides to administer EQAO testing;
• improve the process for selecting the schools visited by quality assurance monitors to ensure that all school boards and large private schools are periodically monitored;
• assess the equity of including exempt students in the overall assessment results as having not met the provincial standard; and
• identify schools and school boards where the number of exempt students appears to be relatively high and follow up to ensure that exemptions are justified.
Recommendation 2: To improve the assessment marking process to ensure that results continue to be valid, consistent, and reliable, the Education Quality and Accountability Office should:
• consider adopting on-line training for assessment markers;
• examine different methods to increase the number of validity reads for each marker, especially early in the marking process; and
• consider implementing supervisory backreading to help improve marker accuracy.
Recommendation 3: To ensure that assessment results continue to be reliable, consistent, and valid, the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) should enhance its quality assurance procedures by:
• implementing a formal complaints process to help determine if there are any trends and to identify potential actions that could prevent non-compliance with assessment guidelines or student cheating;
• considering more complete disclosure when test results at a particular school are withheld as a deterrent against non-compliance with assessment guidelines;
• outlining in its administration guides potential penalties for violating EQAO policy;
• tailoring its quality assurance processes to address unique risks associated with different assessments;
• reviewing Grade 9 applied mathematics results to assess whether incorporating EQAO results into the student’s final markis effective in motivating students and, if so, suggest a more consistent approach; and
• investigating any abnormally large variations in school assessment results from year to year and ensuring that they are justified.
Recommendation 4: To further improve its policies and processes and the procedures designed to produce accurate and reliable reports that can be used to improve student performance, the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) should:
• consider formalizing its pilot initiative to provide more open-ended questions for principals, teachers, and students to obtain better feedback on any concerns with the assessment process and ways to improve it;
• develop a more formal outreach strategy to give all schools and school boards an opportunity to gain further insight into the value of EQAO data and how it can be used to improve student learning; and
• increase the understanding of parents and the general public of how the assessment process enhances student learning.
The EQAO's response to most recommendations demonstrates either that it is making changes to meet the recommendations for pending assessments or that it will take the matter under advisement. Under the third set of recommendations I would love to see those come into play-- as an example, today one has to go to the so-called blue pages at the Ontario College of Teachers to see where some have flaunted test procedures.
Compare that to the LNS portion of the audit, where five recommendations (which I won't post here or this post would start inducing somnolence) point to a need for greater control and accountability. The AG notes both dollars going out the door that aren't adequately tracked or accounted for, as well as recommending the LNS does a better job of tying its efforts into EQ and report card assessments to ensure the impacts of its programs are effectively measured and reported. I particularly liked the recommendation stating all board and school improvement plans should be a matter of public record. These are no doubt full of eduspeak and other terms, however a competent translator (such as a parents' groups, journalists, etc.) could ensure those with interest understood what each says.
Overall, sadly, both these audits got overshadowed by the sexier sections of the report on social program spending and accountability. I lamented this with an EQAO staffer on Monday, noting they got out-sexed in the report and that few media would bother with a 'good news' story on the office's audit when there was waste and scandal to report.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Keep 'em open: Ottawa-Carleton DSB

An update to a high school review in east-end Ottawa that I have written about here before-- the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has voted to keep Rideau High School open and directed staff members to examine all options to even out enrolment in the area. The school, which has 1,000 students in its prescribed attendance area, sees approximately half that many attending classes within its walls. From the Ottawa Citizen piece:
Trustee Bronwyn Funiciello, who represents Rideau-Rockcliffe/Alta Vista, introduced the motion supporting the ARC recommendations and requested a comprehensive plan to address long-term enrolment and the needs of students and the community, including consultation with the communities served by low-enrolment schools “to identify and resolve root causes of enrolment issues.”
The plan would include “program pathways” to schools to increase their appeal to students, including non-semestered options at low-enrolment schools.
She also wanted the board to review the impact of previous and future boundary changes and additional funding for low-enrolment schools.
Low enrolment has dogged Rideau and has been a factor in identifying it as the school to close. Although it has a capacity of 966 students, the projected enrolment next year is only 476 students.
As a result of this decision, parents of students who attend Colonel By Secondary and Gloucester High schools (readers here may remember I indicated at one point I could see Gloucester HS from the window of my old bedroom at my parents' house) are now wondering what the impact of this decision will be on their schools. As they should be.
This wasn't a case of an under-enrolled school due to low population within its attendance area. This was the case of a school being under-enrolled because its students are inflating attendance at other schools. In some cases, I might even suggest that cross-border attendance is what has kept those schools open this long. Pre-1998, Colonel By and Gloucester were from the predecessor suburban Carleton Board of Education, when programs were introduced at Colonel By to attract out-of-area students in order to keep enrolment at a reasonable level.
I think of other situations in Ontario where the students exist within the attendance area (*cough*cough*NOTL*cough*cough*) but choose to enroll elsewhere. The OCDSB trustees' decision here shows a willingness to take a look at why that might be happening and see what options exist to 'correct' the situation. The 'target' of a closure scenario might shift as a result, but then it might also end up where it should have been aimed in the first place.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Old rules? New rules!

There have been a series of accommodation review / school-closure review committee stories in the alerts lately, as school boards start the work to strike the next round of reviews in their respective parts of the province. Of interest, one ongoing one in the Keewatin-Patricia board area in northwestern Ontario-- schools in the very north are different and have always been, I think it will be interesting to see what solutions are recommended in that environment.
Then, a Huron County mayor has his county council voting to stop a review already in process, in an attempt to simply postpone the inevitable.
Another interesting one was the decision by the Simcoe County District School Board last week to disband an accommodation review taking place in the Collingwood / west Simcoe area, as reported by the Enterprise-Bulletin. The board disbanded the committee after a request from the area trustee Caroline Smith and the committee itself, so that it wouldn't run under the first set of pupil accommodation policies.
"It the first time in Ontario a board has stopped an ARC process," she said in a telephone interview. "It's pretty darn amazing and a very positive outcome."
The ARC process began early last June to "deal with facility and student accommodation issues, focusing on Byng, Duntroon, Clearview Meadows, Nottawasaga- Creemore, and Nottawa elementary schools," said Smith.
At that time, the group was organized under the 2006 Ontario Government Accommodation Review Guidelines, she explained, despite an outpouring of public criticism from around the province about the content of those guidelines.
On June 26 Smith said the Ministry of Education released new guidelines that focused on improvements in consultation and decision making processes within the ARC process.
"A clause within the new 2009 ARC guidelines allowed for a transition period, and required that ARC's convened after Sept. 30, 2009 were to use the new guidelines. ARC E found itself in an odd place and space in time; convened under the old guidelines, but yet not having any substantive business of the ARC completed, by Sept. 30, 2009," she said.
I hope Smith isn't under the illusion this review is gone forever. I would bet Tim Hortons commodities once the board votes and approves its own revised guidelines that fall in line with the June 2009 ministry document, administration will bring back the recommendation for this review. Why? Well, in the intervening months since June, I doubt the circumstances on the ground vis-a-vis the rationale for this review (IE: student population, facility condition, programming) have changed during the past six months. They likely won't change between now and the new year when the revised board policy is approved.
Trustees' decision postpones the inevitable. It doesn't avoid it.
Other boards across Ontario are no doubt in the same situation-- those who moved quickly and have adopted revised guidelines post-June are striking new reviews under the revised rules. The rest likely have a group of reviews in abeyance until they approve their newly revised policies.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Curriculum overload?

Getting a little clever with that topic line, given the smorgasbord of coverage in the past two days on the Ontario Ministry of Education's elementary curriculum review. For the record, I posted about this a few days after People for Education sent out news of the review back in October.
It just goes to show how the media works when it comes to education stories-- something I'm mindful of given an event notice I received earlier this week for a study released today in Washington D.C. under the title of "Invisible: 1.4 per cent coverage for education is not enough." As best I can tell from my media monitoring (which has some significant gaps), the CBC picked up on the curriculum story earlier this week and since then everyone across the province has gone hog-wild localizing it for their audiences. This is not atypical for most provincial stories, mind you, and I've certainly localized my share of provincial and national topics over the years. However, it goes Meanwhile, it received scant coverage when PFE sent its notice out over six weeks ago.
I shudder to think what -- if there was even an equivalent academic environment in Canada to conduct such a study -- a similar report might have to say about Canadian education reporting.
I'm particularly swayed by the following recommendations in the report's executive summary:
4. Reporting should become more proactive and less reactive. Much of coverage today is episodic and driven by events. Focusing on long-term trends would help to inform communities about the content of education and ways schools are seeking to move forward.
6. Newspapers and other media outlets that have cut back on education reporting should reconsider these decisions both on public interest grounds, and also because there is widespread interest in the issues surrounding education – on the part of parents especially, but also among employers and other community leaders. It is only through on-going, day-to-day beat reporting that journalists develop an understanding of the subject, gain a sure feel for the issues at stake, and develop sources who keep them informed.
Meanwhile, Bill 177, the biggest omnibus education bill of this government's term, passed Monday night with nary a whimper in most if not all media. Mind you, two PC MPPs staging a sit-in in the legislature distracted us all. Good thing that protest was so effective at changing practice or policy.

Addendum: Looking at my own site stats, it's important to note that pages on Bill 177 are among the most-read individual pages. Google tells me the top search term that brings people here is "education reporter," with the second-highest being "Bill 177." Hundreds of hits since my first post about the bill went up in May, showing there are enough people out there coming here for information on this bill. Perhaps because they're not finding anything anywhere else? If so, that's a pretty indicative statement to the research paper noted above.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bill 177 passes third reading

Bill 177: The Student Achievement and School Board Governance Act carried through third reading on division Monday at Queen's Park. The Ministry of Education sent out its releasebackgrounder and other items through its various platforms Tuesday afternoon.
I haven't had a chance to give this reading of the bill a thorough review and compare it to the original, although a trustee at the public board I cover advised her colleagues last week to read it over as there had been changes that took some of the concerns from trustees into account.
The leg website hasn't been updated yet to indicate when the Bill received / will receive royal assent from the Lieutenant-Governor. Many of its provisions don't take effect until then.
The bugaboo will continue to be the provincial-interest regulations stemming from this bill and the one passed in 2006, a draft of which were circulated earlier this summer for consultation. Plenty of trustees will no doubt consider these regulations and whether they wish to run for election in 2010 and face the wrath of the Ministry should they not meet any targets that may be established through regulation.
Or, the 'wrong' government gets elected (and you pick who you think that is, I'm not stating which party might be right or wrong, period) in 2011 and the regulations get re-written to really make life fun for trustees.
Once I give the bill a thorough re-read (if I ever get the time to do so... I'm still reading the Bluewater report a few paragraphs at a time) I may repost with more.

ELP battles

The last week has contained some interesting back-and-forth on the rollout of the Early Learning Program (full-day kindergarten as it's known to the rest of the world outside government).
Last Wednesday, the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada released a report titled 'The cost of a free lunch-- the real costs of the Pascal early learning plan for Ontario.'
The 'Coles notes' version of the 16-page report goes something like this: the ELP, as proposed by Pascal or as implemented by the government, is horrendously expensive and shouldn't be implemented. Give parents and families that money instead.
It references the Quebec experience, where $5-a-day -- now $7-a-day -- childcare is a reality. While there is no doubt its implementation there was fraught with challenges (and still is), the reliance of the IFMC on this one program as the bad example is troubling. I also found it interesting to note several inaccuracies within the body of the report itself where you can tell the research and writing ended before some of the more detailed information on implementation was made available.
I was also troubled by citations in the report, that when you checked the footnotes, refer to anecdotal information. This doesn't help the credibility of the message.
IFMC also breaks out the alarmist language when referring to the entire 0-12 spectrum of programming and support services, which in and of itself has to be seen as different than full-day kindergarten. That's a spectrum that includes Ontario Early Years Centres, Best Start centres, Parent and Family Literacy Centres, etc. The components Pascal mainly addressed were the introduction of items where there are currently gaps-- such as full-day kindergarten along with before- and after-school programs.
Counter that with the Toronto First Duty phase II research and report (news release, exec summary, full report) released Friday, pointing to the fact that for the implementation of the ELP to work, there are four key things that need to be addressed: an integrated staff team, integrated approaches to early childhood services, integrated service delivery and parent participation.
Most media, from the little I was able to notice on the day of release, focused on the report's notion that early childhood educators need more parity with their kindergarten teacher ELP colleagues if the program is to be a real success.
Meanwhile, Nov. 30 was deadline day for the submission of potential first-year sites to the Ministry of Education-- one that most boards met. It's been interesting to see the news alerts from my chain pop up over the last few days, showing which boards are going public with the sites they've submitted and which aren't. I had one board tell me yesterday they're keeping the list under wraps because they don't want families to switch neighbourhoods to take advantage of a first-year ELP program only to learn in January the government didn't approve that site.