Ontario Educational Reform: A Tragedy of Errors

Article excerpt

The article is an opinion piece backed up by relevant research. It examines the recent changes in the Ontario Educational System and critiques the process based on what researchers suggest should happen when sweeping reforms are made. It outlines the major change initiatives that have been introduced and describes the impact these changes have had on teachers.

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The Canadian province of Ontario has been under the rule of the Conservative government since 1995. They began their reign by stating in private (later made public) that they were going to create a crisis in the educational system that would facilitate reform. In order to create this crisis the government introduced change at an unhealthy pace and without consultation with the key players in the educational community. Reforms were introduced through the media, with educational partners learning about the changes simultaneously with the public. Justifiably, the educational community has not met these changes with enthusiasm. When implementing even simple change initiatives, the whole system must be considered. Ballantine (1997) suggested that change must be relevant to the organization, and both the organizational structure and individual attitudes must be considered. Change must be effective in solving the problems that were diagnosed, not created. Governments and educators must become partners and work together in their quest to effect change (Stoll & Fink, 1997).

Changes

The proposed changes in Ontario have been numerous and have affected all parts of the educational system, ranging from governance issues to curriculum. The major changes are listed below in no specific order. First of all, the funding model was changed and is now based on enrollment and students' needs, and has shifted localized control of monies to the provincial level. This change from local to provincial funding took control away from parents and taxpayers and centralized control provincially. Second, in order to deal with this loss of local control the province established school councils made up primarily of parents and a few other community members to work along with the principal and teachers. The guidelines were nonexistent and there was a great dilemma about the power of these groups.--were they advisory or decision making bodies? This question was answered five years after their creation and it is an advisory group. In the meantime schools have had to deal with the confusion and animosity created by the lack of information. Third, principals and vice principals (who all have teaching credentials) have been taken out of the teacher unions and are now considered to be managers creating an unhealthy gap between teachers and administrators. Fourth, a new curriculum was introduced at all levels from kindergarten to Gr. 13 without adequate resources or teacher in-service. Fifth, a new provincial electronic report card was mandated for all students with little support provided. Sixth, mandatory testing of students in various grades has become compulsory with little or no guidance to teachers about the nature of the test. Seven, Gr. 13 is being eliminated and the curriculum is being compressed into one less year. Eight, special education funding has been cut and most exceptional children are now integrated into regular classrooms with little or no support. Finally, the idea of on-going teacher testing was introduced, forcing teachers to take tests at regular intervals to maintain their certification. This has been recently changed to teachers doing regular professional development. The number and rate of change has been unprecedented in the Ontario educational system and has totally demoralized teachers. The government has chosen to revise the educational system in a very short timeframe because it seems politically wise to do so. The results however, have been catastrophic.

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