David Suzuki recalls Louise Wyatt

The Learning Partnership's governance report


A Matter of Trust

The Learning Partnership releases its report on governance - saying that the issue of trust or public confidence has been at the heart of the tumult and discord in Ontario's education system.

Review the role of the province's education testing body. Change the process of collective bargaining. Give principals more power to manage school improvement.

Those are among the recommendations in a report from The Learning Partnership (TLP), a national business/education alliance, following two summits on education governance held earlier in the year.

"Frequent instances of bad governance in the public and private sectors have led to a re-appreciation and resurfacing of the root values of good governance, notably transparency, candour, accountability and fair dealing," says TLP's Future Directions in Education Governance report.

Future Directions says the Education Quality and Assessment Office (EQAO) is costly and releases its test results too late to have any impact or use in school improvement. The report recommends that the EQAO expand its scope to assess a broader range of student achievement and says thought should be given to moving it to the Office of the Provincial Auditor, at arms length from government, to strengthen its independence.

"While EQAO is an important vehicle for measuring academic achievement, it does not provide data on the wide breadth of student learning outcomes; it is a costly mechanism, both financial and in the time teachers and students spend on the assessment; results are not reported until four or five months after the tests are administered; and in its current relationship with the Ministry of Education there may be difficulties in pursuing a fully independent course."

This report says that the issue of trust or public confidence has been at the heart of the tumult and discord in Ontario's education system. It contends that trust throughout the system is essential to realize the goals of education excellence.

"The need for change was in the air for governance in education that would serve the children of the province in a better way, a model that would bring an end to the battlefield of competing interests of government, federations, school boards and parents," Future Directions says.

"There was widespread recognition that the governance system in Ontario had become, if not dysfunctional, at least decidedly dispirited," the report continues. "Chief among the frustrations expressed was the degree of conflict, negativity and divisiveness among the stakeholders; the imbalance of responsibilities among players; and the lack of sufficient (and reciprocal) accountability."

Continuous school improvement is a dominant theme throughout, influencing recommendations on everything from the roles of students, teachers, school administrators and parents to rethinking how teacher and support staff contracts are negotiated.

Accountability, Future Directions says, "is fundamental to ensuring that the system supports a culture of continuous improvement in student achievement and learning."

"In recent decades, some roles and responsibilities of education partners have evolved in an almost unplanned way." As people have adapted and responded to fiscal, social and legislated change, the roles have become "blurred, inconsistent and/or inappropriate." The report calls for clarification and reformulation, and assesses the roles and needs of various players in education.

High school students should have a greater voice in school improvement planning, it says. School boards should provide school principals and teachers with more training and opportunities to make changes at the school level that improve learning. Supervisory officers should be trained to lead the improvement planning process. School councils are not living up to their potential. They need to be involved in school improvement planning, helping principals to develop, approve and monitor plans. As well, trustees should be paid more, trained and given resources to do the jobs they were elected to do, but their role needs review and clarification.

"Safeguarding the integrity of the position of trustee is an important part of a thriving democratic governance system for schools."

Future Directions also states that principals have been straitjacketed in recent years by budget constraints, restructuring and collective agreements. As school education leaders and managers of school improvement planning, principals need support and training to carry out their responsibilities more effectively. "Consideration should be given to establishing a province-wide educational leadership institute to train principals."

Budget constraints, contracts and curriculum changes have also put Ontario teachers in positions where they've been asked to teach subjects they're not qualified to teach. They need training and "capacity building programs." The report points out that teachers need planning time and says their professional development initiatives should be directed toward school and board improvement planning.

Future Directions questions whether collective agreements should be local, provincial or a combination, whether flexibility can be built in at the school level, and what support systems should be developed to ensure teachers are qualified to teach what they're assigned.

This report says that the current collective bargaining process robs schools of flexibility. It's an "adversarial process," which "seems divorced from student learning needs and school improvement planning. The collective bargaining process is increasingly reductive, focusing on time, money and working conditions in the narrowest sense."

"The professionals involved in collective bargaining, on both sides, are rarely concurrently involved in direct delivery of learning in the schools. As a result, staffing policies have developed which are divorced from the delivery of school programs and the needs of the school."

Future Directions says that schools need to be better connected technologically to share information and strategies, educators and trustees need change-management skills, and front-line people need to be encouraged to innovate and take risks.

The report advises the Ministry of Education to connect all Ontario schools to broadband and establish an Ontario education portal. The portal could provide a virtual teacher centre - connected to other provinces and to education portals in Britain, Australia and Europe. It would spur innovation and ensure the adoption of best practices. "We must also recognize that a culture of 'replication' is unsuited for the changing economies of the 21st century."

"If we are to unleash creativity and couple that with high standards, we must develop a governance balance of carefully selected central controls, while prizing local professionalism at principal and teacher levels, working together with parents, school councils and community partners. This inclusive approach would also involve research institutions, academia, the Ontario College of Teachers and others related to the teaching profession."

Future Directions also recommends that:
  • students, staff, parent and community members be more involved in school goal and priority setting
  • the Minister of Education systematically review the roles, responsibilities and qualifications of supervisory officers and directors to support improvement planning
  • the province, in tandem with teacher federations, review the collective bargaining framework to see whether it should be central, local or both
  • the funding recommendations in the 2002 Report of the Education Equality Task Force by Dr. Mordechai Rozanski be implemented.