Support grows for ON NDP PMB re increasing Ombudsman powers

Here is a column by freelance writer Cathy Cove, published earlier in the Goderich Signal Star (but not available online) and posted here with her permission. It is about the need and support for an Ontario NDP private members bill that would increase the powers of the Ontario Ombudsman to deal with complaints that are currently not allowed, such as those related to school boards — long overdue in my opinion. See also a related article I posted here ten days ago, with the quote Cove uses in her piece.

SWEEPING SUPPORT FOR NDP PRIVATE MEMBER’S BILL…..IT’S ABOUT TIME!
by Cathy Cove

If you were paying attention last Monday you would have heard the roar of approval from parents, educators and anyone who has had a complaint or concern about the services provided by the Ontario government, as Ontario New Democratic education critic Rosario Marchese rose in the house to introduce a private member’s bill (PMB) that proposes to extend the power of the ombudsman.

Typically the role of Ontario’s ombudsman is to investigate complaints on services provided by the provincial government and its organizations.

Marchese’s PMR proposes to extend the scope of the ombudsman to include not just school boards, but also universities, hospitals, long term care facilities, municipalities, and the police.

A special report in the London Free Press by Jennifer O’Brien (November 13) stated that “During the past five years the ombudsman’s office has received 4,000 complaints – which it couldn’t investigate-about those institutions.”

From an education perspective this initiative seems welcomed by educators and parents alike. Parents like it because it gives them an independent review option in cases where the school board or government’s solutions to issues concerning their children are unfair or simply wrong. The loudest cheers are coming from parents who have come up against the school system based on the delivery of special education and from parents of children who have not seen satisfactory action on bullying issues.

Educators like it because it shines a light on those sometimes ridiculous government or school board policies that look great on paper or during an election campaign, but which when translated to real-time classroom teaching leave much to be desired.

Retired educator Dr. Sandy Crux (crux-of-the-matter.com) eagerly offered her support to the extension of the ombudsman’s role. “The Ontario public, be they parents, patients or caregivers, need to be able to ask someone to investigate issues and events that previously have been ignored or disputed, which is why we should all be in favour of the Marchese PMB,” she said.

MPP Marchese’s bill isn’t anything new. As a matter of fact, when the New Democrats under Bob Rae were the provincial government, I recall a recommendation from parents back then, to that government, for the need of an education ombudsman.

Similarly, during my time on the Ontario Parent Council, through annual reports the OPC made recommendations to the Harris/Eves lead government for pretty much the same thing.

Under the McGuinty government’s watch PC MPP (Durham) John O’Toole introduced virtually the same private member’s bill as Rosario Marchese introduced last Monday. Even more amazing of a recollection is the fact that the McGuinty government’s own MPP (Ancaster, Dundas, Flamborough, Westdale) Ted McMeekin introduced a bill to create something called a “Children’s Education Advocate” that was essentially an education ombudsman who could advocate the cases for individual students and families mired in educational conflict.

Even with a majority government on his side McMeekin’s attempt failed because some on his caucus and the two oppositions didn’t support the idea. As private member’s bills go, this one clearly crosses all party lines as each party has had their kick at this can at one time or another. I have to wonder of the irony that when the NDP and PCs were in government that they panned the idea of extending the reach of the ombudsman, but when in the role of the opposition they appear to see the light.

It’s also easy to see why a government of the day would reject expanded power because the outcome of an objective, impartial investigation could prove embarrassing to a government if findings by the ombudsman point to failure or weakness of legislation, policy, regulations or the delivery of government services.

Calling attention to its weakness isn’t something a government would willingly do. It would be refreshing to see a government be confident in itself and its policies so as to have no fear of what an independent review by the ombudsman may discover, but I’m not holding my breath. As is the case private member bills like this, often sit on the back burner until the house rises and the PMB dies.

I hope this isn’t the case this time for MPP Marchese and that all parties in the house support it. The mounting evidence and incidents tracked by the ombudsman’s office and by the many parent, patient, and user advocacy organizations out there have proven time and again that there is a definite need for such an initiative.

I’ll be keeping close watch on this as we head into 2011 and a provincial election because those third party eyes and ears represent a very critical piece of the transparency and accountability puzzle that we hear so much about during elections.

Here’s hoping!

ON PC’s should support Marchese PMB for more Ombudsman oversight

Tomorrow, Ontario NDP MPP Rosario Marchese will introduce a Private Members Bill in the Ontario Legislature that, if passed, would give the Ontario Ombudsman the oversight power to investigate complaints that deal with school boards, hospitals, long term care facilities, retirement homes and children’s aid societies — all areas that are apparently NOT now covered by that office.  Clearly, given the fact that there were some 4,000 complaints last year that the Ombudsman was not able to investigate,  this addition to the Ombudsman’s powers is long overdue.

As such, it is my hope that the Ontario PC caucus, under the leadership of Tim Hudak, look at this bill from a bi-partisan point of view and support it 100%. While I don’t have links, I do recall that there have been attempts to extend such powers to investigate in the past during both the Bob Rae and Mike Harris governments. Yet, they went no where. Why not? Well, in my opinion, they went nowhere because of pressures from the very groups that would be investigated.

For a really good link, check out Hugo’s blog at The Education Reporter. He has a link to an article written by Jen O’Brien of the London Free Press. Once you get to Hugo’s link in his first sentence, click on the magnifying glass at the bottom of the page and then simply move your cursor onto the article itself and you will be able to read the article, as well as some examples of the types of complaints that have gone unheaded, especially about bullying.

The Ontario public, be they parents, patients or caregivers, need to be able to ask someone to investigate issues and events that previously have been ignored or disputed, which is why we should all be in favour of the Marchese PMB. Why? Because if passed into law,  it would allow the Ontario Ombudsman oversight powers into all areas of public services.

Update November 16th: MPP Rosario Marchese tabled his Private Members Bill yesterday. Here are some recent links: Global Toronto, CBC, Brandon Sun and CP 24. No Ontario government, no matter which political party, has ever supported a PMB to increase the Ontario Ombudsman’s power of oversight. Why I don’t know. It should be about accountability and as a last resort for many parents and caregivers. It is my hope, therefore, that the Ontario PC’s support this bill. If it is not needed, there will be no complaints. If it is needed, we will see what those complaints are all about and how the next government, which I hope will be a PC government, can bring in new legislation or policies to correct them.

“Comments for Dummy’s” for Ontario’s new “progress” report card

Update Monday, October 31, 2011: I put up a post today on the problem with first year university students dropping out as a result of poor results on their mid-term exams. Essentially, universities are having to come with programs and strategies to stop that dropping out because the public system has abrogated its responsibility for proper testing and reporting. I mean, how come it is that universities an give letter and percentage grades in October and early November of a student’s first year and yet public schools can’t? Moreover, there are no prepared, warm and fuzzy comments in university either. Meaning, if public school educators really want to help a student’s self-esteem, they would prepare them for real life.  

Update Friday, October 21st, 2011: Visitors to this post may find my latest follow-up on this topic interesting.

Original post November 12, 2010: This post is for all Ontario parents. Take a good look at this link. It is a “collection” of possible comments that teachers can copy and paste when they complete their students’ November 2010 progress report — you know the “new” and “improved” report card that the McGuinty government is trying to “sell” the Ontario public. The tragedy is that parents don’t seem to realize that it is nothing but a sham.

For example, last night, on Global TV news, I listened to a well-meaning parent saying how helpful this new progress report was because it was personalized and told her exactly how her son was doing.  Unfortunately, that is simply not true when you look at the comment collection. Need more proof? Then, check out all the links on this Google page where readers will note that the issue of developing a dictionary of “comments” was being discussed as early as when the progress report was first announced.

What on earth has happened to professionalism? First the elementary teachers’ union (ETFO) manages to get the McGuinty government to reduce the number of report cards. Then, they both try to pull the wool over parents’ eyes by writing comments that are certainly not  individualized — unless you assume the teacher said “now which packaged comments fit this child?” But, you know what? I am not going to blame the teachers. I think they are being told to use these comments so as not to cause any flack in the year before there is an Ontario election.

Well, I hope the Ontario PCs, under its leader Tim Hudak, take a good look at this “collection of comments” and promise the parents of Ontario that, if elected, they will bring about a report card that actually does reflect how each child is performing.

Anyway, when you go to the above link, scroll down a bit for this sample. The comment collection, which could also be called “Comments for Dummy’s” seems to include various subjects for both the secular public and Catholic public systems (since under values there is a reference to liturgies).

Endnote: Last night on Global, I listened as an educator suggested that a low letter grade can have an adverse affect on a child’s self esteem. I am so fed up with that line of reasoning. I ran a reading clinic and the adults I worked with had a lot more problems with self esteem when, as adults, they couldn’t read properly — even after graduating from the public system.

Children need to learn about their learning strengths and weaknesses. They also need to deal with reality.  In other words, the latest Ontario progress report is just another example of a current so-called “Success Strategy” that is nothing more than a “no-fail” and “social promotion” policy — a policy that does not prepare students for the real world.

Keep pressure on McGuinty re subsidizing foreign students

Hopefully, the Canadian media and conservative bloggers, particularly those covering Queen’s Park in Toronto, will not let up on the pressure for the McGuinty Liberal government to cancel the program to subsidize international doctoral students to the tune of $40,000 dollars a year.

That money is Ontario taxpayers money. It should be spent on Ontario students, not foreign students who have never contributed to the Canadian economy in any way. Here is what I have written before on this topic.

This is not about prejudice or bigotry towards Chinese-Canadians who work extremely hard and pay taxes like everyone else. No, this is about a government, a Liberal government, who is willing to spend Ontario taxpayers money to bring people from other countries to get entitlements they don’t deserve. 

If you live in Ontario, write to your MPP and the Premier and tell them you want the allocated $30 million Ontario tax dollars to go towards lowering university and college tuitions.

Can you just imagine Liberal and media reaction if it had been a conservative government who had announced such a policy?

Update: Here is a link to the Ontario PC Party’s petition: “Keep Ontario dollars for Ontario students.” Print it off and get all your friends and relatives to sign it and send it c/o MPP Jim Wilson. The Queen’s Park address is at the bottom of the petition. Let Dalton McGuinty know that he shouldn’t be spending Ontario taxdollars to educate foreign students.

Further Update: For some reason I have been having some problems getting the Ontario PC petition link to work. If anyone has similar difficulty, I would recommend visiting the Ontario PC Party website and then click on their direct link to the petition.

McGuinty gov’t to give foreign students $40,000 a year!

Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak just released a tweet that he is going to be on the Lowell Green radio show this afternoon (CFRA). The topic of course, is the McGuinty Liberal government’s foreign students subsidy program — which I wrote about yesterday.  Well,  it is turning out to be much worse than we initially thought.  The program is not just about subsidizing or helping out, it is about fully supporting the international students to the tune of $40,000 a year. Can you believe that? It’s absolutely outrageous and a clear misuse of public money, bordering on mismanagement. We cannot afford the Dalton McGuinty crew for another year. This is about vote-buying and they need to be stopped.

C/P Jack’s Newswatch.

McGuinty Liberals to subsidize foreign students on our money!

Memo to the Dalton McGuinty Liberal government. It is not your money!!!! Tax dollars that were contributed by the people of Ontario are for the people of Ontario. Yet, the Dalton McGuinty Liberals are about to spend $30 million Ontario tax dollars to lure and subsidize foreign doctoral students to Ontario universities. Think about that for a minute. What kind of message does that send to Ontario families who are racking up debt to send their kids to college and university?

Well, Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak is right, the message and the policy are just plain wrong.

H/T Simeon (Sam) Drakich.

EQAO needs review, moratorium on standardized testing

Update Thursday, September 23rd: I notice that my friends at Society for Quality Education would disagree with my recommendation for a moratorium on standardized testing until a full review is done on the process. In fact, it is most unfortunate, but what I see at SQE is a knee-jerk reaction against teachers, that if they “cheated” they should be fired.

Yes, I am a former teacher. But, at times I have been very critical on this blog of my fellow professionals. However, in this case, my reaction has more to do with the fact that I am also a former researcher. Stats and rankings can be manipulated and frankly, once the rankings come out, the students are completely forgotten.

If people see the school rankings as a form of public accountability, they have not asked themselves how they show accountability when only two subjects are being tested and those two subjects in a very limited way. In fact, if all we want is a snapshot that shows what children and youth know or don’t know in a very limited time frame, then randomized testing would make more sense.
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