Will Ford Try Educational Privatization Using the Deficit and Ernst and Young Report as Cover?

Since his election in June, Ontario Premier Ford has been working overtime to do the old “I found the cupboard was bare and we have a big deficit” song and dance to accomplish a few goals. First he wants to hang a highly torqued deficit around the necks of the Liberals so there are no quick Liberal comebacks when he starts to implement very unpopular but very Tory policy. For that to be true, he must believe that the NDP has maxed out at 33%. Many polls however, show the NDP ceiling closer to 45%. Secondly, this allows him to blame the Liberals when his promises, like ending hallway medicine fail to materialize. Thirdly, should he choose to go there, Ford is setting himself up to privatize very valuable assets, like the LCBO, Lottery and Gaming Commission, to name just two, but could he be setting himself up for the really big Tory gamble, privatization in the health or educational field?

 

The Ernst and Young Report requested by Ford on ways to find ‘efficiencies’ contains this advice well noted by the progressive community.


Renewed funding models for major programs.

 

Across government, a significant number of transfer payments and external delivery agents, rely on funding models for resource allocations, across the province. Examples of funding models include Grants for Student Needs (GSN) which determines 90% of school board funding. The Health Based Allocation Model which determines about 40% of provincial hospital funding and the Child Welfare funding model which allocates substantially all of the funding to Children’s Aid Societies.

 

Governments around the world are moving towards alternative arrangements for funding, including tying funding to the achievement of outcomes, and providing funding to individuals, who can then choose their service providers through a form of market activity and discipline.

 

Funding for parents, in whole or in part, for education is exactly the type of funding that underwrites the voucher system in the USA and some private systems in Canada that public system advocates in Ontario have long been able to avoid.

 

In fact “money tied to the student” grants for religious schools are exactly what PC leader John Tory proposed in 2007, which allowed the Liberals and NDP to characterize as “public money for private schools”, which derailed the Tory campaign and probably cost John Tory the election. The Tories would have to decide, is this the hill we potentially want to die on?

 

We at this post, have seen the reports and, as stated in the past, roughly 17% of Ontarians support ‘public funding of private schools’. No matter what the Tories call it, should they go down the privatization road, the teachers’ unions and opposition parties will name it as above. The polling also shows, the prime motivation is religious or values education. The elite schools and the rich parents may accept public money if offered, however they actually like that the money barrier “keeps the riff raff out”. The Birkenstock and granola crowd is not much interested either. There are a few alternative pedagogy types, mainly Montessori advocates but they are largely content.  but religious interest is not only Evangelical Christians but includes some conservative Jewish and Muslim groups as well. The difficult case has always been if we fund Roman Catholics, why not others. The standard answer is “we are to some extent, stuck with that catholic problem from Confederation, lets not compound the problem.”

 

Unlike the USA, Ontarians, and Canadians are not clamoring for private schools due to “the failed public schools”. There seems to be a broad understanding that Canadian schools and the Canadian school system is close to the world’s best. On some data points, it actually is the best system in the world. Nevertheless, there are those who believe that they are getting a better educational experience by going private. The same affluent people who support a politics that opposes paying for smaller classes, more enriched programming or earlier starts with ECE for the public system, certainly want exactly those things for their own children in private schools.

 

It comes as a shock to the system, when such parents are told that they are much more likely to send their offspring to the elite universities they seem to crave, the Harvards, MITs, Stanfords, of the world if they stick with the public system.

 

What we are talking about here is a very strict apples to apples comparison. Most people close to education, understand that for a large number of complex reasons, everywhere on this Earth, the poor have the lowest educational achievement by any measure and as you go up the income or social-economic status (SES) ladder, achievement improves until you reach the truly rich who have the highest achievement of all. For anyone wanting the reasons why the poor do badly I recommend the work of David Berliner emeritus of Arizona State.

 

With this in mind, the true comparison for those in elite and expensive private schools is not public schools in poor neighbourhoods or the public school average, but public schools in the neighbourhoods of the rich. In Toronto, with which we are most familiar, this would mean a comparison of the achievement of say, elite privates like Upper Canada College or Bishop Strachan with high income public schools like Forest Hill Collegiate or Lawrence Park Collegiate.

 

In these kinds of comparisons, the public schools invariably come out ahead. In Toronto, the work of Paul Grayson at York University demonstrates that when you control for income, (I’m retro so I call it class), the publics are the clear winners.

 

A fascinating American book dropped like a bomb in the middle of the  ferocious American debate regarding privatization of public education dollars to private charter and voucher schools.

 

The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools. Christopher A Lubienski & Sarah Theule Lubienski, University of Chicago Press, 2013, 304 pages.

 

A short review is here:

 

https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_public_school_advantage_why_public_schools_outperform_private_schools

 

The Lubienski husband and wife duo  studied math scores from the widest “gold standard” test in the USA the NAEP , The National Assessment of Educational Progress, and found, that, when in the vernacular, rich private math scores were compared to rich public school scores, the public scores always came out ahead, at the very worst the scores were even. Math was used because it is a more ‘school based’ subject compared to reading. The same was true when middle class private scores were compared to middle class public scores and so on. The researchers were taken aback. Why would this be true?

 

They held many factors constant. School size; class size; school climate; teacher certification; professional development, instructional practice, race, and were meticulous in control and comparisons. In the end it was clear exactly what factors made public school results better than private school results.

 

Class size did improve results, somewhat but both public and private schools used smaller classes. The key factors were the public use of only certified teachers, the public willingness to use reform oriented, so called “Discovery math”, as the public schools were more up to date with math strands recommended by the National Council of Teachers of Math, “Inquiry based”  methods. The private and many religious schools stuck with more traditional methods and scored lower results. The third major factor was professional development, far more ubiquitous in the public school system than the private. Christian schools, apples to apples, were the lowest performing. Catholic schools (private in USA) did not perform as well.

 

Sadly, black students underperformed white students at all income levels while SES was held constant.

 

Charter schools just did not deliver the quality results that similar public schools did due to the above factors.

 

Teacher certification

 

Professional development

 

Modern inquiry ‘discovery’ methods


 

Class size although these effects were small.

 

Private schools made an interesting argument that their intake of students might be lower accounting for lower scores, however the researchers were able to show that this was not the case.

 

The researchers were not only able to show that public schools scored higher at both grade 4 and grade 8, the two grades that NAEP tests but that achievement growth was higher for public students than their private, charter or religious counterparts.

 

This book is a devastating piece of research for those arguing that private, voucher, charter, religious or other private schools are worthy of public financial support for quality based reasons.

 

To tie this back to the potential Ford government argument that “alternative service models” might be in order, not only is it true that a private quality argument is not true but that, in fact, it amounts to a lowering of Ontario’s quality of education, to take a privatization route through voucher, charter or religious funding vehicles.

 

Recommendation:

 

  1. Every education activist on this forum purchase a copy of this book to strengthen your arguments if, perchance, the Ontario government moves to privatize or those in other provinces dealing with the same problems need to fight off the privateers.

  2. Every teachers’ federation office purchase copies of this work, for both, central and local offices.

  3. Every public school board purchase copies for distribution to trustees and senior staff.

  4. Teachers’ federations and education unions purchase copies for every single member of their respective legislatures.

  5. That parent advocacy groups like People for Education or Home and School associations purchase copies of this book.

  6. Educational organizations with internal magazines and newsletters publish reviews of this book.

  7. All organizations are free to reproduce any articles from this source, in whole or in part with proper citation.

Trying to restrict this piece to education is the point here but the overlap of fundamental charter rights is unavoidable. Ford, at any time can pull out the  NWC bazooka to override any enumerated human rights. Many of the aggrieved over sex ed, cap and trade, future Tesla type issues might just find their normal court remedies have been severely circumscribed. Ford basically is saying, “talk to me in 4 years”. He has announced he “won't be shy about using the NWC again”.

 

The sex ed curriculum:

 

We all know the background by now, to placate a very small group of socially conservative Evangelicals, Ford, both for leadership and general election purposes, caved into their demands. What would seem to progressives to be a blunder has two highly strategic political goals. The first is the ever present threat, that mainly white Evangelicals will break off and revive the Christian Heritage Party if the Tories don’t keep them sweet. Understand, even a 5-6% social conservative party, built on the anti-abortion base, could wreck Tory chances in a general election. Secondly, the Tories have found a huge group of mainly traditional south Asian and Chinese voters who agree with the Tories on these issues. Safe seats like Scarborough Agincourt {known locally as Asian Court) with Liberal MPP Soo Wong were blown away due to Sex Ed and Marijuana policies of provincial and federal Liberals. Many Chinese voters have a deep and instinctive fear of drugs dating back to the opium wars in China, over 100 years ago. Conservative immigrants look at the 2015 sex ed curriculum as far too much too soon.

 

The Liberals did what Sir Humphrey Appleby the civil servant in the British sitcom Yes Minister, always warned the minister of by  saying “that would be a very courageous decision Mr Minister” which the minister interpreted as a foolhardy, vote losing proposition and reconsidered. This bravery, which we support, may have dealt the Liberal Party a crippling blow in the June election.

 

Expectation: After the provincial government sex ed consultations, Tories will huddle and eventually produce recommendations half way between 1990s version and 2015 version of the HPE sex ed curriculum They’ll probably raise the grade level for the introduction of some topics. The very most controversial topics (gender identity, gender fluidity)  may still be dropped or pushed to high school level. Equity for Tories is not a motivator.

 

Recommendation: Progressives need to organize across the province to swamp the consultation hearings with well reasoned professional argumentation, while continuing the court cases. Do not be surprised if Ford uses the Notwithstanding clause on every single legal case where he is allowed from here on. Ford has to demonstrate to the social conservatives that they must stick with him while also showing some conservative centrists that he can be flexible if, in his opinion, they don’t ask for too much. Progressives must get what they can while making Ford spend political capital that he may need later. The public issue has become to some extent,  a “LGBTQ rights” issue. The Tories may look at the voter demographics and see just 3-5% LGBTQ voters. They should look at the 74% (CROP polling) of voters who support same sex marriage as a barometer of how this could go sideways for them. Witnessing the student strikes already means this issues may be an ongoing toothache for Ford.

 

The snitch line:

 

Tories were a bit blindsided by the strong stand taken by the teacher unions, particularly ETFO, as the Sex Ed issue is primarily a K-8 issue. To please the Tanya Granic Allen, Evangelical crowd, they stumbled onto a snitch line as a solution but they forget that they are not the teachers employers and the best the snitch line could do is to forward info to the college of teachers and the school boards, the teachers real employers who, for the most part support the 2015 curriculum. Nobody likes a snitch anywhere. This one may have already backfired on them.

 

Expectation: This issue will soon fade into irrelevance.

 

Recommendation: Temping as it is, to flood the line with fake calls, the media will blame teachers and turn a PR win into a loss. Grin and bear it.  


 

EQAO testing and math scores:

 

It looks now as if all of the work by the review committee ordered by Kathleen Wynne and the recommendation to eliminate grade 3 testing will probably be lost by the change of government. Why are math scores down if in fact there is any actual decline? Anyone with a vague notion of education data on a world scale knows that it is poor kids overwhelmingly, and almost exclusively who do badly in school generally speaking. The Tories cannot be blamed for the present state of math since poverty in Ontario, increased markedly under the Liberal regime 2003-2018. This is a shameful legacy for the Liberals. The Tories, however, have basically announced that they intend to increase poverty by stopping the minimum wage increase at $14/h, slowing scheduled increases in welfare payments and ending the Liberal experiment in guaranteed annual income prematurely.

 

This deliberate policy of increased immiseration will directly lower student scores . For those who want to pump up scores to compete with Asian countries, almost the only nations ahead of Canada on PISA OECD math for 15 year olds, the items below offer the prescription.

 

1) Itinerant math specialists from grade one on.

2) more curriculum time

3) balance traditional and discovery math,

4) Memorization of multiplication tables.

 

This will pump up scores to please governments but  not do much to help with the far more critical ‘problem solving’ aspect of mathematics. Two non Asian nations have higher math scores on PISA testing than Canada, Estonia and Switzerland. Only Japan and Korea in Asia (real nations not artificial city states) have higher scores.

 

https://www.businessinsider.com/pisa-worldwide-ranking-of-math-science-reading-skills-2016-12

 

Expectation:

Ford is highly unlikely to abolish the EQAO although this should remain the teachers’ federations position. They should also push for a policy of testing only on a 3-4 year cycle. This may be possible as a cost saving measure. This at least, makes it awkward for a government seeking ‘efficiencies’.

 

Recommendation:

Turn every complaint about scores around by 1) explaining that poverty is the cause, 2) pushing above cost free mitigation, 3) pointing to outstanding PISA and TIMMS results and undermining the credibility of EQAO which is out of step with international scores. Canada has the world’s highest % of post secondary graduates. It isn’t even close.

 

School repairs

 

The backlog of school repairs across Ontario is $15 billion. This is a staggering sum of money. One might think that the school boards have been negligent in allowing these repairs to get out of hand. The problem, however dates back to another Conservative government, the Mike Harris/Eves government of 1996-2003. We have never fully recovered from that government establishing such a ridiculously parsimonious funding formula for K-8 education that crumbling schools are the natural result. We must acknowledge the McGuinty-Wynne Liberal government had 14 years to fix it! School funding generates teachers as a direct result of the number students. A given number of students generates a given number of teachers with some adjustments for demographics, special education and so on. The support staff are not tied to the number of students but have been cut so severely over both Tory and Liberal regimes, that they simply cannot be cut further. The last school where I worked is much larger than when I left in 2003 and functions with about half the support staff.

 

Over 70% of a school board budget is teacher salaries. Another 10-15% is support staff. There must be some level of management. The lights and the heat must come on, There is a need for paper, computers, and other supplies leaving little to nothing for maintenance under the current formula. That can can always be kicked down the road or “Deferred” hence $15 Billion with a B. This is actually creates an unbelievable opportunity to stimulate the economy by putting thousands of tradespeople to work at good wages which circulates throughout the community.

 

Sadly, a government that is going to make magic by slaying a multibillion dollar (they say $15B, deficit, offering a tax cut to the already affluent, “without cutting a single job”, will also end hallway medicine, will need to perform this David Copperfield escape without taking on new spending.

 

This will all be done through ‘efficiencies’. Mike Harris and John Snobelen believed slashing teacher prep time in half was an efficiency. Kathleen Wynne even slashed the banking of teacher sick days. This is what governments mean when they say ‘efficiencies’.  

 

Expectations: Almost nothing will be done to put even a dent in the repairs backlog until some kid, or kids are killed due to lack of maintenance. I’m not being be alarmist here. It took a Walkerton water tragedy to get Harris to move on any community safety.

 

Recommendation: The ‘Fix our Schools’ people will need to continue to focus the media on the issue by going directly after weak Tory MPPs in vulnerable seats, by name, on a slow but methodical, four year, relentless campaign which is all we got. A snitch line for repairs may be in order.


Funding Formula:

In fourteen years, 2003-2018, the hapless spineless Ontario Liberals did little more than tinker around the edges of the notorious Harris funding formula. This was not bad cop good cop, this was bad cop useless cop. Something has to give, at the present the obvious one is that walls and ceilings will soon start falling in on the kids if proper maintenance is not done. Deferred maintenance is a fool’s economy. Everyone knows maintenance deferred becomes more expensive and minor problems become major problems. The funding formula needs a serious rethink but it will be hard to escape the fact that shifting money around simply won’t do it. The total provincial budget for education K-12, need to be increased by $3-4 Billion to offer even the same level of education that has been offered in the past.

 

Expectation: It is highly unlikely that the Ford regime will produce a budget anywhere near what is necessary to meet the needs of the students in Ontario.

 

Recommendation:  In this area, pressure can only be maintained by pushing the very worst aspects of Ontario education which seems to be the maintenance and repair budget, highlighted by the Fix our Schools people, in their campaign. We should key in on schools in ridings held by Tories, especially Tories with low victory margins like those listed below. Leafleting a school neighbourhood focused on 1-2 schools and blaming the local MPP for the situation is highly recommended as is courting friendly sympathetic, trustees and media outlets.

 

Negotiations with teachers and support staff

 

This could be the major educational rumble of Ford’s four year term. The teachers’ contracts are in place until 2019 and procedural wrangles and negotiations could drag them into early 2020. At some point, however,  the rubber hits the road. A government determined to slay a large deficit while giving tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy will be looking at negotiations with both teachers and nurses with a green eyeshade, a sharp pencil and a calculator.

 

Health and education are about 70% (including post secondary) of provincial spending and remuneration of their staff is 80% of health and education. Ford ‘says’ he is not firing anyone, teachers are tied to enrollment and have a very organized parent and board constituency behind them. The sensitivity to high number of happy nurses is critical if he hopes to put a dent in hallway medicine. This has all the drama of Europe in 1913 as they hurtled towards Armageddon. Neither teachers, nor increasingly nurses, are inclined to roll over to a bully and an authoritarian. Hopefully this does not degenerate into a York University labour fiasco but who knows, strikes, back to work orders, work-to-rule responses, court orders, notwithstanding clauses of s33 anyone?

 

School closings:

 

One of the single best ways for a political party to lose a seat is to close a school or hospital. Their opponents will make them wear it in the next election and promise to reopen. Nevertheless, a cost conscious government can't seem to keep its hands off the schools even though closing schools tears the guts out of communities. The smart solution is the full service community hub model  that uses any empty space for libraries, childcare, school board offices, municipal offices, public dental clinics, seniors centers and so on. Not closing a school can be equally lucrative for a school board. Seven years rent is usually equal to the sale price and they retain the asset.

 

Expectation: Ford will want to close some schools but the dirty part of politics, of which he is a master, is to try to make sure that the schools are not in swing ridings. Closing schools in super safe or unwinnable ridings has little political cost.

 

Recommendation: Keep up the good fight to save schools, use the community hub model as the bet defence, make Ford pay a stiff political price for school closings. If he gets his fingers burned a few times, he will become more reluctant to close schools, especially as we approach 2022.

 

Conclusion:

Education activists, parents, teachers education workers, students, Liberals, NDPers, independents and radicals need to get to work preparing for the attacks and using them to undermine the Tories and reduce their chances to win in 2022. Ford already has fallen to a 17% approval rating measured by Abacus polling.The most likely thing that will reign them in is falling poll numbers and fear of losing in 2022. Major ‘Days of Action’ demonstrations, strikes, whether on the bricks or work-to-rule, court cases, are all tools that may be needed but going after vulnerable Tory seats in triage fashion is the most effective strategy.

 

Leafleting the ridings of the vulnerable Tories and blaming them personally for funding, repairs, labour relations, math scores, and so on is what scares the bejesus out of politicians who pass that fear up to caucus, cabinet and the premier.  The Toronto activists involved in the Campaign for Public Education know how this is done. The front of the leaflet blames the local MPP personally for the state of education and includes their picture. Caption “Joe Bloggs is our MPP here in Upper Rubber Boot riding and he is destroying our local schools” The inside panels is based on details data, graphics common to all leaflets. The back panel includes contact info and how to get involved. These are distributed by volunteers, postal walks or distribution companies. Some keyboard warriors will suggest their must be a social media way to accomplish the same thing. Social media can help but is no substitute. The most vulnerable Tory seats are listed below. The Tories won these seats by the thinnest margins and they are highly vulnerable next election.