March 1998

New High School Program Raises Questions for Teacher Education

Faculties will need to help new teachers and veterans acquire new skills to cope with new demands.

Registrar's Report

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wpe13.jpg (3537 bytes) By Margaret Wilson

The new four-year high school program announced in mid-January by Education and Training Minister Dave Johnson will present the teaching profession with some interesting challenges over the next few years.

The new curriculum that will form the basis of this reform isn’t written yet. Its promised release next winter should give secondary teachers a little more time to prepare themselves to teach it than their elementary counterparts got this year.

However, the College will be looking for answers to some key questions sooner than that so we can get an early start on consulting with the faculties and other providers of teacher education to ensure that appropriate professional learning is available when teachers need it.

Teachers as Mentors

For example, what will the new responsibility of teacher-advisor mean for teacher education? Teaching and mentoring roles can be quite different and may require different skills.

The provincial guidelines for teacher-advisors will help the profession decide if pre-service requirements for teachers in the Intermediate/Senior divisions should be adjusted, and how. They should also provide some direction for ongoing professional learning as practising teachers adjust to the new role.

The College’s Accreditation Committee will have to consider this and a number of other issues raised by high school reform as they begin the process of accrediting Ontario education faculties this spring.

The introduction of the new prior learning assessment (PLA) process also raises questions. Will the tests be developed on a province-wide basis? If not, how will the reliability of PLA be assessed? For teachers, this is a critical issue if they are to integrate successfully students who "pass the test."

Will PLA be phased in, or will students be able to take full advantage of it starting in the fall of 1999? The answer to this question will be of particular interest to students and parents who will be looking for anything they can do to avoid graduating with a double cohort in 2003.

More Flexible

The minister has promised that streaming will be more flexible than in the past and that there will be programs to help students move from one level of difficulty to another.

For those of you with long memories, this is identical to a recommendation in the Secondary Education Review Project (SERP) report of the early 1980s.

Will there be a curriculum for these programs? There used to be provision for transition courses in the policy document that governed the operation of secondary schools – Ontario Schools: Intermediate/Senior (OSIS) – but by and large there was no curriculum for them, nor were there any significant transition program offerings across the province.

How much will teachers’ judgement count in decisions about student movement between streams? What in-service would be useful to teachers as they work with students who may have been operating at a different level of difficulty for many years and must acquire new learning skills?

Many of the initiatives that the minister announced are no surprise to teachers. In fact, several have their roots in SERP. However, there is already healthy debate within the profession about some of the decisions.

Question on Compulsories

Dave Johnson provided an opportunity for students and staff at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute, where he announced the reform package, to pose questions about the new high school program.

One of their questions about the new curriculum was very appropriate for a school named after the first Canadian in space.

"An examination of the 18 compulsory courses indicates that a student could graduate without any computer/technology experience. What structure will be in place in the high schools of Ontario to ensure that most students will leave high school with adequate skills in the area of information technology?"

College members will be interested to learn the answer to this and many other questions raised by the reform package. But it’s clear, as we prepare to implement the new high school curriculum that will make the reforms a reality, that teachers should also ensure our professional learning is designed to give us the skills to manage constant change.