Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Updated: “In defence of our kids” by Brian Henry

From the Globe & Mail: Alexandria Pavelich, a sociology student at York University

Before the Ontario legislature dissolved to make way for our provincial election, the government’s last act was to try to end the strike at York University by imposing binding arbitration. Because the Liberals waited till the last minute before the election campaign started, they needed all the parties to agree. The NDP refused. 

This means that 50,000 York students have not only lost much of their spring term but likely there will be no summer school at all. On the plus side, it's a timely reminder of where the NDP's loyalties lie.

If ever there was a strike that needs binding arbitration this is it. The victims are the York students (including my daughter) while between the striking faculty and the administration, there's nothing but irreconcilable differences – so a government-mandated investigation concluded May 4 (here).

The Liberals and the Conservatives voted in favour of ending the strike and in favour of the students, who are losing their education. The NDP voted in favour of the union, which wants the strike to go on.

Update: As of May 30, the York strike became the longest 
running strike ever at a Canadian college or university. 
 If elected, the NDP has pledged they will not end this strike. 
They've promised they'll never force an end to any strike. 
So if city workers go on strike and there's no garbage 
collection for months? The NDP's fine with that. 
Teachers go on strike across the province? The NPD promises 
it won't do a thing. Horwath claims she can avoid public 
service strikes by giving workers what they want – as 
if that's possible without the province going broke.
The Liberals are also at fault here. To anyone familiar with the players and the issues, it’s been obvious since the strike began, that there’s little room for compromise. 

If the Liberals had acted earlier, they could have legislated an end to the strike without the support of the other parties – they had a majority after all – but the Liberals aren’t likely to lose any seats over this strike, so they didn’t care.

On a closely related note, Ontario’s biggest teacher’s union, representing elementary teachers, has endorsed the NDP. Why? Well, first they’re teed off at the Liberals for occasionally using their power to end or forestall strikes by the teachers.

The NDP have promised to be more deferential to the teachers’ unions and will care less about the students – who are always the main victims of any teacher strike or work-to-rule campaign.

Second, the NDP has endorsed the union’s call to scrap standardized testing of students. A majority of parents and the general public support standardized testing {administered in grades 3, 6 and 9 by the EQAO}, while the teachers’ unions have opposed it from the start.

They argue that teachers are best placed to assess how a student is doing. Which is generally true and beside the point. No one’s suggesting teachers should stop assessing students, only that it’s good to have an additional way of measuring their progress.

Parents like standardized testing because it gives us at least one objective measure, not only of how well our own kids our doing, but how well their school is doing and how well the education system as a whole is doing – measurements which are obviously beyond the capacity of individual teachers.

The teachers’ unions dislike standardized testing (at least in part) for the same reason parents like it: the unions don’t like the results of the teachers’ efforts being measured. I understand, of course, but don’t much sympathize.

NDP leader Andrea Horvath clasps hands with Elementary Teachers
Federation president Sam Hammond from the National Post here
A case in point: In 2017, half of Grade 6 students failed to meet provincial standards in math on the standardized test – and this for the second year in a row. Indeed, the number of grade 6 students measuring up has been dropping since 2013, and back in 2013, the results weren’t great, with only 57% of students meeting the provincial standard.

To correct lousy math scores, the province has spent $60-million to add math-specialist teachers to schools and to provide additional training for staff. The ministry also increased class time for math to an hour a day. All to no good effect. 

Because we have standardized testing, we knew there was a problem. Because we have standardized testing, we know the solution we tried hasn’t worked. Everywhere else in Canada, students have been getting better at math. Not in Ontario. Our kids have been getting worse. The problem seems to be with the “Discovery” model currently being used to teach math, so the next step should be to change that.

But the teachers union proposed a different solution. In response to the dismaying 2017 math scores, the Secondary School Teachers Union ran an editorial in its newsletter saying it was time to scrap the testing. This wouldn’t solve the problem but it would make it invisible. To the delight of all the teachers unions, the NDP is endorsing this “solution.”

Ironically, standardized testing was developed by Bob Rae’s NDP government. It was the Conservatives under Mike Harris that implemented it and the Liberals under Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne who have maintained it. All three parties, plus parents and the wider public across Ontario have understood the value of the system.

Now the NDP wants to scrap it to show the unions whose side they’re on.

Come voting day, June 7, we should remember this.

Postscript, June 7, 2018: Seems most people in Ontario have decided the NDP isn't a good choice. Good.

Brian Henry is a parent and creative writing teacher and the publisher of the Quick Brown Fox blog. He used to be a member of the NDP party. 


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