The “Wizards at TDSB” want to bribe kids with cash

Well, I thought I had heard everything that was politically correct. Yet, yesterday I read a column by Moira MacDonald in the Toronto Sun (H/T Catherine) about how officials at the Toronto District School Board are waxing lyrical about providing kids from disadvantaged homes cash incentives to read books. MacDonald also mentioned that the TDSB is considering giving some parents cash as well, to attend workshops and get a library card.

My immediate reaction was: What an offensive idea! Make poor kids feel worse about themselves by labelling them disadvantaged or stupid. Not only offensive, but magical thinking at its worst.  Which made me think of the theme song from Wizard of Oz and wonder who the wizards might be behind the screen at the TDSB who think they can get results by bribing kids who are “disadvantaged,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Poverty itself, or making do on less, shouldn’t have anything to do with whether kids want to learn or parents value education.

However, no matter whether or not you believe cash incentives might work, what are the powers that be at the TDSB thinking when they are so deeply in the financial hole? For details, check out a MacDonald column dated May 28th, 2010 but updated online today. When you read it, it becomes clear that TDSB decision-makers really are living in a fantasy land. Here are the facts.

This year the TDSB had a deficit of $42 million dollars. To deal with some of that deficit, they transferred $30 million from major repair projects, thus adding to their $2.8 billion deferred maintenance plan. They then increased this year’s budget by $600 million, in spite of the fact that student enrollment had dropped by 13.4%. I repeat, the TDSB trustees budgeted hundreds of millions of dollars more — and hired more teachers even though enrollment was dropping like a stone, they already had a huge deficit and repairs to infrastructure would have to be delayed again.

Look, I am not unsympathetic. I grew up poor, as did many of my friends and relatives. But, we sure didn’t need to be given cash by the school system to bribe us to want to do well in life. We did whatever we had to do to get ahead.  No, this whole issue is simply about political correctness and the wizards at the TDSB pulling levers in a futile attempt to change social and cultural attitudes by bribing kids and their parents with cash — cash the TDSB does not have.

In other words, the TDSB does not have access to a yellow brick road. However, what they do have access to are parents. Why, then,  don’t they look at models for getting parents involved in their child’s school — and I’m talking about real parent engagement — something that research shows really does work. See, for example, this source, as well this one. And, while they are doing that, they could stop deficit spending and get back on track to closing, replacing and repairing their schools.

Revised Friday, November 19th, 2010. Photo credit for Wizard of Oz poster, Wikipedia.

Toronto Public School Board trustees failing kids & taxpayers

Okay, sure, Ontario municipalities are in the midst of school trustee elections, so it’s good politics for Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Trustee Josh Matlow to let the public know that there is something not right about the TDSB’s spending priorities. But he is also bang on because the voting public has a right to know to what extent the TDSB has ignored a broken infrastructure, including repairs and upgrades needed in school science labs. As this Toronto Sun article states:

“The TDSB continues to mismanage its spending priorities instead of focusing on fixing broken infrastructure, said Trustee Josh Matlow. As a result, students are suffering. I haven’t seen much evidence of (the labs being fixed), but that can be said about many priority needs around the system,” Matlow said. “That’s why I get so upset at the board when they spend money on things like expensive rallies at hockey arenas and other frivolous mis-expenditures that don’t reflect the needs of our students.

Do you know the board has not painted a single school since amalgamation in 1998?” he added. “There are fields looking like mud pits along with the (neglected) science labs. This is all politically charged. All the while, kids are waiting.”

The worse thing is that the neglect and spending on other priorities is essentially being rewarded by the Ontario government, who is allegedly going to provide the TDSB with an EXTRA $42.2 million this year to make repairs to schools, including the science labs — even though it is estimated that $82 million will be needed just for the science labs alone.

So, its now up to Toronto voters to only re-elect those trustees who have had the courage to speak out on behalf of the kids and the taxpayers. Sure, each such trustee is only one voice, but if the people of Toronto want more like that, then they are going to have to boot the rest out.

In fact, that would be a good message for all Ontario communities. On October 25th, 2010, don’t just vote in your municipal election for names of people you recognize. Whether for councillor or school board trustee, re-elect only those who have tried to listen to their constituents. Otherwise, elect a brand new mayor, as well as a brand new slate of candidates, school trustees included.

TDSB increasing alternative schools, choice

Re-posted from a Google cached document on April 1st because original was lost. Unfortunately, however, the comments were not available.

Start of article: In my opinion, it’s all about semantics. Whether you are talking about specialty schools, alternative schools, charter schools or publicly funded independent schools, it is about parent choice.  It is about parent choice because decisions are not based on a ”system” need but on the needs of each child as understood by the parents. Such decisions are however, NOT about privatizing public education. They are about expanding public education and diversifying a monopoly by providing alternatives and choice in public education.  

So, when I read in today’s Globe and Mail that the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) Education Director, Chris Spence, wants to expand the number of alternative schools the board has from 41 to 45 — I was delighted. 

We had already heard that he wanted an all-boys elementary school – the “Boys Leadership Academy” — which would be marketed to boys in JK to Grade 3. Now, however, we hear that he also wants an all-girls elementary school, called the “Girls Leadership Academy,” for girls in Grades 4 through 8, as well as a sports school and a choir school.  

So, what does all this mean? It means that the TDSB and Mr. Spence, wants to be competitive and, not only retain students, but recruit others. As such, I highly commend them for that. How will they do that? By providing parents with enough choice that they consider moving their children from private schools or the Toronto Catholic Board to the TDSB.

Continue reading “TDSB increasing alternative schools, choice”

Use “Pathways” program in all school boards!

Read the “Pathways to Education” website and this questions and answers in the National Post and one thing immediately comes to mind. If this program is so very successful, why on earth is it not being implemented in every school in Canada?

Right now, for example,  it is only available in six locations:  Regent’s park, Lawrence Heights and Rexdale in Toronto, Ottawa, Kitchener and Verdun in Montreal.

The program is said to consist of four support pillars: academic (tutoring four nights a week), social (mentors), financial (a $4000 grant towards post-secondary education) and advocacy. But, from what I understand, although there are teachers and other professionals involved in the academic, social and advocacy parts of the program, the success of this program is the dedicated volunteers who do the tutoring and mentoring in the evenings and on weekends.

Just how successful is the approach? Well, in Regent’s Park, for instance, since the program was implemented in 2001, the dropout rate has been reduced from 56% to 10% — which is a significant result. Moreover, absenteeism has dropped by 50% while college and university enrollment has increased from 20% to 80% — with the majority being the first in their family to attend post-secondary.

Therefore, as I said at the start of this post, with that kind of success rate, why is the Pathways to Education program not available everywhere there is a need to reduce drop out rates, thereby providing the opportunity for kids to succeed?