McGuinty gov’t: “school success” or “no-fail”?

It’s hard to know who to believe. On the one hand the media and many teachers, particularly secondary school teachers, are complaining that the Ontario McGuinty government’s latest “student success” and “equity strategy” is more about politics than it is about helping students succeed.

In other words, is the Ontario Liberal government just doing what they can to keep their 2007 election promise to improve the numbers of students finishing high school — without looking at any longterm consequences? I honestly don’t know but I am suspicious.   

First, I would recommend visitors read the “Student Success Program” and the “Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy.”

Second, I would take a look at the executive summary of a research report that evaluated the “Student Success Program” that says the approach is working.  Interestingly, I discovered I knew some of the practitioners on the research “Field Team” — people I respect.

Third, there is Bill 177  — an omnibus bill that is about to change the Education Act in a major way by legislating “reducing the gaps in student achievement” — which is where the “no-fail” phrase obviously came from. In the introduction to the Bill, for example, it states:

The purpose of education is to provide students with the opportunity to realize their potential and develop into highly skilled, knowledgeable, caring citizens who contribute to their society.”

Of course no one can criticize such a motherhood statement and education goal as that. However, it also states:

All partners in the education sector have a role to play in enhancing student achievement and well-being, closing gaps in student achievement and maintaining confidence in the province’s publicly funded education system.”

Now, what exactly does “enhancing student achievement and closing gaps in student achievement” mean in reality?

Finally, according to Education Minister Kathleen Wynn, the “school success” program or “inclusive” strategy doesn’t mean students can’t fail but — there is a big but — only a certain number can be allowed to do so.

For example, she recently told a group of Catholic school trustees, that failure was still an option but: “We can’t have more than 20% of our kids not get through high school, not get that certification.” (H/T Mended.ca)

However, even after everything I have read on this topic, I can see why the approach is called a “no-fail” policy because academic standards seem to be fuzzy. As a result,  I have some questions that I feel need answering, such as:

  1. How can teachers do their jobs if they can’t insist that assignments be completed according to certain criteria?
  2. How is it fair if some students have to meet certain criteria but others do not?
  3. How can grades be assigned if, at the end of the day, work is not completed or plagiarism was involved?
  4. How can parents be sure their children are ready for an apprenticeship or post-secondary program?
  5. How will students be able to cope in the real world when their employers expect accountability and competence ALL the time?
  6. How will colleges and universities deal with students who do not have the requisite skills to succeed?

My prediction: If the Ontario government “school success” strategy is really about watering down the high school diploma, parents that can afford to will send their children to private schools, thus enlarging the two-tier education system the McGuinty government and its supporters claim they don’t want. What teachers will do I have no idea.

Some sources are listed below. As I learn of others, I will add them to the list.

H/T Ann.

8 thoughts on “McGuinty gov’t: “school success” or “no-fail”?

  1. It seems to me that the education minister is trying to have it both ways. In doing so no one is well served.

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  2. I can understand separating the learning skills from the curriculum in the elementary grades as parents need to know how well their children learn. I do think that starting in grade-seven, students need to take more responsibility by learning that assignments need to be completed on time. In the working world, knowledge (curriculum), skills (learning skills), and attitudes (learning skills) are combined when completing tasks.

    If the McGuinty government is going to offer students easy chances to get 50% on their report cards, then the universities and colleges may need to set a minimum grade of 60% for each required course completed when students apply to go to university or college.

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  3. Skinny Dipper — Since high school is all about credits, colleges and universities nowadays expect a lot more than 60% for admission. Some programs also expect work/co-op experience and a written statement.

    For example, in 2000, just prior to my retirement, the average to get into most Ontario universities was in the mid 70’s. Teachers college was even higher. However, since the annual average is based on who has applied, that average could conceivably go up or down over time.

    But, yes, I agree with the notion of a minimum standard for post-secondary admission. So, if the Ministry of Ed is just worried about the numbers of students graduating and doesn’t have clear standards, the colleges and universities will.

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  4. Hi Sandy,

    I’ll agree that universities do want you to have a high average for admissions. I think one mark of 50 or 60 percent will put any applicant out of contention.

    As for the community colleges, they will accept people with lower averages depending on the program. Just as a note, community college programs can be as demanding as universities in terms of workload. The programs tend to be more hands-on; the assigned workload is usually constant. I have been to both university and college.

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  5. Skinny Dipper — I totally agree that colleges can be just as demanding as university — in some cases, even more so.

    For example, in the early to mid 1990’s I was asked to teach a full credit English course at Niagara College, Welland Campus, on how to “peer tutor” students who had learning disabilities. The idea was to train potential college peer tutors, while at the same time, giving them an English credit. It turned out the course was very popular as an elective in the early childhood and special needs assistance programs.

    The long and short of it was it was a very demanding course. Students had to learn the theories of, not only tutoring/teaching but of the reading process. And, there was a practicum component where they were assigned to a peer by the special needs office.

    I can’t remember why I stopped teaching it, apart from the fact that I was simultaneously teaching graduate students at a university. And, as I recall, I basically trained another professional (who was full-time at Niagara) to teach that course.

    Anyway, our points are valid. While admission standards at the college level may not be as high as universities, expectations are just as high in many programs.

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  6. The higher standards that univerisities and colleges will require is a red herring. They want bums in seats because it translates into $$$. They have already been accepting students that are unprepared and unable to carry the workload.

    The unis & colls just require those students to take “remedial” courses only they don’t actually call them that. After a pre-test (which is not always required in every case), they make students pay for courses in literacy and math and call them a prerequisite.
    At some universities it’s voluntary or they provide “learning centres” which are actually remediation centres. If a kid fails or drops out by Christmas, why should they care? they already have half a year’s non-refundable fees in pocket.

    The post-secondary institutions will never balk at taking in unprepared students unless there is some financial incentive for them to do so.
    If a government had any guts they would make exit examinations manditory in Grade 8 and Grade 12 and require universities to prove that they have accepted students that have made the grade.

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  7. Educ8m — As long as the provincial government keeps the compulsory Literacy test and the required course for those that fail, there will, at least, be some standards. However, if the teachers’ unions manage to get those cancelled …..

    But your not telling me anything I don’t already know. When I taught at the (Master’s) graduate level — with educators who were employed at all levels of the school and college system — one of my duties was thesis/exit project supervision. Because of my background in reading and written language, my department chair used to assign students to me that needed special help. I would walk them through the process and found it very gratifying to do so. But, they were usually professionals who had a language other than English as a first language or those who never really learned to “write.”

    For example, one woman I can think of was very bright. She had a master’s degree in math. But, rarely had had to write any kind of prose. So, writing five chapters of a project was a struggle. In the end, however, she did very well and it became just a matter of her learning “how to” write.

    Which is why reduced standards and shortcuts simply won’t work in the long run. Sure, young people will graduate high school — only to fail in the next phase of their lives.

    I can’t help wondering though, why kids give up as soon as they fail. All of us fail from time to time. Its how we learn from our mistakes and how we know when we have succeeded. Which brings it all back to parents.

    When our children fail, we explain to them what that means and how to pick ourselves up and try again. However, when parents don’t do that and simply blame the system ….. therein lies the real problem and no one wants to talk about that elephant in the room.

    That is what this is ALL about — political correctness gone amuck and political expediency.

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