As you may have noticed in the news, Ontario's education system is under attack. The Ford government has proposed $1 billion in cuts under the title "Education That Works For You." These cuts are primarily targeted at the front lines: class sizes, teacher staffing and curriculum.
Minister of Education Lisa Thompson, who has avoided the press for the past year, has been on a media campaign this past week. She has been doing an admirable job of announcing drastic cuts and framing them as investments and improvements — going so far as to say that teachers told her they wanted larger class sizes, and that big classes will foster resiliency in students.
I want to clarify some of the misinformation coming from the minister of education. As a high school teacher with the Toronto District School Board, I can speak to how this will all look in the day-to-day experience of Ontario's children.
CLAIM #1: Average class sizes going from 22 to 28
This is very misleading, as the key word here is "average," as in the number of teachers at a school divided by the number of students. Keep in mind that guidance counsellors, who are teachers, have zero students, for example. And special education classes have, by necessity, as few as five or six students in them. This means that a mainstream academic class, right now, has about 32 kids.
With this increase (if we intend to continue to have guidance counsellors and small classes for our most vulnerable students), classes will balloon to 40 plus. This is nuts. From a purely practical point of view, classrooms physically can barely handle 32 bodies right now. School buildings were not built with these numbers in mind. And, of course, from a pedagogical perspective, this will be disastrous for all kids, especially those who struggle and need extra help.
Watch: Ontario is introducing a new sex-ed curriculum. Blog continues below.
CLAIM #2: "Bigger classes will foster resiliency and will mean more group work."
You guys. I can't even. Minister Thompson claims that university classes are huge, and so we should prepare our high school kids for this. Yes, post-secondary classes are bigger, and so the logic of "preparing" kids for this with bigger classes now is, in a way... logical? But is this what we want for our kids? Do we really want a race to the bottom where we get kids accustomed to not getting personalized attention from teachers?
Countless studies have shown that the number one factor in student success is close interaction with a skilled teacher — this will only get more rare with giant classes.
As for the Minister's claim about increased group work, I promise we are trained professionals: we know that group work is essential and we all do it. Larger classes will not mean more collaboration, it will mean more chaos and kids slipping through the cracks.
CLAIM #3: Not a single teacher will lose their job.
This past Thursday, schools received their staffing allocation numbers (how many teachers they get funding for in September). This number did not include guidance counsellors or librarians, but promised "a big announcement on April 23," which is one week after our legal staffing framework ends.
A reasonable conclusion to draw from this is that this government plans to replace those highly skilled, OCT certified teachers, with hourly-wage employees. Positions like "library technician" and "academic counsellor" could be farmed out to the private sector in order to save money. Not only would this be an incredible disservice to our students, it would result in huge job losses amongst, you guessed it, teachers.
CLAIM #4: Mandatory online courses
Students need 30 credits to earn a diploma in Ontario. Four of these credits will now be done online. This is bad on a couple of levels. First, e-Learning is not for everyone. I teach online courses in the summer and see kids struggle because of the level of independence required. Because of this, student attrition rates in these courses are through the roof. Second, lots of kids do not have access to a computer and internet at home. Making online learning mandatory is classist in its expectation that students have equal access to technology. Third, four out of 30 is 13 per cent of credits being shifted outside of the school building. Therefore, this shift will mean 13 per cent job loss for teachers.
Drastic cuts like these will create societal problems a decade from now.
All of these changes equal fewer teachers and fewer classes. The government bills this as "going back to basics," but what it really means is that elective classes will be drastically reduced. Your kid won't be able to take American history, or cooking, or psychology, because they simply won't be offered anymore. Perhaps those courses will be available as online courses, but then you remove all of the hands-on, interactive elements that make those courses exciting and career-defining for kids.
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Even if you don't have kids, this affects you. Education spending has the highest return-on-investment of any other government spending. Drastic cuts like these will create societal problems a decade from now. Not to mention that the government is refusing to listen to us about how to cut 1 billion dollars without hurting kids: close down EQAO and merge the public and catholic systems. That's well over a billion, right there. But no, they are doing Harris-style slash and burn, with reckless disregard for student learning and well-being.
So now it's our job to fight back. Please, I urge you, have your voice heard:
1. Call or email your MPP.
2. Call or email Minister Thompson.
3. Talk to your friends and family, especially if you hear anti-teacher rhetoric about how we are just scared of working harder. Remind them this is about kids and what they deserve.
4. Show up to the Rally for Education at Queen's Park on Saturday, April 6th.
5. Give your kids permission to participate in the Student Walk Out on April 4th.
This government says they are "for the people," so it's up to us to let them know what the people want. Let them know we do not consent to balancing the budget on the backs of Ontario's children.
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