Rivers on solving the cost of education: Cutting the herd reduces the feed bill.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

March 28th, 2109


“When students are currently preparing to go off to post-secondary education, we’re hearing from professors and employers alike that they’re lacking coping skills and they’re lacking resiliency….By increasing class sizes in high school, we’re preparing them for the reality of post-secondary as well as the world of work.” (Hon. Lisa Thompson MMP, Ontario Minister of Education – CBC Radio’s Metro Morning).

When it came to appointing Ontario’s new minister of education Mr. Ford had a problem – too many farmers and not enough educators. So Ernie Hardeman got the agriculture ministry. After all he’d been there before, back in the Harris days.

That left Ford with a problem called Lisa Thompson. He could have just left her on the backbench but perhaps the romantic notion of a goat farmer herding those gruff teachers amused him. In addition, Thompson has a certificate in agricultural leadership, so who better to shepherd the province’s kids.

Besides, having scant knowledge of Ontario’s education system might be an advantage. Ontario’s educators would never make the mistake of assuming she’s one of them. And she’d have no reason to feel any collegiality towards them. In addition, having that kind of barrier between knowledgeable teachers and a blissfully ignorant minister, about to shred their future, is probably a good thing. At least from Mr. Ford’s view point.

Her marching orders from the Premier were to chop a billion dollars or so from the provincial education budget. So she followed her instincts and did what she would have done on the farm whenever the budget got tight. It’s obvious. Cutting the herd reduces the feed bill.

86However, the fact is that more teachers and smaller classrooms have transformed Ontario’s education system. Graduation rates have skyrocketed from 68 percent at the end of the Harris/Eves government to over 86 percent today. That is a jump of 18 percentage points in the fifteen years the Liberal government policy of smaller classrooms had been in place.

Even the Fraser Institute, the go to place for your Tory Bible, hasn’t tried to minimize that statistic. They do quibble otherwise about test results, arguably cherry picking their examples. But even they don’t quibble that graduation better prepares our youth for their next step in life.

The Liberals increased education spending by about $6 billion over their time in office. After adjusting for inflation that is less than a couple billion dollars. That was the price Ontario paid for full day kindergarten and to achieve graduation rates approaching 90%. And does anyone, other than the government, argue that early education and completing graduation make for less resilient youth entering the workplace?

Lisa Thompson really needs to go back to class if she wants to understand her portfolio. A simple google search would have unambiguously shown her that the only association between resilience/coping skills and class size is that smaller is always better. Not the other way around.

So she made it up. Those “professors and employers” were fictional, or they, like her, are blessed with a keen ability to shovel goat manure.  It’s dishonest at best, and how can we expect our children to grow up to be ethical, with that kind of role model at the highest level of their education system?

Lisa Thompson is supposed to be the minister of education, not the minister of propaganda.

Grade 9 math

The grade rates are good for students on the academic side – barely acceptable for the applied level.

The billion dollars Ford is after in education pales when weighed against the near $900 billion GDP economy of this province. And that GDP is driven by its human capital. There may not be benefit-cost studies which demonstrate the added contribution to our economy from smaller classes in high school, but it’s not zero. And it’s not negative as the minister would have you believe.

Teachers would rather walk on broken glass than think back on the good old Mike Harris years. How well they’d recall another unqualified education minister, a grade 11 drop out, who deliberately created a crisis and then started a war. And that war between teachers and parents and the Harris/ Eves government lasted until the bums were finally booted from office. Nobody is asking for its replay.

Lisa Thompson stepped in it, as they say down on the farm, when she shot her mouth off about something she clearly knows nothing about. Perhaps it’s time she moved on to something she does understand.

Rivers hand to faceRay Rivers writes regularly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was once a candidate for provincial office in Burlington.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.   Ray has a post graduate degree in economics that he earned at the University of Ottawa.  Tweet @rayzrivers


Background links:

Class Sizes –     Resilience –    Lisa Thompson

Smaller Classes –     Graduation Rates –     Fraser Institute

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3 comments to Rivers on solving the cost of education: Cutting the herd reduces the feed bill.

  • Charles Jones

    I didn’t read the article, just wanted to say the phrase is “culling the herd”. Also, for what it’s worth, the government should be finding efficiencies in the bloated school boards and administration staffs, not by cutting front line teachers. Like every area of government, the public education system is rife with do-nothing middle management types coasting their way to retirement with absolutely no value added. I bet Ray would know all about that.

  • doug

    If 2, 3 or 4 extra students is a concern best find a new profession or a new cry me a river union. Wait till these little softies get to college or university, don’t prepare them before hand. If OSSTF were not always crying wolf, we may feel sorry for teachers, especially during their 3 months total vacation time.

  • Phillip Wooster

    Increased graduation rates have little to do with smaller class sizes and more teachers; they do have a lot to do with a “de facto no-fail policy”. In fact, looking at your provincial math scores underscores that fact–advanced level students who are in larger classes in high school have excellent success; applied level kids who are in smaller class sizes don’t have success. On this latter point, most applied kids KNOW they will receive their credits no matter how little they do or how bad their attendance is (BTW, if they do the unthinkable and actually fail the class, they can always show up in “student success” and be given their credit). So why should they try in math–it’s work and they know it doesn’t matter!

    Want to see excellent student achievement? Go into any classroom where there is a highly knowledgeable teacher who is passionate about his/her subject and who expects high levels of success. We’ve all had teachers like this from time to time. The class size was immaterial to student success!