Is McGuinty gov’t “inclusive” with parent advocacy stakeholders?

On the main Government of Ontario web page for the full-day kindergarten, now referred to as the Early Learning Program (ELP for short), you will find the following “principles” listed.

  1. Early development launches children’s trajectories for learning
  2. Partnerships with parents and communities are essential
  3. Respect for diversity, equity and inclusion are prerequisites
  4. A planned program supports early learning
  5. Play is the means to early learning
  6. Knowledgeable and responsive educators are essential

Regarding Item (2) “partnerships with parents and communities are essential,” I would like feedback from Ontario parents and parent advocacy groups to find out if Ontario’s governing Liberal Party practices what it preaches when it comes to “inclusiveness.” Or, is it only inclusive about parents on paper or with those organizations who agree with everything their Cabinet and Minister of Education suggests?  

For example, which parent groups are considered stakeholder groups and asked for advice and which are not? If there is supposed to be respect for communities regarding the ELP, shouldn’t that include all parent advocacy groups? 

Specifically, I frequently read that Annie Kidder of People for Education (P4E) is invited to participate in just about every manner of Ontario education-oriented consultation there is even though P4E clearly is a private, not-for-profit advocacy/lobby type of organization. Moreover, P4E seems to hold a special status, given that they are listed at the bottom of this Ontario government page, in the same category as the Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education and the Ontario Federation of Home and Home and School Association.

Yet, apparently, from what I understand, neither Doretta Wilson, the Executive Director of the Society for Quality Education (SQE), also a parent advocacy not-for-profit organization, or its Board Chair, Malkin Dare, have ever been invited to any sort of meaningful consultation regarding Ontario Ministry of Education issues — which seems to me is hardly fair or inclusive.

Perhaps Ms. Kidder from P4E and Ms. Wilson from SQE could start a dialogue here, or members of their respective boards and supporters. I can assure those who do decide to participate here will be treated with respect by me and other commenters, although we may agree to disagree sometimes. However,  I honestly want to know how the current Ontario government makes the decision as to which parent advocacy group can be considered a stakeholder and which can’t — and why they can’t. (H/T Catherine)

While I plan to send an e-mail invitation with this URL via both P4E and SQE’s websites, visitors could also leave a comment on their respective blogs as well.

14 thoughts on “Is McGuinty gov’t “inclusive” with parent advocacy stakeholders?

  1. Hi Sandy,
    I think you bring up some great points about who is consulted and how they’re chosen. It’s one of the things that we’re going to talk about at our conference on November 23rd at York.( http://peopleforeducation.com/getinvolved/annualconference ) We’re asking if parents really are “partners” in the education system. Should we be using some other way of describing the relationship between parents and education? Should parents be treated more as equal partners? What are the pros and cons of partnership? What is the place for expertise in the relationship between parents and educators?
    You’re right that People for Education, along with the other three officially recognized parent-led associations (Ontario Federation of Home and School Associations, Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education and Parents partenaires en education) are invited to all government consultations. We all also sit at the Ministry of Education Partnership Table which meets two or three times a year. We try, when we’re invited to consultations, to put out the request far and wide so that there are more than the “usual suspects” involved.
    I’m sure that you’re also right that at times there is terrible favouritism. Governments often talk either to those who they like or those with whom they want to curry favour. I do think we try to remain as independent as possible, and have at times been cheerleaders for government policy and at times been harsh critics.
    But when it comes to consultation, the questions are important:
    – who gets asked?
    – how do people from the general public find out about consultations?
    – there are many education-related organizations, why are some included and some not?
    I hope you can come to the conference and help take the discussion forward.

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  2. Thanks Annie. Re the conference, you have my e-mail address. Perhaps you could get someone to send me an application. Or, I guess I can look on the website. But, I am retired so I likely wouldn’t go unless I had some responsibilities. My problem is I hate driving in the City of Toronto! But, if the conference is open to all sorts of ideas, perhaps the people at SQE might want to attend also. I think you have hit the issue on the head. Sometimes groups feel alienated but maybe it is up to them to just keep pushing ahead in order to be heard.

    Thanks for the quick response. It’s appreciated. Okay, to now others, what do you think?

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  3. Annie’s comment suggests the P4E conference is on November 23, but the conference link posted states that it is on November 13.

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  4. The Conference looks very interesting. I might just attend and then write about it here. Others could share their views of the conference here too.

    Some thoughts:

    Parent involvement in their child’s school is a tough one. On the one hand, you have parents who know what they want for their children but they don’t know how to incorporate what they want into a curriculum. My daughter has been on two school councils and tells me that it is both the principle and the teacher(s) on the council that set the tone and whether or not they are treated like partners — i.e., meaningful input versus just p.r. politics.

    But parenting partnerships are not only possible, I saw them in action when I was in private practice. I was paid by the provincial government, parents themselves (usually through their private insurance policies) or the local boards of education. What I would do is administer a series of psycho-educational testing followed by a full report on exactly what techniques a classroom teacher should use to help a child improve reading, written language or study skills.

    Meaning, that my report was based on three sources: (1) what the teacher reported the learning problems were, (2) what the parents found worked and didn’t work when they were helping their child with homework, and (3) what the test results indicated. I used to prepare a chart for myself with the information from all three sources and a “picture” of how that child could be helped would emerge. To me, that was a true partnership.

    In other words, I didn’t just look at statistics, IQ quotients and performance equivalent scores. Nor, did I just listen to the professionals. I also listened to the parents as well.

    The benefit was that I not only had a Ph.D in my area of expertise, I was also a former classroom teacher and, perhaps most important of all, a parent of a child with a special need. So, when I designed my programs I knew exactly what the teacher was up against in terms of having 29 other children to work with, as well as how the parent could help as well.

    As a result, I would present some methods that the teacher could use with the whole class so that all the children benefitted. For example, listening centres have disappeared. Yet, for children with dyslexia, they are crucial. So, I would help a primary or junior level teacher set up such a centre and work with him or her to get small groups to use the centre — including the child needing the multi-sensory help. As a result, the child was not centred out. Then, the teacher would purchase a small Franklin type electronic spell checker which any child could borrow. Following that, the child with dyslexia would have his or her own spell checker in their desk but the other children paid no attention to it because they too could use one if they wanted.

    However, one of the most effective tools for helping children keep track of story ideas or prepare a report is the now old fashioned post-it notes, of all sizes and colours. I won’t take up space here explaining how they can be used, but they are inexpensive and work in a variety of ways. Of course, simultaneously, the parent(s) would be using a tape-recorder and the same type of technical and practical aids at home.

    That’s the kind of parent partnerships that are possible if the politicians and professionals would only relax and stop putting up that invisible “we always know what is best” wall.

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  5. Annie, what say you about the SQE response? While it is not your responsibility to take sides of course, surely there is a way for all education-oriented organizations to be a part of the process. However, as a former public school educator, both as a teacher and as a teacher educator in two Ontario universities, I think I know the problem.

    The Ontario government, probably rightly, interprets what SQE is doing as anti-public school. And, since that is the gov’ts mandate, then SQE is free to do what it wants, but the gov’t doesn’t want to be questioned. In essence, SQE is the public education system’s opposition party.

    So, my question to Doretta and others connected to SQE, just what would you want the government of Ontario to do or say, assuming you got a meeting? I mean, how can they endorse your reading program when it is not on the Circular 14 or equivalent?

    Try to imagine being the Minister of Education’s EA and getting a call from SQE? When I worked for the Harris era MPP, who was the Parliamentary Assistant to the Education Minister, I likely would have reacted the same way. Why do you want to see the Minister? In what way can he or she help your organization? If the answer is a question mark, then no visit is arranged.

    So, I don’t think SQE is somehow on a black list. I just don’t think the powers that be can figure out how they can help an organization that is the antithesis of what the government’s mandate is? I never really thought about it that way before.

    Would it be such a bad thing then, if SQE did partner with P4E say on reading methods? In that way, you would be seen as working to improve the system, rather than remain apart.

    Just some thoughts.

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  6. Before I post, I’d also like to use this opportunity to let readers know of SQE’s Annual Meeting Saturday, December 4th in Toronto. We will be featuring guest speaker, Michael Zwaagstra, teacher and co-author of “What’s Wrong With Our Schools and How We can Fix Them”. See: http://sqezwaagstra.eventbrite.com for more information.

    Now to respond:
    When the new government was first elected SQE wrote, as we have done with ALL governments, to congratulate the new minister of education and ask for a meeting so we could introduce ourselves. You know the usual thing all stakeholders do (and what Ministers should be doing as outreach, but I digress). I wrote several letters that didn’t even garner the courtesy of a response. I made phone calls enquiring after the letters. I made other personal interventions as well. After several tries we gave up, until a new minister came along…

    We followed the same protocols and wrote several letters of introduction. Again got the same brush off, but at least we got a letter several months after the fact. We always invited all MOEs to all our events and made sure they got our press releases, etc. One minister at least had the courtesy to respond once with a two-page rejection letter.

    It’s not like we always criticize either, for instance, when government’s school finder website feature was announced, we put out a press release in support of the resource. Minister Wynne held up praises from parents in the legislator defending the website, but when the favoured stakeholders balked at it, the next day the comparison feature was gone.

    We have asked, ever so politely and diplomatically to be included in any feedback, stakeholder, seminar, conference, ad nauseum to no avail and frankly after seven years, that’s fine with us. It keeps us independent and able to freely advocate for policies that will lead to improved academic achievement of all students, school and system accountability, and freedom for parents and teachers to choose.

    As far as school councils go, all the fear-mongering at their start was ridiculous. As a parent who was there at the beginning (and before!), I’ve seen how they have very little influence over their primary mandate: monitoring student achievement. Fundraising is still often the main focus.

    We know that the best kind of parental involvement is when parents can directly choose where and how their children are educated–public or private–affluent or not, savvy or not. As respected educator and advocate Dr. Howard Fuller said when he visited Toronto:

    “…Those of us with money have the capacity to choose and the great hypocrisy that operates are those individuals who would never put their own children in certain schools denying poor parents the capacity to do it. We have teachers who teach in schools they would never put their own children in, demanding that other peoples’ children stay there. I find that to be hypocritical. We’ve got politicians running around talking about how important the public school structure is and then you ask them, ‘Well, where do your children go to school?’

    “I actually happen to be a strong supporter of public schools, but I’m also a strong supporter of giving people a choice so that they can determine whether a public school or private school will be best for their children…It is ludicrous for us not to provide a way for kids to go to schools that work because at the end of the day a democracy can’t sustain itself unless it has an educated populace.”

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  7. So, in other words, SQE “is” a public school supporter who simply advocates that, over and above, public schools, the government of the day should allow parent choice — which means public dollars to those parents who would prefer a private option? Not unreasonable when we consider the number of publicly funded “alternative schools” available in the larger cities.

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  8. Right. SQE has always been a supporter of public schools, however we know that many schools are just not going to work for all kids. For many years we worked to improve the quality of education in public schools, but a big unresponsive bureacratic system just wasn’t interested in changing, nor was there any incentive for it to change.

    Many of the public schools reforms that came about (education tax credit, testing, sunshine list transparency, school councils, curriculum and report card changes) have always been opposed by the more influential stakeholders in education. Many of those reforms have been scaled back, watered down, or outright canceled over the years. This is why SQE took the choice route since children who needed alternatives in education couldn’t wait–(they don’t stop growing)–and parents needed to take immediate action.

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  9. You cannot be “a supporter of public schools” and a supporter of “public money being handed over to private schools” they are mutually exclusive.

    It is the same as saying “I support medicare” but I also support “private medicine que jumping for people with the money”.

    The basic idea of the two socialist concepts, public schools and medicare, is that public money is for the public good, only.

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  10. Actually Doug, you are wrong. Which is the only reason I approved your comment. Many years ago when my son had to attend a private residential school for learning disabilities, I fought and, while we had to pay for the first year, the second and third years were paid in full. He was identified as “hard to serve” and, following a Tribunal, the Ministry of Ed and Community and Social Services had to pay. So, yes, sometimes public money goes to private schools. There is no line in sand as you state. Moreover, everytime I go to MDS for blood tests or to the Bone Density clinic, which are privately owned, OHIP pays. Just as it does for those who have surgery or treatment at the Shouldice Hospital.

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  11. A large part of our healthcare system is funded by the public and private sector so the claim that there can’t be room for a mixed system is, well, nonsense. Also something of a broken record. “Dean” over at SQE keeps churning out the same dubious claims. I suspect they’re both VIP Academy lackies 😉

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  12. John L — It’s the same old broken record. What do people like Doug think semi-private hospital coverage is all about? We already have a two-tier medical system. Moreover, when I was in private practice, I constantly helped parents get funding for their kids to go special private schools. For instance, Ontario children have longed gone to the US to a private college for those who are profoundly deaf. It’s interesting, the deaf don’t want to be considered disabled, yet they would have to prove that fact in order to qualify to go. The former Voc Rehab under Community and Social Services, and now ODSP, contributes to dozens of private programs.

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