Well, I thought I had heard everything that was politically correct. Yet, yesterday I read a column by Moira MacDonald in the Toronto Sun (H/T Catherine) about how officials at the Toronto District School Board are waxing lyrical about providing kids from disadvantaged homes cash incentives to read books. MacDonald also mentioned that the TDSB is considering giving some parents cash as well, to attend workshops and get a library card.
My immediate reaction was: What an offensive idea! Make poor kids feel worse about themselves by labelling them disadvantaged or stupid. Not only offensive, but magical thinking at its worst. Which made me think of the theme song from Wizard of Oz and wonder who the wizards might be behind the screen at the TDSB who think they can get results by bribing kids who are “disadvantaged,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Poverty itself, or making do on less, shouldn’t have anything to do with whether kids want to learn or parents value education.
However, no matter whether or not you believe cash incentives might work, what are the powers that be at the TDSB thinking when they are so deeply in the financial hole? For details, check out a MacDonald column dated May 28th, 2010 but updated online today. When you read it, it becomes clear that TDSB decision-makers really are living in a fantasy land. Here are the facts.
This year the TDSB had a deficit of $42 million dollars. To deal with some of that deficit, they transferred $30 million from major repair projects, thus adding to their $2.8 billion deferred maintenance plan. They then increased this year’s budget by $600 million, in spite of the fact that student enrollment had dropped by 13.4%. I repeat, the TDSB trustees budgeted hundreds of millions of dollars more — and hired more teachers — even though enrollment was dropping like a stone, they already had a huge deficit and repairs to infrastructure would have to be delayed again.
Look, I am not unsympathetic. I grew up poor, as did many of my friends and relatives. But, we sure didn’t need to be given cash by the school system to bribe us to want to do well in life. We did whatever we had to do to get ahead. No, this whole issue is simply about political correctness and the wizards at the TDSB pulling levers in a futile attempt to change social and cultural attitudes by bribing kids and their parents with cash — cash the TDSB does not have.
In other words, the TDSB does not have access to a yellow brick road. However, what they do have access to are parents. Why, then, don’t they look at models for getting parents involved in their child’s school — and I’m talking about real parent engagement — something that research shows really does work. See, for example, this source, as well this one. And, while they are doing that, they could stop deficit spending and get back on track to closing, replacing and repairing their schools.
Revised Friday, November 19th, 2010. Photo credit for Wizard of Oz poster, Wikipedia.