Tag Archives: parents

What an amazing two days!

There was a lot of talk aboutPasi Sahlberg success at People for Education’s 15th annual conference on November 5th and 6th. And there was a lot of talk about Finland.

Pasi is a teacher, a researcher and an advisor to many governments, the World Bank and the OECD. Among the “Finnish facts” he shared with us:

  • In Finland there is no word for accountability and there are no standardized tests.
  • By the time kids graduate from basic education (our grade 10) approximately half of them have had some kind of special education support – but the Finnish definition of special education includes any form of extra support.
  • Finnish students and teachers spend fewer hours in class than students in any other OECD country.
  • The Finnish government recommends that students spend 33% of their weekly lesson hours on Arts and Health & Physical Education, compared to 27% on Math and Science.
  • Finnish students outperform students from nearly every other OECD country in math, language and science

Other highlights of the conference included the “face-off” between former education Ministers Janet Ecker and Gerard Kennedy, and NDP researcher Michael Polanyi. Just click here to watch it online. They talked a lot about the College of Teachers – so maybe that should be one of our topics for next year’s conference.

In the plenary panel, Ben Levin explained to us that there weren’t magical attributes that made a “good teacher” – but there are definitely skills involved in “good teaching.” He said that the danger inherent in talking about “good teachers” was that it implied good teaching was more about a type of personality and less about teaching skills. He also shared some great insights about our misguided love of innovation.

Journalist Rick Salutin and Edmonton education specialist Jim Gibbons debated the merits of specialty schools. Rick thought they undermined public education; Jim thought they were an important answer to parents’ desire for choice.

The new Minister of Education Laurel Broten, in one of her first speeches,  talked about how her experiences as a parent looking for speech language support for her child had helped her understand how important it is that all of our systems work together. She said, rightly, that parents don’t care which arm of government is delivering the service – they just want to have access to it when it’s needed. She also outlined new plans for children and youth mental health that will bring nurses into schools and make it easier to find support.

One of my favourite parts of the conference every year is when everyone in the room introduces him or herself. This year, there were parents, school council and PIC members, trustees, teachers, principals, academics, government officials and community members from Terrace Bay, Timmins, and Toronto; Windsor, Wasaga Beach, and Wallaceburg; Nepean, Newcastle and North Bay, and everywhere in between. Along with guest speakers from New Brunswick, Alberta and Finland, it was a pretty impressive roll call. Even the new Minister was impressed.

There was a debate about fundraising and a facilitated discussion about the role of PICs; attendees learned to make their own e-newsletters, navigate the special education system and understand the role of school trustees.

There are lots of pictures of Day 1, both the speakers, and the people.  And we are posting notes from all the sessions, on our website, as they come in.

Day 2 of the conference started with an early morning (too early!) meeting of the People for Education Network. The Network now includes representatives from school councils and PICs from 50 of our 72 school boards and representatives from community agencies. That meeting focussed on developing recommendations about school councils, based in part on People for Education’s recent report on school councils, Beyond Fundraising.    

After the Network meeting on Sunday, attendees buckled down and got to work. The questions: If you were in charge of the education system, how would you define success? And how would you measure it? With facilitation from TVOParents, participants broke into groups to begin the amazing (and hard) process of coming up with new goals for education that go beyond targets for test scores. They did that, then they settled on a list of “indicators” (things that could be used as indications that either the kids or the system was meeting the goals) that could be used. All the notes from the session will be posted soon but suffice it to say groups came up with a range of responses – everything from goals for happy kids, to indicators that include lower crime rates.

Dan Shaw was a great addition to Day 2. He “animated” all the work, and soon you’ll be able to access the video of the day and of Dan’s work. For now, you can see the pictures by clicking here.

And someday, I’ll tell the story of what happened when one network member ran over another network member’s foot in the parking lot.

Fees and fundraising

Many parents are looking forward to the first day of school next week, but it may bring with it requests for money. Ontario schools rely on fundraising, donations, user fees and other charges to augment provincial funding. In fact, school boards in this province report their schools raise over half a billion dollars in “school-generated funds,” a combination of fundraising, fees, corporate donations, and things like vending machines and cafeterias.

Despite this reliance, Ontario currently has no provincial policy over things like what schools and boards may fundraise for, which fees are acceptable, and which resources must be provided free of charge.

Alongside regular fundraising, and charges for things like field trips, parents across the province pay for everything from student activities to science classes in their children’s schools.

In high school, students not only pay student activity fees, but in many cases they must pay fees for labs and materials and for after-school sports. Our research shows that the average student activity fee is $37, a 55% increase since 2001.  Participating in athletics costs even more.

Increased reliance on fees and fundraising inevitably leads to a system of “have” and “have not” schools, as evidenced by the wide range in school fundraising totals – from $0 to $200,000. For some parents, the combination of fees and the pressure to participate in fundraising can be experienced as a form of exclusion or built-in inequity. People for Education is once again calling on the province to articulate a vision for education that outlines what things should be available to all students in every school, at no extra charge. Once the overall vision has been established, then it will be possible to identify the “extras” that might be funded by fees, fundraising and corporate partnerships.

You can read our report on fundraing and fees here.


Consultations: Curriculum, Bill 177 and Schoolfinder Website

gossip listenI’m going to try and keep everyone updated at least once a week about all the goings on in education – and maybe with bits of gossip from the front. We go to a lot of meetings and there are lots of plans afoot in education – Bills that are going to mean big changes to the way boards work, potential changes to curriculum and new policy about parent engagement.


First a quick update on the consultations on the School Information Finder

The “Finder” is a tool on the Ministry of Education website that allows users to find out an array of information about individual schools across the province: things like schools’ EQAO test score results, the percentage of newcomer students, special education students, parents with university education and families below the Low Income Cut off.

When it appeared, lots of people objected to the site because it encouraged users to compare schools based on these very narrow factors. Initially it actually had a “school bag” that users could put three schools in to compare their stats. The province took away the school bag, so now you have to use a pen and paper to compare schools.

Though the site has been in place since the spring, this month the Ministry of Education is holding “consultations” on the content on the site. (Which brings the phrase “closing the barn door after the horse has fled” to mind). They did a survey of over 800 parents – asking them what they would use a site like this for – and they’ve brought together the Provincial Partnership Table (representatives from principals’ councils, Directors of Education, Deans of Education, teachers’ federations, trustee associations, the Ontario College of Teachers, Aboriginal Associations, students’ groups and the four provincially recognized parent associations) to ask how the site could be changed to make it more acceptable.

for more on the parent survey, click here

for more on the research on websites like this in other jurisdictions, click here

for more on Week 2 of the consultation, click here

for the letter from the four provincial parent groups, click here

Bill 177 hearings announced

The Standing Committee on Social Policy will hold public hearings in Toronto on Monday, October 26 and Tuesday, October 27, 2009 regarding Bill 177.

The Bill itself makes a number of amedments to the Education Act concerning the role of trustees, school board chairs and Directors of Education. The most significant aspects of this Bill and a previous Student Achievement Bill passed in 2006 are the rights they grant to current and future Ministers of Education to make regulations that have huge implications for school boards. So we should all pay careful attention to the progress of this Bill.

You can click here to read a synopsis of the Bill.

To make an oral presentation on Bill 177, contact the Committee Clerk, Katch Koch, by 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 22, 2009. Collect calls will be accepted: (416) 325-3526. Or people can make written submissions to Katch Koch, Committee Clerk, Room 1405, Whitney Block/Bureau 1405, Queen’s Park, Toronto ON, M7A 1A2 or by Fax: (416) 325-3505

Elementary curriculum review

There is a new report out about the elementary curriculum. And a survey for parents, community members and educators.

Do you have concerns or suggestions about Ontario’s elementary curriculum? Do you worry that it might be overcrowded? Does it focus on the right things? Do you have ideas about what would make it more engaging? Here’s your chance to tell the Ministry of Education what you think.
Click here for the report, and for the survey.
Coming next week – more on the exciting doings at the Provincial Education Partnership Table.