Ontario education: Monopoly money, part four | Marvin Zuker

By Marvin Zuker

Law360 Canada (December 13, 2022, 11:47 AM EST) --
Marvin Zuker
Results for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), the largest school board in Canada, show that the percentage of children in grade three who scored at or above the provincial standard — equivalent to an A or B — was 61 per cent in math, 74 per cent in reading and 68 per cent in writing.

In grade six, 52 per cent of students met those expectations in math, but 85 per cent did in reading and writing. Meanwhile, in high school, 53 per cent of grade nine students achieved the standard in math, and 84 per cent of first-time eligible students met the expectations on the literacy test.

The Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), an arm’s-length government agency that oversees testing, released the first provincial assessment results since before COVID-19 on Oct. 20, 2022.

As indicated, across Ontario, 59 per cent of grade three students met the provincial standard in math, while 73 met expectations in reading and 65 in writing. As indicated, in grade six, 47 per cent reached standards in math, while 85 per cent did in reading and 84 in writing. Amongst grade nine students, 52 per cent hit those targets in math and amongst first-time eligible students writing the literacy test, 82 per cent did.

In terms of the Toronto Catholic School Board, the percentage of students in grade three who met provincial standards was 58 in math, 75 in reading and 70 in writing. While in grade six, 44 per cent met expectations in math, 85 in reading and 87 in writing. In grade nine, 49 per cent of student reached expectations; 80 per cent were successful on the literacy test.

According to EQAO, in part the gap in achievement between students enrolled in academic and those enrolled in applied courses continues to be an area that requires attention since starting in the 2022–2023 school year, grade nine English and French courses will be de-streamed; however, grade 10 English and French courses will remain streamed.

These statistics may well demonstrate that our politicians are using our children as political pawns. Teachers and parents have limited influence on their schools. We need our elected officials to actually fulfil their fiduciary responsibility not just write a $200 cheque, but to make sure funding, not $200, is actually going to get children where they should be.

We should appreciate that statistics pre-pandemic did not reflect an education system that was on the right track. The pandemic made things worse. The pervasive streaming separation of our students continues to be nothing less that racism in education in its highest possible form.

Under U.S. federal legislation, school districts are required to provide all students, including those with mental health and behavioural problems, a “free and appropriate education.” In theory, this means that when a student is struggling to learn, districts must conduct assessments, create individualized plans and, if a child’s needs can’t be met in public schools, pay tuition for a private school — all at no cost to children or their families.

How many Black and low-income families are labelled as having an “emotional disability” and shunted to special-education programs?

By the end of high school, students with emotional disability classifications are far more likely to have quit school than to have graduated with a diploma. Many may end up in youth court.

Break down the students who continue to be in the applied stream. Why does streaming exist at any level? Students in poverty, lower social income background students of colour, Indigenous, of course. Transparency does not exist. Look at their schools, a disgrace.

Children in foster care should be allowed to remain in the original school they attended prior to entering foster care unless it is determined to be not in their best interest. School is a place for learning and building social relationships. It is OK to say that you would like to stay in a school because it has people who support you. If a child chooses to stay in their school, transportation should be provided by the school board. Through no fault of their own, children are removed from their home, possibly because of safety and well-being are in danger.

On the morning of March 6, 2021, after an all-night session of debate on the American Rescue Plan Act, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski took to the Senate floor to set aside funds to support the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness.

Senator Murkowski’s amendment created what is now known as the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Homeless Children and Youth Fund.

Where are all our missing students? Where is the EQAO data on student experiencing homelessness? Where is the Ministry of Education data on enrolment in our schools of homeless students?

Do we provide training to identify homelessness, to specify identification, outreach and support strategies? Youth on their own, unaccompanied youth, where are they?

The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) states that parties “recognize the right of the child to education” and commits that they:

“… shall, in particular: (a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all; (b) Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need; (c) Make higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means.”

Nov. 20 is National Child Day in Canada. It is also World Children’s Day championed by UNICEF to mark the day in 1989 when children’s human rights were recognized with the CRC.

Maybe the time has come to take these rights seriously?

Is there still hope that we somehow will rise up and ultimately empower our children or can we confront our own complicity in enabling the abuse of inequity to continue?

Continued silence will simply add to our complicity.

On Feb. 28, 2022, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed Amended House Bill 4 into law, creating the Youth and Family Ombudsmen Office. The office shall investigate and resolve concerns made by or on behalf of children and families involved with public children services agencies. What a breath of fresh air:

“I believe in people and their capacity to change the world.” — Jenny Stotts (she/her) serves as Ohio’s Youth Ombudsman.

“Positive change requires proactive courage.” — Jennifer Sheriff has served in the field of public interest advocacy for well over a decade.

The future cannot be built on denial or on burying the harsh reality; recognition and responsibility are required to advance.

It was Nov. 22, 1963, when all of us as first-year students at Osgoode Hall Law School walked out the class to learn that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.

On June 16, 1963, President Kennedy spoke of racial equity, arguably the precursor to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He saw racial as a moral issue. Conversion to colour-blind education system should be the religion of the day.

This is the fourth instalment of a four-part series. Part one: Ontario education: Monopoly money. Part two: Ontario education: Monopoly money, part two. Part three: Ontario education: Monopoly money, part three.

Marvin Zuker was a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice, where he presided over the small claims, family and criminal courts from 1978 until his retirement in 2016. He is associate professor at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto, where he teaches education law. Zuker is the author and co-author of many books and publications, including The Law is Not for Women and The Law is (Not) for Kids.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's firm, its clients, 
The Lawyer’s Daily, LexisNexis Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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