What really goes on in Ontario schools - Macleans.ca

What really goes on in Ontario schools

The province’s schools have been singled out as some of the best in the world


Ontario provincial politics isn’t my beat, and I’ve had little to say about Thursday’s election until now. But since a cat seems to have the Tim Hudak Conservatives’ tongue I have been casting about for some other insight into the work Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals have been doing in Ontario’s schools, and I remembered something readers in the province should consider.

Every three years  the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests half a million 15-year-olds in 70 jurisdictions around the world on reading, mathematics and science. Canada did well in the latest survey in 2009. But when the OECD decided to concentrate on six jurisdictions around the world to feature their particularly strong performance, quick improvement, value for money or other laudable features, they settled on Shanghai, Poland, Germany, Brazil, Finland — and Ontario.

Why Ontario? Because “Ontario’s education reform has increased elementary literacy and numeracy, improved graduation rates and reduced the number of low-performing schools,” the OECD says. “Thanks to such policies, Canada is one of the top-performing countries in PISA and one of very few that show no gap between immigrant and native students.”

Here’s the OECD PISA page on Ontario, unchanged since last December. It includes two videos Ontario parents should look at. One simply shows Andreas Schleicher, the German physicist who runs PISA, talking into the camera. Here’s most of what he says:

“The Ontario story is also one of strong central leadership coupled with a major investment in capacity-building and trust-building in the field. I’ve been impressed how the McGuinty government worked tirelessly to build a sense of shared understanding and common purpose among key stakeholder groups. Their success rested heavily on the confidence that the government had in the quality of the teaching force. The decision to invest in encouraging local experimentation and innovation has sent a very strong signal that a teacher-generated solution can achieve more than solutions imposed from above. …

“The McGuinty government made no attempt to dismantle or even weaken the assessment regime put in place by the previous government and it consistently communicates that student outcomes matter. But its response to weak performance has consistently been intervention and support, not blame and punishment. They succeeded to dramatically reduce the number of low-performing schools, not by threatening to close them, but by flooding schools with technical assistance and support.”

There are all kinds of reasons to vote against McGuinty. The National Post‘s Chris Selley produced this handy refresher in case you’ve forgotten some. But if you live in Ontario and your issue is schools, I believe the case for voting Liberal on Thursday is strong.

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What really goes on in Ontario schools

  1. I’m probably wrong, but I can’t recall you ever advocating for a particular party before.

    I agree that the general state of elementary and secondary education is on the right course in Ontario, and that we ought to be proud of how we compare to other jurisdictions.  But the McGuinty education file hasn’t been uniformly well managed.

    Capping primary class sizes is one example.  It’s inarguable that smaller class sizes benefit kids in the early grades.  But while this legislation made sense and scored political points, it has created logistical and financial headaches for local school boards.  Without funding to back up the program, elementary schools have sometimes had to expand the class size for older grades, rely on split classes, and other such measures to satisfy the new requirements.  Without providing additional resources to support the policy, it amounts to a form of downloading where McGuinty gets the credit and schools get the headache.

    Similarly, the move to full time senior and junior kindergarten makes for great bragging rights, but is being enacted without proper consideration of how schools are supposed to provide the staff to make it happen.  Teachers unions are fighting the inclusion of cheaper ECE-trained help, so ultimately this will drain the resources from downstream grades.  (I’d argue that all-day kindergarten is really a roundabout way of instituting state day-care for middle-class families who don’t want to pay for it, but that’s another kettle of fish.)

    So while McGuinty can certainly claim credit, it’s only fair to consider how he’s potentially abused the education file for political gain, leaving schools and school boards to bear the cost.

    • Clarification:  I know that education funding has been increased during the Liberal tenure in Ontario, and I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise.  However, it has not kept pace with the resources needed to implement capped class sizes and full-time kindergarten.

      • Other than raising !Taxes!…. how can schools get more money? Harris stripped them of their local levy powers. McGuinty is damned, then, if he does, and damned because he doesn’t.

    • Thoughtful comment, Sean. Depressing, but thoughtful. 

    • Wow. This is a well-written, convincing argument. Sorry for being a little off-topic but I’m not used to reading these on the internet, ESPECIALLY during an election!

  2. Yes, and education is the future. 
    The system’s not perfect yet, but that’s the work he wants to complete as the ‘Education Premier’

  3. As an Albertan, I haven’t been following the Ontario election too closely.  It’s great that the OECD gives a big thumbs up to Ontario schools, and thanks to commenter Sean above for pointing out that there’s another side to that story.

    However, I just read Selley’s “handy refresher” that Wells linked to at the end of his piece.  Man, that is one damning list.  It’s hard to believe anyone could read Selley’s piece and still cast a vote for the Ontario Liberals.  

    With a record like that, how is it possible that Dalton McGuinty still has a good shot at keeping his job? Hudak’s team must have really dropped the ball on this one.

    • Hudak’s team must have really dropped the ball on this one.

      Bingo. In March, McGuinty’s approval rating was hovering at 16%. Selley’s list didn’t do nearly enough justice to how McGuinty has shredded the energy and hydro file. One of the biggest disasters of his tenure for sure, right up there with e-health.

      Though I have to reluctantly agree that if McGuinty does have one thing to lean on, it’s education…pretty much the only file his government has performed decently on.

      • Agreed that a different Conservative opponent, with a better party behind her/him, would have fared much better.  

        But I do think McGuinty, rightly or wrongly, manages to come off as a leader who is not particularly driven by ideology or personal hubris.  Like many others, I find his nanny-state inclinations repellent, and his overall instincts to be often misguided.

        But you can’t help but feel that he’s in this for all the right reasons, and that he does tend toward hope and optimism.  After the years of Harris’ negativity, anger, and propensity for destruction over creation, that counts for something.

        Ontarians are a cautious and boring lot.  After Rae, Harris, and an economic sh*tkicking and reordering we still haven’t come to grips with, a nice and well-meaning fellow probably holds more appeal than he deserves.  But we just can’t afford crazy ideologues, and McGuinty at least manages to project the sort of bland hope this broken behemoth needs right now.  

        So I think there’s more at work than just Hudak.

        • It MIGHT have been John Tory’s opportunity to shine had he managed somehow to stick around. 

          Mind you the trouncing he received in Victoria-Haliburton (?) was surely a sign from above.

          • Tory was an ineffective leader of his own caucus.  Like it or not, the first test of any political leader is managing your own crew.  He would have been equally doomed, I think.

          • Tory not only lost his seat in the 2007 election, he cost his party another seat when someone resigned to make way for him and he lost that by-election as well. He simply could not stay on after that.

        • McGuinty at least manages to project the sort of bland hope this broken behemoth needs right now.
           Bill Davis: Bland works.

      • Though I have to reluctantly agree that if McGuinty does have one thing
        to lean on, it’s education…pretty much the only file his government
        has performed decently on.

        McGuinty keeps telling me on T.V. that in the last eight years Ontario’s surgery wait times have gone from the worst in the country to the best, according to the Canadian Centre for Health Information.  If we’ve truly gone from the longest surgery wait times to the shortest, surely that can be added to education as a pretty major accomplishment of the Liberal government.

    • I’m no McGuinty backer, and Selley ably spells out the reasons why, but Hudak is pretty much a mildly more presentable and eloquent version of Rob Ford.  He’s so far out of his depth, it’s not funny.  The Toronto Sun wouldn’t endorse him, for crissakes.  

      I’d also quibble with Selley’s take on the flip-flop teflon nature of McGuinty being a bad thing.  I’d argue he’s taken a page from Ralph Klein’s book in that respect.  Boasting one’s reversals as virtue may be maddening to observers, but it’s politically savvy.  And I guess it kind of beats the Harper approach to the long form census debacle, for one example.  While it’s best to anticipate outcomes intelligently, second-best is to respond to them when they have been grossly misread.

      You’ll notice some of the most polarizing and least inspirational members of Harper’s government are artifacts of the Harris regime.  Despite McGuinty’s many, many missteps, he hasn’t put the province in the sh*tter to the same extent that crew did.  It’s probably a sad comment on Ontario, but a boring lesser-evil government isn’t a bad deal for us, right now.

      • Have to take exception to your last paragraph. Clement I’ll give you, but Flaherty and Baird have consistently been 2 of the best ministers in this government. Once you get past Baird’s QP bluster, he’s been pretty damn efficient at every file he’s been given.

        • Could you provide examples of what either have done in their portfolios to demonstrate anything beyond middle-management competence?  I can think of nothing Flaherty has done that one could argue is innovative, creative or inspirational.  He’s pretty much been painting-by-numbers since day one.  And he’s obsessed with Ontario, you might have noticed, to the point where he negatively influences us by shooting off his mouth.  He screwed us royally as finance minister here, and is now trying to rewrite history by crapping on his successors.  And while the Canadian press faithfully reports his smug assessments of other nations’ economic decisions and circumstances, do you really think anyone else in the world gives his opinion any weight as they once did Martin’s?  

          I’m also hard-pressed to think of anything Baird has done to improve this country since taking office.  He’s an awesome mouthpiece, but I honestly can’t think of anything substantial he’s achieved.

          Strahl and Kenney stand out as two ministers who really made a difference in their roles, and Aglukkaq is someone we all ought to be proud of (just in case you think I’m biased against the lot!)

          • Well, first of all, “middle management competence” is nothing to sneeze at.

            I think Flaherty has a lot he can point to. I don’t need a finance minster to be “innovative, creative, or inspirational”. I need him to be the CFO of the country. In that respect, I think Flaherty’s done a good job, though I’d like to see the deficit come down faster. Given how much we are usually in lockstep with the US, to see our economy holding it’s own while the US goes down the tubes has been surprising. And given that Euromoney awarded him Finance Minister of the Year in 2009, I think it’s fair to say that there are some outside of Canada that have noticed.

            As to Baird, he oversaw the stimulus spend under Treasury Board. Again, given the results, I have to give him some of the credit. I can’t point to anything outside of the bluster that he’s done poorly. He’s handled every file he’s been given competently and without incident. Foreign Affairs will be a true test.

          • You make some good points about Flaherty, though I’m not sure one magazine’s nod puts him in the same ranks as Martin.  Speaking of Martin, I think it’s fair to say most of Flaherty’s bragging rights are owed to him.

            How could one screw up giving out money?  We know that corruption and favoritism crept in, but not enough to overly bother us.  (It must have been painful to use that example.  :)  )  But I would argue the bluster ain’t cute, and diminishes us. Point taken about the virtue of middle management competence.

          • The best thing I can say about Wee Jimmie the Ambulance Chaser is that he has not screwed anything up, yet. Blessedly, he has been hamstrung by the recession. I suspect he’d be far more of his ideologue self had he been blessed with a series of surpluses. I have not been surprised to hear him musing about tampering with the CPP or even privatising it. There’s only so much one can accomplish with a multi-billion dollar structural deficit. 

          • My take on Flaherty, aside from what’s been posted above, is that I think he was a bit humbled to step up to the “bigs” (i.e., from provincial to federal finance minister), he realized what a huge responsibility this portfolio is, and he’s therefore kept his ego and tongue in check, to his credit.  He realizes that in that portfolio, especially these days, you’re really as much on an international stage as a national one.

            I agree with the poster above that the crisis/emergency situation we’ve been in has probably kept Flaherty from being distracted by his worse instincts, and so he’s had to focus on the important tasks at hand.  Sometimes flawed people can perform well, under the right conditions.

            Stockwell Day was a comparable situation.  A disaster as party leader, but put him in the right cabinet spot, and he did fine.

          • How could one screw up giving out money?

            That’s just too easy Sean. :)

            Given how much money was doled out so quickly, I think it’s remarkable how little corruption there seems to have been in the non-Gazebo part of the process. :)

          • I think Flaherty has a lot he can point to.

            Maybe.  I guess I still kinda feel as though if I’d inherited a $13 billion surplus and a well-regulated banking system I could have done even better.  And I don’t know squat about squat, lol.

            Also, who exactly was the runner-up for “Finance Minister of the Year” in 2009???  LOL.  It seems to me that winning “Finance Minister of the Year” in 2009 is like winning “Peacemaker of the Year” in 1940.

      • That about sums it up. Hudak smells like the love child of Harris and Ford – and he got all the bad genes. “Tim Hudak – Lower taxes; new jobs” (or something like that) without any real explanation of how he plans to accomplish either is all spin and no traction, and people see that.

        I’m only so-so on McGuinty’s government as a whole, and I really don’t like my current, do-nothing MPP; I could probably have been convinced to vote PC if they had a real leader with some kind of vision for the province. At this point I’m torn between a protest vote for the Greens, or formally refusing my ballot.

        • Let me be the first to encourage you to cast a vote for your local Green candidate.  If I follow your thinking correctly, that would be a more accurate way of indicating your feedback to the politicians.

    • Well, I’ll tell you how.  In June, I was absolutely not voting Liberal in the provincial election.  My issue was tax credits and the pre-election attack ads.  Just because Harper proved those tactics work doesn’t mean I like it any better when ‘my’ team does it.

      My Green friend and I decided to look at provincial issues together (in order to counter our natural tendencies to minimize or inflate the spin).  We started with energy, got so confused we hosted a debate on the subject, and learned a whole lot.  And I think I know why the gas-fired plant  was cancelled, as I surely know why the nuclear plant was not agreed to at the price offered.  The gas-fired plant is not needed in our current situation, which comes as a happy surprise because our alternative energy sources have done better and we have lessened our use faster than prudent estimates predicted.  This doesn’t mean we should abandon the possibility of building one in five or ten years, but let’s look again at that time because we still may not need it.  We have about forty years, I figure, before we decide on the nuclear.  That a government can look at the facts and adjust as information is updated strikes me as a responsible government.  Hudak thinks we are living in the 1960s, and Horwath (and my vote was hers to lose) thinks there is some magical money tree somewhere since they don’t even pretend to know where the money is coming from–other than a deficit.

      I still don’t like tax credits and attack ads.  I wish there was a party that gave me confidence they could do a better job.  But when you look into the job McGuinty has done and the actual issues he’s had to deal with, he hasn’t done as bad as first thought.  At least, compared to the potential alternatives.

      • Jenn, even though we often have different political views, I have to commend you for taking your democratic responsibilities so seriously.  It’s great that you and your Green friend took the initiative to host a debate on energy to better understand the choices faced by Ontarians.  

        It’s also commendable that you were willing to look critically at McGuinty’s record (as well as things like attack ads and the proposed tax credits) instead of just supporting him by default because of your Liberal affiliations.  Canadian democracy would be in better shape generally if more voters approached their responsibilities as thoughtfully as you do.

        • Thank you kindly, Crit.

          • Thanks for the link, Jenn.  A very professional, well informed debate!

          • Yes it was.  I have to say I was immensely proud of the calibre of debater we managed to get.  But what I still haven’t gotten over was the civility with which they presented two vastly opposing viewpoints!  No sniping at all, really, which was most in evidence during the question portion, which wasn’t taped.  A real eye-opener as to the kind of behaviour that is possible.

          • Yes indeed, Jenn, great link.

            Full disclosure, I’m basically in favour of the continued use of nuclear power (world-wide), although the Fukushima accident has made my support somewhat more qualified than it was a year ago.

            In any event, I was a little disappointed by the performance of the young fellow who opposed the proposition that nuclear power should be an important part of Ontario’s future electricity supply.

            For the most part he did a fairly good job of advocating that Ontario could actually transition away from nuclear power over the next few decades (ie the arguments about base load and the intermittance associated with wind and solar etc).

            But then his credibility took a hit when he started to muddy the waters around cost overruns, and nuclear waste and so on – he was doing so well, there was no reason to obfuscate the way he did.

          • So am I, Phil, which was why this debate.  My Green friend, of course, is not.  I guess that shouldn’t be “of course”.  I am not, however, in favour of unneeded nuclear energy, which is where I believe Ontario is at this moment in time.  For a new plant, I mean.  At this moment in time we still need the ones we have–and that’s why the question was worded the way it was–because nuclear energy IS a needed part of Ontario’s energy future–as in tomorrow and the next day.  The question is do we need a new plant before the last of our old plants is mothballed.

            So for me, that was the best part.  :)  Particularly useful since that was where we learned that the new plant would be built with an ‘all in’ price from the outset–no cost overruns will be passed on to the taxpayer!  And as Ron Oberth said himself, we just have to get the bid price down to something a little more realistic than the ridiculous number presented thus far.  I still have hope that when we need to make this decision (I figure around 40 years out) SNC Lavolin or whatever it’s called will have figured out how to do that.

      • Speaking of Horwath and the NDP, that’s an absolutely devastating piece on them in this morning’s Globe from John Ibbitson.

        • Really?  Huh! I thought it was a parody piece of sky-is-falling alarmism that we might see on SunTV. He almost seemed to be channelling Lian’ Macdonald.

          • Why don’t you actually address some of the substantive points Ibbotson raised?  What about the trade protectionism?  The “buy Ontario” stuff that’s all but certain to start a trade war and/or violate trade agreements?  Regulation of gasoline prices?  Are you in favour of that?  What about starving colleges and municipalities of revenue by freezing tuition fees and transit fares?  Where is the foregone revenue going to come from?

          • Well for starters I probably don’t support the policies of the Ontario NDP, as I I don’t live there, and I don’t generally support the NDP.

            My comment was only directed at the way he expressed himself – rants like that are not devastating, they just come across as regurgitated talking points or something you see on an election ad.

            As a presumably serious columnist he should take a more measured tone and provide some reasoned arguments against the items in the platform, rather than dial up the fear.  What he wrote undermines any reputation he has as an intelligent observer, now he increasingly reminds me of Ezra Levant or Heather Mallick.

    • It seems to me that people think Hudak will be more of the same.  Despite Mcguinty’s failings, Hudak has failed to present a clear alternative, so people seem to want to stick with the devil they know.

      This appears to be a repeat of the last election, the one that John Tory blew.

      I don’t know really, that’s the only thing I can come up with, it boggles my mind as well, the way McGuinty has blown up Ontario’s finances.

  4. Reading Libs and their opinions is bizarre experience because they seem to revere experts but not average person. Parents, with children in the school system, are not supposed to believe their lying eyes but instead listen to a German physicist talk about Ont’s education system in consultant talk that doesn’t say much. All McGuinty has done over the past eight years is increase teacher salaries and that’s it. 

    I am best friends with two left wing teachers – both involved in teacher union – and the stories they tell about how system manipulates stats to produce desired outcomes make my toes curl. It is basically impossible to fail a pupil now, they can know absolutely nothing about course and will still be passed on to next grade. And then there was Wente’s column the other week about what twaddle elementary school teachers now teach to their pupils. 

    I taught in Korea and people in Orient are going to dominate North America when it comes to educating smart people. It is confucian culture that is holding Orient back from producing world changing people and products, not education system. 

    One of North America’s problems is that we worry about self-esteem of those who don’t have an average iq and we punish excellence. In Ontario at least, the focus is on every one being as mediocre as possible. 

    I read Wired article in summer and thought it was ever so interesting. Much better way to educate children is to let them advance at own pace, not some random pace set by education bureaucrats who have agendas other than producing smart people.

    Wells I just read your tweet about looking for suggestions of influential education theorists and I thought of Salman Khan. 

    Wired ~ How Khan Academy Is Changing Rules Of Education:

    “This,” says Matthew Carpenter, “is my favorite exercise.” I peer over his shoulder at his laptop screen to see the math problem the fifth grader is pondering. It’s an inverse trigonometric function …..

    Carpenter, who attends Santa Rita Elementary, a public school in Los Altos, California, shouldn’t be doing work anywhere near this advanced. In fact, when I visited his class this spring—in a sun-drenched room festooned with a papercraft X-wing fighter and student paintings of trees—the kids were supposed to be learning basic fractions, decimals, and percentages. As his teacher, Kami Thordarson, explains, students don’t normally tackle inverse trig until high school, and sometimes not even then.

    But last November, Thordarson began using Khan Academy in her class. Khan Academy is an educational website that, as its tagline puts it, aims to let anyone “learn almost anything—for free.” ……

    Initially, Thordarson thought Khan Academy would merely be a helpful supplement to her normal instruction. But it quickly become far more than that. She’s now on her way to “flipping” the way her class works. This involves replacing some of her lectures with Khan’s videos, which students can watch at home. Then, in class, they focus on working problem sets. The idea is to invert the normal rhythms of school, so that lectures are viewed on the kids’ own time and homework is done at school. 

    It sounds weird, Thordarson admits, but this flipping makes sense when you think about it. It’s when they’re doing homework that students are really grappling with a subject and are most likely to need someone to talk to. And now Thordarson can tell just when this grappling occurs: Khan Academy provides teachers with a dashboard application that lets her see the instant a student gets stuck.

    • What a bunch of claptrap. I was waiting for the first person to make fun of the “German physicist” bit, and I can’t say I’m surprised. 

      The German physicist administers a world-wide test with a cohort of half a million. What that test shows is that Ontario and other Canadian students score near the top of the world; that their scores have mostly improved; that a poor Ontario student or an immigrant in Ontario schools is far likelier to score as well as a rich or native-born kid than his peer in a French or U.S. school. Which means, since you like plain talk, that one of the world’s best guarantees of living the American dream is an Ontario school. 

      • Welcome to the Wonderful World of Tony tm. 

        • Rats Paul got there before me….every time TA goes on one of his “education” rants i show it to my wife [teacher – 15years] who just shakes her head in wonder at how ill informed the average citizen is as regards education in general. The fact is[ and as a spouse and living in a small town i see this every day] that most teachers are worked off their feet and literally swamped by the demands of the job; they have no time at all for the nefarious plots Tony’s tortured imagination conjures up. They’re short of resources, sometimes qualitfied help and hampered at times by overbearing shool boards, incompetent bureaucrats, pushy difficult parents, and occasionally education officials with an agenda. In my local HS the stress is unreal at times. A couple of things go wrong [ like 2 or 3 cases of family tragedy or cancer] and the place is a zoo. Most teachers are doing their level best to raise the standards of their kids and literally have no time, zero, for the games Tony suggests goes on.It is a constant balancing act to not impede the bright ones while at the same time not further discourage the laggards, whose home life is often a mess. It is a societal problem, a very big one; and yet we’re seriously thinking of spending billions on high tech planes that will likely be outmoded the day after we sign the last cheque.

          Ignorance is our common enemy folks – politics so often just seems to provide cover for it.

          Besides, TA piece contains its ususal logical contradiction, He starts by slamming the German expert and damning all experts and ends by praising his pet expert. Never change TA. You’re my bellwether of what’s generally NOT wrong.

          • kcm2 – I am best friends with two teachers in Ont and I have worked in education myself so I am not ill informed average citizen. 

            I taught english in Korea and in England I taught kids aged 12/13 yrs old that had been expelled from their schools for bad behaviour but were too young to not be in education system. But I am not qualified to teach in Canada. 

            I know all about bureaucracies, parents, sketchy colleagues …. etc but my main complaint is education in Ontario is that we don’t focus on teaching kids actual knowledge and facts. 

            Have your busy wife read Wired article about Khan system and let me know what she thinks. Teachers I know hated idea – want to be mothers to their pupils and mould character and teaching actual knowledge is secondary. I think education system should focus on teaching children proper knowledge and not worry about kids behaviours. 


            Carpenter, who attends Santa Rita Elementary, a public school in Los Altos, California, shouldn’t be doing work anywhere near this advanced. In fact, when I visited his class this spring—in a sun-drenched room festooned with a papercraft X-wing fighter and student paintings of trees—the kids were supposed to be learning basic fractions, decimals, and percentages. As his teacher, Kami Thordarson, explains, students don’t normally tackle inverse trig until high school, and sometimes not even then.

            But last November, Thordarson began using Khan Academy in her class.


          • “Teachers I know hated idea – want to be mothers to their pupils and mould character and teaching actual knowledge is secondary. I think education system should focus on teaching children proper knowledge and not worry about kids behaviours.” 

            You’re doing it again; presenting your generalized observations and assumptions about people as a fact. I guess i could say you’re getting to caught up in projecting your biases onto others behaviours. It isn’t a fact that because teachers have to virtually be in class social workers these days[ parents having seemingly absolved themselves of this responsibility]  that they don’t also concern themselves with teaching kids “proprer knowledge”.
            In any case i’ll see if she has the time, :)  

            How do you keep changing your headmast stuff there; i want to play too?

          • “You’re doing it again … ”

            I am not doing anything again except read Globe/Mail and Maclean’s like all good and proper Canadians are supposed to. Also, all you talk about is your blessed wife so maybe worry about your own generalized observations. 

            “How do you keep changing your headmast stuff there … ”

            Look for DISQUS rectangle above area where we write comments. Click on DISQUS and go to edit profile and write in ‘short bio’ area. 

            Globe/Mail ~ Sept 29:

            “Across the country, university math professors report that the math skills of students who are studying to become teachers are generally abysmal. Basic skills such as adding fractions or calculating percentages are frequently beyond them …. Unfortunately, the people who educate the educators sound like the wacky wing of the NDP.

            Here’s Fern Snart, the dean of education at the University of Alberta: “To educate students beyond the superficial,” she writes, “we must engage them in transformational processes and deep thinking such that they understand the Western position of privilege that is often reflected in issues of diversity, power, and justice, and that they move to an internalization of responsibility related to this privilege.”


            There’s much talk about a coming crisis in the trades—that we simply don’t have enough new recruits to replace an aging workforce … But a stumbling block has emerged that’s getting harder to ignore: by all accounts, we have the least handy, most mechanically deficient generation of young people. Ever. It’s easy to see why. Shop classes are all but a memory in most schools—a result of liability fears, budget cuts and an obsession with academics.

          • Given your difficulties with proper grammar, I am actually reassured to know you are not qualified to teach in Ontario.

          • reply TA:

            You probably have a point about quoting my wife  – but then ulike you i’m reluctant to talk about something [like education] that i have no real expertise in.

            As for the GM quote i showed that to the wife – my feeling was the language used was unnecessarily overblown. Her response – it depends entirely on the context of the deans remarks, audience, topc etc. She had no difficulty at all in understanding the dean[ i had to read it three times]. I think she’s right. The author of that GM piece did not do that dean any favours and the snide NDP crack is just lazy journalism.

            Thx for the headmast tip.  

          • Please, please don’t mistake Tony’s rants for that of an “average” citizen.

          • Mai oui  :)

      • I agree with Wells.  There’s a good article on the “german physicist” in a recent edition of the Atlantic Monthly.  I came away impressed by his methodology and conclusions.

      • “The German physicist administers a world-wide test with a cohort of half a million.”

        Do I listen to German physicists or Canadian profs?

        Globe/Mail – Too Many Teachers Can’t Do Math … 

        “Across the country, university math professors report that the math skills of students who are studying to become teachers are generally abysmal. Basic skills such as adding fractions or calculating percentages are frequently beyond them. 

        “If you don’t know math, you can’t teach math,” says Anne Stokke, a math professor at the University of Winnipeg who has launched a petition to raise the standards.” 

        • I remember my math profs; they knew their stuff, but couldn’t teach it worth a sh*t. You need to know it to teach it, but knowing it, in and of itself, doesn’t mean you’re qualified to teach it.

          Just sayin’…

      • I also question how brilliant Ontario’s education system is after I saw Michael Gove on Michael Coren’s show a couple of years ago.

        Michael Gove at Westminster Academy:

        In Canada, and specifically in Alberta, schools have also been liberated, given the autonomy enjoyed by charter schools in the US. Headteachers control their own budgets, set their own ethos and shape their own environments.

        In Calgary and Edmonton, a diverse range of autonomous schools offer professionals freedom and parents choice.And the result? Alberta now has the best performing state schools of any English-speaking region.

        Research in the Boston school district of the US found that pupils placed with the weakest maths teachers actually fell back in absolute performance during the year – their test scores got worse.

        Indeed, wherever we look across the globe, a crucial factor which defines those countries whose schools are most successful is the quality of those in the teaching profession.

        In Finland teachers are drawn from the top ten per cent of graduates. In the two other nations which rival Finland globally for consistent educational excellence – Singapore and South Korea – a similar philosophy applies. Only those graduates in the top quarter or third of any year can go into teaching.

        In South Korea the academic bar is actually set higher for primary school teachers than those in secondaries, because the South Koreans, quite rightly, consider those early years to be crucial.

        Of course academic success at university doesn’t automatically make you a good teacher. You need emotional intelligence as well as the more traditional kind. The best teachers demonstrate that indefinable quality of leadership which springs from enjoying being with young people and wanting to bring out the best in them.


    • Parents, with children in the school system, are not supposed to believe their lying eyes

      Actually, I think the point was that parents SHOULD believe their eyes.  And if they look, their eyes will show them that Ontario students are kicking butt in standardized international tests of literacy and numeracy.

      • Agreed, but I think we need to be a bit cautious about standardized tests.  They’re the only measure we have, and can be useful if we keep the following caveats in mind:

        1.  For jurisdictions that place importance in scoring well on such tests, there can be both overt (curriculum) and subtle pressures on teachers to prep kids to perform well on the tests (which might not be the same thing as producing a truly educated population).  Teaching to a test is a great way of producing good test scores.   Whether or not such tests are predictive measures of whatever goals we set our education system is not always assured.

        2.  We tend to look at the rankings list, rather than consider a more sophisticated measure such as deviation from the mean.  For that matter, we tend not to consider the overall drift or stasis of the mean, or where we’d ideally like the mean to fall (and why).   Education isn’t a sports tournament, and it may well be that finishing in the top 2/3s isn’t all that bad.  Or, it may be that nobody deserves a trophy.

        I’m not against standardized testing, but I am skeptical of putting all our aspirations in that basket.

        • Well said, Sean.

        • I pretty much completely agree with all of that Sean.  I certainly agree that there are problems and concerns with standardized testing, but I do also think that generally speaking, kicking butt on the standardized tests is generally more a good thing than a concern, particularly in this context from the quote above:

          The McGuinty government made no attempt to dismantle or even weaken the
          assessment regime put in place by the previous government and it
          consistently communicates that student outcomes matter. But its response
          to weak performance has consistently been intervention and support, not
          blame and punishment
          . They succeeded to dramatically reduce the number
          of low-performing schools, not by threatening to close them, but by
          flooding schools with technical assistance and support
          ” (emphasis added).

          It’s just a feeling, but I always felt that the Tories under Harris viewed standardized testing as a way to punish what they saw as lazy, overly-entitled, unionized teachers with their big salaries and super easy working environments.  The Liberals, on the other hand, seem to be using standardized testing as a way of improving the educational system.  It may just be the perception I gleaned from their public rhetoric, but the Harris Tories always seemed to be using standardized testing as a means to an end that involved mostly firing teachers and closing schools, whereas the Liberals seem to be using it to help teachers develop professionally and make our schools better.

          • You’re altogether too balanced and well thought out in your positions.  You frequently make me rethink issues.

            I don’t think it’s at all unfair to characterize the entire Harris education approach as a war on teachers.  

            And I do agree that standard measures in any field can be used in a positive and productive manner.  

            I just uncomfortable when we treat the tests as the ultimate measure of our progress in education.  (I was never too worried when our scores were much lower, comparatively, for the record).  There is so much more we can and should be doing.

  5. “The future of education” says Bill Gates

    ‘Salman Khan talks about how and why he created the remarkable Khan Academy, a carefully structured series of educational videos offering complete curricula in math and, now, other subjects. He shows the power of interactive exercises, and calls for teachers to consider flipping the traditional classroom script — give students video lectures to watch at home, and do “homework” in the classroom with the teacher available to help.’

  6. More jobs in June 11  than any other jurisdiction according to StatsCanAdded 50K more full time kindergarten spotsMore university spots – and hopefully now working on reducing tuitionShortest surgical wait times in Canada (Min. of health 2011) province’s 15-year-olds net top scores on reading, writing and math tests. Recent standardized test scores are equally as bright for younger Ontario students. ..and test scores have risen 15% since 2003Sure, it’s been expensive, but it is results I’m not thrilled saying it, but we could do worse

  7. I said this once, and I’ll say it again: much of the ‘good’ now being enjoyed in the Ontario education system, particularly in terms of student achievement, is thanks to the Mike Harris Tories.

    OK, hear me out.

    They standardized the curriculum, which had been a hodgepodge, and began the standardized testing regime the system uses today. Much of the ‘bones’ on which our education system is sitting was put in place by the PCs. If the PCs of that era weren’t completely pathological about picking fights with the teachers unions, there might be happier memories of the Harris era.

    • I think there’s a lot to that, and so does my new buddy the German physicist.

    • Sometimes i think that’s the best we can hope for in todays media/image driven times; that despite a govt’s rhetoric it not throw out the baby with the bathwater and quietly build on the things predecessors have put in place. Your example seems a good one; another might be the Harper govt and our banking regs and fiscal regime in general. Had Harper and co followed through on some of their rhetoric while in opposition we might be up be in the line up behind Greece right now. Not keeping your promises can be a good thing in the real world.

  8. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/second-reading/andrew-steele/did-hudak-let-mcguinty-win/article2182829/

    I’m not really following the Ontarion election that closely, but to the degree i do i’ve been following AS’s coverage…nice tip of the hat to PWs here.
    Lots of criticism of the GM these days, a lot of it probably deserved,.the decision to push Salutin out the door [ and Rex] being one of them IMO. Although you could argue they’re in their natural homes now. That’s a pity. I’ve always found it a good thing to have diverse opnions on the same paper, There are still some interesting opinions still at the globe…Steele, Bell and Silvers/ Powers among them; and of course the underrated Doug Saunders.

    • I totally agree about the value of ideological diversity.  But I don’t miss Salutin, mainly because I found him to be a lame writer who didn’t have anything terribly original to say.  He could get awfully wordy, and he too often and too easily fell into cliched partisanship.  I agree with you about Steele and especially Saunders, who may be the most consistently interesting writer on the G&M staff these days.

      • We’ve had this conversation a couple of times. Agreed diversity or opinion is great; it keeps us from becoming too complacent for one thing.
        I still love Salutin despite his faults. I favour scribes who take the long view, big picture stuff – the philosphical approach if you like.[ i’m even prepared to suspend my biases and listen to Conrad when he pontificates from time to time].   Salutin is a throwback to an earlier time, a better time politcally speaking in some ways. Too many pundits can’t see past the end of their partisan noses these days.

        • I realize that you and I disagree on Salutin, but let me be specific about my main problem with him (and bear in mind I’m focusing specifically on his work during his most recent stint at the Globe as an op-ed writer):  his standard M.O. when writing a political opinion piece was to set up a right-wing straw man (e.g., a selfish, mouth-breathing, cro-magnon, uber neo-con), and then attack that straw man.  He way too often made gross generalizations about conservatives or conservatism, and those generalizations would form the foundation of his arguments.  I just don’t see much merit in that. 

          I always see the hallmark of a weak op-ed writer being predictability.  Salutin had gotten utterly predictable, to the point that I could predict the basic content and conclusions of his pieces just by looking at the headline or the first sentence.  People like Wells, Coyne and Doug Saunders are not that way.  Sure, sometimes they’re predictable — we’re all that way — but often those guys still surprise me with points of view and arguments that are novel.  Anyway, I’ll (try to) refrain from belabouring the point.

          • http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1051292–salutin-the-intoxicating-madness-of-power

            This is fair representation of a better Salutin piece[ not his very best]. I don’t really see it as setting up straw men or even anti-American. He could however have concluded more broadly that pursuit of power is a human failing rather then just those particular US leaders.
            I take your point about strawmen though – they’re difficult to spot unless you are generally not in the author’s camp and therefor on the lookout for them.

  9. It seems to me that many people would favour regulated gas prices.  I find this a little scary, but true.  They do it in the maritimes.  As time passes, it seems to me more people have no understanding of the benefits of free markets, and they increasingly viewbusinesses with suspicion and anger.

  10. I think the education reforms and the picking fights are one and the same, you can’t have one without the other.  You can’t reform anything without the unions going berserk.

  11. I’m not sure what is going on with disqus, but my comments seem to appear in the wrong places.  

  12. Fools,
    Teachers just teach to the test, that simple.

    Dalton wants to teach SEX to little children.  I think its wrong.  Dalton needs to go, for that reason and a whole lot of others.

  13. The neocon brochure is filled with lies.  I mean, absolute made-up lies, taken out of context or just made up from a Toronto School Board document, nothing to do with Ontario.
    snip snip:  The sex-ed curriculum being taught in Ontario schools TODAY …is the one that has been in place since 1998 when the previous Tory government introduced it, and remains unchanged, the Liberals said in a statement on Monday.
    Any changes would come with consultation, the Liberals added.

  14. School districts across Ontario now offer full day kindergarten for 4-and 5-year-olds.
    Keep in mind full-day K is _not_ the same thing as daycare. Kindergarten is more rigorous and task-oriented than daycare, and some 4 and 5-year-olds find full-day K too demanding, especially in the first few months of the school year. In kindergarten there is less opportunity for free play, which is crucial for a child’s development.
    And when one considers some kindergartners also attend after-school daycare, they can be away from the home for as much as 10 hours, even longer, depending on when the child is picked up by a parent.
    According to new research, full-day K may be having a negative effect on the learning and personal development of some children. Early results of the study were presented June 2 at the 2011 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Fredericton, N.B. by Rachel Heydon and Wendy Crocker (University of Western Ontario).
    World-renowned parenting author Steve Biddulph (www.stevebiddulph.com) says full-day K for five-year-olds is too long, and any younger is a big mistake developmentally.
    Why is Finland’s school system the envy of the western world? In the Aug. 23-30/2010 edition of Newsweek, Finland was ranked number 1 (out of 100 countries). Although Finnish children have access to free, full-day daycare (up to age five), full-day kindergarten (age six), they don’t begin Grade 1 until age seven.
    Carl Honoré writes in Under Pressure: Putting the Child Back in Childhood (2009): “Their (Finnish children) early childhood is spent at home or in nursery programs where play is king. When they finally do reach school, they enjoy short days, long vacations and plenty of music, art andsports.” (p. 122)
    “Apart from final exams at the end of high school, Finnish kids face no standardized tests. Teachers use quizzes, and individual schools use tests to track their pupils’ progress, but the idea of cramming for SATs is as alien to Finland as a heat wave in winter. This presents a delicious irony—the nation that puts the least stress on competition and testing, that shows the least appetite for cram schools and private tutoring, routinely tops the world in PISA’s (Program for International Student Assessment) competitive exams.” (p. 123).
    Honoré was interviewed in the 2009 CTV documentary, “Lost Adventures of Childhood”, available from Distribution Access.
    Is Kelly McMahon’s description of increased testing and data collection ofkindergarteners in Milwaukee public schools where Canadian schools areheaded? (www.progressive.org/print/147874)
    At the very least, all provincial governments should be investigating the Finland model and creating full-day senior kindergarten classes for those six-year-olds who would benefit.

    For more info, read my Aug. 2010 essay, “When did education become a race?”(www.vancouverobserver.com/blogs/schoolview/2010/08/30/when-did-education-become-race)

  15. Um, Andreas Schleicher -1) your description of Ontario schools doesn’t sound like any school I’ve ever been in. Teacher–generated solutions? Try “Ontario Curriculum of the Week” initiatives constantly forced on teachers who can’t possibly fit all the curriculum expectations into a real school year. And 2) if standardized testing is your benchmark, you’re barking up the wrong tree to begin with. Standardized testing assesses how well students have been taught to take standardized tests. We need creativity, flexibility and warmth in our schools. The McGuinty government’s aim seems to be the opposite – let’s create “child factories” so that children from age 3 – 18 are propelled through the machinery a la Henry Ford. What’s next? Parents surrender their babes at birth so they can be raised completely by the state? No thanks.