The public and private in public schools in Ontario, California

Ontario’s new full-day kindergarten expansion is going to look to the private sector to help provide services and, according to the Toronto Star, this is not a welcome development.

Olivia Nuamah of the Atkinson Charitable Foundation, which promotes full-day kindergarten learning, says public delivery of the Ontario government’s expanded programme was supposed to ensure quality.

“Giving school boards the option of using third-party operators raises the spectre of cheaply run services delivered by low-paid workers resulting in neither quality learning nor child care,” she told the Star. “It also recreates the kind of fragmentation we are trying to leave behind.”

I’ve been looking at the issue of expanded kindergarten services for a while. Not in great detail, but I remember when I was working at Take 5 at CIUT 89.5, the Canadian Federation of Teachers was very supportive of the plan. They trotted studies showing that full day kindergarten improved learning throughout a child’s life and helped fight child poverty.

In Ottawa, I saw the issue of overcrowding at First Avenue Public School in the Glebe. After going to a community meeting and talking to some preschool educators in the area, it seemed like the issue of overcrowding – once attached to which school offered French Immersion – was about to get even more complicated, as mandatory pre-K kicked in.

This is to say, there’s a lot of work to be done for the Ontario government to meet it’s daycare pledge.

Without reliable funding from the federal government, the province has turned to the private sector. This raises a host of issues.

For people like my former professor at U of T, Rick Salutin, it may imperil the benefits of a truly public system. A system with public standards delivered by public means, to Salutin and others, means inculcating children with Canada’s democratic values – from the classroom to PTAs and school boards.

It’s true enough. The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board town hall I went to was a great example of democracy at it’s nitty gritty best. Though larger problems, like I said full-day kindergarten, were still in the province’s hands, parents were engaging the school board and both sides were listening – as far as I could see.

For those who see the public school system providing a host of poverty-fighting, society-building services on top of education, the question comes down to whether public schools will be enabled by governments or whether we will accept uneven standards that come with privatized delivery.

In California, where charter schools change the dimension of public and private, the rhetoric is parent choice. Charter-school advocates argue that the public school system is already producing uneven results. In California, parent’s have the ability to close down the school, call in a charter organization to run it or even sack the school’s administration. This is called the parent-trigger, and I first read about it through Mother Jones.

This parent-trigger is seen as the thin edge of the wedge, prying public education from government and moving towards privatization.There is evidence that charter schools try to manage their school populations and services they provide to make themselves look better compared to public schools – creating a two-tiered system.

For those who support these private options, education is a service like any other and parents should have the choice to go to whichever provider will offer the best.

To further complicate things, charter schools are in uneasy position with teacher’s unions in the US. The New York Times (paywall restrictions may apply). There’s an argument over whether unions allow teachers a greater say in curriculum, school organization and ensuring quality or whether they are part of a bureaucracy stifling the public system.

As someone who has experienced both private and public education and even in Ontario’s separate school system, I am curious about these questions. At this point in my life, still hammering away at a graduate degree, I can’t say my kids are on the line here, but that day will eventually come. Adding to that, my brother is training to be a teacher.

Let’s just say, I’ll be keeping an eye on this.

ARTICLES REFERENCED:

Education Act changes rankle critics [The Toronto Star/Parent Central]

The ultimate public school advantage [Rick Salutin/The Toronto Star]

Search results for “full day kindergarten” [Canadian Federation of Teachers]

The Parents Behind Charter Schools [Mother Jones]

Unions Move In at Chicago Charter Schools, Resistance is Swift [NYT]

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One thought on “The public and private in public schools in Ontario, California

  1. Pingback: Democracy in Education « Matthew Kupfer

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