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Ontario’s own EQAO scores show math changes are necessary.

This report does not put a lot of store in the EQAO scores and even less stock in individual student’s math scores due to the overwhelming and compelling critique that standardized testing, in fact, does more harm than good. That said, there seems to be a generalized concern across the province that math is very important and that Ontario students are not working at their full potential.

Polymath playwright and math PhD John Mighton has created the math program that should be front and center in Canadian schools.

Without going into great depth this report offers two very serious recommendations. There seems to be some considerable resistance to both. Having travelled extensively in Asia and visited schools across the Peoples’ Republic of China including Hong Kong and Macao, one cannot help but be struck by the fact that math is taught by specialist teachers right down to the primary level. 

Chinese are slack-jawed at the idea that someone who majored in psychology or English literature is expected to teach math. The Ontario government has recently increased math curriculum time on the elementary school timetable and supposedly locked it in. The Chinese and other Asians instead treat math as an itinerant subject much the way we have French teachers moving class to class often with a shopping cart of supplies.

The Asians believe students should not normally move class to class in elementary grades – teachers should move. Depending on the size of the school there is a primary division math teacher (K-3), another for junior grades (4-6) and another for intermediate (7-8). When one accepts their basic case, that it makes no more sense for a generalist to teach math than it does for them to teach French, the logical conclusion in the need for itinerant math teachers.

From a scheduling POV this is easily coordinated in order for the math teacher to take over the class and thus provide for the prep time for the generalist teacher. There really should be no added cost except is small remote communities that already have staffing challenges.

The resistance comes from those curriculum ‘integrationists’ who are much happier to have the generalist teacher doing everything themselves with no credit given to interest, ability or predisposition. You meet cornball clichés like “secondary teachers teach subjects, we teach children.” Really? Then what accounts for French teachers, technology teachers, some PE teachers, some music teachers where they survive? If specialization of any subject, to any degree can be justified surely math should be at the top of the list.

The second concern is the curriculum and pedagogy itself. The endless wars between ‘Discovery’ math and ‘memorization of algorithm’ math must to come to an end and the best way to end it is to adopt the curriculum and pedagogy of Dr John Mighton known as JUMP math. Mighton is the author of The Myth of Ability. His program is based on the most recent work in cognitive science and involves depth, scaffolding and frequent assessment, in short, a ‘small steps’ philosophy. For the Discovery crown there is plenty of Discovery. For the algorithm gang, multiplication tables and rules of engagement are central but taught in an engaging ‘small discoveries’ way.  Once again, system resistance mitigates against a full throated adoption of a JUMP math approach. The present ‘problem solving’ approach is simply not getting the results that JUMP math can provide. It is time to move away from using JUMP math in just a few schools or as a remedial program..

What we truly need is math specialist teachers’ teaching JUMP math.

ISSUE #2 Class Sizes growing out of control again?

Anecdotal evidence from around TDSB shows some classes hitting out of control levels again. One grade 7 teacher indicated a class size of 42; other teachers reported class sizes in the high 30s and low 40s, particularly in intermediate (7-8) classes. Andy Lomnicki a VP of Elementary Teachers of Toronto (ETFO) pointed out “this is not the norm but it does happen too often. Sometimes when we point out very high class sizes to the TDSB they are able to reorganize a school and mitigate or resolve the problem. These sizes are bad PR for the board and can lead to some angry parents expressing their concerns.”

Although the reduction in class sizes in primary grades is a major accomplishment, the system does not truly benefit from simply shifting the class size problem to higher grades.

Both the province and the TDSB needs to warned that class sizes in grades 4-8 and in secondary schools are still too high and needs serious remedial attention in both panels.

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