Friday, September 01, 2006

Back to Basics

It's back into the classrooms next week for our younger folk and the Ontario (Toronto) papers, any way, are running 'screamers' about the underfunding of education. Things are ,according to the Star, going to heck in the proverbial handcart, at least as far as moolah at the Toronto Bd. of Ed. is concerned. Eliminate programs, shut up those swimming pools. And of course the "Why do we have two school systems in Ontario?" doofi have forgotten what they were told last time.

The restructuring of education in the province, by Mike Harris and his gang, changed the way things happen in regard to taxes for education. 'Big Bro in TO' gets all the locally-raised tax revenue for education, and redistributes it - supposedly, equitably, to the provinces' school boards.

The big loser in this shift is the Toronto 'Boreds' of Education which, at one time, received all the taxes they levied on private property and commercial enterprise in the City of Toronto (with, the exception of what Catholics could get out of Catholic homeowners and a restricted number of businesses), a heap of dough. They were powers unto themselves - the best-funded school boards in Ontario.

Uncle Mike changed all that, he put Toronto education back where it should be, in line with the 'poor' boards. He set the education tax rate and made sure those 'commies' on the school boards lived within their means - because he set the 'means'. He set two means, really - an instructional and an administrative 'envelope' of funds. Neither was transferrable. He expected, I would imagine, that there would be some fat-trimming at the Board offices - there were lots of buy-outs and golden-parachuted personnel. But he also knew that his number one supporters in the reform camp - the Board trustees and administrators, expected their 'worth' to be recognized - and the head honchos and honchas were rewarded. Partly to get back at the 'commies', Mike punished the trustees - he neutered them and reduced their stipends. Now they are needed to head off any 'parent groups' who get power-hungry, as some are inclined to do. The teachers were given regular, if not notable, increases. That left them to worry about their pensions and kept them quiet.

Other stuff - the 'accountabilty' movement - continues. The 'new' curriculum is in place. And just like Tim made little donuts - wonder of wonders - the testing organization has deterermined that the gains in ability among the scholastic are notably improved! For 10 or 15 (or is it 40?) million bucks a year they had ought to find some improvement. But what kind of improvement? I recieved an old Grade 8 graduation 'test' from 1920 in the email. It tested every area of the Grade 8 curriculum in place at that time - rigorously. Now there are educators to-day who would criticize the test for its failure to consider multiple-intelligences or non-linear thinking. I have two problems with that - are those things considered valid in to-day's tests? Are there alternate responses that would receive full marks? I don't think so. Is musical ability, or artistry graded? No. But then kids to-day aren't expected to solve multidimensional problems requiring a substantial base of 'tool' knowledge. I'm thinking of the computation of interest on a loan questions, or those that involved using volume computations and formulae in avoirdupois to determine a weight, or even a selling-price, for agricultural goods. I think I might have had enough knowledge from my old 'rote' days to take a poke at it but it would baffle the brightest grade 8 I know to-day. To-days 'test' questions don't even come close to being that challenging.

Drop-out rates have become a real problem as the rigorous 'new' curriculum is beyond many high school aged children. In secondary schools, the maths and sciences have burgeoned. For those with ability, the opportunities are outstanding to pick up some of the latest knowledge (compared to what I was taught) and to hone some high level computational and cognitive skills. These, however, are lost on the mediocre, whose time might better be spent understanding how a fridge, microwave or washer/dryer works. Some kids should be taught the basics of opening a can or cooking a meal, the basics of sanitation - a host of life-skills for the 21st century. They're not, and they quit school altogether, many to become welfare and disability cases. There is a significant chunk of the last two generations who are non-productive members of society - mainly, I believe, because of their educational failure-to-thrive.

Education is better funded now, than it ever was. At the same time, however, there are problems. In our local board every trustee is deemed to 'need' a laptop computer. Ditto every administrative type and a growing number of other personnel. That 'administrative packet' can be, and is, used to fund a number of deluxe 'perks' for the upper echelons of 'management'. Remember the money has to be spent on administration, or it's lost.

Boards continue to spend inordinate sums maintaining school computer networks which, at the elementary grades, provide little educational value for the buck.

Special education remains an area where, in practicality, a 'one-size-fits-all' approach remains basal in philosophy. The paper trail, the Individualized Education Plan and the IPP remains overly important as documentation but are not primarily a learning or evaluative tool. Highly trained staff function more as secretaries, than in applying their training to assist students.

At the same time 'perks' for the classroom are diminishing. Every year demonstrates a growing number of 'fund-raisers' to provide out-of-class experiences to kids who can't or don't want to walk anywhere. Stifling copyright laws circumscribe what can be shown or used as resources. 'Health' issues preclude a number of experiences other generations took for granted and a hyper-sensitivity about personal 'safety' and possible law suits has engendered a growing paranoia in our schools. At the same time values education is watered down to a minimalist humanitarianism in an effort to pay lipservice to multiethnicity and multiculturalism.

The variety of challenges facing schools to-day are greater than ever and kids, whether we like to think so or not, aren't much 'smarter' than those who preceded them but they, and their educators, certainly do have a far greater number of distractions.

No comments: