|Posted on February 11, 2015 at 11:30 AM|
The 2014 EWA First Prize Award winning film: "REBIRTH New Orleans" is available for viewing on Netflix. This film discusses how Hurricane Katrina’s devastation actually served to rescue a failing public school system. The State of Louisiana undertook an ambitious experiment to transform public education by taking control of the schools away from the school board and putting in the hands of the parents.
I highly recommend the documentary to anyone interested in improving Ontario schools.
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is facing its own disaster - but this one is man-made. After years and years of mismanagement, urban schools are failing into a state of disrepair. This time, the Province of Ontario is refusing to rush in with cash to bail the TDSB out.
The Education Minister, Liz Sandals, is telling the TDSB to submit plans to address the almost 130 schools that are underutilized (as defined by enrollment levels being less than 65% capacity). The message to the TDSB is clear. The Minister would like the TDSB to close these schools, sell them off, and then use the funds to refurbish the remaining TDSB schools. The majority of these schools are located in Toronto’s lower income neighbourhoods.
There are shortcomings to this strategy. Foremost among them, selling an urban school will likely result in intensification of certain neighbourhoods. This is likely the reason why Toronto Mayor John Tory is demanding to be included in any discussion about selling school properties. Where there was once green space, neighbourhoods can expect high rise condominium development. All politics is local and Mayor Tory doesn’t want the impending headache of 130 Toronto neighbourhoods fighting intensification.
There is a much more practical solution. Let’s recognize the elephant in the room and admit to ourselves that the TDSB is a failed organization. Turn over the 130 underutilized schools to the Province of Ontario to be repurposed as Charter Schools. Give parents options to the TDSB run public schools with Charter Schools offering unique curriculum in order to give urban students the kinds of advantages and success New Orleans has been seeing.
I expect that these underutilized schools will quickly fill to capacity, as it's up to the Charter Schools’ administration to attract students. If the school cannot fill up their classes, then the Province can withdraw the charter and close the school. By contrast, there is no pressure currently on public schools to attract students - and that's part of the problem with low attendance figures.
What we can take from New Orleans’ success is that it's the responsibility of the Province to set very high standards for giving out a Charter, study and learn from the mistakes of other jurisdictions - and then step back and measure the results.
We may never have a more ideal time to introduce Charter Schools in Ontario than right now. The mess that exists in the TDSB appears to be the perfect opportunity to reinvigorate a flagging public school system. Education Minister Liz Sandals must work with Toronto Mayor John Tory to find every way possible to keep these schools open. Let’s hope that Charter School legislation is part of the solution.
I have been in contact with the producers of REBIRTH New Orleans about arranging a public viewing and discussion of the film and charter schools. I would love to hear from anyone who is interested in participating in such an event.
For more information on how Charter Schools can reinvigorate children's education, see http://www.societyforqualityeducation.org/