TDSB EETF Report. Some Comments on the DRAFT Policy Enhancing Equity

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) recently received a draft report from its own Enhancing Equity Task Force. (EETF). The report contains some excellent recommendations, some highly controversial recommendations and some close to unworkable ones.

Much of the report is written in that grad student - politically correct language that we are all becoming too accustomed to but what can you do?

Without saying it directly, the report touches the raw nerve of the differing priorities of working class, racialized minorities, and other equity seeking groups on one hand vs the very powerful influence of the city's often progressive but profoundly self indulgent middle and upper middle class.

 

Larry Cuban once said “ It is very difficult for the public education system to make children equal within a system otherwise dedicated to making them unequal.”

 

Cuban was speaking, if I can be so blunt, of capitalism and its fundamental role in creating ‘winners and losers’.

 

Today we can take Larry Cuban’s famous quote even one step further. “It is very hard for the public education system to make children equal when the public education system itself is also dedicated to making children unequal.”  

 

Let's face some very uncomfortable facts. The TDSB, the province and most boards, have some fine policies to assist various oppressed groups who struggle against poverty and racism, homophobia, misogyny and the like and all who had a hand in their development or support them today can take great pride in them.

However it is high time to recognize that far too many  policies of the TDSB, the province and most boards were put in place to make students far less equal. It does not matter a whit what the original  intentions of the policies  were. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Many of the most profound policies of the board were put in place precisely to confer advantages on some students, largely middle class,  and not others meaning everybody else. When you support these programs, you have, in fact become an agent of inequality. Your role has become do more harm than good.

In the vernacular, “you cannot suck and blow at the same time.”

The draft report authors had the courage to call out the programs that promote inequality by name.

  1. Specialised schools of the arts, TOPS programs and similar programs that require auditions or testing like TOPS or even charge additional fees, like TOPS. These gatekeeping barriers are truly outrageous in a public school system.

  2. The division, streaming, of grade 9-10 students into Applied (dead end) programs or Academic (university oriented) programs at 13 years of age. At some point we need to reexamine the 11-12 streams as well but lets save that battle for another day.

  3. Certain other programs contribute to inequality by conferring special benefits to some and, as a result contributes to spreading the gap between the haves and have nots.

IB, Gifted, French Immersion are clearly playing this role. We don't care what their original intentions were. They are now clearly agents of inequality at public expense.

Nobody can really fault the parents in this situation. The fault lies with the boards and the province. If you offer programs that privilege some students over others and give some students lifetime advantages, nobody can act surprised that parents,  seeking every possible advantage for their children, take you up on it and demand more but let's not be two faced about it. Lets not tell the oppressed that we are doing everything in our power to address structural inequality while at the same time, running to the professional middle classes and telling them not to worry, their structural advantages will continue and expand.

 

To shift gears to another clear cry from the heart in this report, it is clear that the black community in particular, is very concerned about the high rate of suspensions of black students in Toronto. The black students constitute something around 12% of TDSB students but their percentage of suspensions are far higher than 12%. I would hazard a guess that their percentage in Applied programs and special education programs, except Gifted, is also far higher.

 

Let's get something straight. Most poor people are not black and most black people are not poor. That said, a much higher percentage of black people are poor and the data will show that POOR people get suspended just as poor kids populate Applied programs and Special ed programs like Behavioural. Let's look at it from the other end. There is a black middle class in Toronto and a black skilled working class. Their children are not being suspended.

 

There are very clear guidelines for suspensions. See these below but they involve Violence, assault,  sexual assault , bullying, alcohol and drugs, intoxication, weapons.

 

http://www.schooladvocacy.ca/left_level3/suspensions1.html

That said, I once took a huge knife, at least one foot long, from the nicest black kid you would ever meet who was one of the stars of my champion Lawrence Heights basketball team. It just fell out of his bag. I said “Paul WTF is this?” He said “ Mr L you might not understand. There are some guys who are out to get me but when they know I have a knife like this they will leave me alone. I need it or I am not safe.”. Complex. I get it.

 

The complex toxic mixture of racism, often in the form of low expectations, and poverty creates classic alienation. Poor black kids, particularly boys, come to believe that the system is rigged against them because their lived experience tells them this is true. School represents “The Man” for many of these kids. School is an oppressive institution that makes their life miserable on a daily basis and the sooner they are done with it the better. They become ‘school resistors’. Are white kids getting the benefit of the doubt and black kids are not? That is open for debate but the fact remains, Students need to engage in serious misbehaviour to be suspended or expelled.

 

This is where more black teachers, (and more Latino, LGBTQ, Asian, Muslim….teachers) can play a role. Don't expect miracles but it does help. At the end of the day only the elimination of poverty can work. Don’t say it can't be done. Finland 5% child poverty. Canada is 12%, USA is 20%,

 

What can be done in the meantime?

  1. The board seems to be shifting away from Applied (dead end) programs in 9-10. This is a great move and strongly supported by research. A strong suggestion might be during the phase out to retain Applied math until the other courses and grades are complete. BC de-streamed in the 1960s but still has two level math. Do not allow the classroom itself to be streamed by so called bogus ‘differentiated learning’.

  2. For students experiencing difficulty, slow down credit accumulation and build a homework assist period into their schedule in grades 9-10 while they take 7 credits instead of 8.

  3. Have the province allow principals to wave the need for grade 11 math for students with serious math difficulties.

  4. Tell performing arts schools that they cannot use auditions to select students. If the number of spots is  less than applications use a lottery system. It is unfair for students who have had private lessons to jump the queue.

  5. Tell schools like Bloor Collegiate that no “activity fees” can be charged for the TOPS program. No BS about ‘voluntary fees’ either. No fees period. Also, no admission tests for these programs. This is incompatible with public education.

  6. If there are lineups for schools of the arts, open new ones until the lines disappear. We suggest Jane Finch and the Scarborough Malvern community. I once worked at Rosedale Height School of th Arts. It was intended for everybody and resisted auditions for a long time. Now on parents night, the parking lot is completely full of Benz and BMWs.

  7. Phase out IB programs. They serve no useful purpose except to give some students an elitist, private school experience in a public system. French Immersion for the few should be replaced by Extended French for all. We need to think in universal terms -everybody or nobody terms.

  8. The truly Gifted have an IQ over 130 and represent 2% of the population at the most. Multiple intelligence has been demonstrated to be nonsense by research. It needs to become very very difficult to get into Gifted programs. Students and their families should need evidence of superior intellectual ability and demonstrate than the young person would be damaged by regular education. Those who say they are bored because the schoolwork is too easy should be offered challenge exams at the next grade level and accelerated to the next level if successful.

  9. Phase out the EQAO. Poor results on EQAO tests have been demonstrated to increase dropping out (University of Texas Austin).

  10. Seriously reexamine the role of Special Education in elementary schools. It is the elementary streaming system. It is actually the deep rooted source of many secondary problems. For far too many students, Special Ed is an educational death sentence.

 

We know this is a lot to chew on politically. The middle class is powerful. They seek advantages for their own children and with gentrification, they are woven throughout the city, not isolated to a few affluent wards.

On the other hand, if you say you are truly dedicated to  equity, what the hell are you doing perpetuating programs that confer advantages within a public education system.

Please don’t fall back on the idea that the middle class must have their advantages or they will go private. Let them go. This bluff has to be called.

It is time for the TDSB to decide. Is it about equity or is it about special programs for the middle class?