|Posted on February 1, 2015 at 2:35 PM|
Parents across Ontario are upset this weekend as Minister of Education, Liz Sandals, announced that as many as 600 schools have been identified as “under utilized” and facing closure.
The more cynical among us will say that any decision to close schools has more to do with Ontario’s stubborn $12.5 Billion deficit than educational efficiency. Without a doubt many of the targeted schools sit on prime developable land and are of substantial value to developers.
But even for those who aren’t parents of school-aged children, what is most worrisome is the sheer number of closures and what affect it will have to our overall public education system. According to Ontario government statistics, Ontario has 5000 schools and employs 115,000 teachers. The closure of 600 schools represents approximately 12% of all the schools within the education system and could impact as many as 13,000 teacher jobs. These staggering statistics show the enormity of the decision that lies ahead for Ontario.
This weekend, parents everywhere are asking what can be done to save their neighbourhood school.
To avoid closure, Minister Sandals is encouraging school boards to work together to share facilities. For example, to avoid being closed altogether an underutilized public school may share its school building with a French language school, or even a Separate school. In some cases, such an arrangement may very well make sense.
I believe an even more practical solution, one that will keep the schools open and keep teacher jobs secure.
It doesn’t go without notice that while our public system is closing schools down, private schools in Ontario is a burgeoning industry. According to the Fraser Institute, Ontario has approximately 700 private schools serving approximately 5% of Ontario students.
In a province where there would be hue and cry in the streets if two-tier health care were to be introduced, nobody seems to bat an eye at the fact that we allow parents to opt out of a public education in favour of private school or home schooling.
Let’s look at the reason why these alternatives to public education exist. The parents of these children have left the public education system in order to pay tens of thousands of dollars towards a private education or to educate at home due to the simple reason that the public system didn’t offer choice in how their child was educated.
Frankly, I don’t begrudge parents from making this choice. What school administrators sometimes forget is that a child’s greatest educator is their mom and dad. If teachers and schools want to be “partners” in educating a child, they would be wise to remember that they are “junior partners” at best. It is wrong (and arrogant) to believe otherwise.
Parents need to know that there can be effective alternatives to home schooling or expensive private school tuitions for those who insist on having a say in how to best educate their child.
In the U.S. and in Alberta, charter schools have been used to give students a unique pedagogical experience while remaining within the public school system.
In a charter school, parents establish the parameters under which the school operates and the principal is given more leeway over hiring of teachers. For example, schools may have a charter that focuses on arts, or enhances the focus on maths and sciences, or maybe even a focus on applied skills and trades. The list of possibilities in pedagogies/curriculums is virtually endless and recognizes that our children are unique, learn differently and have their own interests. It is time that our public education system recognizes that one size does not fit all.
Based on the experiences of charter schools elsewhere, I can guarantee that if Minister Sandals were to set aside any number of these 600 under utilized schools as charter schools and put the parents in charge of their children’s education, the enrollment at these schools would be filled to capacity.
The benefits of creating legislation for charter schools at this time for Ontario are almost too numerous to list: keeping schools open, securing teacher jobs, parents engaged in their child’s education, children learning more effectively, and a more robust public system are just a few of these benefits.
I believe that given a choice between have a local school shut down for good, or breathing new life into a school with an invigorating charter structure, the decision is an easy one. Let’s hope that Minister Sandals addresses this serious shortcoming in our public education system and restores choice in education to parents via charter schools.