Ontario English Catholic Teachers

Ford Government’s Education Plans Deeply Flawed, Highlight Baffling Approach to Policymaking

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) has issued the following statement from President Barb Dobrowolski in response to Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s announcement of changes to literacy and math instruction, and the Ford Conservative government’s introduction of the ironically-named Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act.

“Yesterday’s announcement by Education Minister Lecce and today’s proposed legislation are yet further examples of the Ford government’s flawed approach to education policymaking and its baffling, almost stubborn refusal to grasp how to support our world-class publicly funded education system and best realize student success.

Catholic teachers are disappointed that, once again, the Ford government is attempting to deceive Ontarians, by announcing big-sounding plans that – when stripped of Minister Lecce’s 'spin' – fall well short of what students need and deserve. With yesterday’s announcement and today’s proposed legislation, it is clear that the government cannot bring itself to do the one thing that would make the biggest impact: properly invest in Ontario’s publicly funded education system.

Instead, the Ford Conservative government is taking Ontario education in exactly the wrong direction – with proposed changes to literacy education that cherry-pick evidence, ignore the complexities of learning, and undermine teachers’ professional judgment; and a 'plan' for math education that amounts to less than 50 cents per student, per day, and proposes to hire one educator for every 6,650 students. All the while, the government continues to ram through major curriculum changes without the proper time and resources in place to ensure a smooth transition and maximize student success. It is clear this government wants to check off a box and say they have done something, rather than ensuring they do the right thing, and do it well.

Each aspect of the government’s proposed changes raises far more questions than answers. But first among these questions is: what would possess a government – that claims to take their responsibilities seriously – to shut-out the entire education community, and quietly craft and introduce broad and sweeping changes without ever consulting frontline educators, or making any meaningful effort to gain their input, expertise, or feedback?

Collaboration is the hallmark of strong policymaking. It is both frustrating and insulting that Catholic teachers, and all educators, would hear about the government’s plans for the first time through social media leaks and press conferences.

A government who truly shared a commitment to improving the learning environment for students would make significant, sustained investments in publicly funded education, to ensure timely, equitable access to a robust suite of in-class resources and supports, tailored to meet students’ individual needs – and by addressing related issues, such as the need to reduce class sizes. Over the past several days, Minister Lecce has said many words, but offered almost nothing of value.

We will continue to monitor developments as more detailed information becomes available. In the meantime, Catholic teachers once again are urging the government to pause this flawed plan, and instead work collaboratively and meaningfully with frontline educators, to ensure that government policy addresses students’ unique circumstances, and gives them what they need to thrive.”

Backgrounder: Ford Conservative Government’s Problematic Proposed Changes to Publicly Funded Education

The Ford government has introduced a number of sweeping and broad changes to publicly funded education. Many of these proposed changes are problematic and counter-productive. The following outlines Catholic teachers' concerns around several proposals from Education Minister Lecce and the Ford Conservative government.

Literacy Education

Catholic teachers firmly believe that every child has the right to learn to read – to literacy – and we recognize that this issue continues to disproportionately impact students from equity-deserving communities. However, the Minister's announcement raises many questions, and potential concerns.

While Catholic teachers support the introduction of an early screening tool as one part of a broader approach, the government has flatly ignored the recommendations in the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Right to Read report – a report the government itself commissioned – which called for the hiring of additional and dedicated staff to administer any screening tool. Instead, the government will seemingly require classroom teachers to administer the screening, in an attempt to avoid making necessary investments.

If already-overburdened classroom teachers are required to take on these additional responsibilities, it will inevitably decrease the time teachers have to engage in small- and whole-group instruction, lessening opportunities for vital student-teacher interaction and ongoing assessment. This is counter-productive to literacy success.

Going “back to basics” on literacy instruction threatens to reduce the complexities of learning into a one-size-fits-all approach, imposing a single mode of instruction on all students. This will undermine teachers’ ability to use their professional judgement to meet students’ individual needs, and will almost certainly see students fall through the cracks.

What is more, Minister Lecce announced yesterday that the government plans to hire one additional literacy support educator for every almost 2,850 students. As a result, any positive impact that could be gained from identifying students with special education needs will be blunted by the government’s continued refusal to properly invest in the resources and supports necessary to effectively address those needs.

Equally shameful and foolhardy is the government’s plan to overhaul the entire language curriculum in four months, ahead of the start of the 2023-24 school year in September. This shows a profound contempt for the time, resources, and planning required to effectively implement curriculum changes. While additional details are still required, it would appear that this is yet another underfunded and rushed Ford government initiative.

Math Education

Catholic teachers are disappointed that the Ford government is continuing its preoccupation with shortchanging students and disrespecting educators. Despite Minister Lecce’s claim of “historic investment,” the government’s plan around math education amounts to less than 50 cents per student, per day – and offers next to nothing by way of the comprehensive in-class resources and supports that frontline educators have been calling for in order to address pandemic-related learning loss.

Even if the Minister could explain how his government intends to entice additional math educators into the profession in the midst of ongoing and severe teacher shortages, the proposed plan to hire 300 educators to support student learning in math would still only amount to roughly one educator for every 6,650 students. Additionally, the continuation of the government’s direct payment scheme, to give parents money for “tutoring,” will do nothing to redress this gap.