Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Student Success, Provincial Failure

This may not be my wisest blog posting as it could impede my ability to be hired in this province, but I feel like making my objections about Student Success and the impact it is having in classrooms and on our province is necessary.

The fundamental problem in the Ontario educational system is a misunderstanding of what is wrong with the public system. Earlier in the previous decade it was determined that the low rate of student graduation was a fundamental concern. This is a false diagnosis. The thinking of the McGuinty government was that the post-modern economy requires a more educated workforce. The days of dropping out of high school and getting a well-paying job in manufacturing are over, at least for now.

The government reasoned that most jobs would require a high school diploma in the new economy, at a minimum. This was intended to put Ontario on track for success. On the contrary the programs in place will hurt Ontario in the long run.

The assumption that a more educated workforce is needed is probably valid, but that is not the goal of the government. The goal of the government is to increase the level of accreditation, not education. These are fundamentally unconnected ideas.

With the goal of increasing the number of diplomas in Ontario requires reducing the standards that we demand to award a diploma. The population is not different one year to the next. Some are brilliant, some are below average and there is the vast squishy middle. Before these initiatives about 68% of students graduated, which seems about right. The stated goal is 85%. That means promoting the 17% that would previously fail. The government wants immediate results.

A true reform program would begin at the kindergarten and primary level and we would see real improvements after several years. The quicker solution is to fudge the numbers. Credit Recovery, literacy courses to substitute the written test and other components of the Student Success are programs which allow students to achieve the same results as their peers by doing less work, and being less accountable.

Ontario has succeeded in graduating more students, but they have largely done this by lowering standards rather than raising student achievement. Let’s be clear, if Ontario was graduating 85% of its students under similar programs and expectations as those in 2000, I would be ecstatic. This is not the case.

Ontario has selected quantity education over quality education. Sacrificing quality for quantity is a frightening choice. The main devalues the worth of an Ontario Secondary School Diploma, and likewise, the Honours List. Reduced standards mean that a lower quality of student can enter and “succeed” in applied and college level courses. This forces those who were in the previous upper levels of applied/college into academic/university. To keep everyone moving through the system at high rates teacher expectations must drop. Employers, colleges and universities can have trouble distinguishing the comparative value of one diploma to another. Therefore marring the standards negatively affects all graduates.

Ironically, the stated goals and ambitions of the Ontario government are being directly undermined by its programs. Rather than graduating more under one banner, the province would be better off streaming. Streaming is a process were students are separated by ability and skills. If we must graduate everyone (or 85% of the student population) distinguish between their relative success in their diploma.

Establish Class A, B, C, D, and F Diplomas, or whatever naming scheme or number is deemed appropriate. Reduce the standards for the lower diplomas and increase for the others. Class A and B will go on to university, B, C, and D to college and D and F to the workforce. Let’s not sacrifice what the O.S.S.D. means for the sake of greater numbers. Let’s look at education and society as it is, not as some fantasy.

More is not better. Reducing quality for the sake of quantity is a risky venture. The Liberal government under McGuinty will use these statistics of improved graduation rates to claim he has improved education in the coming election this year. There are elements of Student Success that has merits, especially those that better serve students directly entering the workforce or college, but there are worrying impacts of other components. We must understand where these policies are taking us, and what preferable options are out there.

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