An Open Letter To Premier Doug Ford
Mr. Ford, Think Big Picture For Once
Without Education, What Is There?
I woke up to news this morning (March 1) that the education ministry of Ontario has advised school boards to freeze all hiring until further notice, per a memo obtained by The Star February 28. The motivation for this hiring freeze is largely to do with the upcoming Ontario budget and with consultations regarding class sizes.
I'm not terribly surprised that your government has advised a hiring freeze. I saw it coming months ago, just as you were taking office and said, according to a CTV News article dated June 19, 2018, that the public sector hiring freeze didn't apply to teachers or nurses. You've said that you want to ensure that "every penny" of taxpayers' dollars is being watched, and yet, as head of a government that claims its "for the people," I know I've been watching my own taxpayer dollars head towards expenditures I definitely did not sign on for. I'll enumerate what I'm seeing in the ensuing sections.
Health and Physical Education Curriculum Consultations - What's the Cost?
Let's start with the consultations regarding the Health and Physical Education curriculum, which prior to the last update in 2015 hadn't been updated since 1998. The consultations, which occurred over the phone and online through fortheparents.ca, did not exactly go as you'd planned, with news agencies like CBC reporting that there was "overwhelming" support for the 2015 curriculum while you claimed certain groups might have skewed the results.
How much did these consultations cost, sir? How much are they continuing to cost? You said that your government is examining the results overall, and given, according to CBC, there were some 35,000 submissions, I'd imagine someone's being paid to go through the submissions to tally the information for you.
Why Did We Need A Full-Time Head Of EQAO?
Recent news that the very part-time job of heading up the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) suddenly became a full-time job paying far more than any teacher ever makes at $140,000 yearly also made me question where my tax dollars are going to. Do you understand what these EQAO tests are designed for, sir? They were supposedly designed to look at where kids are at - a snapshot, if you will - at the end of their Grade 3, Grade 6 and Grade 9 year, with successful passing of the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) having been a requirement for several years now. These tests no longer fulfill the purpose for which they were designed and instead seem to be used as some sort of evidence of teacher quality, rather than student capability. In fact, an Ontario government-commissioned report recommended scrapping the testing process at the Grade 3 and 9 levels, according to CBC, with recommendations that the OSSLT be replaced by another test that is not a diploma requirement and that the Grade 6 test undergoes an overhaul. 5,000 parents, educators, students and community members were part of those consultations, with the report being released in April 2018. Did you read this report, sir, before you hired a defeated Progressive Conservative candidate to head up EQAO for 50 times what the previous head of EQAO made? I find it interesting that this apparently comprehensive report commissioned by the then-Liberal government is now not available on the education ministry's website. Perhaps you didn't want the public to see the truth - that there's a lot of money being wasted on standardized tests that don't need to happen?
These standardized tests cost millions annually to craft and implement, and result in significant stress for both educators and students. There are many students who have cognitive issues that simply cannot be successful in taking these tests, and in the run up to any of these tests educators are bogged down in preparing students so that they are successful in taking the test rather than allowing it to be a true "snapshot" as to what the students are actually capable of, knowing what they know in the moment of the test. Also, students become so stressed about these tests which ultimately have zero impact on their futures that some are almost physically ill. While I realize you have no control of that, I mention it so you realize that the hazards of standardized tests in this province - not to mention the exorbitant amount of money spent on them - outweigh the benefits.
Greater Class Sizes = Huge Impact On Ability To Effectively Learn
Finally, let's look at class sizes. While I understand that your four children have long since graduated high school, I suspect you do have younger children in your life, whether they be grandchildren or nieces and nephews. I hope all of them don't have mental health challenges, or learning disabilities, or developmental delays that might impact their learning because if you continue to suggest you're going to play with class sizes as you're currently doing, you are going to have a wholly negative impact on their education. At the high school level, there are several academic-level courses that have over 30 students. While it would be lovely to think all your students are going to be sweet angels that work hard and don't create a fuss, that's an ideal, and the bottom line is, it's hard learning when there are so many students in a classroom. If it's hard to learn, achievement could potentially drop. At the locally developed level, there could be a maximum of 16 students, and there's no guarantee you will have the support of an educational assistant. Locally developed students could have a range of cognitive or emotional challenges that make it difficult for them to be in a regular class environment, let alone be successful learners. In spite of a teacher's best efforts, you're going to see behaviors and frustration continue to rise because a teacher can only do so much in situations where they have a large number of students struggling with the material and there is only one educator in the room.
Also, if you increase class sizes, you're compromising students who struggle with mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression, among others. While I understand that students are ultimately going to have to learn to cope with these as they move into adulthood and hopefully secure full-time jobs, larger classes where they will feel ignored (because they need help and the teacher does not have time for them because of the greater numbers in the class) or simply anxious because of the larger number of bodies in the class will have a significant impact on their learning ability and therefore their education. If they have a limited education, what shot have they got of getting a decent job? Granted, you became premier and you don't have a college education, but a government job is not open to everyone.
Education Matters, Sir
Sir, I understand that costs have to be reduced to balance the budget, but the way you're going about it is haphazard at best and the optics aren't good. You seem to be spending money in places that don't need it - EQAO is only one such instance - and cutting in places where people do need support, such as with autism programming. I am encouraging you to look at your practices before you seriously compromise our students' futures.