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'The status quo is unacceptable': Ontario school boards to collect race-based data

Along with gathering race-based statistics, Education Minister Mitzie Hunter says the province plans to end ‘streaming’ into academic and applied courses in Grade 9.

Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter meets students before the opening ceremony at Ecole secondaire catholique Pere-Philippe-Lamarche, on Tuesday, Sept 5.

Dan Pearce / Torstar News Service

Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter meets students before the opening ceremony at Ecole secondaire catholique Pere-Philippe-Lamarche, on Tuesday, Sept 5.

The province will compel school boards to collect race-based data on everything from hiring staff to student suspensions, and Education Minister Mitzie Hunter is also looking at ending the streaming of Grade 9 students into applied and academic courses as part of her three-year equity plan.

Hunter told the Star in an interview that Grade 9 in particular — where students are streamed into the more theoretical academic, or the more hands-on applied courses — is a concern and needs a new approach.

“We talk about streaming as a really key aspect of our equity action plan, taking a fresh look at Grade 9,” she said. “We know that Grade 9 is a critical year in terms of transition for students. We want to see Grade 9 as a year where students can explore their pathways, and get excited about their pathways. We do not want it to be a year where students become demotivated and disengaged in school.”

While having applied and academic courses began as a way to help students with different learning styles, Hunter said the applied courses “have seen a disproportionate number of students … from racialized backgrounds, special education needs, and … low-income students … the status quo is unacceptable.”

The equity plan will see school boards look at demographic data for suspensions, expulsions and address issues, ensure teaching materials reflect diversity, and also tie “accountability for equity to the performance appraisals of principals, vice-principals and directors, to ensure that the diversity of teachers, staff and school system leaders reflects the diversity of students,” the ministry said.

“Ontario’s Education Equity Action Plan is a powerful blueprint that will strengthen our publicly funded education system by ensuring that all of Ontario’s students will have every opportunity to thrive and fulfill their potential, regardless of their personal circumstances,” Hunter said.

Patrick Case — the human rights expert and lawyer called in earlier this year to examine troubles at the York Region District School Board — will oversee the changes as Hunter’s assistant deputy minister and head of the province’s education equity secretariat.

“I believe that the time is right and based on conversations I have had with community organizations, I can sense an excitement and a renewed vigour about tackling some persistently difficult issues in our publicly funded education system, together,” said Case in a written statement.

Hunter’s equity plan comes after a number of issues in Ontario school boards, from data in Toronto showing a disproportionate number of students suspended and expelled or put in special education are black.

In the York board, parents raised concerns that the board was ignoring incidents of racism in schools, as well as the case of a principal who posted Islamophobic material on her public Facebook page.

The board also came under fire for how it handled a trustee who uttered a racial slur when referring to a black parent, in public after a meeting. Nancy Elgie has since resigned.

A startling 2015 report by advocacy group People for Education found that teens who have taken even a few applied courses and those who take Grade 9 applied math almost never go on to university.

An in-depth study of 39 teens released Thursday by Social Planning Toronto also showed families were unclear about how enrolling in applied courses in Grade 9 could affect their child’s chance of success at school.

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