I never expected to have survivor’s guilt after leaving the Ontario public school system. Schools are pretty good in Canada, right across the board. I didn’t spend any time worrying about what school district we’d wind up in when deciding where to live in Toronto. And looking ahead to when my oldest starts high school next year, we were very happy with the city’s wide variety of good options.
Navigating the public school system in the United States, on the other hand, was nerve wracking. Despite recent funding reforms that aim to promote more equal spending in different school districts, there’s still a big discrepancy between the academic outcomes of students in different school boards. From what I can glean as a newcomer, it’s not an easy fix. Equal funding does not provide equal outcomes for students who have radically different starting points, for one. Plus, while increasingly popular publicly-funded charter schools do give families more options, they also draw motivated students away from their neighbourhood schools. In cities like Washington, DC, racial and economic segregation and a large number of wealthy diplomats who favour private schools compound the problem. Kids who grow up with every advantage are often absent altogether from the local schools.
We had to find a place to live and we had to do it quickly. Deciding that reliable local public schools needed to be a priority, I reluctantly abandoned my plans to find a home in an urban neighbourhood like we had in Toronto. I traded walkable and bustling city streets for the leafy and quiet inner burbs. Ultimately, landing in a good school district just outside the DC city line was more important for our kids than my desire to live in the heart of it all. But what a school district it turned out to be! Our schools have reasonable class sizes, school nurses, great teachers, a wealth of extracurricular activities, resources for special needs and in-school Chromebooks for every student.
Meanwhile, in Ontario…
Where do I even begin with Doug Ford’s dismantlement of public education in Ontario? Ontario, a province that was once a proud leader in education, funds education entirely at the provincial level. This is a great way to ensure that kids across the province get access to the same amount of funding regardless of where they live. It is great, that is, until education becomes the target of political maneuverings and how we teach our children is just another line on the operating budget.
Ford has a long history of anti-intellectual posturing. Libraries were on the chopping block when Rob was mayor of Toronto and Doug Ford flaunted that he didn’t even know who Margaret Atwood is. Partly, he’s trying to appeal to his blue-collar base, but I honestly believe that Ford simply doesn’t care about education. He’s a community college drop out who’s the premier of the province, after all. He probably figures, who needs it?
So Ford has decided to slash per-student funding across the board in Ontario. In order to make the funding cuts work, the province is increasing already overcrowded class sizes and introducing online credits at the high school level. As if logging onto a computer and taking pre-programmed lessons and quizzes could ever replace the added support, expertise and enthusiasm of a good teacher in a classroom setting. High schools have also been forced to cut back on the range of elective classes they can offer students. Elementary school teachers are concerned about increased class sizes and decreased funding to support students with special needs.
And now the government and the teachers’ unions are in a standoff while the future of Ontario’s children is poised to be caught in the crossfire. There have been rotating strikes leaving parents scrambling to sort out which kids have school on which days and how they’re going to care for them. The province is digging its heels in, offering payouts (*cough* bribes) to families to offset the cost of childcare instead of bargaining in good faith. School plays, art shows and field trips have been cancelled.
What a shit show.
Ontario is a rich province, the economic engine of the country, with housing prices in Toronto teetering at absurd heights. It should take pride in its education system. It should strive to be a national example—a global example, even. Ontario deserves a government that asks how we can make our education system better instead of always trying to make it cheaper.