Some New Year’s resolutions for Ontario’s education minister

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Appeared in the Epoch Times, January 3, 2024
Some New Year’s resolutions for Ontario’s education minister

The end of the year is an opportunity to think about what changes we want to see in the following year. Hence the longstanding tradition of making New Year’s resolutions. In that spirit, here are a few New Year’s resolutions for Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce to consider.

First, ensure all Ontario schools use teaching methods that actually work.

Contrary to government spin, the latest results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) were not good. From 2003 to 2022, the mathematics scores of Ontario students declined from 530 points to 495 points. (Twenty points is roughly equivalent to one year of learning.) And the largest decline took place over the last four years.

The reading skills of Ontario students also declined. This confirms the findings of last year’s devastating report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission that Ontario schools were using ineffective approaches to teach reading. Obviously, this is unacceptable.

Research is clear that direct instruction is essential in school. Teachers must take charge of their classrooms, walk students step-by-step through new procedures, give students ample opportunity to practise new skills, and provide students with prompt feedback. Unguided discovery learning, where students are encouraged to develop new skills on their own, does not work for most students.

Lecce should also mandate that improving academic achievement become the primary focus of every Ontario school board. In far too many cases, Ontario school boards are distracted by non-educational issues such as power struggles between trustees, arguments about which books should be on library shelves, and debates about Pride Progress flags.

None of these issues improve academic achievement. In fact, distract from it. It’s time for Ontario’s education minister to remove these distractions. Bill 98, the Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act, gives the minister the power to do exactly that.

Among other things, Bill 98 gives the government the ability to mandate that school boards implement specific provincial directives in areas such as mathematics and reading. It also requires school boards to report on their teacher professional development plans, which could be an effective way of cutting out much of the useless fluff that now counts as professional development.

Anyone who has ever made New Year’s resolutions knows that making them is one thing, keeping them is another thing entirely. Now that the province has given itself the tools to force school boards to focus on academic achievement, it should make full use of those tools. Mere promises are not enough.

Another helpful New Year’s resolution would be to make schools safe places for students and staff alike. There are far too many media reports of violence in Ontario schools. Students cannot learn when they feel unsafe, and teachers cannot teach in unsafe environments.

This is where the Ford government should step in. Instead of removing community safety officers from schools, it should ensure that any school dealing with violence has a regular police presence. In addition, the trend of not using suspensions as a form of discipline should be reversed. Unruly students spoil the education of other students and that’s unacceptable.

Thus, any school board that refuses, for ideological reasons, to use student suspensions should be overruled by the provincial government. Suspensions are a necessary part of keeping schools safe. Schools operate in the real world, and this means recognizing that the few students who refuse to respect the rights of others must be removed from the school building.

Finally, it’s time for the government to give parents real school choice, like what already happens in five other provinces. Parents have the right to choose the education that works best for their children. Sometimes this means a government-run public school, but it could also mean a charter school, an independent school or homeschooling. It doesn’t make sense to limit provincial funding to only one of these options.

It’s often said that insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and hoping for different results. As we head into 2024, Ontario’s education minister must stop the insanity and try something radically different. Making these New Year’s resolutions would be a great way to start.

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