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Ontario education: Monopoly money | Marvin Zuker

Thursday, December 01, 2022 @ 9:30 AM | By Marvin Zuker


Marvin Zuker %>
Marvin Zuker
The Ontario Ministry of Education would make a great banker and Stephen Lecce would also make a great auctioneer.

In 1934, Charles B. Darrow of Germantown, Pa., presented a game called Monoply to the executives of Parker Brothers. It was a game of existing promise of fame and fortune. In 1935 Parker Brothers acquired the rights of the game.

Each time a player's token lands on or passes over GO, whether by throwing the dice or drawing a card, the banker pays him/her a $200 salary. The $200 is paid only once each time around the board. However, if a player passing GO on the throw of the dice lands two spaces beyond it on Community Chest, or seven spaces beyond collects $200 for passing GO the first time and another $200 for reaching it the second time by instructions on the card.

Monopoly money, courtesy of Steven Lecce and the Ontario Ministry of Education: “Here is your card with $200 on it and maybe even $250. Next move is yours. Pass GO and your child goes right into a post-secondary education.” Do not pass GO and your child stays where they have always stayed.

The COVID-19 disaster has led to the greatest drop in the amount of schooling available to our children. The number of lost or reduced days, the number of lost teachers made it unprecedented.

The latest results from the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) show Ontario students are not apparently meeting the provincial standard in math. Fifty-nine per cent of grade three students met the provincial standard in the latest testing conducted in 2021. For grade six students 47 per cent met the standard while in grade nine, 52 per cent met the standard.

In March 2019, a new math curriculum was announced, a back to the basics approach along with supports to help teachers improve their own math skills. It went into place in 2020.

“It could not be clearer that we must keep students in class without disruption, with a focus on catching up on the fundamentals — reading, writing and math,” the minister stated in response to the latest test scores.

He announced a “Plan to Catch Up.” Math action teams deployed to underperforming schools or boards, new digital resources putting curriculum help on the TVO website, extending an in-school tutoring system and another round of direct payments to parents for supporting or technology support.

When the math curriculum was updated, it included claims that math was racist. “Mathematics has been used to normalize racism and marginalization of non-Eurocentric mathematical knowledges, and a decolonial, anti-racist approach to mathematics education makes visible its historical roots and social constructions,” the curriculum stated. This claim was eventually removed.

On July 25, 2022, the Ministry of Education put out a news release claiming, “Ontario students have overcome many of the challenges of the pandemic, and graduation rates continue to rise,” this of course before the EQAO test results.

Mr. Lecce is promising “math action teams” to help struggling schools. He made the announcement on Oct. 20, 2022. He provided “details” of the province’s payout to parents, a $365-million fund that will provide $200 per child up to age 18, and $250 for those with special needs up to age 21. The money is to cover private tutoring or supplies for their children. Parents are not expected to submit any proof of how the money is spent — and applications are now being accepted online.

Students, according to Mr. Lecce, “must stay in class in front of their educators, getting back to the basics of learning.” We cannot improve math scores if children face the perennial threat of strikes, withdrawing services, where kids don’t get a report card to assess their academic performance. The government also indicated a desire to work with school boards to create a standard for dealing with students who have high absence rates.

Declines in math and reading from pre-pandemic levels were large and widespread as reflected on the U.S. exam commonly known as the Nation’s Report Card. Results released on Oct. 24, 2022, by the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), put an exclamation point on the growing evidence that student achievement took a turn for the worse because of the pandemic. The National Assessment Governing Board oversees the U.S. federal exam.

Drops in the U.S. were spread across many students’ racial subgroups. White, Hispanic, Black and Asian students all experienced decreases in average NAEP scores. For Black and Hispanic students, this exacerbated a situation where they had already started out behind their white and Asian peers.

In Ontario of course we are much less specific about schools that “do poorly.” Transparency in education rarely exists. To deal with racism means that we have to see and think about it, and maybe address the ways in which race and racism manifests and shapes education in this province.

While multiple student racial subgroups in the U.S. declined in fourth grade reading, some drops were greater than others. Black, American Indian and Alaskan Native students already lagged behind their peers in 2019 and then experienced greater drops than other groups in 2022 — pushing them even further behind than where they started prior to the pandemic.

The 2022 NAEP results indicated that access to high-quality remote learning made a difference. Higher performers who reported learning remotely were more likely than lower-performing students to say they had access to a learning device all the time, a quiet place to study some of the time, and a teacher available to help at least once or twice a week.

The pandemic was never, ever, easy on our children, their families, teachers, or school leaders. The in-person rhythm of nearly every school was upended, with students shifting, sometimes clumsily, to learning on devices, if they had them, at home starting March 2020 and beyond. As the rest of the school year went and the next one came, school closures persisted. Remote learning looked different everywhere.

Students’ scores do not directly reflect how long schools were closed to in-person classes during the pandemic. When schools did reopen, many students and teachers missed classes anyway in part because of COVID outbreaks.

Where is the concern for the most disadvantaged students — including kids with disabilities and English-language learners? What schools are the worst performing?

Let’s use TDSB as an example.

For a long time, the status quo in education has not worked. How do we solve the loss of learning? Where are our early warning systems? Non-attendance, failing a subject obviously has not triggered a response.

What did the Ministry of Education do in 2021 and 2022 to address learning loss during school vacation breaks, weekends and/or summer vacation? Working through those times would have added a significant number of hours in math, literacy and English-as-a-second-language instruction, generally with a student-teacher ratio of about 10-1. Students learn from a skilled tutor, generally a teacher, paraprofessional, or paid volunteer for at least 50 hours over a term. They are taught in small groups (ideally 1-2 students). Mr. Lecce’s $200 doesn’t provide a dosage of anything any of this or anything else.

This is the first of a four-part series. 

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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