Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday March 19, 2019
Education changes are more and less than they seem
If you were among those who felt anxiety about the Ford government’s education reforms, you probably heaved a sigh of relief when they were finally rolled out last week.
The government made noises about changing or even killing all-day kindergarten, but ultimately ended up supporting it, at least so far. It didn’t mandate larger class sizes for early year students.
After vilifying and killing the previous government’s sex education curriculum, the government ended up restoring virtually all of the elements from the curriculum it professed to hate. The new-not-new curriculum covers most of the same ground, which is bound to make social conservatives angry, since they threw their support behind Ford’s PC party leadership in part because he pledged to kill sex-ed. But while that segment of Ford’s base must feel betrayed, students will be better served, and parents — most of whom supported the modern curriculum — will be happy with the outcome.
A “back to basics” math curriculum is also in the reforms. There are mixed opinions on that, but the fact is math scores were trending downward, so some changes are appropriate.
Then there’s the classroom cellphone ban, which is almost entirely symbolic since most school boards have local policies that are working. It’s also probably unenforceable, but if it does no real good, it also does no real harm.
Although maintaining current class size caps from kindergarten to Grade 3, Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced that an average of one student will be added to classes in Grades 4 to 8, which average high school class sizes increasing from 22 to 28. That sounds reasonable.
Not so fast. While Thompson said “Not one teacher — not one — will lose their job because of our class size strategy,” many education experts disagree. The government says any teacher reductions will be realized through retirement and attrition, but the fact remains that at the end of the rollout, there will be thousands fewer teachers in the system than there are today.
In fact, a Toronto District School Board document reveals the class sizes will mean the loss of approximately 800 high school teaching positions, along with 216 in Grades 4 through 8. The same report states that with the government’s earlier round of cuts — $25 million for special programs — 82 high school positions will disappear. Estimates are that total job losses through attrition will be between 16,000 and 18,000.
Then there’s the fact that class sizes aren’t what the seem. While the government funds for an average of 22 students, the reality is that classes often reach 30 or more to accommodate smaller specialized classes. Union officials are predicting these changes will mean class sizes of 40 in some cases.
Then there’s this. Arbitrarily increasing class sizes will lead to collective bargaining with teacher unions and boards getting off to a terrible start before negotiations even begin. In many cases local agreements include class size provisions, so unions will be fighting the provincial-controlled changes from the start.
These reforms may not be all bad, but they’re certainly not all good, and they open the door to stormy weather in our education system. (Source: Hamilton Spectator Editorial)