Staffing for a Return to School. Could Mean Big Changes.

Mainstream and social media are full of stories about a return to K12 education in June, September or even January but everybody knows, this won’t be business as usual. Nations around the world are grappling with the necessary social distancing with staggered starts, alternate day programs, blended learning, meaning a single course blend of online and face to face (F2F) education. Some countries have desks 2m apart, some have plastic shields around desks, some require temperature checks for students and staff.

Almost all have a mask policy, with masks all the time, only for group work, teacher only, whatever. Almost all require frequent hand washing or hand sanitization. 

One of the looming issues is how do you staff for classes of 12-15 kids? The government of Ontario just raised class sizes. The easy answer is hire twice as many teachers but when we think for two seconds, we realize that this would almost double the provincial education budget from $30B to $50-55B so this isn’t happening. 


Let me give you a little shock therapy. This is the thesis of this piece. There are roughly 2 million kids in K12 in publicly financed education in Ontario’s four public systems (English and French, public and catholic). There are 117,178 full time equivalent (FTE) teachers not counting 10,000 or so long term occasional substitute teachers. If we divide 2 000 000 kids by 127,178 (LTO included) teachers we get an answer of 15. That means there are roughly 15 students/ teacher. 


Well, the system does need some administration but we can certainly see board administrations freezing administration by saying no replacements for retirees. Elementary schools are fairly stable entities with the vast majority of teachers having a home room class for most of the day except in middle schools, Jr highs, senior publics, however that middle piece is cut. Yes there is itinerant French, Special Ed, ESL which operates on reduced class ratios. High schools are quite another matter but some serious discussions may be under discussion. 


Many boards have on staff, a high number of consultants and coordinators, certified teachers at higher rates of pay. These teachers may need to report to a school and pick up a regular classroom again if we are to even approach 15/1 ratios. To be fair to them, they should have their pay ‘red circled’ as we assume this is temporary. The situation may last until a vaccine is found. 


There is expected to be a huge loss of international students from public (and private) schools. This is a big revenue loss but the teachers they generate should be maintained for our class size project. 


High schools in Ontario (but not in places like BC) maintain a very large lower academic stream known as the Applied stream in grades 9-10. This stream has lower class ratios. The Applied stream should be abolished as there is no need for it, All Applied kids should be redistributed across the academic stream since classes will be much smaller to accommodate them. This means about 3 Applied kids in a class of 15. This reform should be permanent. 


Special Education is a tough one but here too, there are answers. Many students in Special education (SE) are very mild LD students. With classes of 15, they are much more easily mainstreamed full time into regular classes and may require just a little monitoring. Programs like ‘gifted’ will need to lose any special staffing ratios since they are down to 15/1 covid19 ratios. The same can be done for ESL. Surely the level 3 and level 4 ESL students could simply be mainstreamed and monitored as well. 


I’m afraid some programs may need to be suspended and return in a year or two if there is a vaccine. In high schools, any elective that does not draw 15 students will need to be cancelled for a year or two. Here we may find programs like coop and guidance are somewhat unaffordable and schools with 3-4 guidance counselors might have to drop to 1-2. We need to look at the library as well here. Even with all of this, some new teachers will have to be hired. The reorganization will not be quite enough. Bussing for French Immersion will become increasingly unaffordable as the money is needed to support the regular program. 


PE is going to need a complete rethink. Contact sports will be out. Even calisthenics produces heavy breathing. Not very good. More time on the health curriculum may be just what we need. The gyms may be needed to accommodate the new class sizes since nobody will be building any additions. Portable classes however may be maxed out. Ontario kids are required to get one highschool PE credit. This should be postponed indefinitely. 


To accomodate much smaller classes portables will not be enough. Students will need to eat lunch in an assigned classroom. Gyms, auditoriums, stages, even large vestibules may need to accommodate some classes. Even this may not be enough space. Local community centers, even places of worship may be required for enough teaching space. 


Some teachers and administration will be angered by these suggestions but keep in 

mind, many regular classroom teachers might believe they have landed in clover. We can expect EQAO scores to actually rise if all teachers have to actually teach and classes are 15 students. The “regular classroom teacher” might just become so enamoured by the complete reorganization of the system that they want to keep it this way indefinitely. 


2. The crown jewel of corporate disruption, Washington DC turned out to be a total fraud. In 2007 Michelle Rhee became chancellor. Charters expanded rapidly, billionaires poured in $120 million, high stakes testing ruled, and was used to evaluate teachers, the entire disruptor play book was thrown at DC. 

The entire edifice crumbled in 2018 when one school claimed 100% graduation rate up from 57% one year earlier. NPR and right wing news fawned all over DC until the teachers blew the whistle. Sixty % of the graduating class were chronically absent, and ineligible to graduate. The FBI investigated, the city ordered an independent audit showing a total fraud. Across the city the same pattern emerged. Only 42% were on track to graduate but 73% were graduating. Rhee was soon out and the entire disruptor scam dealt the movement a body blow. Testing on a huge scale proved to be a total failure as a tool to improve achievement. Please note fellow Canadians. 

3. The NAACP The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is the oldest existing civil rights organization in the USA focussed on black advancement. Anger about exclusionary policies of charter schools was bubbling up across the country. The NAACP held nationwide hearings and a motion was moved that there be a moratorium on new characters until they were held to the same transparency and accountability rules as regular public schools. The motion passed. 


The disruptors had tried to make the case that charters and vouchers were ‘the civil rights issue of our time’. They played on Afrrican American dissatisfaction with the results of public schools but the NAACP motion punctured the balloon of privatization as a civil rights issue. For those who thought that the NAACP was your grandfather’s  civil rights organization, Black Lives Matter, BLM the younger, more militant face of black civil rights took the same position. What killed black support was the classic “creaming” scam of private education, charters made it difficult to enroll and found ways to quickly expel all disruptive or low achieving students. After that, attempting to claim that they are successful since the remaining students were from the same neighbourhood as the local public school which was required to take all students. 


4. The corporate disruptors believed that evaluating teachers by the score of their students would improve the quality of teaching and, by extension the quality of education. This idea was demolished ironically by a Bill Gates funded, independent study. The RAND Corporation and the American Institute for Research released a study of three public school districts and four charter school chains. The projects neither improved student achievement nor did they weed out ineffective teachers. It was a total failure. 

5. The massive, mainly red state walkouts by teachers, 2018,  dramatized the fact of widespread underinvestment in public education. Funding had been cut ostensibly due to the 2007-8 financial crisis but by 2018 it had not been restored. Americans realized that only mass action would persuade state legislators to restore funding. Echoing the NAACP teachers demanded a moratorium on future charter schools. These strikes, effectively changed the national channel from privatization to the underfunding of public education and even to the real cause of dismal underclass results - poverty. 


6. Until Trump’s election there was widespread Democratic Party support for charter schools. Corporate Democratlc luminaries  like Cory Brooker, Mike Bloomberg, Bill Clinton, Rahm Emmanuel, and many others were heavy backers. Even Obama allowed his education secretary, Arne Duncan to become a super charter promotor. Then a perfect storm hit charters (and vouchers). On top of the above failure of testing, teacher testing, NAACP and other failures, Trump appointed Betsy DeVos as education secretary. Her aura was one of the billionaire incompetent, religious zealot, far right winger, in over her head. She was a heavy promoter of vouchers and charters for all the conservative reasons ( ideology, privatization for profit, but mainly as a work around that allowed public money to support religious education). Many Democrats began to see the contradictions. If these far right zealots plus Trump himself are for privatization, why am I for it? 

The Disruptors (ironically a popular term in private business with Uber and Air B+B, ) are very unpopular terms with public school parents. The very last thing they want is educational disruption. Biz types seem oblivious to this. The Disruptors tried to showcase their “success” stories like New Orleans, where Katrina’s aftermath and disaster capitalism created a 100% charter district, and Florida where former governor Jeb Bush and his acolytes  had been running amok with vouchers and charters for years. Both proved to be Potemkin Villages. Researchers and NAEP results soon demonstrated that they were total failures. 


Privatization failed for a perfect storm of corruption, (the media is full of endless stories of failure and outright financial chicanery. Segregation was promoted by charters. This is segregation of every kind, race, religion, income…). The evidence began to show that the funding for charters came right off public school budgets. This shifted the thinking of public school supporters. Their past view of charters shifted from a benign cancer to a more  malignant variety. 


Every time the Disruptors, and especially their billionaire backers were proven wrong, they shifted focus to another complete failure like a kitten with a ball of yarn. They have the attention span of a gnat. You can google some of these failures, as there are just too many to document. Common core, small schools, parent trigger laws, teacher testing, state takeover of failing schools, and more. 


The Disrupter narrative, is that the “failure” of American education can be laid at the feet of teachers, teacher unions, “tenure”, and their supporters. This narrative suffered a fatal blow when the American Statistical Association concluded that teachers are responsible for a minimum of 1% and a maximum of 14% of the variability in test scores and that most opportunities for improvement were not with teachers and classrooms but in system level conditions. 


At the end of the day, even the OECD, a Paris based, capitalist oriented, think tank  responsible for PISA testing has been telling the USA for years that their weak results are due to POVERTY and exacerbated by the fact that poverty is concentrated. This leaves the billionaires with a quandry. They want an educated workforce for our new world of 5G, AI and a tech driven future but they don't want to pay for it by having their vast wealth taxed, to alleviate the poverty that is the root of all American failure. It seems the adage “you get what you pay for” doesn’t register with the 0.01% of billionaires. 


Lessons for Canada


Some provinces like BC already offer up to 50% tuition support for privates schools. This should be capped at today’s rate and begin a phase out at 10% less per year over a 10 year period. Alberta has a few charter schools. They are not a problem yet but every single one means less money for regular public schools. They also need to be capped and phased out. Ontario has full funding for catholic schools,  an historical anachronism. As the water gets low in the watering hole, the animals look at each other differently. If the catholic priesthood does not destroy this system first, the system will be looked at with an increasingly different lense due to advances in human rights, science, education, urbanisation, and the growing free thinking movement. Religious education will not survive too much longer or be justified in light of financial pressure. Quebec and Newfoundland abolished their religious based system. Quebec opted for a language based English French system. This makes far more sense. 


Finally, Canada must look at, not only the failure of privatization by charters and vouchers but also the total failure of all disruptive reform south of the border. Testing has zero value added to the education system. It is costly and there is evidence from U Texas at Austin, that it increases the dropout rate by demoralizing marginal students. 


Our American sisters and brothers let corporate disruptive education reform get away from them and build up a head of steam that looked undefeatable until the bodies started to float to the surface. The disruptors were hoisted on their own petard. The standardized testing they demanded turned on them and showed, by their own standards, vouchers and charters have no value results for all their disruption. 


Canadians must avoid privatization and begin to wind down standardized testing. The latter obviously has no role to play in educational\improvement.