Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Screwing up Education and shafting the poor too

"Our elementary schools really need to focus on the basics, on the foundations of learning for all students…..we need to have high-quality, consistent, inclusive programs." That's the view of a school board trustee for the York Region D. S. B., a large Ontario school board that is considering cutting specialized arts and sports programs because they might be elitist. Another trustee counters with: "How could everybody learn the same way? We don't think that (way) educationally, and here we're trying to do it." At the same time Annie Kidder, the Director of People for Education a non-profit lobby group, says specialty schools attract wealthier students. Ms. Kidder fears "social polarization" in the specialty schools but then goes on to admit that, "Choice is open to those with the capacity to choose." Apparently she has no fear of polarization there, wealthier families can give their children an enriched and varied learning experience, because they are wealthier. 

But aren't the schools Ms. Kidder supports, the government public schools, supposed to ensure that education is equally available to all, rich or poor? Shouldn't parents and children of poor families have the opportunity to choose the way they want to learn and have some choices at least? Apparently Ms. Kidder is more interested in homogeneity in the school system rather than catering to the needs of students. Let the children of poor families get the one-size-fits-all education, right Ms. Kidder?
Contrast the YRDSB story above to the stated policy of the largest Ontario School Board, the Toronto D. S. B. Almost two years ago the TDSB proposed the creation of specialized schools to give free market private school opportunities to children within the government public school system. In my view, since we are currently forced to have government public schools, at least provide some choice within them. Who knows, all the remaining TDSB government schools might need to improve in order to compete with their own specialty government schools. It could be win-win for TDSB students.

Meanwhile at the other end of the educational spectrum in Ontario, the McGuinty Liberal government is offering a 30% tuition  reduction to the majority of post-secondary students. I say majority even though there is an income qualification. The student's family must have a gross income of less than $160,000. Since the average personal income in Ontario is less than $38,000, qualifying for this rebate should be dead simple unless your parents are really rich. So, as Ken Coates points out in this column:
"Clearly this social program was targeted, for political reasons, at middle- and upper-middle-class families, whose children already attend university in large numbers. The 2011 Ontario election was vacuous. There were no defining issues, little public interest. All three parties worked extremely hard to avoid controversial positions. The tuition rebate was transparent. Vote Liberal, those of you with university-aged children, and the cheque will be in the mail." Exactly right, buy some votes. McGuinty is spending money that the province must borrow, because there is already a $16 billion deficit, and a debt close to $250 billion. Things are so tight that, Moody's the rating agency, has issued a warning on Ontario's credit rating. Can we afford this rebate? Are you kidding?

Again, poor families with less capacity to choose are being shafted. If you are going to have an income qualification, make the cut off $75,000 and increase the rebate. At least the lower income families will be targeted and maybe helped. 

Having said all of that, I would prefer a competitive system of schools, with as little government interference as possible, but we are in very deep with a system that serves teachers, and administrators, best of all.     

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