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Ontario education: Monopoly money, part three | Marvin Zuker

Friday, December 09, 2022 @ 12:08 PM | By Marvin Zuker

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Marvin Zuker
Summer slide. That is what is called forgetting what you learned during the previous year during school breaks. Almost a warning of how school closures effected student progress during the pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, summer programs, if they were even provided, were largely designed to provide academic support for students who were failing or at risk of failing. Now, as a result of the pandemic, summer learning stakeholders recognized the need for a focus on whole-child learning (social, emotional, cognitive and academic development, as well as their physical and mental health). Did it happen here? Simple answer: No.

The reality is that public education in Ontario will experience the impacts of the pandemic on student achievement for years to come. This is a generational challenge with a long way to go until this cohort of students is back to where they should have been.

Assessments, free meals

Show me any school with poor test results and I can probably show you a high percentage of the children in need of a free meal.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) produces student outcomes courtesy of the Education Quality an Accountability Office (EQAO). What is sadly not produced is a breakdown of the background of the faceless and nameless children.

Mr. Minister of Education, stop scapegoating our children and teachers, and take responsibility for getting already marginalized students the academic and social and emotional supports they need to catch up now. Nothing less than their futures and the future of education in Ontario hang in the balance. It’s a matter of getting all of our children to tomorrow. This is a time for schools and families to step up and make sure that their children are receiving as much high-quality instruction focused on key learning areas as possible. There is a difference between throwing money at people and actually leading. “Throw in the teams.” What does that mean and when?

Any parent who was home with their child saw what a failure online school was. Parents should look at these scores and know that maybe, just maybe, we failed our children. Parents should also ask hard questions of their own school boards. We should treat this as a crisis.

Our schoolchildren deserve to know whether their fundamental right to education is a paper promise or a real guarantee. More and more students and young adults are living at home or in conditions that promote cyclical behaviour.

On Oct. 31, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court heard two separate but related cases on the constitutionality of affirmative action in college admissions. In Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina the justices will consider whether race-conscious admissions violate the 14th Amendment. In Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, they are looking at whether the practice violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which protects against race or nationality-based discrimination.

Getting rid of race-conscious admissions doubles down on the systemic inequities our high school students now face and this could further discourage many from seeing themselves in college. Inequities in our education system are a large part of why post-secondary institutions well face the prospect of trying to adjust for widely varying experiences among students.

The U.S. high court’s newest justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, indicated during argument that she worried that overturning affirmative action would mean “that in the context of a holistic review process, the university can take into account and value all of the other background and personal characteristics of other applicants, but they can’t value race.”

Gaps reflected by school poverty have expanded substantively during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the elementary grades (where widened gaps were most evident), school income-based gaps increased by roughly 20 per cent in math and 15 per cent in reading. It was predicted that math would be more affected than reading in terms of overall achievement declines and widening of achievement gaps. Parents have more capacity to support learning in reading and are more likely to routinely engage their children with reading as opposed to math learning. Bailey et al. (2021) articulated mechanisms including (a) worse health-care coverage among low-income families, affecting parents’ ability to provide for their children; (b) poorer access to computer technology/Wi-Fi among low-income families, affecting access to online instruction; (c) fewer resources available to high-poverty schools to address learning disruptions; and (d) the ability of higher-income families to afford tutors and other forms of instruction to supplement public school offerings.

Stephen Lecce of course does not address those factors.

Existing achievement disparities by race/ethnicity were exacerbated between the fall of 2019 and the fall of 2021. Communities of colour disproportionately bore the economic, social and health consequences of the pandemic. Black and Hispanic children were more likely than white and Asian children to have a family member get sick or die from COVID-19, to struggle with food insufficiency, and to face eviction or housing instability (CDC, 2021; Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2022). Additionally, students in majority Black and Hispanic schools were more likely to attend school remotely during the 2020-2021 school year) and reported facing more obstacles to learning during the pandemic, including feeling depressed, stressed, or anxious and having concerns about the health of their family members. Again, disregarded by the MOE.

It is about matching recovery needs with interventions that will produce test score gains required to recover lost ground.

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

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.

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