Royal Commission on Learning Report: Short Version

Royal Commission on Learning


Conclusion and Implementation

After 20 months of work, this Commission concluded that while the Ontario education system has performed reasonably well to the present, a series of external forces - economic, technological, social, and demographic - require that it be transformed now in dramatic ways. Happily, we discovered that we have the knowledge and techniques to achieve this transformation. It can be done. Our schools can graduate mature and responsible young men and women who have had a rigorous and challenging education, who have emerged with an impressive base of knowledge and skills, who can think critically, evaluate, analyze, synthesize, work co-operatively and respectfully, and who have learned to learn and to love learning. In setting out to change the system, we should aim our sights at nothing less than these high goals.

In the course of our own extensive work - and learning - certain lessons about the process of education reform became clear. If we fail to take these lessons to heart, we fear that the process of change may well be doomed from the outset.

  1. There are no instant solutions to the problems of today's schools, no short cuts. But there are solutions.
  2. The process of learning is highly complex, but there are ways to get our children to learn better.
  3. The education system is enormously complicated, but there are ways to transform it.
  4. No serious change can happen without the willing co-operation of teachers.
  5. Parents who create an atmosphere that values learning, and who support their children's school efforts, are giving their children a major advantage. Parents are a largely untapped resource.
  6. The best way to ensure that kids do well at school is to provide all of them with affluent, literate, professional parents. Clearly, this is impossible; however, schools can compensate for the disadvantages many students bring with them from home. So even though a student's background remains the chief determinant of educational success in Ontario, schools have the capacity - if they have the will to overcome the handicaps of a child's background.
  7. When all is said and done, we place our confidence in the knowledge and dedication of the professional educators of Ontario. While every parent and every member of the community has significant contributions to make, it is our teachers, principals, and other educators who must provide the inspirational, active, hands-on leadership role that is needed.
  8. There are important and powerful players in the education system. The influence of some of these players, like the teachers' federations, is obvious, while that of others, equally powerful, for instance, universities, is less well known. But all players must be committed to the process of radical change if it has any hope of success.

If only all Ontarians agreed with these statements. Yet too many of our fellow citizens continue to insist that everything would be okay if we only implemented the one particular idea or another that they advocate. Too many attempts at reform ignore totally ? and to our minds astoundingly - the role of teachers. Too little attention is paid by many to the role of background in unfairly determining a child's success in school. Too many of the players in the system have been reluctant to demonstrate the flexibility that's clearly necessary if real change is ever going to happen. It's important to remember that all of these are obstacles to change.

In Chapter 20 of the main report, where we launch a detailed discussion of how we expect our report to be followed up, we point out the unusual timing into which we've happened to stumble. Everyone knows a provincial election is just around the corner, and we'd be deeply disappointed - as we know the thousands of citizens who shared their views with us would be if this report ended up being a political football thrown around during an election for short-term electoral purposes. There is nothing of partisan politics in this report, and we call on all three political parties to put the needs of our students first and to commit themselves to action on our major recommendations.

Maybe it's useful to summarize very briefly the approaches that led us to our specific proposals. We see the primary purpose of schools to be learning and teaching, focusing on the development of the literacies, by which we mean escalating levels of intellectual competence. But schools must also tend to the non-academic needs of their students - in part because they often directly affect learning - which they can do only with the active co-operation of the surrounding community. (The co-ordinated province-wide response to escalating violence in our schools is an example of how all parts and every level of the education system can come together in the face of a shared concern.) We then proceed to build our recommendations on what we know about how learning happens and what constitutes good teaching. We want to adapt the "culture of schools" so that it provides the best possible atmosphere to maximize learning.

We take very seriously the need to make the education system truly equitable for every student of the province - a goal we are far from attaining right now. There needs to be a more appropriate balance of power and influence in the system, with different, and in many cases greater, roles, to be played by students, parents, the community, boards of education, and not least the Ministry itself. Finally, we need to ensure systematic feed-back and monitoring of both students and their programs, with a view to on-going improvement as well as to satisfying the legitimate rights of Ontario citizens to know how the system is doing and who's responsible for doing it.

Of course there are costs attached to many of our recommendations, and in Chapter 20 we try to be candid about them. On the one hand, we have no illusions about the availability of large new sums of public money; on the other, we felt we had to indicate what we believe it will take to improve the system dramatically. It's also true that no group such as ours has the resources to make anything like a reliable estimate of the cost of, say, a full program of early childhood education. Yet in a real sense, such an exercise is superfluous, since we understand perfectly well that such a program would only be phased in over a good number of years in any event, as is equally true of other "big" recommendations such as equipping all schools with the tools of information technology.

We also believe that it is necessary to make some tough decisions about re-allocating funds already in the system. To take the same example again, if we advocate early childhood education, we also recommend doing away with the fifth year of high school that so many students now take. Funding should be redistributed from the later stages of schooling to the earlier ones. We also make the argument that early childhood education would reduce the need for subsidized day-care programs, while all early intervention efforts are likely to save costs later on for extra supports such as special education and remedial programs. In that sense, early intervention is the exact equivalent of preventive health measures, in which initial extra costs bring a wealth of savings - eventually.

We've always acknowledged that while many of our recommendations can begin to be implemented tomorrow morning, many of them can only happen over time; you can't, obviously, introduce a universal program of early childhood education overnight. We suggest, in Chapter 20 and its appendices, any number of ways in which all the players in the system should get involved in implementing our recommendations not only immediately but over five-and ten-year periods, but you can see that it's impossible in this brief summary to repeat all those ideas.

We hope everyone interested enough in our report will soon turn to the those parts where we indicate what you yourself can do. And everyone can do something; as we've said before, there's a great deal to do at the level of every single school in the province without waiting for any initiatives or any authorization from the Ministry.

But since all eyes will inevitably be on the Ministry of Education and Training as the single most important player in the overall transformation of the education system, and since we expect it to give real leadership and direction, let's focus here on its role in making our recommendations real.

First, we expect the Minister to announce his support for our recommendations. Second, the Ministry should establish an Implementation Commission, reporting to the Legislature itself, with clear and broad authority to oversee the entire complicated process of reform and change. Third, while that commission is starting up, the Ministry should clearly articulate the goals, directions and principles that will define the system in the next decade.

Fourth, the Ministry should immediately begin setting at least the groundwork for a wide range of initiatives of all kinds: changes in French-language governance, the College of Teachers, a central body to co-ordinate information technology, early childhood education, assigning educators from Catholic schools to central positions in the Ministry itself, charters of rights and responsibilities for both parents and students, an inter-ministerial co-ordination of services for children, the Office of Learning Assessment and Accountability, school-community councils. Let's not be immodest here: The biggest problem is hardly finding recommendations to begin working on.

And again we can't emphasize too much that while the Ministry gets to work, we hope all the other key stakeholders do as well. There are many groups who will determine whether or not our report simply collects dust. Boards of education, whose very raison d'être is in question in some circles, can demonstrate their usefulness by taking an aggressive role in translating Ministry policies and setting priorities at the local level. Teachers' unions, frankly, can make or break any and all attempts at radical reform, and we urge them to demonstrate that our great faith in teachers' professionalism and the central role we assign to teachers in every part of our report wasn't misplaced.

Principals and teachers certainly don't need to wait for authorization from on high to begin matching action to rhetoric in genuinely welcoming parents into their schools and offering advice on how they can better support their children's learning. Neither need principals wait for anyone's permission to begin establishing the school-community councils we call for, reaching out to the community to share the responsibilities that schools have been assigned by society, whether they could cope with them or not. Both business people and trade unions should begin taking seriously family-friendly workplace policies, while the business community should adopt policies for distributing surplus computing equipment to schools.

Finally, we hope that large numbers of parents and young people are reading this little volume, and will act on it. During the life of this Commission, we went out of our way to hear from and speak to more than the parents and young people who have the self-confidence to address themselves to fancy-sounding royal commissions. We actively sought out and listened to the views of those who are uncomfortable in public and who are rarely heard by commissions like ours. It's to all of you that this volume was especially directed. Now that you've read it, we hope you'll actively pursue with boards, principals, and teachers the kind of expanded role in the learning system that we believe you're entitled to and are capable of playing. And you don't need anyone's okay to begin demanding your rights or, just as importantly, to exercise your own responsibilities.

If this report begins to be implemented in these ways, we're persuaded that a major transformation of the education system will be set in train. It won't be either an easy or a smooth road, but radical change never is. Through thousands of actions taken by everyone with an interest in Ontario education, guided by the overriding goal of improved learning for all our students, we are confident that our schools will rise to the challenge of preparing our children for the unpredictable world of the 21st century.

Together, Ontarians can forge a truly remarkable learning system. The job of this Commission is done. The Report of the Royal Commission on Learning now belongs to you. Its future is in your hands, as is the future of the education system itself.

  

Yours sincerely,

Monique Begin, Co-Chair
Gerry Caplan, Co-Chair
Manisha Bharti, Commissioner
Avis Glaze, Commissioner
Dennis Murphy, Commissioner

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