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June 1998

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Professionally Speaking welcomes letters and articles on topics of interest to teachers. We reserve the right to edit letters for length. To be considered for publication, all letters must be signed and provide the writer’s daytime phone number. Letters should be addressed to: The Editor, Professionally Speaking, 121 Bloor Street East, 6th Floor, Toronto ON M4W 3M5; e-mail: ps@oct.ca



I read with great interest the article by Theresa McGrory "Television that Matters" (Professionally Speaking, December 1997).

Six years ago, a new era began for TVOntario, which has seen $18 million in budget cuts and the need to re-think the old ways of doing business. More cost-effective ways to serve the needs of students, teachers and parents have had to be found, and not all of the tough choices that have been made will please everyone.

McGrory is correct in saying that the rights for certain series expired and some were not renewed; most often, because the price was simply too high, or the use of the videos too low, to warrant the cost. I recall one series which would have cost nearly $500,000 to renew – much more than the total budget for, say, TVO Kids, the most watched children’s program in Ontario today.

Times change, technology changes even faster, and how we all do our best for education must keep pace. What hasn’t changed is TVOntario’s commitment to support teachers and work with them to improve education in Ontario.

Finally, the jury is far from out on the value northern Ontarians see in TVOntario today. All five community forums on the future of TVOntario held recently in London, Toronto Sudbury, Thunder Bay and Ottawa made it clear how passionate the support for TVOntario remains among children and adults, be they students, parents, or teachers.

TVOntario not only matters, it matters more than ever in a world of diminishing educational resources

Jan Donio
Jan Donio is Creative Head, Educational Programming and Services, at TVOntario.



I was particularly interested by the article written by Theresa McGrory in the December issue of Professionally Speaking about TVO.

In French-language schools, a number of teachers use teaching material from tfo and TVO, since TVOntario broadcasts two educational stations. Each of their programming is different, but the services offered are similar.

I do not share the rather pessimistic point of view of the author. It is true that TVO’s future is uncertain. The possible privatization of tfo and TVO should rather value the superb TVO products in the field of educational television and encourage educators to join forces in order for students and adults to have access to quality education by demanding that the state gives proper financing to this institution.

Richard Dufour
Richard Dufour teaches Grade 5 at École publique LaMarsh in Niagara Falls.



In the article "Take Another Look at Our Students’ Science Ranking" (Professionally Speaking, December 1997), the authors discuss the science findings of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), in which Canada’s performance was mediocre, and maintain that "Canada is competing well." We took another look and discovered the authors used only selective science results for 13-year-old students from the TIMSS study.

Sometimes they exclude countries which did better than Canada, sometimes they don’t. The quoted country scores that appeared in their chart seem to be mostly unweighted averages for Grades 7 and 8, but for Japan they use the Grade 7 results, which lowers Japan’s score and for Korea they quote a score that is lower than either its Grade 7 or Grade 8 results. Now this is weird science!

If we consider and accept only the results of those countries which satisfied the most stringent criteria set by TIMSS, Canada was 10th out of 19 for Grade 8 students, and 7th out of 19 countries for its Grade 7s. Canada does not place in the top quarter.

Lou D’Amore and Thomas Schweitzer
Lou D’Amore is a high school science teacher at Father Redmond High School in Toronto and Thomas Schweitzer is an economist.



Education systems are products particular to a country’s culture, historical resources, priorities, and social and political objectives. One needs to guard against the temptation to make over-simplified generalizations or comparisons from international tests such as TIMSS. Some examples:

Singapore streams students according to their abilities into one of three streams at the end of Grade 4. All students then write a national placement examination at the end of Grade 6 to determine the students’ suitability for secondary education.

In Korea, compulsory free education is provided to children between six and 11 years of age. Students in the towns and cities who enrol in the middle grades (Grade 7 to 9) pay their own tuition and fees. Thus, economics plays a vital role.

Kazuo Ishizaka of the National Institute for Educational Research in Japan states that "much of what we believe about Japan’s school system is untrue." Further, "Japan streams its students, thus it is easy for officials to shape outcomes by choosing students that will score well on international tests." In addition, "schools that face the dishonor of mediocrity simply refuse to submit test results to authorities."

Joe Calabrese and Nick Forte
Joe Calabrese and Nick Forte are the authors of "Take Another Look at Our Students’ Science Ranking." They teach science at John Paul II Secondary School in London.