It’s hard to know who to believe. On the one hand the media and many teachers, particularly secondary school teachers, are complaining that the Ontario McGuinty government’s latest “student success” and “equity strategy” is more about politics than it is about helping students succeed.
In other words, is the Ontario Liberal government just doing what they can to keep their 2007 election promise to improve the numbers of students finishing high school — without looking at any longterm consequences? I honestly don’t know but I am suspicious.
Second, I would take a look at the executive summary of a research report that evaluated the “Student Success Program” that says the approach is working. Interestingly, I discovered I knew some of the practitioners on the research “Field Team” — people I respect.
Third, there is Bill 177 — an omnibus bill that is about to change the Education Act in a major way by legislating “reducing the gaps in student achievement” — which is where the “no-fail” phrase obviously came from. In the introduction to the Bill, for example, it states:
“The purpose of education is to provide students with the opportunity to realize their potential and develop into highly skilled, knowledgeable, caring citizens who contribute to their society.”
Of course no one can criticize such a motherhood statement and education goal as that. However, it also states:
“All partners in the education sector have a role to play in enhancing student achievement and well-being, closing gaps in student achievement and maintaining confidence in the province’s publicly funded education system.”
Now, what exactly does “enhancing student achievement and closing gaps in student achievement” mean in reality?
Finally, according to Education Minister Kathleen Wynn, the “school success” program or “inclusive” strategy doesn’t mean students can’t fail but — there is a big but — only a certain number can be allowed to do so.
For example, she recently told a group of Catholic school trustees, that failure was still an option but: “We can’t have more than 20% of our kids not get through high school, not get that certification.” (H/T Mended.ca)
However, even after everything I have read on this topic, I can see why the approach is called a “no-fail” policy because academic standards seem to be fuzzy. As a result, I have some questions that I feel need answering, such as:
- How can teachers do their jobs if they can’t insist that assignments be completed according to certain criteria?
- How is it fair if some students have to meet certain criteria but others do not?
- How can grades be assigned if, at the end of the day, work is not completed or plagiarism was involved?
- How can parents be sure their children are ready for an apprenticeship or post-secondary program?
- How will students be able to cope in the real world when their employers expect accountability and competence ALL the time?
- How will colleges and universities deal with students who do not have the requisite skills to succeed?
My prediction: If the Ontario government “school success” strategy is really about watering down the high school diploma, parents that can afford to will send their children to private schools, thus enlarging the two-tier education system the McGuinty government and its supporters claim they don’t want. What teachers will do I have no idea.
Some sources are listed below. As I learn of others, I will add them to the list.
- Randall Denley: “No fail-policy reflects a broken system” — Ottawa Citizen April 25, 2009. Reprinted in the Windsor Star, May 5th, 2009.
- Joanne Laucius: “Teacher begins petition to change no-fail policy” — Ottawa Citizen, May 1st, 2009.
- Editorial: “Wynn says kids can fail” — Owen Sound Sun Times, May 11, 2009.