Chapter 2: Education and Society
Regarding Ryerson through our backward prism
We find no madness in his Methodism,
But see in all those works he left behind
The logic of his energetic mind.
The House he built remains - though renovated
By many hands, as previously related;
Some minister, concerned to waterproof,
Deciding that he needs to raise the roof
Whereafter his successor with disdain
Decides she ought to lower it again.
Yet still there stands the ever open door
And cross the threshold still the children pour.
The teachers still their expertise bestow
And still the generations come and go.
And on foundations that still stand secure
The House that Ryerson built will endure.
Hugh Oliver, from The House That Ryerson Built
En repassant, comme il m'arrive souvent, ces temps-ci, par
mes annees de jeune institutrice, dans une ecole de garcons, en ville, je
revis, toujours aussi charge d'emotion, le matin de la rentree. J'avais la
classe des tout-petits. C'etait leur premier pas dans un monde inconnu. A
la peur qu'ils en avaient tous plus ou moins, s'ajoutait, chez
quelques-uns de mes petits immigrants, le desarroi, en y arrivant, de
s'entendre parler dans une langue qui leur etait etrangere. (...) Et je
remarquai enfin qu'il avait presque une attitude de priant quand, apres
avoir ecrit ses lettres, il s'accordait pendant un moment de les
contempler. Quelle histoire ecrivait-il donc, sans avoir besoin pour la
connaitre de pouvoir la lire? Peu a peu me venait a l'idee qu'il n'etait
pas commande seulement de lui-meme dans son acharnement a ecrire. Mais
peut-etre par une faim lointaine. Une mysterieuse et longue attente.
Gabrielle Roy, dans Ces enfants de ma vie
In the next chapter, we record just some of the views of education in
Ontario today that we heard; but first, we take a brief look over our
shoulders, to see whether this is a unique moment in the history of
education in Canada, or simply part of a recurring ebb and flow of issues
First, we begin with a brief history of Ontario's public education
system, highlighting the architecture of "the house that Ryerson
built." Second, we examine the more recent history of educational
policy to find out how the current system evolved. Third, we describe
current socio-economic and demographic realities that affect the education
system, and briefly examine funding. Fourth, we provide some descriptive
statistics concerning the size and complexity of the Ontario school system
as well as indicators of the state of the system. Finally, we look at the
current national and international context for education reform.
Education in Ontario: A brief history
The history of schooling in Ontario has been written and rewritten many
times and from many perspectives. As Professor Rebecca Coulter of the
University of Western Ontario points out, the earliest histories (at least
those written in English) document what was seen as the "glorious
growth and progress of schooling,"(1) whereas
some recent attempts take a more critical stance, exploring the ways in
which schools have acted as agents of social control, and how they have
operated to replicate class, language, ethnic, and gender relations.
French-language historians have documented the development and struggles
of schooling for the Franco-Ontarian community,(2) a
topic that has been given little attention by English-language writers.
When Ontario's school system was being established, few doubted that
religion and schooling belonged together. The Roman Catholic Church was
instrumental in starting French-language education in the 17th century; in
the 19th century, the Anglican Church, led by the Reverend Dr. John
Strachan, who was president of the General Board of Education, established
English-language instruction for small numbers of children in the
settlement at York, with the emphasis on grammar schools for the
preparation of potential leaders of the community. Other religious groups,
Methodists especially, promoted the concept of a basic education for all
the children in the colony.
Individual parents played a strong role in early education, securing the
services of itinerant teachers, or choosing one of their own to drill
their children in the three Rs. Often the impetus for this initiative came
from the fourth R - religion with local ministers reminding their flocks
(in a largely Protestant population) of their duty to ensure that their
progeny could read, understand, and follow the Bible.
Parental attempts to secure a modicum of education for their children
got a boost in 1816 when some limited provision was made for government
assistance. Professor Willard Brehaut notes: "As this support
movement was extended, evidence of greater public control began to appear.
Throughout Ontario's history, as in that of other jurisdictions, public
support and public control have tended to go hand-in-hand."(3)
The Common School Act
In the 1840s, the school system was shaped, to a considerable degree, by
a series of school acts, beginning with the Common School Act of 1841,
which doubled the size of government grants in aid of schools, and
introduced compulsory taxes on property as a means of funding elementary
schools. In the early 1840s, a General Board of Education was established
for the province and consisted of the superintendent and six advisors. By
the end of the 1840s, the stage had been set for the centralized
administration of schools, with regulations covering organization,
classification of teachers, and prescription of textbooks.
One Methodist adherent in particular was key in making a wider view of
public education at least a partial reality in his day: Egerton Ryerson,
who served as Ontario's superintendent of education from 1844 until 1876.
Ryerson was steadfast in his support of a public education system that had
a distinctly Christian, but non-denominational, basis.
The Roman Catholic Church established the first English-language Roman
Catholic class in Kingston in 1839.(4) From the
beginning, the question of separate schools engendered considerable
political debate. The Scott Act of 1863 provided more formal recognition
and support to Catholic education, allowing for the election of separate
school trustees as well as legislative grants to separate schools. The
Constitution Act, 1867, confirmed that all provisions in place for
denominational schools at the time of Confederation would remain in force
and could not be diminished.
Ryerson had rigorously opposed any extension of funding to Roman
Catholic grammar (what we now know as secondary) schools, on the grounds
that money given to denominational systems would undermine a strong public
system. Grammar schools received some public support as early as 1807 but,
despite Ryerson's intentions, did not come under effective public control
Compulsory and free
For many years, attendance in public schools was not mandatory. School
fees, problems of transportation and travel, and the necessity of
children's sharing chores in a rural wilderness made regular school
attendance difficult. Not until 1891 were children between the ages of 8
and 14 compelled to attend school with penalties for parents or guardians
who did not comply with the law; in 1919, the age was extended to 16.
Elementary school fees were eliminated in 1871 and, with that move, a
barrier to access to education fell; secondary school fees were not
dropped until half a century later. Both initiatives were accompanied by
greater provincial regulation of schooling in the form of compulsory
Compulsory attendance at both school levels brought with it the problem
of how to change the curriculum to meet the needs of widening segments of
Because it was obvious that many children were neither able
nor willing to follow the traditional academic program offered at the
secondary school level, it became necessary to offer a variety of programs
and courses to meet the needs of a vastly increased number. To this end,
manual training, domestic science, and other courses were introduced and
later, technical and vocational schools were established.(5)
However, one effect of this type of differentiated programming was that
young people were being sorted according to their socio-economic origins,
which prevented them from moving beyond them.
Role and qualifications of teachers
In 1850, when Ontario first adopted official standards for qualifying
teachers, the requirements were minimal: candidates were expected to read,
spell, write, and to have some knowledge of geography and the basic rules
of grammar. The highly variable quality of teachers of the time had
prompted Ryerson, in 1847, to establish the first "normal"
school, located in Toronto, for the instruction of teachers in the common
schools. Ottawa was the site of Ontario's second normal school, which
opened in 1875. (The term "normal school" was used well into the
1950s, when it was changed to "teachers' college.")
During the middle and late 1800s, the province also experimented with "county
model schools" for teacher training, which offered a lower standard
of teacher certification; however, these were closed by 1907. Like the
Ontario education system in general, teacher preparation of this period
was characterized by strong central regulation.(6)
Manuals described in detail how normal school subjects were to be
taught, and the provincial education department was also responsible for
setting and marking final examinations for teacher candidates.
The organization and status of teaching was, for the most part, the
result of work by the teachers' professional associations. Their
importance was recognized by 1944, when the province enacted the Teaching
Profession Act, granting teachers automatic membership in the Ontario
Teachers' Federation and in one of its five affiliates. (Unlike those in
some other provinces, the two Ontario associations for teachers in public
English-language elementary schools are still split along gender lines.)
A growing system
The one-room schoolhouse was the model of Ontario education for
generations, Ryerson's efforts to promote enlarged school areas
notwithstanding. For generations local governance consisted of a three-man
("three fit and discreet men") board of trustees.
With an eye on efficiency and equality of opportunity, successive
governments slowly developed larger administrative units, culminating in
1969 when the amalgamation of more than two thousand small school boards
brought the number to slightly more than 190, most using the provincial
county system as the administrative unit. It was at this point that the
one-room schoolhouse, relic of Ontario's pioneer past, finally became part
Curriculum and teaching methods
In the earliest days of education in the province, rote memorization,
often of meaningless material, was commonplace. Teachers assigned a great
deal but taught little until the advent of graded texts approved by the
government, which permitted teachers to group students according to age
and to their understanding of the texts being covered.
The curriculum of the pioneer school dealt with the three Rs (reading,
writing, and arithmetic) and a fourth R, religion: reading texts
frequently used were the Bible and various religious tracts. With the
introduction of standard texts, teaching and learning methods changed.
Through his Journal of Education, Ryerson was a primary proponent of these
new methods, and in 1851 he established the Educational Depository, which
made teaching aids, books, and lesson guides available to schools and
In time, the Ministry centralized provincial curriculum and authorized
texts through Circular 14, a list of textbooks approved for use in Ontario
Education rights of the French-language minority
French-language schools in Ontario go back more than 300 years, to 1634,
when a school for Native children was established in Huronia (the area
around present-day Midland). Schools for the children of French settlers
followed later in the century, beginning with a class in Fort Cataraqui
(now Kingston) in 1676.
Until the late 19th century, French- and English-language schools were
financed in the same way and enjoyed the same status. Because most were
Roman Catholic, they were subject to the same rules and restrictions as
their English-language counterparts and received no funding past Grade 10.
Disputes about French-language instruction were a constant feature of
Ontario education. Although the British North America Act provided
protection for the rights of francophones, these rights proved to be
somewhat fragile. Following Confederation and into the early years of the
20th century, the province curtailed the rights of Franco-Ontarians; as a
minority group, they lacked the power exercised by the English-language
When Regulation 17 was passed in 1912, restricting teaching in French to
Grades 1 and 2, Franco-Ontarians immediately organized strong resistance,
led by the Association canadienne-francaise de l'education de l'Ontario.
Although in effect only until 1927, Regulation 17 was not repealed until
1944. This struggle was a defining event for the Franco-Ontarian
community, providing it with an initial focus for demands for educational
rights, and control over their own schools.
Questions of purpose
The debate about the purposes of schooling was born with the schools
themselves. Was it training for work, for individual fulfilment, as a
preparation for citizenship, to infuse a sense of patriotism, to support
the Christian ethic, or simply because of the intrinsic value of a liberal
education? Not only were there disagreements about purpose, but each of
these distinct purposes was defined very differently at different times.
A researcher observes:
Over the course of the last 150 years, the schools have
been used for several purposes. In important senses, almost all people
agree that schools are suitable places to build character, to engage in
initiatives to improve the world, to teach citizenship and to prepare the
young for work and life. The disagreements have arisen in debates, however
mute, about what kind of character, what kind of social reform/justice,
what form of citizenship, and what kind of work education. In seeking to
achieve one or more of these purposes, the question has been whether we
want to create young people who will fit seamlessly into the existing
society or whether we want graduates who will challenge their world and
work for change.(7)
Although sharing this general ambiguity of purposes relating to the
wider goals of schooling, Roman Catholic and French-language schools have
always had the specific purposes of maintaining religious and/or
linguistic identities in the midst of a large majority of (until recently)
Protestant and English-speaking people.
We turn now to recent educational policy in Ontario in order to
understand how the publicly funded system has met the challenges of the
past 30 years.
More recent educational history
Living and Learning: The Hall-Dennis report
In 1965, following a massive expansion of the school system, the
Department of Education responded to the ferment about social and
educational issues with the Hall-Dennis report, published in 1968. The
report, vastly different from any previous government-sponsored document
on education, sought to modernize the education system so that it would be
able to address the needs of both the student as an individual and of
society as a whole.
An academic commented at the time on this dual emphasis:
This emphasis may be seen as an attempt to counterbalance
two possible tendencies in education: the reflection of a collectivist
view of man [sic], and the imposition of a single pattern of schooling (in
manner and content) on all children, regardless of individual
A contemporary commentator said that in the report, "the child and,
to a large extent the teacher, occupy the centre of the stage, with the
subjects, the administrators, and the experts relegated to supporting
roles."(9) Among the report's 258
recommendations were calls for a curriculum more closely related to
students' experiences, a decrease in rote learning, and an increase in
parental and community involvement in schools. Some of these
recommendations remain controversial issues. Lloyd Dennis, co-chair of the
Hall-Dennis Inquiry, believes key elements of the report were never
treated seriously by the government of the day.
As recently as 1967, Curriculum P1, J1, the Department of Education's
key policy document for education in Grades 1 through 6, stated that the
aims of education, first promulgated in 1937, were still applicable. It
declared that "the schools of Ontario exist for the purpose of
preparing children to live in a democratic society that bases its way of
life upon the Christian ideal," and described the relationship of the
individual to society as follows:
From each individual a democratic society expects the
finest service of which he is capable and a willingness to make sacrifices
for the common welfare. It demands that he recognize and accept his
responsibility to act not only in the interest of self but in the interest
of all - Co-operation in a democratic group requires self-control,
intelligent self-direction, and the ability to accept responsibility.(10)
It went on to outline the "threefold task" of the school: to
help the child to understand the nature of the environment in which he or
she lives; to lead the child "to choose and accept as his own those
ideals of conduct and endeavour that a Christian and democratic society
approves," and to assist the pupil to master the essential abilities
for living in a modern society. The 1967 document did, however, point out
that the Hall-Dennis report, anticipated the next year, might be expected
to lead to major changes.
In 1975, the Ministry issued The Formative Years, and a support
document, Education in the Primary and Junior Divisions, which
gave teachers new directions for elementary education. It pointed out
The experiences of these early years mould the child's
attitudes to learning and provide the basic skills and impetus for his
[sic] continuing progress - It is the policy of the Government of Ontario
that every child have the opportunity to develop as completely as possible
in the direction of his or her talents and needs.(11)
In his introductory statement to The Formative Years, the
then-Minister of Education, Thomas Wells, asked all teachers,
administrators, trustees, and parents to "remember - always that the
individual child in the classroom is the ultimate reason for the existence
of our schools."
This concern about the individual was further emphasized in such
statements as "the philosophical commitment of our society [is] to
the worth of the individual"; moreover, one of the major goals of
education was described as to help each child "to develop and
maintain confidence and a sense of self-worth." The document also
said that, under a new policy, education should be conducted in a way that
would not limit children's opportunities by sex-role stereotyping them.
The Formative Years also drew attention to the need for careful
curriculum planning by individual teachers, by groups of teachers and by
school staffs collectively, in order to ensure that the overall curriculum
achieved a consistent focus and eliminated excessive repetition and
overlap. It also pointed out that parents, as well as the children
themselves, should be involved in the planning process in appropriate
ways, and that supervisory officers and principals have a responsibility
for providing leadership in planning.
The document outlined specific objectives in terms of providing children
with "opportunities to acquire competence" in certain areas at
the end of the Primary and Junior Divisions, rather than identifying
outcomes or levels of competence to be achieved. In addition to objectives
in language and mathematics that were listed for each division separately,
it also identified objectives for areas such as music, drama, visual arts,
physical education and health, science, and geography, which had been part
of elementary education for some time, as well as new areas such as the
individual and society, decision-making, values, perception and
expression, and Canadian Studies, which clearly flowed from the
recommendations of the Hall-Dennis report, Living and Learning.
The Formative Years and its support document continued to set
the direction for elementary education until they were replaced by The
Common Curriculum in 1993.
For more than a hundred years, the debate about the formal education of
adolescents has focused particularly on the best ways to bridge the last
years of elementary and the early years of secondary school, the relevance
of the curriculum to students with very different needs, and the extent to
which schools and programs should be tailored to academic and vocational
In the 1930s, experiments that involved combining Grades 7 and 8 (and,
sometimes, 9 as well) into one organizational and administrative unit, in
order to better serve the needs of adolescents, reached their peak. But
political opposition from teacher federations, and the implications such
groupings would have if funding of the separate school system were ever to
be extended, forestalled this as a general model.
In 1950, the Department of Education directed school boards to create
committees of teachers from Grades 7 to 10, to plan "local
instructional programs for the Intermediate Division" but these were
largely ineffective. In the 1950s, however, a limited number of junior
high schools were established.
The 1961 Program of Study for Secondary Schools (named the "Robarts
Plan") reorganized secondary education into three programs of equal
status: arts and sciences; business and commerce; science, technology, and
trades. Students were streamed into one of three options: a five-year
program leading to university; a four-year program leading to entry into
employment at the end of Grade 12, or to the new system of colleges of
Applied Arts and Technology; and a two-year program designed for direct
employment after age 16.
Robarts's successor as Minister of Education, William Davis, replaced
the Robarts Plan with Circular H.S.1: Recommendations and Information
for Secondary School Organization Leading to Certificates and Diplomas
1969-70. It organized programs into four areas of study:
communications, social sciences, pure and applied sciences, and arts, and
gave students a wide choice of subjects.
The circular also introduced the system under which students are awarded
a credit for each subject completed in a school year, allowing them to
advance in that subject to the next year; any subjects failed must be
repeated. This means that students are promoted in subjects, not grades. A
certain number of credits had to be earned in order to attain a Grade 12
diploma, and an additional six credits for the Honours Graduation Grade 13
Diploma. In place of two-, four-, and five-year streams, subjects were
organized at four levels of difficulty: advanced, general, basic, and
A scant four years later, Secondary School Diploma Requirements
H.S.1 1974-75 stipulated that there would be more compulsory credits
(nine) and fewer student choices.
A paper by several researchers, looking back at Ontario education in the
mid-1970s, points out that central control [had been] reasserted. The
age of expansion was over. Issues of declining enrolment, reduction in the
funding available for education, and an oversupply of teachers led to a
mood of pessimism.(12)
That pessimism brought with it renewed criticism of secondary education
and, in response, in April 1980 Minister of Education Bette Stephenson
established the Secondary Education Review Project (SERP).
Based on the SERP report and on reaction to a Ministry response, The
Renewal of Secondary Education (ROSE), in 1982 the Ministry released
Ontario Schools: Intermediate and Senior Divisions (OSIS), to be
implemented in 1984. It emphasized the need to improve the transition
between elementary and secondary schools, and to encourage students to
stay in school. It suggested that courses be offered at three (instead of
four) levels of difficulty - basic, general, and advanced - and that they
be designed specifically to meet the needs of students in basic and
general classes, rather than offering watered-down versions of
In the mid-1980s Premier David Peterson was concerned about what he
considered an unacceptably high drop-out rate for Ontario students. He
commissioned George Radwanski, then an editor of the Toronto Star,
to review the problem. Radwanski's report, the Ontario Study of the
Relevance of Education, and the Issue of Dropouts, published in 1987,
concluded that the education system had become irrelevant in an economy
where the emphasis was shifting from manufacturing to services; moreover,
many students were uninterested in what they were being taught at school,
and they lacked appropriate skills and knowledge.(13)
He developed a series of recommendations designed to increase the
percentage of students completing high school: early childhood education;
province-wide standardized testing to identify learning needs; a shift to
outcomes-based education; "destreaming" of high schools; and the
abolition of the credit system in favour of a common core curriculum.
Though several of Radwanski's key recommmendations were not implemented,
the following changes have taken place since his report was released:
- Destreaming, under which all students are taught together rather than
being separated according to their abilities, is now being implemented
in Grade 9.
- The Ministry's Common Curriculum, Grades 1-9 (1993),
initiated a province-wide discussion on outcomes-based education - in
which the focus is on what is actually learned. The curriculum is built
around four areas - language; the arts; maths, science, and technology;
and the self and society.
- A number of tests are being administered at provincial and national
If the mid-1960s had been a time of new and challenging ideas, the
mid-1970s were years of caution and retrenchment: in the wake of financial
constraints imposed by the provincial government, school boards were
forced to make difficult decisions about closing schools and laying off
Most school boards were facing the effects of the declining enrolments
that resulted from the declining birth rate after the "baby boom."(14)
In 1978, in The Final Report of the Commission on Declining School
Enrolments in Ontario, Robert Jackson made clear how substantial the
decline and its probable consequences would be on school organization,
staffing, and funding. However, by the time the number of students in
secondary schools began to drop, enrolment began to stabilize at the
elementary level. Student numbers have remained stable for the last
several years and are now projected to increase slightly over the next
Major legislation in the 1980s
Bill 82 and special education
In 1980, Bill 82, which made school boards responsible for providing
programs and services for students in need of special education, had a
tremendous impact on schools. Many children who had previously been cared
for or educated in other institutions or who had never gone to school,
entered the school system. Many teachers had to develop new skills to deal
with the needs of children they had not encountered previously. And many
trustees, as well as school and board administrators, had to make
provisions for large numbers of students whose educational needs they had
not heretofore been required to meet.
A significant number of health and psycho-social service professionals
became part of the school system. To some extent, the system also had to
adjust to a much higher level of advocacy by parents and groups
representing students with special needs.
Bill 30 and extension of funding of Roman Catholic secondary schools
In 1984, Premier Davis announced his government's intention to publicly
fund Roman Catholic separate schools beyond Grade 10 to graduation level;
two years later the legislation, Bill 30, was passed in the Legislature
with the support of all three parties.
In 1984, Mr. Davis also announced that commissions were being
established to report on implementation of the extended funding and on
funding issues in general, as well as on the specific question of funding
for private schools.
Bill 75 and French-language governance
In 1986, Bill 75 introduced legislation under which the Franco-Ontarian
community was given responsibility for French-language education, although
with limited decision-making powers. The French-language sections within
existing school boards, with trustees specifically elected to them, have
some measure of independence from both the anglophone public and the
anglophone Roman Catholic sections. In 1991, the report of the French
Language Education Governance Advisory Group (also known as the Cousineau
report) recommended criteria under which several French-language
governance structures, including French-language school boards, would give
the province's francophones full control of their own system. This report
has not yet been implemented.
In 1985, one of the commissions established by Premier Davis, and headed
by H. Ian Macdonald, issued The Report of the Commission on the
Financing of Elementary and Secondary Education. It examined the
adequacy and distribution of school funding, both provincial and local, as
well as such issues as fiscal accountability, and alternative methods of
financing to overcome existing disparities and inequities. Its 54
recommendations were built on three principles: education is primarily a
provincial responsibility; the quality of education should be maintained
or enhanced; and the province should strive towards the goal of equal
educational opportunity for all.
The commission recommended the sharing of commercial and industrial
taxes by public and Roman Catholic boards in the same geographic area,
further consolidation of public school boards, the creation of
co-operative service units (e.g., shared busing or payroll systems), a
review of programs and funding, and a system of province-wide collective
bargaining for teachers.
While the recommendation that commercial and industrial taxes be shared
is being implemented, certain issues (consolidation of school boards in
some regions, for example) continue to be contentious. Other measures -
including the idea of sharing busing, administrative purchasing, computer
use, audio-visual resources, athletic facilities, and professional
development activities - are being carried out by some boards and being
investigated by others. The question of province-wide bargaining for
teachers has not been pursued at all.(15)
Between 1988 and 1990, the Select Committee on Education, an all-party
group of members of the Legislature, prepared four reports, all of which
attempted to grapple with a range of issues relating to education and
broader social needs, reflecting concerns about such issues as race,
language, family violence, and child abuse.(16)
The Committee also called for reforms to educational funding policies to
make them simpler and more effective, and for smaller class sizes. In
1988, the Ministry stipulated that Grade 1 and 2 classes must not exceed
20 students, with the downsizing to be phased in over several years. The
Ministry also established the Education-Finance Reform Project, to
The Select Committee also considered issues related to early childhood
education, including junior and senior kindergarten, the drop-out rate,
and destreaming, and urged improvement of inter-ministerial co-ordination
of policies and programs dealing with children. It also suggested that the
Ministry work with faculties of education to restructure and enhance
teacher training in regard to young children.
Two reports dealing with the apparent connection between education and
the consequences of today's globalized economy were published by the
Premier's Council, which includes representatives from business, labour,
education, and community organizations. Competing in the New Global
Economy (1988) and People and Skills in the New Global Economy
(1990) consider Ontario's place in the world market, and attempt to
analyze the policies needed to protect the province's relative prosperity.
Like other similar documents, these take for granted a cause-and-effect
relation between schooling and prosperity that, as we'll soon see, is
asserted rather than demonstrated.
As well, a committee of the Premier's Council on Health, Well-Being, and
Social Justice published a report, Yours, Mine, and Ours (1994) on
children, including education issues as they relate to larger questions of
children's healthy development and growth.
Public funding to private schools
The issue of extending public funding to private schools continues to be
raised in the courts and hotly debated among groups and in the media.
Although the Report of the Commission on Private Schools in Ontario(17)
(the Shapiro Commission) recommended in 1985 that religious schools be
allowed to apply for "associate" status with local school
boards, the recommendation has not been adopted. Court challenges to
current funding arrangements have been unsuccessful, most recently in an
Ontario court decision handed down in July 1994.(18)
Anti-racism and ethno-cultural equity initiatives
In 1993, Bill 21 amended the Education Act to give the Minister power to
have school boards develop anti-racism and ethno-cultural equity plans,
which would require Ministerial approval, and then to implement those
plans. In addition, the Ministry began to implement some of the
education-related elements of Stephen Lewis's Report on Race Relations,
including his recommendation that an assistant deputy minister for
Anti-Racism, Equity, and Access be appointed.
The significance of recent policy changes
In order to place educational reform in its proper context, we need to
look, however briefly, at the changes to educational policy in Ontario,
particularly over the past eight to ten years. During that time, various
governments have, among them, created a plethora of task forces and
inquiries (some already mentioned), which recommended, among other
changes, reducing class size in early grades, restructuring schooling to
accommodate review and consultation at all levels, destreaming,
implementation of anti-violence and anti-racist policies, and employment
and pay equity. Recently, the Ministry of Education and Training (MET)
identified four fundamental elements for setting policy: equity,
excellence, accountability, and partnership.
Over the years, some recommendations have been transformed into policy,
but these initiatives have not always been either consistent or carried
into practice. As a result, they have often been perceived as somewhat
random or unrelated, rather than as parts of a rational vision of what
education should be. Many educators who spoke to the Commission said that
policies are perceived as a patchwork rather than as a coherent framework
for educating students.
The changes, combined with funding cuts, have created what some believe
is a "war zone" between MET and many school boards. This is
complicated by a sense that non-educators in government have taken the
lead in making policy. School board trustees and administrators often feel
that politicians and bureaucrats with little professional expertise have
undue influence in this field, and the result has been a loss of
confidence in the Ministry.
Reflecting on change
What began as an educational system for a privileged few has, over the
years, become a system for the many - although there is clear evidence
that those who enter it from privileged backgrounds still benefit most.
Because schools matter so greatly in shaping the destiny of each child,
they have always been the focus of intense, often unfriendly, attention.
Criticisms of the system have always been abundant, and the targets of
dissatisfaction have remained virtually the same over generations.
But the content of complaints has varied substantially, often depending
on the mood of the moment: it was different in the self-satisfied 1950s
compared with the rambunctious 1960s or the anxious 1990s. As well, there
have been changing notions about child development, the nature of teaching
and learning, as well as changes in political trends, fiscal priorities,
student enrolments, teacher supply, and other issues. As a result, a core
curriculum shifts to a system of streaming, with many options and, in
time, goes back to destreaming and what is now called a common curriculum.
Over time, teaching strategies also change: as the benefits of
individualized attention are better understood, the emphasis shifts from
rigid lesson plans to co-operative, small-group learning and other
In this atmosphere, it is often difficult to distinguish between the
latest fads, caprices, and political game-playing, and the reforms that
are based on a thoughtful understanding of the most successful means to
turn our students into literate citizens predisposed to remaining lifelong
learners. It is a trap we hope this report has been able to avoid.
Our examination of historical trends and recent educational policy
discussions and initiatives makes clear that some issues keep coming up in
different forms in different eras, and are never fully resolved. Issues of
the purposes of education and how secondary schooling should be organized
are as current today as they were three generations ago. Other issues,
however, are new, or at least becoming increasingly important; among them
are the broader social needs of students, and recognition that equity
issues have to be addressed in a much more substantive way.
They reflect the fact that Ontario's education system exists in a
society that has, itself, undergone enormous change, particularly in the
last 15 years, and that those changes have an impact on education. In
Ontario, poverty, identified as a crucial factor in learning, has
increased; immigration from the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, and the Middle
East has brought larger populations of visible minorities to urban centres
unprepared to deal with change; family structures have shifted
dramatically, as has their role. Even a brief review shows how extensive
the shifts have been in our society.
Ontario: Picture of the province
Today, as people struggle to comprehend and adapt to our post-modern
age, with its focus on information as an economic resource, lifelong
learning has become essential. Therefore, Ontario's education system must
expand its reach to encompass toddlers as well as older adults. Most
important, it must resolve fundamental questions about the roles that,
realistically, it can play and the responsibilities it can hope to assume
in today's complex, demanding social and economic climate.
All of this must be achieved in a province of astonishing contrasts. It
holds more than a third of Canada's population, and its mix of populations
mirrors the country's history and development. The province's ten million
people live in Canada's major metropolis and in some of its biggest
cities, as well as in thousands of small villages and towns; in its
northern reaches, tiny communities are surrounded by hundreds of thousands
of hectares of unpopulated wilderness. The result is a province of
enormous variety, geographically, climatically, historically, culturally,
Today's Ontario has little in common with the province that existed even
three decades ago. In the past 20 years, immigrants from Asia, Latin
America, and Africa have outnumbered those from traditional European
sources. The manufacturing sector that was once the wellspring of
Ontario's prosperity is declining, and service industries are expanding.
Not only is everything changing, the pace of change is, itself,
increasing. And there, squarely at the centre of change, stands the school
system. There are several especially significant shifts that affect our
schools. What follows is a short description of some of those factors.
Ontario's changing economy
The facts speak for themselves: between February 1990 and February 1991,
approximately 260,000 jobs were lost in Ontario, many in the manufacturing
sector. In that time, in the Greater Toronto Area alone, almost 10 percent
of the employment base disappeared, more than three times the rate for
Canada as a whole.(19) (However, in October 1994,
the GTA recorded a growth in job creation for the first time since 1989.)
Many smaller centres were particularly hard hit when the one or two
companies on which they depended most heavily downsized, closed, or moved
In 1992, more than 10 percent of Ontario's adult population was
receiving unemployment insurance or social assistance.(20)
And there has been a disturbing decline in the economic well-being of
families headed by people under the age of 35: their median income - the
point at which half the population has a higher, and half a lower, income
- has dropped 5 percent. For the first time in our collective memory,
families no longer anticipate that their children will be better off than
they are, and stories of the educated unemployed haunt both parents and
Social programs, of which public education is but one, frequently become
targets for retrenchment when tax revenues fall and the costs of the
social safety net escalate. Often, in these circumstances, the funding of
one social program takes place at the expense of another.
Of all the economic problems that affect the school system, none has a
greater impact than poverty - and there is ample evidence that, in recent
years, more and more school-aged Canadian and Ontario children have become
In Ontario, the reality of poverty continues to cast dark shadows on
many families. In 1992:
- 1,400,000 Ontario residents, 14 percent of the population, lived on
- Of that percentage, almost a million were members of the province's
308,802 low-income families (the rest were single);
- These families accounted for more than 11 percent of all families in
- 41 percent of low-income families were headed by sole-support
parents, almost all of whom - 92 percent - were women;
- Of children under 18 living with their families, 16.2 percent lived
in low-income families;
- More than half the children living in female-led, sole-support
households were in low-income families, compared with only 10.2 percent
of those living with both parents.(21)
Poverty has an impact on student achievement: according to a report of
the Canadian Institute of Child Health, "Poor children are almost
three times more likely to drop out of school early than non-poor youth."(22)
Statistics for 1991 indicate that 13 percent of poor 16- and 17-year-olds
dropped out of school, compared with 5 percent of children who were not
poor. "Poverty," education professor Benjamin Levin points out, "is
the enemy of education."(23)
The essence of poverty is that it is a vicious circle: poor children are
more likely to be of low birth weight; low birth-weight children are more
likely to have physical and developmental problems; children with physical
and developmental problems are more likely to have difficulties in school;
even when there are no such problems, many poor families are so
overwhelmed with the miseries that come from being poor they cannot
provide a home environment that supports school learning; children who do
poorly in school are more likely to have employment problems.
Another vicious circle: when jobs are scarce, tax revenues decline. If
parents are either dependent on social welfare or are working but poor,
children become more needy. This puts added pressure on financially
squeezed schools to provide physical, social, and emotional support for
children who need help - at a time when the taxes that support schools are
Are education and economic prosperity connected?
The link between the economy and the education system is problematic.
Anxiety about an uncertain economy often translates into calls for schools
to "do more," on the premise that a strong educational system is
vital to the future.
There are two points of view: the first, and currently most dominant, is
that education drives the economy - that our economic well-being is
dependent on a well-educated workforce able to compete in the "new
The other view rests on a different assumption: that economic health is
not primarily dependent on the skills and knowledge of the workforce, but
economic health does help create educational opportunities.(25)
Given these different points of departure, different economic futures
are offered. According to the Conference Board of Canada's Employability
Skills Index, most future jobs will require the kinds of high-level skills
and knowledge that were once necessary only for a few, high-end positions.
But others see a "pear-shaped" economy in which the mass of jobs
are in the low-level part of the service sector ("McJobs"), or
in which many people will simply be unemployed.(26)
What is clear is that the service sector in Ontario has grown: it
accounted for 65 percent of workers in 1981 and 72 percent in 1991,(27)
with much of the increase in part-time work.(28)
Current Canadian research suggests that the greatest potential for
growth is, paradoxically, both in well-paying professional occupations
requiring relatively few people with high levels of education and in
poorly paying service occupations requiring low levels of education and
employing large numbers of people.(29)
What are the implications for the education system of these figures and
forecasts? Some researchers and policy analysts (Henry Levin in the United
States, for example)(30) suggest that unless a
person has considerable education - at least at the university graduate
level with some post-graduate work schooling is not related to increased
income. Already, the growing number of people who have degrees has begun
to devalue university credentials as a step to employment. Clearly, the
educational system does not cause economic crises, and it cannot cure
On the basis of research and policy analysis, we have concluded that
predictions about educational ties to the economic future are uncertain at
best; it is difficult, if not impossible, to be sure which jobs will be
available and which specific skills will be required. Although it seems
reasonable to suggest that an increasing number of positions will require
high-level technical and scientific training, it is entirely possible that
the number of such jobs created by these new positions will be small.
Henry Levin's review of American research concludes that overall
educational requirements in the year 2000 are likely to be quite similar
to those today.(31) But his is not the dominant
voice being heard in either the U.S. or Canada. Although no-one can
demonstrate how it would work in practice, many insist that school reform
must be based on the needs of the economy whatever those turn out to be in
a future that seems even harder to predict than usual.
Before society can decide how to shape its schools, it needs to know
who, exactly, will be in them; educational policies, after all, have to be
built around people. Because most students are between 5 and 18 years of
age (and, therefore, most probably living in families), it is important,
as well, to consider the student, not in isolation, but in the family
context. A key question for today's policy makers is: In what ways have
'90s families changed from those of the 1960s and '70s?
The majority (83 percent) of children in Ontario are being raised in
two-parent families, but that number includes blended or recombined
families. The "norm" may now be two working parents, or it could
be a single-parent or other kinds of family arrangements that result from
the greater number of divorces and remarriages in our society. We are only
starting to understand the impact on schools of this shift in family
structures and roles.(32)
In addition to the fact that families are smaller and more likely to
have come from other countries and other cultures, one of the most
significant changes in the lives of people, whether Canadian-born or
immigrant, is that more children today live in two-income families. Twenty
years ago, only 30 percent of families with children under 19 years had
two wage earners. By 1991, the number of dual-earner families had
increased to 70 percent.
Just as the school year, with its long summer vacation, was shaped to
Canada's agrarian economy, the school day was set up on the basis that a
parent, almost always the mother, would be available as a full-time
caregiver before and after school and, of course, during school holidays.
The need of today's working parents for high-quality care is creating
pressures for schools to expand their role, either directly or in
partnership with community groups.
Many child advocates, mental health professionals, and educators observe
that an unprecedented number of children have problems in their home
lives, which makes coping at school more difficult.(33)
Because the most accurate predictor of future school needs is the number
of babies born each year, the fact that we have gone from a "baby
boom" to "baby bust" has had a considerable impact on our
education system. The total fertility rate (the number of children a woman
would have during her lifetime if she were to follow contemporary
fertility patterns) dropped from 3.9 children in 1960 to a low of 1.65 in
1987 (although figures show that there has been a slight increase since,
to 1.8 in 1990).
One reason for the decrease is that in the 1990s, Canadian women tend to
wait longer to start their families: in 1961, the average age for a
first-time mother was 23.5 years; in 1990 it was 26.4 years.(34)
Immigration is the second important factor affecting school enrolment:
in 1991, 55 percent of Canadian immigrants (118,693 people) settled in
Ontario. Of these, 72 percent settled in the Greater Toronto Area.(35)
Immigration patterns have significantly changed the nature of the
student population, especially in Toronto, the Ottawa-Carleton region, and
generally in urban southern Ontario.
In 1972, nearly half of Ontario's immigrants came from Europe. However,
by 1992, nearly 80 percent came from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. By
1991, almost 25 percent of Ontario's population, and almost 40 percent of
those living in Metropolitan Toronto, were born outside Canada. (In the
rest of the country, 16 percent of the population is foreign-born.)(36)
There is a very different demographic pattern for aboriginal peoples
living in Ontario, which has the greatest number of Native Canadians of
any province or territory. In 1991, 12 percent were in the under-4 age
group, compared with some 5.6 percent of Ontario's non-Native population.
According to the 1991 Census of Canada, the aboriginal population of
Ontario was 244,000.
The 128 First Nations and Bands profiled in the report Akwesasne to
Wunnumin Lake have about 53 percent of the province's total aboriginal
population, and 98 percent of the population living on reserves or on
Crown land (as defined by the 1989 Indian Register); the majority of these
have fewer than 500 residents.(37)
Statistics Canada estimates that in 1992, Ontario's population included
1,297,605 members of visible minority groups (13 percent of the provincial
population).(38) This accounts for more than half
of all those people in Canada who are members of visible minorities, and
it is both the highest percentage and largest number of any jurisdiction
in the country. The population of visible minorities is highest in
Toronto, accounting for a quarter of the people in Metropolitan Toronto
and for more than three-quarters of all members of visible minorities in
Roman Catholic and francophone families
There are two other significant demographic groups that have an impact
on the way schooling is organized: those Ontarians who identify themselves
as Roman Catholics and/or francophones.
Approximately 5 percent of the people in this province identify
themselves as francophone, and 5 percent of Ontario students are enrolled
in French-language schools. Of these, four out of five are in Roman
Catholic French schools; the rest are in public French schools. Some
increase in the enrolment in French-language schools may reflect a growth
in the number of parents who are exercising their constitutional right to
have children educated in French at both elementary and secondary levels.
Because the Charter extends the right to French-language education only to
Canadian citizens, French-speaking immigrants and refugees who wish to
educate their children in the French system must make application to
admissions committees established under the Education Act.
Of the approximately 500,000 francophones in Ontario:
- two of three (66 percent) were born in Ontario (the same percentage
- one of four (25 percent) were born in Quebec, and five percent were
born in another province (10 percent of anglophones were born in another
- 4 percent of francophones were born outside the country (25 percent
of Ontario's population was born outside Canada).
Approximately 30 percent of people in Ontario identify themselves as
Roman Catholic, a substantial increase in the past 10 or 15 years, due
largely to immigration, initially from Mediterranean countries and, more
recently, from Latin America and the Philippines; however, Roman Catholic
immigration appears to have peaked, with more recent immigrants arriving
from countries where other religions are more common.
Values and knowledge
One of the hallmarks of our post-industrial society is a fraying of any
consensus about moral values, as well as about the relationship between
values and education. In the last Canadian census, for example, the
proportion of people who identified themselves as having no religious
affiliation was 12.4 percent, a rise of more than five points since 1981.(40)
As a result of our changing demographics and our decreased attachment to
traditional social institutions, governments can no longer make
assumptions about people's views on issues that, in the past, might have
been expected to yield a measure of consensus.
Minority and marginalized groups are no longer willing to sit silently
on society's lower rungs. Voices once missing or unheard now are being
listened to - women, students, youth, people with disabilities, those with
different sexual orientations, as well as minority religious, linguistic,
racial, ethnic, and cultural groups.
The change in social attitudes and values has its parallel in swiftly
evolving technology and communications. At a time when "the
information superhighway" has become society's newest cliche, it may
be useful to remember that only ten years ago, the microcomputer was a
primitive and costly toy for a limited number of hobbyists. The speed of
change since then is, itself, a cause of increased unease about the
future, particularly on the part of young people and their families. Our
society is seen by some as having lost its sense of certainty amid
increasing doubts about the possibility of absolute values and universal
truths. A great deal of "knowledge" is now treated, from a
post-modern perspective, as uncertain, tentative, and changeable, rather
than as definite, given, and permanent.(41)
Indeed, the very quantity of new information - the frequently
referred-to knowledge explosion - is itself bewildering and destabilizing.
We were told by the Ontario Library Association that every issue of the
Sunday New York Times contains more information than was available to
Shakespeare in his lifetime, and although it's not entirely clear who
actually did the tallying, scale is the issue. When the amount of new
information doubles every 20 minutes, or two years, or whatever, the
criteria for being a literate or knowledgeable citizen are not
self-evident. Nor, for that matter, is it easy to decide which few bits of
this bottomless pit of information our children should have learned by the
time they finish high school.
Educational statistics for Ontario
More than two million students (2,015,468), approximately 40 percent of
Canada's total school population, were enrolled in elementary and
secondary schools in Ontario in 1992-93.(42)
The elementary and secondary system encompasses both public secular and
Roman Catholic school boards. As well, there is a parallel French-language
education segment (both public and Roman Catholic). As of July 1, 1994,
the number of public, separate, and French-language school boards is as
follows: English-speaking public, 106; English-speaking Roman Catholic,
58; French-speaking public, 2; French-speaking Roman Catholic, 2.
Ontario's students are accommodated in more than five thousand schools,
3,958 elementary and 796 secondary, as well as in 397 education programs
in care or correctional facilities and in nine schools operated by the
Ministry of Education and Training. They are taught by 119,706 full-time
teachers. The total cost of education is currently $14.542 billion, of
which 77 percent is for salaries and benefits.
Of the more than two million students, 65 percent are in elementary
school (from junior kindergarten to Grade 8), while 35 percent are
enrolled in secondary schools (Grades 9 to 12/OAC). About 8 percent of the
province's students are classified as in need of special education.
In 1992-93, there were 98,423 adult students in day schools, of whom
50,104 were between the ages of 19 and 21, while the rest were older. The
province's adult education sector is expanding: the number of adult
students (aged 19 or more) enrolled in day school has increased
dramatically in the last decade. In 1980-81, there were 19,360 such
learners; in 1991-92, the number was 85,706. In addition to adults
returning to secondary school programs in 1992- 93, approximately 105,000
Ontarians were enrolled in the Independent Learning Centre
(correspondence) courses, 16,000 in adult literacy programs, and another
19,000 in the Ontario Basic Skills programs.
Continuing education courses are an important dimension of the publicly
funded system, serving a student population that includes many adults. In
1992-3, for instance, there were approximately one million enrolments in
these courses, most of which are given in the evening or during the
As shown in Figure 1, the majority (69 percent) of Ontario students are
enrolled in public English-language schools, while 26 percent are in Roman
Catholic English schools. As previously noted, the remaining 5 percent are
in French-language schools - 4 percent in Roman Catholic schools, and 1
percent in public French schools. Most French-language schools are
currently governed by three or more trustees who form a French-language
section within the larger boards. In most cases, these trustees are in the
minority, but in eight Roman Catholic boards they form the majority. In
nine boards with very low numbers of French-language students,
French-language advisory committees still advise English-language board
members on French-language programs for their students.
Table 1 shows the changes in enrolment in both Catholic and public
secondary schools between 1985 and 1992 (the public funding of Roman
Catholic schools beyond Grade 10 having begun in 1985).
1: Enrolment in Public and Roman Catholic (English and French) Secondary
Schools in Ontario, 1985-92
|Public Secondary Enrolment
||Total Number of Students
In the mid- to late-1980s, after a rather long period of declining
enrolment, the number of students in Ontario's school system began to
increase slowly. Now that the constitutional right of Franco-Ontarians to
education in the French language has been recognized, there has been a
marginal increase in the number of students in the Franco-Ontarian schools
to 97,677 (see Table 2). In its analysis of demographic trends, the
Ministry expects small increases in total enrolment to continue in
elementary and secondary education.
Table 2: Enrolment in
French-language Units, 1980-81 to 1992-93
In addition to those in the publicly funded system, 3.4 percent(43)
of Ontario's students were enrolled in independent schools, compared with
4.8 percent of all Canadian students in such schools.(44)
Ontario has 119,706 full-time teachers, including educators not filling
classroom teaching positions. Seven percent of these educators are
principals or vice-principals; another 7 percent are unit heads; and 7
percent are guidance teachers or school librarians. In addition to the
certificated teachers, approximately 50,000 other people support school
programs; this includes psychologists, social workers, teaching
assistants, bus drivers, secretaries, bookkeepers, and custodial staff.
Table 3 shows the distribution in 1992 of full-time teachers in Ontario.
Table 3: Full-time Teachers in
(includes English language and French language)
|Number of Teachers
|Public School Boards
|R.C. School Boards
Our teachers are, in the main, middle-aged (hardly surprising in a
population that is itself greying); in fact, in 1992-93, about half the
full-time teachers in Ontario had more than 16 years' teaching experience.
However, that trend may have been modified recently by offers of
attractive early-retirement packages; eligibility for such programs is
usually based on a combination of age and years of experience.
Working on the assumption that today's teachers make retirement
decisions similar to those made by their colleagues in the recent past,
the Teachers' Pension Plan Board projects that approximately 16,000
teachers (about 13 percent of the teaching force) will retire over the
next five years. This could change, of course, if such factors as
retirement eligibility rules were altered.
The majority (74 percent) of elementary teachers (Grades JK to 8) are
female. Current projections, based on the high percentage of women now
entering the elementary teaching (especially for kindergarten to Grade 6
levels)(45) suggest that the existing ratio of
women to men is unlikely to change substantially in the next decade. In
spite of efforts to encourage more men to enter elementary school
teaching, their presence is declining. In secondary schools, women now
make up 42 percent of the teaching force, compared with only 30 percent a
National data on teachers aged 30 and younger and on current enrolment
in faculties of education(46) show a continuing
increase in the proportion of women in both elementary and secondary
programs. There is still a vast gap between the presence of women in
teaching and in education's managerial ranks: the majority (68.9 percent)
of principals and vice-principals are male. Hoping to change that
situation, the Ministry in 1989 set a management positions target of 50
percent female by the year 2000.(47)
Although gender-related data are available, there is no consistent
information of the proportion of teachers from minority ethnic, racial, or
disabled groups. While such information is gathered by several individual
school boards, it does not yet exist province-wide. Based on reported
data, however, it is almost certain that disabled and minority persons are
not represented among teachers and administrators according to their
proportion in our larger society.
Some indicators of how we are doing
There are any number of ways in which to measure and describe school
systems. These include the percentage of students who graduate; student
performance on provincial, national, and international tests;
participation rates (i.e., mean years of schooling) as compared with that
in other countries; parent, student, and community "satisfaction";
the education level of teachers; comparative curricula; physical
resources; educational and financial equity; and other factors.
While parents have some reservations about the governance of schools and
about this country's ability to compete globally, they are generally
satisfied with the education their children are receiving. According to
surveys carried out by the polling company Environics in 1993, parent
satisfaction in Ontario and in the rest of Canada increased from
approximately 7 out of 10 (in 1990) to approximately 8 out of 10 (in
However, when the Ninth OISE Survey 1992(49)
asked parents what they thought about the overall quality of education in
the past 10 years, 30 percent (an increase of 1 percent over 1990) said it
had improved at the elementary level but, significantly, 42 percent
thought it had deteriorated.
People tend to have slightly more favourable perceptions about
elementary school education than about secondary education. Parents and
the general public appeared to be satisfied with methods of teaching
reading, writing, and arithmetic. In 1993, Environics found slightly more
than four in ten Ontarians were "somewhat satisfied" and almost
three in ten were "very satisfied" with the way students were
being taught those basic skills.
According to the Organization for Economic and Co-operative Development
(OECD) report, Education in OECD Countries,(50)
in 1989-90, Canada had the highest percentage of 16-year-olds still in
school (the mean level of education for Canadians is 12.3 years).
Furthermore, Canada has a greater percentage of its population in higher
education than any country other than the United States.
The OECD reported that more women than men were enrolled in universities
in Canada in 1989-90, a figure supported by Education in Canada,
published by Statistics Canada, which reported that 53 percent of
undergraduates enrolled in Canadian universities in 1991-92 were women.(51)
Keith Newton(52) reported in 1992 that Canadian
students are more likely to go on to post-secondary studies (45 to 50
percent) than young people in most other countries. Just over 13 percent
of Ontarians hold university degrees, a higher percentage than in any
other jurisdiction in Canada.(53)
In 1990-91, 77 percent of Ontario's 18-year-olds graduated from
secondary school. However, these figures may still overestimate the
drop-out rate, since they do not take into account difficulties in
tracking students who transfer from board to board (and province to
province), enrol at different times of the year, or re-enrol after a
period of absence.(54)
Jerry Paquette of the University of Western Ontario argues that Canada
fails in educational fairness because children of low socio-economic
status are less likely than others to succeed in courses and programs that
may lead to employment in today's difficult labour market.(55)
There is no meaningful assessment of whether educational policies deal
fairly with children of different racial and ethno-cultural backgrounds:
only a few school boards systematically gather data on program
participation by various groups; students' results are infrequently
categorized by race or ethno-cultural origins. We have Toronto data,
however, to indicate that some ethnic groups are not thriving in the
system. It's too early to judge if certain policies - including employment
equity and destreaming are correcting inequities.
Testing and assessment
An Environics 1993 survey found that 7 out of 10 Canadians want
nation-wide testing, although roughly half of all those questioned feel
that such tests are unfair to children from non-Canadian backgrounds.
According to The Ninth OISE Survey, 59 percent of people in
Ontario in 1990 and 73 percent in 1992 believe that province-wide tests
should be used to assess individual performance; the percentages were
higher in relation to secondary school students.
Among Canadian jurisdictions, Ontario was noted, until recently, for
placing less emphasis on province-wide assessments of student learning.
While other provinces, particularly in the Canadian west, used Grade 12
subject examinations and other standardized assessments, Ontario relied
almost completely on individual teacher assessments.
Under a policy instituted by the Ministry and begun in the 1993-94
school year, every student is now tested in Grade 9 for reading and
writing; results in the reviews and the tests are reported in terms of
percentages of students reaching certain levels, defined as "inadequate,"
"satisfactory," or "superior."
There seems to be no clear understanding yet, particularly by the media
or the public, of the way these standards should be interpreted and
judged. For instance, when the results of the Grade 9 reading and writing
tests were announced on June 30, 1994, readers of the Globe and Mail
discovered that "Ontario students fail to shine," while those of
the Toronto Star learned that "Students make the grade."
In the absence of systematic and long-term provincial data, many people
look to national and international achievement tests as a key indicator of
how well the school system works. Most such tests focus on mathematics and
science, primarily because these are easier than other subjects to assess
across different cultures and languages. While it may disappoint those
searching for clear-cut performance indicators, even these data are not as
easily interpreted as many believe. For instance, in its 1992 report, A
Lot to Learn: Education and Training in Canada(56)
the now-defunct Economic Council of Canada claimed that international test
results showed Canada's educational system in serious trouble. Many
educational researchers disagree with this interpretation. Philip Nagy, of
the Department of Measurement and Evaluation of the Ontario Institute for
Studies in Education,(57) disputes many of the
Council's claims, and gives several reasons why what he calls "horse-race"
comparisons should be treated cautiously.
Costs of education
While the Royal Commission's primary mandate did not include financial
issues, they cannot be ignored, particularly as they relate to
accountability, excellence, and equity.
Any discussion of educational costs is controversial. For example, a
strong area of contention between many critics and defenders of the system
is Ontario's ranking in comparisons of educational costs. As is often the
case, the answer depends on how the figures are calculated.
According to the Ministry, total education expenditures for elementary
and secondary education totalled $14.542 billion in the 1992 calendar
year. As shown in Figure 2, a little more than 50 percent of that was
raised through municipal property taxes, while 43 percent was provincially
funded. The small remaining amount came from such other sources as fees
and federal payments.
Salaries and benefits are the largest educational expenditure in Ontario
(as they are in other jurisdictions), with salaries accounting for 77
percent of the total elementary and secondary budget. The other 23 percent
is divided among capital expenditures (7 percent), supplies (6 percent),
and student transportation (5 percent). The remaining 5 percent includes
contributions to the Teachers' Pension Fund. Figure 3 shows this
distribution of costs.
Although critics often suggest that Canada's educational system is too
costly, comparisons with other industrialized countries show that it is
neither the most nor the least expensive. While exact parallels are
difficult because of the variety of calculations used, Canada spent, in
total, 6.2 percent of its GDP on education in 1989,(58)
which is less than Denmark (7 percent), Norway (7.4 percent), and Sweden
(7.1 percent); the same as the Netherlands (6.2 percent); and more than
the United Kingdom (4.7 percent), the United States (5.4 percent), Japan
(4.7 percent, according to 1988 figures), and France (5.3 percent).
In 1989-90, among the ten provinces, Ontario had the highest level of
per-pupil expenditures in Canada.(59) Table 4 shows
the impact of our relative wealth in calculating various measures of
educational costs: although Ontario spent more per capita than other
provinces, education costs represented a lower proportion of GDP and of
personal income than in most other provinces.
Table 4: Total expenditures on
education, by province, in relation to gross domestic product (GDP) and
personal income (PI) and as dollars per capita, 1990(60)
Surveys of public attitudes, carried out in 1992, showed that 28 percent
of Ontarians favour increasing education expenditures at all levels, while
41 percent believe that, at the very least, funding should keep up with
inflation.(61) Asked specifically about elementary
and secondary education, 55 percent wanted to see more money spent, while
35 percent felt that expenditures should keep up with inflation. In the
1993 Environics survey, slightly more than half of all Canadians felt that
not enough was being spent on education, while three in ten felt that the
spending level was "just enough."
Over the last 30 years, teacher salaries have improved greatly. While
traditionally very meagre, they increased rapidly in Ontario in the 1970s
and '80s, and slowly thereafter. By 1990-91, teachers' salaries in Ontario
averaged $51,735, about 10 percent above the Canadian teacher average of
$46,810.(62) Ontario's 1993 social contract
legislation froze teachers' salaries (along with those of other public
service employees) and reduced funding; some school boards closed on days
for which employees were not paid.
Another significant factor in calculating education costs is the ratio
of pupils to teachers. While many would argue that having more teachers
teaching fewer students is highly desirable, it is also more expensive.
Because of uncertainty about the definition of a "teacher,"
Statistics Canada, rather than basing the figure on class size, now uses
the term "pupil-educator ratio" (PER): the ratio of full-time
pupils to all certified educators. (To be included, the "educator"
must have a teaching certificate. Thus any board-level employee with a
teaching certificate, including superintendents and consultants, would be
included in PER.)
Today, there are slightly fewer pupils per educator in Ontario than the
average for Canada as a whole. The ratio dropped from 18.3:1 in the 1980s
to today's 15.3:1, compared with the Canadian average of 15.7 pupils per
educator.(63) Most of the recent PER changes
resulted from the provincial government's decision to lower Grades 1 and 2
class sizes to a maximum of 20 pupils. Other factors include expansion of
special education programs and an increase in the number of administrators
and consultants serving school boards. Recent social contract and funding
cutbacks are changing this picture somewhat. Not only is the number of
administrators and consultants being reduced, but the phasing in of
class-size reductions in Grades 1 and 2 has also been slowed.
ESL/ESD: English-language schools
The cost of programs that teach English as a second language or English
skill development (ESL/ESD) affects educational expenditures; this is
especially true in Ontario, because of the high percentage of newcomers
who settle here, particularly in urban areas. The Carleton Board of
Education reports that 46 percent of immigrants intending to settle in the
Ottawa-Carleton region have no facility in either of Canada's official
languages.(64) In 1991, public and Roman Catholic
boards in Metro Toronto spent just over $70 million on ESL/ESD classes.
ALF/PDF: French-language schools
Programs equivalent to ESL/ESD - Actualisation linguistique en francais
(ALF) and Perfectionnement du francais (PDF) - are for those who have no
competence in French but are entitled, under the Charter of Rights, to
French-language education, or are admitted by admissions committees. These
programs are being offered for the first time in the 1994-95 school year.
A national and international context for educational reform
Major educational reform is in the air, not just in Ontario but across
the country and around the world. Clearly, the many powerful factors that
have coalesced to put educational change so high on Ontario's political
agenda - economic and technological change, employment uncertainty,
changing family structures - have had the same impact in every part of the
In the past few years, virtually all provinces have conducted major
reviews of elementary and secondary schooling, and such countries as
Britain and New Zealand, as well as many American states, have instituted
changes, some of them quite radical, in the operations and governance of
their educational systems.
Perhaps it is not surprising that the issues that have gained such
currency and created such divisiveness in Ontario have remarkably similar
parallels elsewhere. In many places, notably Alberta, the United States,
and England, there is increasing tension between the forces of
centralization at the national level and of decentralization favouring the
The trend towards decentralized governance in Edmonton has favoured "school-based"
or "school-site management" administration, which means less
control at the board or government level and more at the school level.
Even there, however, situations vary: in Edmonton, which was a pioneer in
school-based management, principals make decisions that elsewhere in
Canada are usually made by school boards. However, control of such broad
policy matters as budgets, province-wide testing, and curriculum remain in
the hands of the provincial government, while hiring, special services,
and budget allocations are the responsibility of a reduced number of
boards of education. Alberta Premier Klein's 1994 restructuring
initiatives centralized Ministry control, while creating the option of
In Dade County, Florida, the principal and teachers wield power
previously available only to senior board administrators. In Chicago,
England, New Zealand, and a few Australian states, parent or school
councils - some elected, some appointed - make decisions at the school
level. At the moment, parents in New Zealand, where there are no boards of
education or local education authorities, appear to exercise the strongest
and most direct control. However, it is important to note that these
reforms have been relatively recent, most having been put in place within
the last ten years, and the long-term effects on a range of educational
indicators has yet to be assessed. But it would be fair to say that, so
far, all of these initiatives have received distinctly mixed reviews.
In Canada in recent years, education policy-making has been most
concerned with excellence and equity. On the other hand, shrinking
education budgets and recessionary times have engendered a demand for
accountability in delivering educational services. Because of these
issues, combined with the anxiety of Canadians to stay competitive in
today's globalized information-age economy, a number of provinces have
commissioned studies on shaping education to deal with an uncertain
Both the New Brunswick Royal Commission on Education (1993) and the one
in Newfoundland (1990)(66) questioned the wisdom of
an "undiscriminating pursuit of training" when future employment
opportunities are largely unknown.
Across the country, demands for standardization are apparently meant to
ensure more readily measurable accountability. A number of provinces are
developing indicator systems, while the Council of Ministers of Education
of Canada (CMEC) is increasingly active in this area. The CMEC, for
instance, has developed a national School Achievement Indicators Program
(SAIP), to assess how well 13- and 16-year-old students across Canada
perform in mathematics, languages, and science.
The CMEC also plans to form study groups to examine the possibility of
harmonizing curricula across Canada, while the various regions have begun
curricula comparisons. The ministerial group has also initiated a project
to describe and research policy issues related to distance education and
open learning in Canada.
As reported by the CMEC,(67) the major provincial
initiatives for elementary and secondary education in 1994 appear to be
governance, accountability, student achievement and assessment measures,
professional development, technology, student services, restructuring,
curriculum, fiscal restraint, leadership and partnership, vocational and
technical education, educational equity, violence prevention, destreaming,
parental involvement, efficiency, Indian and Metis education, and charter
schools. This, by any criteria, is a remarkable list, reflecting the
intense focus on education across Canada. Indeed, it is hard to see which
areas are not being scrutinized. The most commonly cited initiatives are
governance, accountability, student achievement and assessment,
curriculum, and technical education. Violence-prevention measures were
mentioned only by Ontario.
Despite all the studies, all the changes, all the reports, at least some
of the items on each of those lists would be familiar to Bishop Strachan
and Egerton Ryerson. But the longevity of Ontario's education concerns is
not the issue: our ability to cope with the purposes and delivery of
education, in terms appropriate to our own time, is what matters.
Endnotes (Chapter 2)
- Rebecca Coulter, "An Introduction to
Aspects of the History of Public Schooling in Ontario, 1840-1990,"
p. 1. Background paper written for the Ontario Royal Commission on
- Examples of histories written by French-language
- Arthur Godbout, L'origine des ecoles francaises dans
l'Ontario (Ottawa: Editions de l'Universite d'Ottawa, 1977).
- Angeline Martel, Les droits scolaires des minorites de langue
officielle au Canada: De l'instruction a la gestion (Ottawa,
1991). Study commissioned by the Official Languages Commission.
- R. Mougeon and M. Heller, "The Social and Historical Context
of Minority French-language Schooling in Ontario," Journal
of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 7, no. 2 and 3
- Willard Brehaut, "Trends in the History of
Ontario Education," in Hugh Oliver, Mark Holmes, and Ian
Winchester, eds., The House That Ryerson Built (Toronto: OISE
Press, 1984), p. 9.
- A more complete account of the history of the
Roman Catholic school system is given in Chapter 14 of this report.
- Brehaut, "History of Ontario Education,"
- W.G. Fleming, Supporting Institutions and
Services, vol. 5 of Ontario's Educative Society (Toronto: University
of Toronto Press, 1971), p. 22.
- Coulter, "History of Public Schooling,"
- Brian Crittenden, "Slogans - Handle with
Care," in Means and Ends in Education: Comments on Living and
Learning, OISE Occasional Papers, no. 2 (Toronto: OISE Press, 1969),
- Douglas Myers, "From Hope to Hall-Dennis:
The Official Report as an Instrument of Education Reform," in
Crittenden, Means and Ends in Education, p. 13.
- Ontario, Department of Education, Curriculum
P1, J1: Interim Revision, Introduction and Guide (Toronto, 1967), p.
- Ontario, Ministry of Education, The
Formative Years (Toronto, 1975), p. 4.
- Andy Hargreaves and others, Context and
Summary, vol. 1 of Years of Transition: Times for Change
(Toronto: Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1993), p. 12.
- Ontario, Ministry of Education, Ontario
Study of the Relevance of Education, and the Issue of Dropouts
(Toronto, 1987). Prepared by George Radwanski.
- Ontario, Ministry of Finance, "Demographics
Presentation to the Ministry of Education and Training" (Toronto,
1993). This internal document cites sources from Ontario's Ministry of
Finance, Statistics Canada, and Employment and Immigration Canada.
- OISE, Department of Educational Administration,
"Innovative Practices in the Sharing of Administrative, Operational
and Transportation Services Between School Boards." Report prepared
by John Davis and Joyce Scane for the Ontario Ministry of Education and
- The reports are:
- First Report of the Select Committee on Education
(Toronto, 1988). Chairperson: Dianne Poole.
- Second Report of the Select Committee on Education:
Modifications to the School Day and the School Year (Toronto,
1989). Chairperson: Dianne Poole.
- Third Report of the Select Committee on Education: Education
Finance (Toronto, 1990). Chairperson: Dianne Poole.
- Fourth Report of the Select Committee on Education: Early
Childhood Education (Toronto, 1990). Chairperson: Sterling
- Ontario, Ministry of Education, Report of
the Commission on Private Schools in Ontario (Toronto, 1985).
Prepared by Bernard Shapiro.
- Adler v. Ontario (1994), 19 O.R. (3d) 1.
- Ontario, Ministry of Education, "Demographics
and Trends" (Toronto, 1992), unpaginated. Report prepared by the
Ministry's Policy Analysis and Research Branch. This report cites
provincial and federal sources.
- Ontario, Ministry of Education, "Demographics
- Statistics Canada, Survey of Consumer Finances,
unpublished data, 1992, based on 1986 "Low Income Cut-offs"
(LICOs). LICOs have been used by Statistics Canada for over twenty
years. Statistics Canada does not define these as poverty lines, though
they are often used this way by media and academia.
- Canadian Institute of Child Health, The
Health of Canada's Children: A CICH Profile, 2nd edition (Ottawa:
Canadian Institute of Child Health, 1994), p. 122.
- Benjamin Levin, "Education Looks at
Poverty: Conceptions and Misconceptions" (paper presented at the
conference Education and Community: The Collaborative Solution, OISE,
Toronto, March 1994), p. 1.
- Economic Council of Canada, A Lot to Learn:
Education and Training in Canada (Ottawa: Canada Communication
Group, 1992); and Prosperity Secretariat, Learning Well - Living
Well (Ottawa: Prosperity Secretariat, Correspondence Unit, 1991).
- Henry M. Levin, "Education and Jobs: A
Proactive View," in Education and Work, vol. 1, ed. D.
Corson and S. Lawton (Toronto: OISE Press, 1993).
- Jerry Paquette, "Major Trends in Recent
Educational Policy-making in Canada: Refocusing and Renewing in
Challenging Times," p. 2. Paper prepared for the Ontario Royal
Commission on Learning, 1993.
- Ontario, Ministry of Education, "Demographics
- Andy Hargreaves and Ivor Goodson, "Schools
of the Future: A Canadian Vision," p. 15. Paper prepared for
Department of Employment and Immigration, 1992.
- Noah M. Meltz, "The Changing Structure of
Employment in Canada: Future Labour Market Implications" (paper
prepared for the annual meeting of the National Consultation on Career
Development, Ottawa, January 1994), p. 5.
- Levin, "Education and Jobs."
- Levin, "Education and Jobs," p. 63.
- Vanier Institute of the Family, Profiling
Canada's Families (Ottawa: Vanier Institute of the Family, 1994).
All data on the family are from this source, unless otherwise noted.
- D. Offord, M. Boyle, and Y. Racine, Ontario
Child Health Study: Children at Risk (Toronto: Queen's Printer,
- Vanier Institute of the Family, Profiling
Canada's Families, p. 57.
- Ontario, Ministry of Finance, "Demographics
- Ontario, Ministry of Finance, "Demographics
- Ontario, Native Affairs Secretariat and
Ministry of Citizenship, Akwesasne to Wunnumin Lake: Profiles of
Aboriginal Communities in Ontario (Toronto, 1992).
- For the purposes of the Employment Equity Act,
Statistics Canada defined "visible minority" as including "Blacks,
Indo-Pakistanis, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, South East Asians,
Filipinos, other Pacific Islanders, West Asians and Arabs, Latin
Americans, and a multiple visible minority group for those who reported
multiple ethnic origins, one or more of which was recognized as having
visible minority status."
- 1991 census data, quoted in Association of
Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology, "Environmental Scan"
- Vanier Institute of the Family, Profiling
Canada's Families, p. 26.
- Hargreaves and Goodson, "Schools of the
- Unless otherwise noted, the statistics in this
section are taken from Ontario, Ministry of Education and Training, Key
Statistics, Elementary and Secondary Education, 1992-1993 (Toronto,
- Tim Sale, An Analysis of School Funding Across
Canada (Vancouver: EduServ, 1993), p. 153.
- Statistics Canada, Education in Canada: A
Statistical Review for 1991-92, no. 81-229 (Ottawa, 1993), p. 117.
- A.J. King and M.J. Peart, Teachers in
Canada: Their Work and Quality of Life (Ottawa: Canadian Teachers'
Federation, 1992), p. 20.
- King and Peart, Teachers in Canada, p.
- Ontario, Ministry of Education, Policy/Program
Memorandum no. 111, Employment Equity for Women in School Boards,
February 2, 1990.
- Environics Research Group, Focus Canada
Report 1993 - 3 (Toronto, 1994), p. 75. This report is the source of
all references to Environics survey data.
- D. Livingstone, D. Hart, and L. Davie, Ninth
OISE Survey 1992 (Toronto: OISE Press, 1993). This report is the
source of all OISE survey data given.
- OECD, Education in OECD Countries: A
Compendium of Statistical Information, 1988/89, 1989/90 (Paris:
OECD, 1993), p. 94.
- Statistics Canada, Education in Canada,
- Keith Newton and others, Education and
Training in Canada (Ottawa: Ministry of Supply and Services, 1992),
- Statistics Canada, Education in Canada,
- G.A. Mori and B. Burke, Educational
Attainment of Canadians: 1986 Census of Canada, no. 98-134 (Ottawa:
Ministry of Supply and Services, 1989).
- Paquette, "Recent Educational
Policy-making," p. 32.
- Economic Council of Canada, A Lot to Learn.
- Philip Nagy, "National and International
Comparisons of Student Achievement: Implications for Ontario."
Report written for the Ontario Royal Commission on Learning, 1994.
- OECD, Education in OECD Countries, p.
111, Table 6.1.
- Sale, School Funding Across Canada, p.
- Statistics Canada, Education in Canada,
p. 234. These data include costs of post-secondary education.
- Livingstone, Hart, and Davie, Ninth OISE
Survey, p. 7.
- King and Peart, Teachers in Canada, p.
- Sale, School Funding Across Canada, p.
- Carleton Board of Education, We are the
World: Multiculturalism in Schools, p. 20. Report prepared by
Corporate Services, Research and Planning, 1992.
- Norman Henchey, "Our Common Vision: An
Education of Quality" (keynote address to the First National
Consultation on Education, Council of Ministers of Education, Canada,
Montreal, May 1994).
- The Commission on Excellence in Education, To
Live and Learn: The Challenge of Education and Training
(Fredericton: The Committee on Excellence in Education, 1993); and
Newfoundland, Ministry of Education, Shaping Our Future: A Five-Year
Strategic Plan for Post-secondary Education in Newfoundland and Labrador
(St. John's, 1990).
- Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, "Quality
of Education," p. E-1-E-41. Material prepared for the First
National Consultation on Education, Montreal, May 1994.
1994, Queens Printer for Ontario