Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Now is the time for the education debate

In the interest of fair play I am showcasing the 'other side of the education story', in sharp contrast to Leonard Baak's highlighted comment from several days ago. Mr Baack advocates for a single public school system, which includes the defunding of Catholic schools.

The following editorial was published in the Goderich Signal Star on October 24, by Cathy Cove who is a freelance writer for the Signal Star (no direct link available). In the article, she references a London Free Press editorial that was published in the Signal Star on Oct. 17.

In her article, Cathy points out the hypocrisy of the McGuinty government which frantically extolled all the horrors of 'segregation' if faith-based school funding were allowed to exist in Ontario.

Here is Cathy's editorial:


GHOSTS OF RELIGIOUS SCHOOL CHOICE WILL HAUNT GOVERNMENT

An editorial in the Signal -Star entitled “Faith-based school debate is not over yet” (October 17) suggested that there was a “debate” that took place during the provincial election on the issue of allowing other faiths to opt into the public education system.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Nothing close to a “debate” happened. I’m even hard-pressed to suggest that any rational discussion on the subject was engaged in anywhere in the province.

What we witnessed was something else entirely.

We saw a premier defending is own religious choice yet no one else’s, while playing on the fear that allowing other religious choice into the system would lead to “segregation” of children or worse.

That line of reasoning is not only archaic, but more proof that neither the premier nor his election team did their homework.

If they had they would have known that schools of other religious choices exist in Ontario now thanks in large part to the funding they get from the provincial government itself.

Does the government suggest that schools like the five Ukrainian Eastern Rite school, Burkevale Protestant School (Penetanguishene), Eden High Christian School (Niagara), or the Christian School Cooperative (Rainy River), or the new native school in Toronto are bastions that breed segregation and work to weaken the public system? These are all schools other than Catholic currently being funded by the public tax dollar. No segregation or weakening of the system happening at these schools.

The mantra of the media, expert panels and talk radio seem content on blaming the outcome of the election on John Tory because it unearthed old feelings about religion and education which were never fully satisfied in the days of Bill Davis.

While Ontarians got sucked into a perfect storm, what we failed to recognize is that the Ontario of 2007 is not Bill Davis’s Ontario. Not by a long shot.

Ontarians also failed to realize that the question of funding and faith wasn’t initially brought to the forefront by John Tory for his campaign.

The first salvo in the current education funding wars was fired by the Grand Erie public board this past February when it asked other school boards to join them in lobbying the Ontario Public School Boards Association to move to one single publicly funded school system.

Locally the lobbying effort proved fruitful when at a March 27 board meeting the Avon-Maitland District School Board trustees voted to support the one system concept and encourage the Ontario Public School Boards Association to do the same.

It didn’t seem at the time that the Avon-Maitland trustees could agree on why they were supporting the move.

In his recounting of the decision journalist Stew Slater reported that South Huron trustee Randy Wagler insisted that the move to one system was all about finding efficiencies.

His colleague, former chair and Stratford trustee Meg Westley felt differently. Quoted, trustee Westley stated “if you’re going to allow one religious group to have their school system publicly funded, then you have to have it for all.” She added, “It’s a bit discriminatory.”

I thought it oddly counter-productive for the Avon-Maitland DSB to so overtly hop onto the bandwagon in support of a move to one system, without consideration for what it threatened to do to our other local coterminous Huron Perth Catholic School Board.

The HPCDSB must have indeed felt the heat. In June Director Larry Langan and board chair Ron Marcy sent a letter to parents and parishes within its jurisdiction supporting their existence. The letter shared that the Catholic schools in Ontario “enjoy the publicly stated, unqualified support of our government and all major opposition parties.”

Mr. Langan and Mr. Marcy also challenge the notion of efficiency, suggesting that “their assumption that amalgamations lower costs is incorrect.” They remind that historically amalgamation of boards, as we saw in 1998 actually cost taxpayers more money, not less because costs rose to the highest denominator. The HPCDSB resisted amalgamation in 1998.

Bigger does not mean better when it comes to small town and rural communities. Moving to a mega-system moves boards farther away from the individuals they serve. Local control of schools by its community would be at risk.

When left to their own devises and by their own admission both the Avon Maitland and Huron Perth Catholic boards work well together, but they also, thus far, have respected the rights of the other to exist.

The Huron Perth Catholic DSB has also publicly supported the move to bring other faiths under the public education umbrella.

While pundits believe the issue is over, I don’t.

As for “discussion” and “debate” on the future of faith funding in Ontario. That hasn’t even begun, but I predict it will under McGuinty’s watch. Just how he deals with it will indeed be interesting to watch.

Toronto Sun’s Angelo Persichilli said it best in “Don’t Mess with Tradition” (Oct. 2) “The Charter of Rights and Freedom, rightly or wrongly, has successfully been used to challenge the Canadian constitution and the BNA act. Some could even argue that the Charter has made the BNA act and the Constitution irrelevant. I’m betting another battle will happen in Ontario pretty soon, and McGuinty will have to choose between funding everybody or nobody. I think I know what he will decide. Catholics, consider yourselves warned.”

The region needs to look to those best practices, such as our own Stratford community where Catholic and public schools are sharing facilities, and experiences.

Hopefully, we can achieve efficiencies and cost savings without compromising the option of faith-based education that Ontario’s Catholic schools offer to parents who choose that option for their children.

In the end Ontario is still left with systems that are suffering from too few students and where resources are being spread to the max.

Civil, positive discussion about what comes next is far preferred to that of threats or bandwagon politics.

- Cathy Cove, freelance writer for the Goderich Signal Star.




I agree with Cathy that this discussion is far from over. It will continue, as it should because if not, then we resign ourselves to complacency. We should always be striving for improvement, and sometimes that requires thinking 'outside the box'.

We need civil, enlightened discussion on this subject; not fear-mongering.

And that is exactly why the election was a poor time to introduce it.


* * * *
Background - Black-only school proposal draws criticism, praise (CTV):
Education Minister Kathleen Wynne last week praised the school board for looking at ways to improve student achievement. She said the province would not intrude if the board approves the initiative.

Also, lots of interesting posts about education at Crux-of-the-matter.

Sunday Update: Black schools in focus. (Star)


16 comments:

Lynn said...

Education is a balancing act. Ideally, it must serve the needs of the student, the parents and the larger community. Increasingly though it seems to serve the purpose of politicians and unions at the expense of the students and taxpayers.

I believe that parents should be given the maximum amount of choices possible regarding their kids education and that funding should follow the student - charter schools, public, private or homeschooling. Society, as taxpayers, should demand that these institutions are achieving their academic goals by standardized testing and revoking funding for those that teach uncivil behavior like hate.

I hope that the idea of public schools being the only choice will soon end.

Anonymous said...

so we had:

John Tory's plan to encourage private fb school into the existing system.

Dalton Mc.D saying yes to his own religious choice system standing alone in its fb teachings, yet encouraging other faiths to come under the public umbrealla.

Len Baak's crew lobbying to move to One System, which sounds all cozy and rational until it's realized that it means the end of the Catholic system. Why not just come right out and say that instead of couching the reasoning around finding savings and efficiencies?

And what of the fact that the public system itself was in fact based on the Prodestant teachings?

As far as I'm concerned the real landscape of education in Ontario is not just the public system.

Ontario has a huge choice ahead of it, beginning with the questions:

What kind of an education system exists now?

And,

Is it the education system that we want to continue with.

Or,

Are we ready to shift the balance of governance more to local schools and communities rather then have so much hands-on government control(some would say interference).

If there's anyone here currently involved with their schools going to an accommodation review process using the gov't's new guidelines, they'll know that they hinge on school communities and the health and effectiveness of school councils because school councils are the catalyst on which this process depends.

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't the Ontario gov't take a field trip out west to learn about what education looks like in the 21st century? How hard can it be for a province as large and influencial as Ontario to get out ahead of the school choice thing....for the sake of kids and their families.

Barbara said...

With all the talk of education in the last provincial election, was the issue of black-only education brought up at that time? If not, why not? It would have been entertaining to see Dalton explain his position on that.

Anonymous said...

good question Barb. From out here I've just come to the conclusion that Ontario is just plain weird. What your province is doing and the discussion around education sounds like it's ten years behind the rest of the world where giving and supporting more parents in their choices is concerned.

How does your province help homeschooled children?

Anonymous said...

Home schooling families get no support at all from the government and often get hassled by school boards.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Home schooling families get no support at all from the government and often get hassled by school boards.

That's because home-schooling means no union dues.

Leonard Baak said...

Re: "Len Baak's crew lobbying to move to One System, which sounds all cozy and rational until it's realized that it means the end of the Catholic system. Why not just come right out and say that instead of couching the reasoning around finding savings and efficiencies?"

We've never hidden the fact that we believe the public and Catholic school systems have to be amalgamated into a single (secular) public system. The very first paragraph on our home page reads as follows:

"Education Equality in Ontario is a non-governmental human rights organization and education advocacy group. We seek the elimination of religious discrimination and duplication in the Ontario school system through the establishment of a single publicly-funded school system for each official language (English and French)."

I believe my recent posts to this blog have also made that pretty clear.

The recent election made it abundantly clear that the discrimination in our school system will never be remedied by bringing in full funding for all religious schools. The only equitable solution, therefore, lay in moving to a single school system for each official language (eliminating the fully funded Catholic system). Polls taken during the election also made it clear that most Ontarians want to see the Catholic system wound up and incorporated into the public system. The question of whether partial funding (tax credits) would be acceptable to Ontarians remains to be answered.

The status quo is both fiscally and morally untenable. The new steady state will be some form of single system where partial funding may or may not exist for alternatives (religious or otherwise -- religious schools are no more valid than other choices) outside of that system.

Those who favour partial funding for public school alternatives should consider helping us in our goal to eliminate full public funding for Catholic schools. With religious Catholics (a tiny minority of those using the Catholic school system) then rowing in the same boat as other private school proponents, odds are better for the introduction of a partial funding scheme that is fair to all.

Leonard Baak.

Anonymous said...

Leonard - if your organization would like one public system, how be we move the public system into the Catholic system. You should have no problem with that if your true motive is One System.

If you're purpose is to get rid of the Catholic system they I'm thinking you'd have a problem with rolling the public system into the Catholic one.

Wouldn't anon. be right in that case and you're just sticking it to Dalton's choice of faith based system?

Leonard Baak said...

Re: "Leonard - if your organization would like one public system, how be we move the public system into the Catholic system. You should have no problem with that if your true motive is One System."

If you think I have alterior motives, why not just accuse me directly and lay out your evidence for all to judge? Such anonymously lobbed innuendo is really quite unbecoming and cheapens the debate. Why not come out of the shadows and into the light while you're at it. I'm astonished at the level of anonymous comment on this blog. Are people ashamed to have their names associated with their comments? It only takes a second to log in.

Six of one, half a dozen of the other. It doesn't matter if you fold public into Catholic or Catholic into public as long as the result is a single secular system that is equally open and accessible to all (no more groups with superior "rights" with respect to education). The important thing is to end the waste and discrimination and move sectarian religious education out of the fully funded public school system. Governments should be religiously neutral. Ontario's most definitely is not.

janfromthebruce said...

For the most Cathy wrote well in her article. However, she never challenged her quoters mantra:
"Mr. Langan and Mr. Marcy also challenge the notion of efficiency, suggesting that “their assumption that amalgamations lower costs is incorrect.” They remind that historically amalgamation of boards, as we saw in 1998 actually cost taxpayers more money, not less because costs rose to the highest denominator. The HPCDSB resisted amalgamation in 1998."
Except it didn't end up costing more, but when Harris uploaded the costs of education from the municipal to the provincial, he also removed 2 billion dollars out of the system.
Also, coming together of 4 systems to 2 systems would occur in the same geographical areas that compete to the same student "declining" population.
Cathy makes a small reference to this at the very end, of declining enrolment is affecting all school boards, except a few large boards in the GTA.
She asks for civil debate and I agree. My board actually showed that if my board along with our neighbouring board became one, we would save 5 million dollars/annually. This money is wrapped up in half filled school buildings, and duplicate administration and services. Think what we could do together for the education of all children in Ontaro?
Cathy, also mentioned the Christian school in Niagara. Actually, half the school is a private Christian and the other half is a public school, and the public school only pays half the costs. Religious education is limited to outside normal school hours.

janfromthebruce said...

Anonymous said…

"Home schooling families get no support at all from the government and often get hassled by school boards." This was incorrect information.
Although long, I will post it anyway. It is directly from the Min of education webpage.

Access to resources for parents providing home schooling
Parents who have given a school board written notification of their intent to provide home schooling may request access to the resources outlined below.

Assessments and Tests Administered by the Education Quality and Accountability Office
Parents providing home schooling may wish their child(ren) to participate in assessments for students in Grades 3, 6, and 9, and/or the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (normally given to students in Grade 10), all of which are administered by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO). These parents must contact the school board by September 30 (or another date specified by the school board) of the year in which the assessments/tests are being conducted for information about the dates, times, and locations. Parents who wish their children to participate in any of these assessments/tests will not be charged a fee either by the board or by the EQAO.

The board should provide space for these children at a local school at the time and on the dates when assessments/tests are being administered to the board's regular day school students. The school will request sufficient assessment/test materials from the EQAO so that the children who are receiving home schooling can participate. The school will also inform the parent of the date, time, and location of the assessment/test. It is the responsibility of the parent to provide transportation for the child to and from the site.

The EQAO will send the results of children who are receiving home schooling to the school where they participated in the assessment/test. Schools will send these children's results directly to the children's homes. The results of children who are receiving home schooling will not be included in school and board reports generated by the EQAO or by the schools and boards.

Courses Offered Through the Independent Learning Centre
A parent who wishes to enrol a child of compulsory school age in courses offered through the Independent Learning Centre (ILC) may do so, provided that the parent has notified the school board of the intent to provide home schooling. To enrol the child with the ILC, the parent must submit the enrolment form to the ILC, along with a letter from the school board (such as the sample letter in appendix C) indicating that the child is receiving home schooling and is excused from attendance at school.

Students taking courses through the ILC pay an administration fee that applies to every course offered by the ILC, including full-credit, half-credit, and non-credit courses. Parents may obtain information about fees and enrolment forms directly from the ILC.

Ministry of Education Curriculum Material
Parents who are providing home schooling may download curriculum policy documents and curriculum support material produced by the Ministry of Education free of charge from the ministry's website, at www.edu.gov.on.ca. This material may also be obtained through Publications Ontario. Parents may contact Publications Ontario by calling its toll-free telephone number, 1-800-668-9938, or they may visit its website, at www.publications.gov.on.ca, for more information.

Support Services Offered by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
Families in which children are receiving home schooling have access to Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care school health support and personal support services (and equipment) through the local community care access centres (CCACs) of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Regulation 386/99 under the Long-Term Care Act sets out the eligibility criteria for these services. The first criterion is that "the person must be enrolled as a pupil at a school or be receiving satisfactory instruction at home in accordance with clause 21(2)(a) of the Education Act." For a child who is receiving home schooling to be eligible for these services, the parent must provide the local CCAC with a letter from the school board (such as the sample letter in appendix C) indicating that the child is excused from attendance at school because the child is receiving satisfactory instruction at home.
http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/extra/eng/ppm/131.html

Let's just keep the amount of disinformation to a minimum.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

I really appreciate the civil tone taken by most folks in this debate.

It would be helpful if everyone signed in with something other than the 'anonymous' label, or else just added some kind of identifying tag at the end of the comment to distinguish themselves from other 'anonymouses'.

For example, I have a regular reader named Florence who signs in as anonymous, but signs off with her name at the end of the comment.

Thanks.

educ8m said...

Many of us use the anonymous label when it comes to commenting on education issues because we don't like the repercussions from the "powers that be" in education.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

educ8m - In any case, that is a very clever handle and will help with continuity. Thanks.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

This post by Sandy is really worth reading - Choice vs. public school monopoly.