New Ontario Plan to Improve student success using race based data.
This report could fit the classic good news-bad news format.
The good news is that the provincial government will be collecting race based data in schools, to help it make some important educational decisions. The bad news is that there are indications that they are not prepared to go far enough with probable decisions resulting from the new direction.
The TDSB has been collecting similar data for decades using its very simple Every Grade 9 Student Survey. Students are asked some very simple self identifying questions such as.
Do you identify with one of the following races : Black white east Asian, south Asian, Latin American?
Were you born in Canada or another country? Which country?
What languages are spoken at home?
What do your parents do for a living?
Do you live in a house, condo, apartment….
Which elementary school did you attend?
What level is your program? Applied, Academic?
The answers to the questions, and a few others, when entered into computers and analyzed by experts, reveals shocking results based on the disparity of Toronto based primarily on class but compounded by race.
One might think, well yes that is Toronto but out in the rest of Ontario things are much less diverse and social class differences are not as profound. One would be sadly mistaken. EQAO results have shown striking differences within boards as schools within well defined high poverty neighbourhoods and indigenous communities off Rez are one example that sticks out. Franco-Ontarian communities are clearly behind. Predominantly working class boards score behind boards with a larger middle class.
Example: Bluewater Board - Grey and Bruce Counties. One particular HS stands out for very low scores. Locals will tell you it has high rural poverty and a high Indigenous population.
Situations like this exist all over Ontario.
Education Minister Mitzie Hunter seems to focus primarily on the urban black-white issue as she hopes the data will focus on suspensions,- who gets them and who doesn't and as well on hiring. Does the teaching and administration cohort match the changing demographic of the student population?
The potentially most progressive question given in the presser concerned ‘Applied” level secondary programs. Is grade 9 too early to ‘stream’ students into Academic and Applied level programs that severely limit their educational futures? For this report, the answer is of course it is but grade 10 is also too soon.
First things first. Data on suspensions is a good thing to look at. Lets just be clear what we are looking at. Much of what happens in schools has a racial component obvious in the data but there is also a need to take a deeper dive into the data using what the politically correct call the intersectionality of the issue. I fully expect that the data will show that black males, given their proportions in the system, are much more likely to be suspended than white students. However, I also expect that a majority of the black and white students suspended are also poor, or what the demographers prefer, students of lower socioeconomic (SES) status. In more direct terms, high SES black students are seldom suspended and lower SES white student data will be almost as problematic as lower SES black student data.
Simply put, there are two intersectional problems here but there is a tendency to see just one. Is it a race problem or a class problem? It is both.
A the second issues that concerns Minister Hunter is the racial makeup of the teacher workforce. In the front of mind this may be taken to mean there are possibly not enough black (or Asian, Indigenous, ..teachers of colour).
Anecdotally again this is probably true. It would be a good policy to bring the teaching staff into a position where it looked like the student body. There are seniority rules that need to be respected but this can be done. We need to caution, nevertheless, that many American cities have majority black teaching cohorts, Chicago comes to mind, and it is no panacea. Overcoming the profoundly negative effects of poverty and underfunding cannot be alleviated by changes in the racial composition of the teaching force. Will it help? Probably yes. Is it enough to make a significant difference? No.
At the risk of injecting a depressing level of pessimism into Minister Hunter’s proposed reforms, is there nothing she is proposing that offers any hope for racialized students in Ontario?
The good news is yes. If the minister is serious about her concerns that grade 9 is too soon to make life altering decisions about applied or academic programs then there is a glimmer of hope but grade 9 is not enough. Applied level programs need to be abolished in both grade 9 and grade 10. We can look at the grade 11-12 configuration another day.
Unaccustomed as we are at this perch, to moderation, perhaps a delay in math should be considered. BC abolished streaming in the 1960s but still feels the need for two levels of math in 9-10. Given the ongoing math wars the government might want to delay the destreaming of math only for 2-3 years until they get a handle on their math problems. That cannot be an excuse to retain streaming in English, French, geography, history, or science.
White educators and policy makers must see that there is a clear racial-ethnic dimension to less desirable outcomes in education. At the same time racialized minorities need to come to terms with the fact that poverty and social class also play a major role in educational outcomes. Schools can play a significant role in mitigation of these problems, James Coleman estimated 20-30% of the problem but “outside situations” such as poverty accounts for more than half of the problem. David Berliner U Arizona outlines the major connections between poverty and educational outcomes.
Education is a major tool in the equality toolbox but it cannot do the job on its own. Destreaming is the major reform that moves education towards equality.
In the long run, poverty reduction is the prime directive for equality seekers. Finland has one of the highest performing education systems in the world. Finland has 5% Child poverty. Canada has 12% and the USA has almost 20