Maybe we were the only ones doing it right. Maybe it’s not so silly to give teens — especially today’s helicopter’d, hyper-praised (“Good breathing!”) indulged young things one more year to actually mature before they try learning on their own.
But what was the hidden cost?
That’s the fun of covering education over time; you get to watch things play out. Some are just brilliant — full-day kindergarten, parenting centres. Others never seem to get resolved. I covered complaints about students getting condom lessons on a wooden penis — in 1987.
I wrote about Catholic schools when they still charged tuition for grades past 10. Now they’re free, but some ask why one religion’s schools should still get funding in a province with children of so many faiths. It’s the question no politician will touch.
That’s sure not the case with the needs of students of different race and culture. Today schools are all over this. I’ve reported on efforts to reduce the black dropout rate, help settle Roma refugees, recognize indigenous heritage and welcome young Syrian newcomers. This is Canada reflected in the classroom.
When you chop 20 per cent out of high school, it leaves less time for anything but the basics. Now students take fewer arts courses, less phys. ed. and feel they can’t spare time for the co-op programs that offer the kind of real-world “experiential” learning that’s now the rage at college and university.
What’s the rush?
Even the 3Rs seem to have suffered from squishing five years of learning into four. I’ve watched colleges and universities scramble to run catch-up math courses for first-year students who just can’t do the math that former Grade 13 grads could.
These were never your American cousin’s standardized tests. They’re not the drill-and-kill, multiple-choice quizzes that sucked so much class time in the United States away from creative learning, the ones that saw teachers wasting time “teaching to the test.”
Ontario designed them to be different. They’re samples of regular lessons that teachers would give in class anyway. Read this paragraph and answer some questions. Write an informative paragraph. Work out this problem, and show the math. Check out some sample questions and see if they look that scary after all.
While teachers’ own observations are often worth gold, a standardized yardstick gives an extra benchmark you can track over time. Unlike the U.S., which often penalizes schools with low test scores, Ontario pumps extra help into schools where students struggle.
If only real estate agents wouldn’t keep using them to pitch one neighbourhood over another. Test scores tend to say more about the demographic edge of the parents than the quality of the school itself. If you want to use them for anything, track a school’s scores year over year; don’t compare them from one school to another. Some of the most vibrant schools have low, but growing scores.
Better yet, go and see schools for yourself. What you see may surprise you. There’s a bright focus now on shoring up children’s needs. Schools talk about not just bridging the “achievement gaps” faced by some communities, but changing the “opportunity gaps” that create them in the first place.
LouiseBrown retired from the Star this summer after covering education and children’s issues for more than 30 years.