Feature

Building Better Schools: ETFO's Vision for Education Reform (Ideas)

Vivian McCaffrey

To refresh the government’s agenda and develop her own brand as Liberal Party leader, Premier Kathleen Wynne is spearheading a number of public consultations.

The Ministry of Education launched its consultation with the publication of  Building the Next Phase in Ontario’s Education Strategy.  ETFO’s submission is based on its 2011 document  Building Better Schools.

The government has a timely opportunity to review the last decade and introduce meaningful education reforms that reflect what both classroom educators and the latest research are saying. It’s up to the government whether it uses the consultations to genuinely review policy.

Getting from Great to Excellent

Getting from “great to excellent” is how education advisor Michael Fullan describes the overarching goal of the Ministry’s consultation exercise. The slogan acknowledges that Ontario has a strong public school system, one of the highest-performing in the world, as measured by the international student assessments conducted by the Organization for Economic Development and Co-operation (OECD). ETFO’s approach to the policy review is to identify barriers Ontario’s schools face in sustaining their high-performing status and ensuring that students develop the higher-order skills that experts say are necessary in an increasingly global and technological world.

Retooling Student Assessment

ETFO has persistently challenged the student assessment model administered by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO). The federation has vigorously fought against the extent to which the testing has narrowed the classroom focus to literacy and numeracy. Recently, ETFO has rung alarm bells about how data-driven initiatives are hampering teachers’ ability to deliver a holistic curriculum and to more consistently engage students in meaningful learning.

It is unlikely the government will totally abandon EQAO tests. As a first step, ETFO advocates moving to a random-sample testing model. Random-sample testing would transform EQAO assessments by measuring the education system, not individual students. It would mean the end to the Fraser Institute’s ranking of schools. It would give teachers more ability to exercise their professional judgement regarding the use of assessment strategies.

The random-sample model is supported by education experts like Pasi Sahlberg (1) from Finland, and Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley, (2) who have conducted extensive research in both Ontario and Alberta. It is also supported by People for Education, the Ontario-based education research and advocacy organization.

Engaging Students

There is a general consensus that, to be successful in their future careers and to become responsible citizens, students need to develop higher-order skills like critical thinking, problem solving, communications, creativity, and the ability to work collaboratively. In the context of a global economy and the omnipresence of rapid technological change, our future graduates need to be self-directed, lifelong learners who are innovative, flexible, resourceful, and resilient.

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