Thursday, September 9, 2010

A real campaign on education? Bring it on!

I've been musing how to approach this since reviewing my regular news alerts and clippings Wednesday. "This" is the statement by Premier Dalton McGuinty at a GTA school Tuesday that he would gladly fight the next election over an education platform, with full implementation of full-day kindergarten as its main plank.
As quoted in the article from The Star:
“I think it is not too soon for us to consider the choice we’ll have next October,” McGuinty told reporters, speaking of the Oct. 6, 2011 vote in which he will seek a third term.
“We are so keen on moving ahead with full-day kindergarten and getting it right,” he added. “We have understood for a long time now that a strong start in school means that our kids are much more likely to graduate from high school and graduate from post-secondary education to get a good job and help us build a strong economy.”
Doing what we do, much of the coverage also noted Ontario PC Tim Hudak's responses.
Hudak acknowledged the kindergarten program will be into its second year if the Conservatives win next fall’s election.
“We’ll have some 50,000 kids across the province in 800 schools in full-day learning. We’ll have to be conscious of that.”
But Hudak suggested he wants to cut the cost of the program, possibly by using more early childhood education workers in place of higher-paid teachers.
“We’re willing to look at all models to make sure we get what’s best for the kids and their parents . . . we’ll have a year to observe.”
Hudak said he wants to make sure that full-day kindergarten attendance is optional if parents prefer to send their children for half days.
“The one-size-fits-all, must-enroll-your-kid-full-day as opposed to giving a choice to parents, I think that Dalton McGuinty has decided that Premier Dad knows best,” he told reporters.
I would be ecstatic to see an election fought over early learning (K-12 education? Even better). Why? The potential is there to have such a deep public discussion on what this province wants to see in terms of the services that are provided to families of young children from Quebec to Manitoba, from Hudson Bay to the Great Lakes. Politics being politics it's unlikely that discussion would live up to the potential, but some discussion (even uninformed, full of hyperbole, etc) is better than no discussion.
I would argue the premier and his education ministers over the past two years have laid out some broad brush strokes and, in the last six months, started providing some relief and definition to what their picture of full-day kindergarten should look like. Whether you agree or not with how the government is implementing it and its cost, it's there for all to see. It's not complete though and there remain many questions the government needs to answer in the next year, or that the Ontario Liberal Party should answer during the 2011 election campaign.
It's high time for Hudak to do the same. He wants to limit expenses in the program due to the province's current and projected fiscal situation. OK. Please tell us how. It's time to start framing your end of this conversation in terms that go beyond saying the government is doing it all wrong. Given the dearth of education-related material during the PC leadership campaign and the fact Hudak was the only one who actually enunciated some clear objectives (see previous posts here and here), it's even more surprising he's not presenting us an alternate vision. So what would it be? Dismissing hundreds of kindergarten teachers and replacing them with early childhood educators? Creating a drop-in kindergarten program, where parents could just drop the kidlets off when they felt like it and pick them up when ready?
Let's get it on.