Our children deserve the best schooling possible

By MPP Toby Barrett

There is little doubt one of the proudest moments for a parent is the day they send their son or daughter off to school. While each school year opening brings its own new set of challenges and issues, there are few other occasions when parents can literally see their loved ones “grow up, right before their eyes.” Over the last week, I’ve talked to so many who have watched as their kids head out to meet the world, full of potential.

And as a society we must ensure all our children reach their full potential. While the recent release of the Education Quality and Accountability Office report card highlights some successes, it also indicates where improvements are required.

The present government has a hard time boasting about province-wide testing results that indicate, despite increasing funding, students are “plateauing”, and in some areas, getting worse.

For instance, test results for Grade 3 reading and Grade 6 math have failed to improve over five years. Government previously set a target of having 75 per cent of Grade 6 students meet the standards by 2008. Two years after the deadline, the numbers still fall short with only 61 per cent meeting targets.

Grade 9 students in the academic stream performed well – with 82 per cent meeting the standard – but only 40 per cent of Grade Niners in the applied stream met standard. And rural students, as well as those from lower socio-economic groups, are generally scoring less than average.

The Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) was created by the previous government in 1996 to administer standardized testing and measure and report on students’ progress. Testing helps to identify areas of weakness and then helps students, teachers and parents work together to achieve success.

With $21.4 billion going into the education system, opposition education critic and former education minister Elizabeth Witmer indicated, “They’ve thrown a lot of money at education…the results should be higher.”

While we wonder why the billions spent aren’t bearing higher results, we also wonder why those same billions aren’t enough to pay for our children’s school needs. In Ontario, parents with two kids in school are sacrificing an additional $570 dollars from the family budget to do what taxes should be doing – making sure our children have access to classroom supplies. Needless to say, parents question why every year they are paying well over half a billion dollars provincially out of their own pockets for essential learning tools.

With rising budgets, diminishing returns, and more school supplies paid by parents, it is clear something isn’t adding up. As well, the 2007 Throne Speech promise to review the school funding formula has not occurred.

Kids are also one week into the full-day kindergarten program. Whether you agree with all-day kindergarten or not, it has been poorly rolled out and there are too many loose ends. I would have preferred to give parents more choice rather than rushing a one-size-fits-all program. We need programs that work. If we have the honour of serving as the next government, our focus will be on attending to students’ basic needs first – needs, such as textbooks, and other learning materials.

As our children head to school and take steps toward their future it’s incumbent on all of us to ensure we get it right when it comes to their schooling.