Dealing with Educational Change: The Ontario Experience

By Winter, Eileen C.; Mceachern, William R. | Education, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview
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Dealing with Educational Change: The Ontario Experience


Winter, Eileen C., Mceachern, William R., Education


Introduction

In the broader scheme of things change can be good; however, often in the shorter term educational change can cause disruption and insecurity among teachers (Hinson, 1991). Barton and Smith (1989) express this thought so clearly when they state that "any change implies criticism of existing practice and can therefore be a threatening and painful process" (p. 82). The Ontario story of change and the impact it has had on its teachers may serve as a model for other jurisdictions going through a similar process. Traditionally, in Ontario, curriculum has been developed at the local school board level under guidelines set out by the Ministry of Education. In recent years, though, as the performance of Ontario's students has been compared to that of students in other provinces and developed countries, there has been a growing demand for higher standards of achievement and accountability and this has resulted in requests for greater provincial involvement in the curriculum. Stakeholders in education - parents, taxpayers, teachers, and students - have called for demonstrable evidence that Ontario's students are being consistently and effectively challenged, and that high levels of achievement are being reached. This has resulted in a call for greater standardization of curriculum to ensure that the achievement of Ontario's students is comparable to that of their counterparts elsewhere. Similarly, in the United States, Jackson (1994) has suggested that "as the nation moves toward standard curriculum requirements and an emphasis on performance-based student outcomes, educators must become aware of the policy decisions that will be involved and be prepared to play an active role in shaping those policies." She continues by stating that "we educators who have oversight of curriculum matters must be cognizant of impending change and prepare to act with knowledge and insight" (p. vi). If we substitute the word `province' for `nation,' Jackson's comments become eminently applicable to the current situation in Ontario.

Having central government control (through the Ministry of Education) of school curriculum constitutes a major change in the province, a change that affects everyone involved in education. This paper describes some of the recent reforms in Ontario's educational system and the resulting impact on teachers and students. It lays out the consequences of this attempt to reach higher standards of achievement and to have greater accountability. It then discusses how change theory can assist in decisions about the implementation of new and revised curricula and the professional development of teachers.

Background

The Ontario government is "embarking on a major reform of elementary and secondary school education" (New Foundations for Ontario Education, 1995, p. 2). So announced the then New Democratic Party (NDP) Minister of Education in a document that presented a summary of the major initiatives to be implemented in a serious reform of Ontario's educational system. An accompanying document, The Common Curriculum: Policies and Outcomes Grades 1-9 (1995), was a revised version of an earlier working document which had been distributed province-wide asking for suggestions and input from teachers, parents, and the general public regarding what should be taught in the schools of Ontario. The 1995 document reflected the suggestions received, and it presented an outline of the educational philosophy and policies that would form the basis for the education of all Ontario students in grades 1 to 9 (ages 6-14). This policy document described the knowledge, skills, and values students should have developed by the end of grade 9. The two companion documents, The Common Curriculum: Provincial Standards (Mathematics, Grades 1-9) and The Common Curriculum: Provincial Standards (Language, Grades 1-9) were released for field testing and subsequently published in what was assumed to be their final form in 1995.

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