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Education cuts ‘misguided’ and ‘shocking,’ say experts

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Rushowy, Kristin & Brown, Louise
Publication Date: 
15 Feb 2012



Ontario’s education system would be set back a decade if the province
were to implement the tough measures recommended by Don Drummond,
warned educators who were left reeling by his call for cuts to full-day
kindergarten, larger classes and even charging some students to ride the
school bus.

The report also suggests charging students who take a “victory lap”
fifth year of high school to brush up their marks, and making sweeping
cuts to support staff from psychologists to guidance counselors.

“Our primary concern is that, on the education front, Drummond is
looking for a quick fix for a financial situation that’s been a long
time in the making,” said Catherine Fife, president of the Ontario
Public School Boards’ Association.

She called it “misguided” to cut full-day kindergarten or end the so-called “victory lap.”

Drummond wants school boards to charge students who take more courses
than they need to graduate, which costs taxpayers $400 million. He
recommends schools let students take 32 credits for free — two more than
needed to graduate — but any more would come with a fee.

Other recommendations are too drastic to consider and would devastate education, said teacher unions.

“We’re not just talking about numbers here, we’re talking about
children,” noted Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’
Federation of Ontario. He said Drummond’s ideas would “take education
back a decade.”

Annie Kidder, of the advocacy group People for Education, found the
report “shocking” and said the call for fees for busing and high school
credits “flies in the face of how public education is supposed to work.”

Drummond argues in the report there is no proof smaller classes
improve learning — even though test scores have climbed since the
Liberals cut class sizes — and suggests primary classes could grow from
20 to 23. In grades 4 through 8, he suggests hiking the average to 26
from 24.5, and in high school the average could rise to 24 from 22
without affecting student learning or the dropout rate.

But larger classes could cost 6,000 teacher jobs — the equivalent of
shutting down 40 schools, cautioned Kevin O’Dwyer, president of the
Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.

“I don’t think Mr. Drummond understands the effects the
recommendations would have in the classroom,” said O’Dwyer. “He’s an
economist . . . he gets the spreadsheets, but kids in those classrooms
don’t occupy a cell in those spreadsheets.”

Neither teachers nor parents will accept larger classes, warned
Hammond, who called the current size “ideal” for covering curriculum and
giving attention to students. Ken Coran, president of the Ontario
Secondary School Teachers’ Federation said larger classes would affect
the amount of attention students receive.

As for full-day kindergarten, Drummond said if it is not scrapped —
and Finance Minister Dwight Duncan repeated Wednesday that it would not
be — then it should be rolled out more slowly and have classes of 20
children led by only a teacher, not classes of 26 led by a teacher and
early childhood educator.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, who has flip-flopped on
full-day learning, changed his position again Wednesday, calling it too

“I know that’s not great news for people who were looking forward to
that program but it’s time that somebody actually did some straight talk
in the province of Ontario,” he said.

Yet even changing it would remove many benefits, insisted Kerry
McCuaig, the fellow in early childhood policy at the Ontario Institute
for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.

“What is worrisome is the recommendation that full-day kindergarten
be delivered without early childhood educators” who are trained
specifically in early childhood development, she said.

Drummond also suggests school boards lose 70 per cent of the 13,800
extra non-teaching staff it has provided funding for since 2003 — a move
bound to be unpopular since these include such heavily used support
staff as psychologists, education assistants, guidance counsellors and
library assistants.

Drummond recommends school boards consider charging user fees for
school buses if needed, although special help would be offered to
students of lower income, special needs and rural areas.

-reprinted from the Toronto Star