Critics, especially those on the right, take pride in denigrating public education. They want us to believe that our schools – and by implication, you, our members – are failing our children.
We know that the exact opposite is true, especially here in Ontario where our public school system ranks as one of the best in the world.
Recent international assessment findings confirmed that Ontario’s students, your students, perform among the world’s best. Ontario students ranked above the Canadian average and, equally important, Ontario is a jurisdiction where students from all socioeconomic backgrounds perform very well.
ETFO members have a lot to be proud of because you are the heart and soul of public education in this province.
In the last eight years many things in public education have changed for the better. Those of you who were in classrooms 10 to 15 years ago will remember that teachers and their federations were reviled by the provincial government of the day. We were made out to be unprofessional, lazy people who required strict monitoring and constant re-testing to confirm our professional skills. You will also remember that our members often said they were reluctant to admit they were teachers.
Pride in our profession is one thing that has taken a huge leap forward in the last eight years. When the current government came into power in 2003 punitive approaches to teacher professionalism were done away with. New performance appraisal systems had the goal of supporting and mentoring teachers and improving their abilities, not punishing them.
Between 1995 and 2003 under a Conservative government, some $2 billion was cut from Ontario’s public education system. Specialist teachers and teacher librarians felt the brunt as their programs were called ‘frills’ and slashed. Young people suffered as supports for the most vulnerable were cut. It has taken fully eight years to slowly bring that funding back. We’re not there yet, but the current government has made consistent and significant re-investments in public education. It recognizes that our children are our future. It has shown respect for our members and knows that education is the key to prosperity.
That’s not to say everything is rosy in all our schools everywhere. ETFO members know there are many challenges: workload and class size continue to be unreasonable and there are unrelenting demands to test and assess students at the expense of deep-rooted, meaningful education. ETFO members have been clear with us that the salary disparity from the last round of bargaining must be addressed. We have and will continue to push the government hard on these concerns. But only with an education-minded administration will we have any chance of succeeding.
We have had a provincial government that respects the work we do, that believes in the importance of public education, and that – with the new full-day kindergarten program – has given our youngest students an opportunity for a great start in school.
On October 6 Ontarians will go to the polls. As educators we have an important role to play. We have the chance to vote for a strong public education system that gives our children the best chance to succeed. We have a chance to vote for a government that believes in us and the work we do.