ETFO campaign for ECE a conflict of interest?

Whether the acronym is ECE, which stands for “Early Childhood Educator” or ELE “Early Learning Educator,” those individuals who are trained to teach children under the age of five are going to be the glue that holds the new Ontario early learning program (ELP) or full-day JK/SK program together.

So, it is interesting that up until the ELP was approved by the Ontario McGuinty government, ETFO went out of its way to  suggest that only teachers with elementary qualifications (ETFO’s current member group) should be in charge of the full-day JK/SK in order to facilitate the transition to regular school. 

In fact, that was the rationale  the government gave when it announced that its new full day ELP would be staff by “qualified” teachers all day long, with ECE qualified individuals providing back-up for part of the day — but always under the jurisdiction of the teacher.

So, it is puzzling now that ETFO has mounted a serious campaign to suggest they would be the best union to represent ECE staff, particularly since CUPE currently covers most, if not all, public sector childcare workers. 

In other words, I have major concerns about the same union representing both qualified elementary school teachers and ECE staff. I mean, clearly when push comes to shove, would not ETFO favour its first priority and mandate, and that is the interests of elementary school teachers? If so, there is the potential for a serious conflict of interest for those who are early childhood specialists.

Surely something for those with ECE qualifications to think about.

Endnotes:

Ontario’s full-day JK/SK “only” option divisive

Update: It has occurred to me that Premier Dalton McGuinty and his Ontario Liberals are using the same divisive strategy that the federal Liberals under Michael Ignatieff are using and what Levant is calling the “Graves Strategy.” In McGuinty’s case, he introduces a full-day JK/SK program but says “don’t worry, be happy,” parents can still choose the half-day if they want. Now, we find out that is not the case at all. In fact, before too long, the full-day JK/SK will be compulsory. If parents don’t like that they can keep their young children at home until Grade one. 

Then, this week they try to sneak in a sex education curriculum and when the Premier has to back track, he blames Christians and fundamentalists. In other words, the divide and conquer approach seems to be the Liberal way. If anyone complains, they are homophobes, anti-immigrant, anti-progressive or stay at home parents who simply don’t count. Disgusting!

Original post starts here: Ontario MPP Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton) is right to sound the alarm that once the Early Learning Program (ELP) (aka full-day JK/SK kindergarten) is implemented in Ontario public schools, parents will NOT have the choice between a half-day program and a full-day program. Rather, the choice — which isn’t really a choice for parents — will be for their child to either participate in the full-day program or remain at home until they are six years old.

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Consequences of Ontario’s ELP/full-day JK/SK

The headline at ParentCentral.ca reads: “Daycare system near collapse, advocates say” and states (h/t Jack’s Newswatch): “The loss of $63.5 million in federal child care cash next month and the fall launch of all-day kindergarten for 4- and 5-year olds is creating the ‘perfect storm’ in Ontario’s child care system, advocates warn.”

Am I surprised? No, not at all. In fact, since the Ontario legislature passed legislation to implement Ontario’s early learning program — referred to as either the ELP or full-day kindergarten — I have been writing that, while it was a good idea in principle, it likely was going to be a financial boondoggle with many unintended consequences.

So, does Premier McGuinty blame the timing of the implementation of the ELP for the reason there is a perfect storm? No he doesn’t. When questioned recently in the legislature by NDP leader Andrea Horwath, he said: “I call upon my colleague to join us in the efforts that we are making to convince the federal government that they should restore that funding on a permanent basis.”

So, now it is somehow the Conservative federal government’s fault that the McGuinty government didn’t weight all the potential consequences of implementing the ELP in 2010, even though they have known for four years that the federal cash would run out in the same year. In other words, the McGuinty government has no one to blame for the pending “perfect storm” then themselves.

c/p Jack’s Newswatch.

Not all communities like Ontario’s full-day kindergarten

While there is no doubt most parents and childcare providers in Ontario’s larger centres are delighted with the pending full-day junior and senior kindergarten program — usually referred to as the “Early Learning Program” or ELP — many in smaller and rural communities are not.

Why? Because, whether intentional or not, the ELP will:

  1. Put hundreds of private and regional subsidized daycare centres out of business;
  2. Mean huge Early Childhood Educator (ECE) job losses that won’t necessarily be translated into ELP positions, and
  3. Result in parents actually having fewer childcare choices than they have now.

For example, read this article by Scott Dunn in the Owen Sound Sun Times. The title says it all: “Parents, care providers dislike kindergarten change — Bluewater Board plan criticized for making scheduling more difficult” (h/t Catherine).

Now, I am not against the ELP per se. Most parents I have talked to are excited about it. My problem is its universal nature and the timing of its implementation —  a time when there should be a freeze on new spending rather than spending on new, plush programs.

However, as is usually the case with anything the McGuinty Liberal government does, it’s full speed ahead and damn the torpedos regardless of a $25 billion and ever climbing deficit. Instead, the government has committed to spending taxpayers dollars they don’t have on a long-term program that will involve highly paid unionized workers — and all that implies.

Problems with McGuinty’s full-day JK/SK (ELP)

Although most young families with children aged 3 1/2, 4 and 5 will no doubt like Ontario’s soon-to-be implemented full-day junior and senior kindergarten program — also referred to as the Early Learning Program (ELP) — it appears there will be just as many who won’t like it.

As Hugo writes at “Education Reporter,” school boards are being asked to run this program without any extra funding for capital costs. Not only that but they will be expected to charge and collect fees for the before and after school ELP components — something they have no experience or expertise doing.

Then, there is the issue that school boards cannot enter into any childcare partnerships with municipal agencies and/or private nursery schools — although they can get help with figuring out subsidies from the former. Think about that. School boards have absolutely no experience with early childhood education, apart from what they have already done in half-day JK and SK.  Yet, now will be expected to know what to do regarding the before and after school care components.   

Moreover, there is the issue of funding. If school boards are not going to receive any extra money for capital building projects (to have the space to provide the ELP), where is the extra funding going to come from? Other capital projects? Special education grants?

And, finally, what will happen to childcare providers in the community? Will they only have children who are aged 3 or younger? Assuming that will be the case, that would cut the number of children they care for by at least 50% — putting many providers out of business? Which means that parents who have children younger than 3 1/2 will not have access to that childcare anymore.

It seems to me that the McGuinty Liberal government is so desperate to use the ELP as a vote getter in preparation for the October 2011 provincial election campaign — that they are starting the implementation this September 2010 — come hell or high water. However, by doing so, it is clear they have not anticipated the kinds of repercussions a program like this can have on the broader community. 

Well, if there are as many negatives about this program as we are hearing, Premier McGuinty and his new Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky may well regret the speed at which they are doing this.

Note:  Here is a post I have written about this topic before.

UpdateHere is an example of an Ontario community Goderich not having enough money for child care. For example, a media release states:

“Central Huron will not be helping the town of Goderich with child care costs. Goderich asked Central Huron Council for close to 10 thousand dollars to offset the cost of providing child care services to Central Huron kids that attend the municipal day care centre.Central Huron council voted down that request at last night’s meeting.” (h/t Catherine)

Now, while this situation is not directly related to the ELP program per se, it does show that external services are already being adversely affected. Perhaps, for instance, the municipal politicans feel that many of the children affected will be attending full-day JK/SK anyway.

Pros & cons of Ontario’s full-day kindergarten

Recently, based on the Charles Pascal “With Our Best Future in Mind” report, the Ontario McGuinty government announced that it would be providing Ontario parents with an optional full-day junior and senior kindergarten program. Beginning in September 2010 with 35,000 four-and-five year olds,  the Early Learning Program (ELP) would be phased in gradually and fully implemented by 2015/16.

Like most educators and parents, I would agree with Ontario’s Education Minister’s online motherhood and apple pie statement that:

Giving young students an earlier start on their learning will improve their reading, writing and math skills, provide a smoother transition to Grade 1 and help increase their success in school and beyond.”

However, as with all government social programs and feel-good statements aside, Ontarians need to make sure that the ELP is based, not only on a clearly researched and articulated justification, but with measures of academic achievement and taxpayer accountability in place as well. So, here then are some pros and cons on Ontario’s proposed full-day kindergarten program. 

Rationale & Justification (Pro)

I have no problem with the Ontario ELP itself.  I have re-read the Charles Pascal report and the information on the Ministry website.

Based on that analysis, I have come to the conclusion that there is very little anyone can say against the goals for such a program because it is meant to provide universal access to learning and play opportunities for all young children, particularly those adversely affected by poverty, special needs and/or discrimination. 

Universality (Pro & Con)

No doubt for families living in the City of Toronto or surrounding GTA, the universal nature of the ELP is a plus. However, from my point of view, what is needed in those heavily populated areas may not be needed in other Ontario cities and rural communities. As such, there should have been a preliminary pilot project, say with 10 downtown Toronto schools, to examine which features and techniques work, which don’t and how much it all costs. And, it should have been established whether or not full-day kindergarten is necessary throughtout the entire province. Meaning, that in my opinion, the universality of the ELP could be considered both pro and con. 

Teacher vs ECE Instructor Turf War (Con)

ETFO members, qualified elementary school teachers, normally teach half-day JK and SK and all grades from 1 to 8. Why then is it necessary to have them teach full days when ECE instructors would be very well qualified to teach discovery and play for half of those days? In fact, by giving in to the teachers’ union (ETFO), the government has not only doubled its costs, it has established a precedent that, with enough pressure, it will give in to whatever the teachers’ unions want — definitely a negative.

As a former teacher educator, as well as one who taught ECE instructors in an undergraduate course, I can confirm that ECE graduates would be the best qualified to deal with the developmental stages of very young children. Therefore, a half day of play, learning and resting under the direction and supervision of an ECE instructor could have been combined with a half day of an introductory academic curriculum with an elementary school teacher, thereby transitioning children into Grade One.

Cost to Taxpayers (Con)

Why is the Ontario government implementing the ELP in a full-speed ahead manner at a time when there an economic slowdown and Ontario’s deficit is already $25 billion? It should have waited until the economy turned around and the deficit was reduced if not eliminated. The reality is we have managed with the system we have to this point. Yet, now it will take much longer, if ever, to balance the province’s books. 

Universal Childcare Political Agenda (Pro & Con)

The ELP is a universal childcare program by any other name. Yet, any time you listen to either Premier McGuinty or Education Ministry Kathleen Wynn, they deny that is what it is — to some a negative. For example, here is what the Pascal report states on page 5:

Parents would have the option of extended programming before and after the traditional school day and year, not as an add-on, but as part of the Early Learning Program.”

Moreover, as with any child care program, parents will be expected to pay a small fee for the extended hours. In other words, the ELP is a universal child care program integrated with schooling. For many parents, that will obviously be a positive factor.

Also positive is the voluntary optional nature of the ELP. Parents can chose whether or not to include their children. In fact, in Ontario, education is not compulsory until a child reaches the age of six. 

So, while the pros of the ELP may, at the end of the day, far outweigh the cons, the negative considerations — the cost, the reality that it is actually a universal child care program and the teacher and ECE turf wars that resulted in teachers full time with ECE support– still needed a public airing, something I am trying to provide here.

Why McGuinty all-day Kindergarten is flawed

See also Sunday update at the end of this post.

The McGuinty government’s all-day Kindergarten plan is flawed for one reason and one reason alone — they were unable to say no to the teachers’ unions. As Michael Den Tandt wrote in a Standard editorial yesterday: “As Premier … he never picked up the somewhat useful knack of making tough decisions or even slightly unpleasant ones. Given a choice between spending money and making someone mad at him, McGuinty reflexively spends money.”

So, rather than making the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) mad at them, the Ontario government announced this week that it will offer a full-day kindergarten program — with elementary teachers ALL day and ECE instructors as support for the former.

NOT what was supposed to happen if Premier McGuinty and Education Minister Kathleen Wynn were going to follow the recommendations of the Charles Pascal early learning report, a report the McGuinty government commissioned.

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