Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Exploring Equity in Ontario: A Provincial Scan of Equity Policies across School Boards

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Exploring Equity in Ontario: A Provincial Scan of Equity Policies across School Boards

Article excerpt

Introduction

Ontario is one of the first jurisdictions in Canada (and elsewhere) to enact a large-scale initiative to improve equity across 5,000 provincial schools through an Equity and Inclusive Education (EIE) strategy that "aims to promote inclusive education, as well as to understand, identify, and eliminate the biases, barriers, and power dynamics that limit our students' prospects for learning, growing, and fully contributing to society" (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2009a, p. 11). The EIE strategy mandates that all 72 school boards create and implement EIE policies and administrative procedures. Policies are to serve as guiding principles and set direction within the school board while administrative procedures include a series of steps to be followed by schools to achieve the desired result of the EIE policy (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2009b). Due to the large-scale initiative of the EIE strategy, and limited empirical evidence exploring the implementation of the strategy across school boards, the following study consisted of an environmental scan of school board policies that focus on equity to help identify the knowledge mobilization processes (structures, brokering, co-production, dissemination, and transfer) district school boards are employing, as stated in their policy documents, to increase equity policy engagement. The aim of the scan is to serve as a planning tool for modifying existing policies and future policy work.

The remainder of this article is organized into five sections. First, a review of the literature is presented in regards to key equity issues faced by the education system, Ontario's action plan for addressing equity, and the increased interest in using knowledge mobilization processes to influence policy issues. The literature review is concluded by presenting the conceptual framework used for the study. Next, the article details the specific research questions explored during the environmental scan, the method for conducting the scan, and presents the findings in relation to the conceptual framework. Finally, the study includes a discussion which highlights opportunities for continued improvement that includes a framework school boards can use for monitoring the implementation of equity efforts.

Literature Review

This article sits at the intersection of two emerging trends: (a) a growing focus on addressing the key equity issues faced by the Ontario education system, and (b) the emerging view that the best available data and research evidence (efforts we refer to as knowledge mobilization, or KMb) should inform educational decision making, policy, and practice.

Key Equity Issues Faced by the Ontario Education System

The highest-performing education systems in the world are also the most equitable (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2012). Over the past decade, Canada has consistently been recognized as one of the top education performers and has been shown to be more equitable than many other countries in relation to educational outcomes for diverse students (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2010, 2012). Adamson's (2010) The Children Left Behind report looked at inequality in child well-being in three areas: material (including family income and housing), educational achievement, and health. Out of 24 countries, Canada ranked seventeenth in material well-being, ninth in health, and third in education. This reveals that Canadian schools do better than many others in the world in mitigating the effects of socio-economic status, health, and housing inequality, as well as child and family poverty rates, on school success. However, in a Canadian study on equity, Carr (2008) notes "there remains a plethora of problems and issues related to equity, diversity, and human rights" (p. 4). Students with disabilities face significant barriers getting to, into, and around schools (Stephens et al. …

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