Racialized student achievement gaps are a red-alert

Interesting explanation and discussion of affirmative (helping individual students) versus transformative (addressing systemic barriers) without citing any evidence regarding the relative success of each approach:

Toronto public schools have major and rising student achievement gaps based on race and income, according to a landmark report last year. One of the biggest blocks to closing these gaps is educators’ understanding of why these gaps exist and the methods used to try and close them.

Last summer, education researchers, community partners and teachers gathered to address such reports of inequality. One of the main issues discussed was how identity-based data helps to locate and remove systemic barriers.

The action plan for Ontario, which aims to make sure every student has the opportunity to succeed, “regardless of background, identity or personal circumstances,” includes an analysis of identity-based data.

Researchers have demonstrated that in Toronto public schools, Black, racialized and lower-income students face significant gaps in student outcomes. Other reports show gaps as high as 30 per cent on standardized test scores. Lower socioeconomic groupings of Black, Middle Eastern, Indigenous and Latino boys were among those most impacted by the achievement gap

On top of this, racialized students feel less comfortable at school. Black, Latino and (racially) mixed students from lower socioeconomic groups reported lower levels of school satisfaction than all other racial groups. These students felt less comfortable participating in class than students in higher socioeconomic groups.

This data could help Ontario school boards not only identify issues, but also change the systems and structures that cause achievement and opportunity gaps for underserved groups of students.

Factor in historical injustices

For decades, researchers in the United States have used identity-based data to identify achievement gaps between groups of students based on race, gender, language, ability, sexuality and other social identities.

This has not been common practice in Canada. Although some of the U.S. research has been misguided, critiques of these early reports by education scholars has been helpful.

Research attention then turned to opportunity gaps. This framing considers historical structural barriers in schools that produce educational inequities. So instead of focusing on deficits in students, the research focuses on systemic issues such as economic resources, racism and embedded practices in policies.

This research shift was promising, but most discussions of opportunity gaps still fell short. They generally consider only the distribution and access to material goods within different schools, and fail to account for other opportunity gaps denied to students both inside and outside of school, including present-day and historical inequities.

Challenge traditional ways of thinking

As a former TDSB lead teacher in the Model Schools for Inner Cities(MSIC) Program designed to close gaps, and later, as a researcher who studied the MSIC program, I have some insight into how we might begin to tackle these issues in Ontario.

The MSIC program was launched in 2004 to support schools whose students faced the greatest barriers to success. My research analyzes how stakeholder groups like MSIC staff, community partners, district-level staff, school trustees and school principals in the MSIC program made sense of opportunity gaps.

I interviewed people from the stakeholder groups and analyzed program documents to gauge their understanding of the program and how their analysis shifted over a decade. Participants mostly agreed on the purpose of the program (to close opportunity gaps), but they had dramatically different ways of thinking about those gaps.

The two different approaches that emerged are affirmative versus transformative. These are categories defined in the context of international development by political theorist Nancy Fraser. The affirmative approach emphasizes fixing or saving students. This method tends to use language like “empower.”

The transformative approach focuses on addressing inequitable systemic barriers as well as challenging ways of thinking that maintain opportunity gaps. This method tends to use language like “support” and “affirm.”

These two different approaches to opportunity gaps lead to very different practices, policies and initiatives. Affirmative approaches saw students and families in the MSIC program as “in need,” while positioning the program as the “saviour.”

Transformative approaches positioned the program as temporary support that aimed to work itself out of existence. Underserved communities were understood to have abundant social, political and cultural resources and agency to ensure their children’s success.

Affirm identities

Affirmative approaches work to ensure all students have access to the same experiences and material goods. Equal access to nutrition, technology and health services is also essential in transformative approaches. However, a transformative approach believes opportunity gaps are not fixed by just providing equal resources. Programs should also work to affirm students’ identities.

In other words, schools should develop curriculum, field trips and extracurricular activities based on the students’ lived experiences, interests and aspirations. Injustices can be addressed by the redistribution of goods, but recognition and representation matter as well.

Affirmative approaches provide parents with opportunities to network, learn about parenting and build workforce skills within the confines of board structures.

Transformative approaches work with parents and caregivers to advocate for their rights and navigate the educational system to support their children.

Teach students to engage critically

Affirmative approaches are related to the purpose of achieving excellence, in teaching and learning, generally in the form of standardized test scores.

Transformative approaches view equity as a prerequisite for excellence, but excellence is not the main point of education. The main point is to support students in engaging critically in a democratic society.

As Ontario school boards begin their project of collecting identity-based data, and as the boards work towards closing the achievement and opportunity gaps, policy-makers and school leaders will need to focus on transformative approaches. Their work needs to understand the relationships between historical injustices and student achievement, engagement and well-being today.

Toronto’s Africentric school draws consistent praise — so why is enrolment flagging?

Interesting to have more information regarding the lack of interest:

When the recess bell rings at Toronto’s Africentric Alternative School, kindergartners file out of a classroom and past a bulletin board with their latest class project on full display.

In it, the five-year-olds were asked to list and explain, “the best part of me.” A quick scan of the board reveals the most common answer, which make up about half of the responses: “I love my hair.”

The answer isn’t surprising to longtime students at the school, which began accepting applications 10 years ago this month.

“They encourage us to love ourselves,” said Grade 8 student Kyeron Banton, who started at the school in September 2009.

“I can walk out, wherever I am, no matter who’s around me, confident in my skin and confident in who I am,” she added.

‘2nd home’ to students

The Africentric Alternative School is one of 19 alternative elementary schools run by the Toronto District School Board. It operates in a wing of the Sheppard Public School, but unlike its neighbour, the curriculum includes a focus on the perspectives, experiences and histories of people of African descent.

It is the only public school of its kind in Canada.

During their time at the school, students learn about African contributions to science and mathematics, and the history of black people in Canada.

In the school’s hallways, posters of Oscar Peterson, Viola Desmond and Colin Kaepernick dominate the walls. Its music room is filled with dozens of African drums and steel pans, which come alive in a rich medley during music class.

Michelle Hughes, who has sent all three of her children to the school, credits the teachers and curriculum for boosting their self-confidence while making her life easier as well.

Hughes enrolled her oldest daughter in 2009, after she experiencing racist bullying at her previous school.

“One thing I don’t have to worry about here is the racism,” she said. “That’s one less thing off my plate.”

Andwele Osbourne James, a boisterous and outgoing Grade 5 student, turns serious when asked about what the school means to him.

“This could be like my second home,” he said. “Students around here are really helpful. They might not be my real siblings but they treat me like it.”

Enrolment struggling after 10 years

Despite glowing reviews from students, graduates and parents, enrolment at the school appears to be declining as it approaches its 10th anniversary this September.

The school has also been dogged by funding challenges and critiques around its vision and mandate.

For the current year, a record-low 107 students attend the Africentric Alternative School, down from a high of 202 in 2012 and 128 in its inaugural year.

The TDSB says fluctuations in enrolment are common at alternative schools, which can generate buzz in their first few years of existence before interest sometimes tapers off. The board also does not provide busing service to its alternative schools.

Principal Luther Brown, who is entering his second year leading the school, says its mission remains as vital and ambitious as it was 10 years ago.

“A lot of people are afraid of the idea of racism and racists. It is a fact that we live in a society that projects a lot of that,” Brown said.

He moves around the school with what might be described as a gentle but unmistakable authority.

“The hope is that [the students] become truly productive citizens who are proud of themselves, who know who they are, who are not afraid to meet the variety of injustices that will come their way,” Brown explained.

While the reasons for flagging enrolment are complex, some parents point to the school’s location near Downsview Park as a major hurdle for families. Students attend the school from as far away as Pickering and Mississauga.

Go wider with Africentric lessons?

Parent Paul Osbourne, who lives in Scarborough, said other areas in the city would benefit from similar schools.

“It has been a huge barrier for those from around the city that want to access the learning,” Osbourne said. “If the model is successful, we should be trying to replicate it in as many spaces and places across the city that we can.”

The TDSB says there are no current plans to open more Africentric schools, but people at the school say the school’s progressive curriculum could instead be better incorporated across the board.

Doing so could help students of all backgrounds feel represented and included in the classroom, they say.

“It’s important, not only black culture, but Indigenous, all the minorities who are not being represented well, they should be learned about so people that come from that can have self-confidence,” said Sekou Osbourne James, a graduate who now attends high school in Scarborough.

Over the next 10 years, Brown says he’d like to see more Africentric schools open around the city, along with a transformation of the TDSB’s standard curriculum to better account for Toronto’s diversity.

At his own school, the goals is to reverse sagging enrolment and have multiple classes at each grade level, and to keep pushing for a more progressive, inclusive learning.

“This could be your lab school, this could be where you test things out,” he said.

Source: Toronto’s Africentric school draws consistent praise — so why is enrolment flagging?

Christie Blatchford: Report shows Toronto school board was wrong to heed activists and end police program

So much for evidence-based policy and decision making:

A comprehensive, three-year research project on the value of having cops in schools has provided a stunning rebuke to the decision last fall by the Toronto District School Board to abruptly cancel its “School Resource Officer” program.

The 258-page analysis, done by two Carleton University professors and their PhD students, shows unequivocally that students overwhelmingly feel safer in school — and even report sleeping better and feeling less anxiety — with SROs.

The project actually began in 2012, long before Black Lives Matter, the amorphous activist group that was most visible — and voluble — in Toronto in the fight to see the program dropped.

That’s when the Carleton research group — headed by Linda Duxbury, a professor in the Sprott School of Business, and Craig Bennell, psychology professor at the university — received funding from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, to conduct research on changes needed to make policing in Canada better.

Guided by a research advisory board, the team eventually undertook an in-depth look at the Region of Peel next door to Toronto.

There, Peel Regional Police has had SROs in every high school in both public and Catholic systems for more than two decades, and since the program now costs the police $9 million a year, they and the school boards wanted to know, did it work?

Researchers selected five schools that would reflect the diversity of the sprawling region itself: two were so-called “urban-grant” schools and were in socio-economically deprived parts of the region; one was in a wealthy area; two were located in middle-class districts.

Four of the five schools had ethnically diverse student bodies.

The project was a longitudinal (from 2014-2017, multi-method (quantitative, qualitative and ethnographic analysis, as well as a Social Return on Investment or SROI analysis) case study to “identify the value,” or not, of the SRO program.

(SROI analysis is a measurement tool that helps organizations to understand and quantify the social, environmental and economic value they’re creating.)

That meant researchers used both longitudinal survey data from two groups of more than 600 Grade 9 students each at two times of the year – the first, as they came into high school from elementary schools where they are no SROs, and the second, five months later, as they were about to move out of Grade 9 – and in-depth interviews with eight students, all volunteers, and none of them Caucasian.

Responses were confidential; ethics clearance was obtained from Carleton and the two school boards; a note was sent home to parents telling them about the study and offering them the chance to withhold consent.

Only three sets of parents did.

The thinking was, if the goal of the SRO program is to create a safe learning environment, the students about to leave Grade 9, who’d had five months of being in a school with an SRO, should report feeling safer.

Well, did they ever.

All students benefited one way or another by having an SRO, regardless of their gender, or whether they’d ever been arrested or stopped by the police, or whether they had been victimized. “All students … indicated that they felt significantly safer at school and less stressed and anxious” after five months’ exposure to the SRO.

And the more contact a student had with an SRO, the more likely he or she was to see the program in a positive light — and fully 75 per cent of the students felt safer because of the SRO.

Even those who had been arrested or stopped by cops “are significantly more likely than those who have not to report that they feel safe at school and less likely to experience stress and anxiety at school because they are fearful of being bullied or harassed.”

The ones who had been victimized — about 16 per cent — “are one of the greatest beneficiaries of the SRO program and can expect to gain the most from the presence of police in the high schools.”

Even with the SROs, the research found that bullying, particularly by gang members, particularly for kids on the way to and from school, is a real issue for many students in Peel Region. One can only imagine how scared some of those students might be if their schools didn’t have an SRO.

Oh, wait: You don’t have to imagine.

When the Toronto board cancelled its SRO program last fall — it had run in 45 schools — on the basis of anecdotal allegations it was racist and against its own report, which found that the majority of students liked the program but some felt targeted or uncomfortable, it abandoned evidence-based decision-making and effectively hung its students out to dry.

And by the way, using the SROI analysis, the Carleton research found that the social and economic value of having cops in the five schools cost Peel Police $660,289.

The return — that students feel safe, are engaged, can more easily embark on young adulthood successfully, while the community around the school feels safer, etc., etc. — yielded a total present value of $7,349,301.

In other words, for every dollar invested in the Peel SRO program, a minimum of $11.13 of social and economic value was created.

Toronto preferred, to use that ghastly phrase, the “fake news” of activist shouting; Peel opted for the facts.

Source: Christie Blatchford: Report shows Toronto school board was wrong to heed activists and end police program

The SRO [police in Toronto schools] program is over. What happens next? Phillip Dwight Morgan

The activist view:

In 2008, without community consultation, the Toronto District School Board and Toronto Police Service agreed to place police officers in select high schools around the city. The result was a program where some Black and Brown students said they felt targeted, harassed and intimidated, and where some undocumented students reportedly feared for their safety.

Since its inception, the School Resource Officer (SRO) program has faced allegations of racism and discrimination as community members and organizations have questioned how a program that placed police in the schools of largely racialized communities could possibly improve circumstances for youth already being pushed out by academic streaming, increased suspension rates and low teacher expectations. As time passed, the picture became clearer: SROs largely intimidated, harassed and criminalized Black, Brown and Indigenous youth, and allegedly threatened the safety of undocumented students.

That program is now over. At a Nov. 22 meeting, after a six-week review process, trustees from the largest school board in Canada voted overwhelmingly to terminate the program.

Make no mistake: the landmark decision is the result of years of pressure from students, parents, youth workers and concerned citizens. These people repeatedly reminded the board that it was utterly unacceptable to accept Black, Brown, Indigenous and undocumented youth as collateral damage in the push to improve Toronto’s schools. “It is time for school boards across the province and country to acknowledge the ways in which educational policies and practices continue to be shaped by ongoing histories of colonialism and racism,” says Gita Rao Madan, who studied policing in schools for her master’s thesis at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Still, how did a program with such a terrible track record continue for nearly a decade? The sad fact of the matter is that the people most affected by the program were those at the intersection of two deeply oppressive institutions—policing and education—that routinely worked to silence them. Those people, who faced harassment and profiling both inside the classroom and out on the street, had little access to the levers of change.

In response to community concern in the past, the TDSB and TPS had deflected criticism by pointing to so-called “success stories” from the program—accounts of students who loved the baking club being run by Officer Jane or the volleyball team coached by Const. Jim. These are the narratives and images that the TPS and TDSB offered to the public whenever the program faced scrutiny. Now that the program has been terminated, its supporters will likely evoke these images with even greater verve.

But a line of reasoning that asks communities to ignore the experiences of children being pushed out of schools and to instead celebrate the child who loves Officer Jim betrays a failed understanding of the history of community policing in Toronto on the part of those in positions of power. It shows a reluctance to concede that carding, police harassment, intimidation and violence do not stop at the school’s entrance. It is not rooted in equity. Earlier this May, Police Chief Mark Saunders responded to concerns expressed about the program at a Toronto Police Services Board meeting by noting that a 2011 evaluation of the program showed 58 per cent of students felt safer with SROs. In response, TPS Board member Dhun Noria injected an important reminder: “You mentioned, chief, that 58 per cent of the respondents felt safe [with SROs]. This leaves 42 per cent who do not feel safe. Do we have a report about that? Why do they not feel safe and what have we done about that?”

via The SRO program is over. What happens next? – Macleans.ca

Christie Blatchford: Toronto school board declares war on ‘chief’ and all sense 

Blatchford has a point (apart from the opening two paras):

If there were any doubt, there is no more: Canada is the stupidest country ever.

The evidence, already all around, is now irrefutable.

The Toronto District School Board, in its efforts to remain ahead of the Ontario government curve on all gender-cultural-political sensitivities, is not only contenting itself with following Education Minister Mitzie Hunter’s directive of early this year to review all potentially indigenous-offensive team names and mascots, but also has declared war on the word “chief.”

“I can confirm that the title ‘chief’ is being phased out in various departments at the TDSB,” board spokesman Ryan Bird told Postmedia in an email Tuesday.

“It’s part of the ongoing work that the school board does through the TDSB’s Aboriginal Education Centre with regards to Truth and Reconciliation (Commission, or the TRC, which produced its massive final report in 2015).”

While apparently some key titles at the board were changed a few years ago, such as chief financial officer, among the recent casualties is the sign on the door to the office of Chief Caretaker Karen Griffith at Glenview Public School in the city’s affluent north end.

There, last week, staff noticed that the word “chief” had been blacked out on the door.

(Apparently, no thought or consideration had been given to how students of colour might react to the notion that a bad sign could be simply blacked out, and whether this is tantamount to cultural erasure.)

Presumably, board chair John Malloy will have to review and correct his C.V., where he is still described as former Chief Student Achievement Officer for the provincial education ministry.

Presumably, the board’s chief technology officer and chief information officer and chief social worker will all have to do the same. Etc., etc.

Attempts to find out precisely where in the TRC’s Calls to Action section there is any cry for the de-chiefing of the language in Canadian schools went unanswered. The board spokesman, Bird, tried hard on Postmedia’s behalf to get someone to respond but to no avail.

The best he could do, he said, was to suggest that the move didn’t necessarily come out of the TRC itself, but was “an aspect of a larger conversation staff have had” since the report was issued. Bird said he consulted with a TDSB elder who told him that probably “every Aboriginal person has been referred to as ‘chief’” in a derogatory way at some point in his or her life.

But the fact of the matter is that the word is Latin in origin and comes from the Latin “caput,” meaning head or leader, via the French, where chef is short for chef de cuisine, or boss of the kitchen.

If many people understand that caricatures such as Chief Wahoo, the mascot of the Cleveland Indians, might be offensive to Indigenous ears and eyes, it’s a struggle to get the notion that a non-Indigenous word such as “chief” is equally insulting.

Bird said the remaining board staff with offensive titles were notified verbally last month. Because there’s no formal motion or document describing corrective action, it’s impossible to know what precisely staff were told to do.

Source: Christie Blatchford: Toronto school board declares war on ‘chief’ and all sense | National Post

Toronto District School Board revises Islamic guide

Appropriate correction:

The Toronto District School Board said it will change portions of a guidebook that uses a definition of Islamophobia that a Jewish community group has called “overly broad.”

The guidebook defines Islamophobia, in part, as “fear, prejudice, hatred or dislike directed against Islam or Muslims, or towards Islamic politics or culture.” B’nai Brith Canada had complained earlier Monday that the reference to “politics” could lead to students or staff being punished for expressing dislike for the Republic of Iran’s persecution of LGBTQ people or restrictions placed on women in Saudi Arabia.

Hours later, TDSB chairperson Robin Pilkey said in a letter to the group that the updated guide will reflect the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s definition of Islamophobia, which makes no reference to politics.

Pilkey said the guide was not enforceable as policy and denied it would have led to silencing of staff or students.

“The TDSB welcomes important input from the community and from organizations such as B’nai Brith, however we must say that some of the suggestions made in your letter and subsequent news release are outrageous,” she said in the letter. “To suggest that the TDSB is encouraging students to stay silent about what they experienced in their countries of birth or that the TDSB is somehow banning students and educators from criticizing executions and other human rights abuses around the world is categorically untrue.”

The Toronto District School Board created the guide to be used in public schools in October, which it declared Islamic Heritage Month. The Toronto District School Board also celebrates Sikh Heritage Month in April and Jewish Heritage Month in May annually.

B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said a school board representative told the group the definition was included in the guidebook “in error.”

“We thank the TDSB for acting swiftly to correct this serious problem,” he said in a statement. “The definition of Islamophobia initially presented by the TDSB was clearly inappropriate, and we look forward to seeing a proper definition presented to Toronto students.”

Source: Toronto District School Board revises Islamic guide | Toronto Star

Anthony Furey’s commentary from the Sun:

The Toronto District School Board is temporarily pulling an Islamic Heritage Month guidebook following complaints from Jewish advocacy group B’nai Brith Canada, the Toronto Sun has learned.

The book, as I described in a recent column, is a robust 170-page document that encourages a great deal of religious intrusion in a classroom setting that’s otherwise supposed to be a non-religious environment.

The recommendations include reciting and explaining the Muslim greeting “As-salamu alaykum” (peace be upon you) alongside the singing of O Canada and inviting children to visit a local mosque. It also includes templates of famous mosques around the world for children to construct during cut and paste exercises.

But it’s the guide’s alarming definition of Islamophobia that has caught the attention of the leading Jewish advocacy group. The school board’s guide defines the term as “fear, prejudice, hatred of dislike directed against Islam or Muslims, or towards Islamic politics or culture.”

“The TDSB definition, if enforced, could lead to punishment for students or teachers who display “dislike” towards the persecution of LGBTQ people in the Islamic Republic of Iran, harsh restrictions on women in Saudi Arabia, and Palestinian terrorism against Israelis, all of which are examples of “Islamic politics,” an earlier press release from B’nai Brith Canada says.

The organization contacted the TDSB Monday morning and by the afternoon the school board had committed to pulling the online guidebook until they revised the definition of Islamophobia, according to B’nai Brith Canada.

“A link to the resource guide was provided to school administrators across the system,” TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird told the Sun. “A revised version with an edited definition of Islamophobia will be available online shortly.”

It’s unclear if they plan to revise or remove any of the other controversial aspects of the guide.

“There are many students in Toronto schools who have come to Canada fleeing persecution from countries like Iran, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia — and now the TDSB is telling them to stay silent about what they’ve suffered. It’s simply ludicrous,” B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said in the earlier press release. They’ve since issued another release thanking the board for swift action on the issue.

Source: Toronto school board recalls, revises controversial Islamic guidebook

Mandatory music classes hit a bad note with some Muslim parents

Reasonable accommodation is based on compromise. Not being open to compromise – the TDSB proposed a number of compromises that respected and acknowledged the concerns but was met by parents who rejected any form of compromise, another form of radicalization and extremism, without any flexibility.

And while I won’t enter into any religious debates regarding Islam and music, the Islamic societies I have lived in or visited in the Mid-East all have a rich musical tradition. And as Zarqa Nawaz notes in her Globe op-ed, that interest and richness is part of Canadian Muslims too (To the music-banning Muslim father: Rejecting compromise is extremism: Zarqa Nawaz):

When music class begins this week at Toronto’s Donwood Park elementary school, Mohammad Nouman Dasu will send a family member to collect his three young children. They will go home for an hour rather than sing and play instruments – a mandatory part of the Ontario curriculum he believes violates his Muslim faith.

The Scarborough school and the Toronto District School Board originally had offered an accommodation – suggesting students could just clap their hands in place of playing instruments or listen to acapella versions of O Canada – but not a full exemption from the class.

After a bitter three-year fight, however, Mr. Dasu felt he had no other option but to bring his kids home.

 According to documents obtained by The Globe and Mail, some parents insist they cannot allow their children to be in the same room where musical instruments are being played. Mr. Dasu, a Koran teacher who sometimes leads prayers at Scarborough’s Jame Abu Bakr Siddique mosque, says he has led the fight on behalf of parents. He has consulted with national Islamic bodies, and requested a letter from the leader of his mosque.

“We here believe that music is haram [forbidden]. We can neither listen to it, nor can we play a role in it,” said the mosque’s imam, Kasim Ingar.

Conceding that Muslims have to adjust when they send their kids to public school, he suggested that some matters, such as teaching music, are beyond debate.

“We do not compromise with anyone on the clear-cut orders and principles conveyed by the Prophet,” said Mr. Ingar, who also leads the Scarborough Muslim Association.

Within Islam, the question of whether Muslims are banned from music is divisive and nuanced. Similar to questions about whether women should wear veils, there is no consensus on the issue.

But Ontario’s primary-school curriculum is unambiguous on music class: It must be taught, without exception, to all primary-school-aged children. Officials at the TDSB say they can only bend the rules to accommodate religious students, but not exempt them.

The Globe used freedom of information laws to access TDSB e-mails on how the issue evolved at Donwood Park, where it first surfaced in 2013.

The released records redact the names of students for privacy reasons, and very few families appear to have been adamant over pulling children from music classes. Early internal e-mails show administrators wanted to find “some common ground.”

But Mr. Dasu, who says he represents many of the parents at the school concerned about the issue, pushed for exclusion for his own children by invoking the prospect of litigation and the religious freedoms clause of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In response, school administrators pitched an array of potential compromises. Records show one idea was to have the children “research the role of nashid” – or the Islamic tradition of oral music. Another was to have the children clap out quarter notes, half notes and full notes.

“Your children will not be required to play a musical instrument or sing in their music class,” read a formal note to at least one family.

The records show that as the standoff at Donwood Park lingered, TDSB officials prepared a media plan and sought legal advice from eminent lawyers, including Eric Roher of Borden Ladner Gervais.

They do not make clear how the situation was dealt with. But during the 2014 school year, two requests for music exemptions were made. When school officials struggled again to suggest accommodations, they were presented with a “Petition for Accommodation of Religious Beliefs of Muslim Students” signed by more than 130 parents, initiated by Mr. Dasu.

Mr. Dasu says he proposed alternative arrangements for his own children, which were rejected by the vice-principal, the superintendent, and a trustee of the school board, after which he decided to take them out of school for the duration of music and drama class.

By the spring of 2015, an interest group known as the National Council of Canadian Muslims was prodded by some parents to intercede further. After meeting with Donwood Park administrators, an NCCM spokeswoman referred them to a guide it has created for Canadian teachers. “Opinion regarding the place of music varies among different Muslim countries,” it says. But, it adds, “it is important for the school to discuss reasonable accommodations with the parents or guardians and the students themselves.”

TDSB officials wouldn’t discuss particular cases, but insist that religious students cannot cut themselves out of music class. “As per the Education Act, we can’t exempt students from the curriculum. But what we do is accommodate,” said John Chasty, a TDSB superintendent of education.

The TDSB says it does not keep track of the number of students who seek accommodations or exemptions. But Mr. Chasty believes the issue will come up there again in the coming school year.

Mr. Dasu has since moved to a different neighbourhood nearby, and is planning to transfer his children to a new public school. He says he will take up the fight again.

“My kids cannot participate in music or drama, that’s for sure. Let them sit in a library to read, or in an office, or let them volunteer around the school during that time, that’s all okay. We’re flexible.”

Source: Mandatory music classes hit a bad note with some Muslim parents – The Globe and Mail

TDSB’s plan to tackle racial disparity

John Malloy, director of education for the TDSB, on what they are doing to improve outcomes for all groups. Always like to see data and evidence-driven approaches.

Look forward to any comments from readers in Toronto:

The Toronto District School Board has heard the critiques and acknowledges there are racial disparities in our school system, which we must continue to work on.

It is correct to point out white students in the TDSB are more likely to be found in high-income neighbourhoods, while black students are more likely to be found in low-income neighbourhoods. And while we do face issues of poverty, our job is to provide schools in every neighbourhood that create conditions for all children to succeed.

In particular, Sachin Maharaj’s recent opinion piece in the Star on black students in Toronto schools makes some valid points and defines the challenges many school boards face. It’s important, however, to recognize that the TDSB has taken, and will continue to take, steps to ensure that all students are able to succeed.

The TDSB’s Model Schools for Inner Cities Program, launched in Toronto’s most needy neighbourhoods 10 years ago, has shown that schools can be essential equalizers. With extra resources, such as additional staff, iPads for students, after-school programs, unique field trips and Parenting and Family Literacy Centres, the program has given a great number of students the tools and encouragement they need to succeed.

TDSB research on the impact of Model Schools over time shows evidence of improved academic achievement and student well-being. We have also seen higher credit accumulation by the end of Grade 10 than before the program was in place (from 50 per cent to 64 per cent of students in priority neighbourhoods attaining the expected number of credits). Many of these factors help explain the TDSB’s rising graduation rate from 78 per cent in 2005 to 85 per cent in 2015 — our highest ever.

Having said that, we do recognize achievement levels among some black students are lower than their peers. Our data shows this and we have been open about it. In fact, we collect more data than most school boards across the country and for good reason. We want to know where the gaps are and where extra supports are needed.

Over the past number of years, we have been using this data to boost improvement. This work has been overseen by board-wide and community-driven Equity and Inner-City advisory committees, which bring a collaborative, school-community focus to addressing opportunity, participation and achievement gaps. This work needs to continue and we must also take a more deliberate approach to responding to this data.

In the past, our research has shown opportunity, participation and achievement gaps for historically marginalized student populations and we have acted in direct response with, for example, pre-kindergarten readiness, after school programs and in-school health clinics for students. More of these intervention strategies must be done and they need to have a more direct impact on classroom teaching and learning.

More recently, trustees voted to establish a Black Student Achievement Advisory Committee to examine and make recommendations on strategies to create more equitable outcomes for black students.

We have also put in place a new Learning Centre model across the city that will improve the speed with which we identify and respond to learning gaps. The Learning Centres strategy will place resources closer to schools, decentralize decision-making and reduce bureaucracy so we can get the support students need in the hands of principals and teachers and impact the classroom sooner.

This fall, the TDSB will prepare an Integrated Equity Plan that will spark tough and challenging conversations system-wide and in each and every school. It will engage principals and ultimately classroom teachers to respond more directly to key questions, such as:

  • What barriers exist in the school that might be keeping students from achieving?
  • What bias might persons in the school possess about what certain groups of students are able to achieve?
  • What needs to change in terms of the instruction, the environment in the school and the relationships in the school?

Under the plan, senior management and central departments will oversee the implementation. Their mandate will be to ensure principals and vice principals are engaging staff, students, and parents/guardians to work together to build action plans for schools that promote a sense of belonging, support and well-being and help eliminate barriers to success. As with many TDSB initiatives, we will closely monitor and evaluate this new model’s effectiveness to ensure it’s having the impact we intended.

We recognize that patterns of systemic racism and discrimination exist within our society and this has to stop. For our part, the TDSB is committed to working within our schools, and with our parents, communities, the city and province to reduce and eliminate racism and discrimination in all forms.

Source: TDSB’s plan to tackle racial disparity | Toronto Star

Ontario students falling through the cracks, TDSB enrolment plunges over sex-ed curriculum

Starting to get the numbers of those who have dropped out from the public school system (headline ‘plunges’ is an over statement). Remains to be seen whether this is a one-time shift (my guess) or longer-term trend.

Also needs to be seen in context of Thorncliffe Park, whose principle engaged with parents with considerable success, with most students returning (see Toronto school [Thorncliffe Park] offers sanitized sex-ed amid parent concern, where enrolment dropped by 40 out of a projected 1,350 – about 3 percent):

Last April, thousands of parents were marching at Queen’s Park in protest against the curriculum. But it took months for public schools to take stock of the ensuing enrolment drop.

… The Ministry of Education said parents have the right to change their children’s schooling if they can’t abide by the update to the old sex-ed curriculum, which it called “dangerously out of date.”

“We respect that many parents choose to home-school their children or enroll them in private schools,” the ministry said in a statement.

Just as it’s unclear how those children are now being taught, it’s unclear how many in total have dropped out of the public system because of sex ed.

In the fall, the idea that the Toronto District School Board had lost students over sex ed was met with skepticism, with some suggesting the board was using that as an excuse for its job cuts. The TDSB’s enrolment has consistently declined for years.

But what happened this year was unusual. The TDSB, with a quarter-million students, normally uses demographic and immigration data to project enrolment within 1-per-cent accuracy, meaning its staff are off by no more than 1,700 students in the elementary grades, spokesman Ryan Bird said.

For the current school year, staff projected an increase of about 300 elementary students, in keeping with recent patterns. Instead, the TDSB elementary head count went down by 2,083, or 2,373 fewer than projected. Staff had been off by an unheard-of 1.4 per cent.

At the TDSB, the five schools that lost the most students were in neighbourhoods at the centre of the sex-ed protests: Thorncliffe Park, Manahil’s old school, lost two full Grade 1 classes.

It’s less clear how much sex ed was to blame for an unprecedented enrolment drop at the Peel District School Board, which covers Toronto’s western suburbs.

Unlike the shrinking TDSB, Peel has grown steadily for years. The fall of 2015 was the first time in many years that the student population declined overall, spokeswoman Carla Pereira said.

The number of elementary students decreased by only 728 from October, 2014. But staff had projected an increase of 900. Like the TDSB, they were off by 1.4 per cent.

Ms. Pereira said the board has since gained about 1,000 students and doesn’t believe sex ed was a significant factor in the dip in numbers. Many South Asian families took fall vacations, she said.

The second-highest drop in the Peel system was at James Potter Public School in Brampton, which has many students from the Sikh community, which was vocal in the sex-ed protests.

Last September, two new Sikh private schools opened in Brampton, adding to two existing ones. The parents who flocked to them were likely swayed at least in part by qualms over the curriculum, said one man who volunteers at newly opened Gobind Sarvar School.

“It’s hard to put a number on it,” said the man, who didn’t want to be identified. “I think [sex ed] was probably something that tilted it.”

Source: Ontario students falling through the cracks, TDSB enrolment plunges over sex-ed curriculum – The Globe and Mail

Young refugees offered pop-up classes while awaiting homes | Toronto Star

Good initiative:

A string of pop-up classrooms arranged to give young refugees a taste of school while they wait for new homes delighted Syrian families Monday at the west-end Toronto Plaza Hotel.

“A-B-C! — happy!” said a beaming 12-year-old Dalaa al Sarji, who, like most Syrian refugee children arriving in Canada, hadn’t been in a classroom in more than two years.

She and her six siblings — from 3-year-old Hussein to 14-year-old twin brothers — were among some 75 children living temporarily at the Plaza who hopped on school buses Monday in an unusual pilot project to give these uprooted children a feel for the routine of school in satellite classrooms, while they wait to find out where their new homes, and permanent schools, will be.

Hussein al Sarji, 3, is the baby of the family.


Hussein al Sarji, 3, is the baby of the family.

“We did reading — and the teacher was so pretty,” reported brother Said through an interpreter. Noted 14-year-old Ahmad: “I like school in Canada so much; everyone makes us welcome.”

Concerned that housing delays were leaving refugee children with no way to start integrating into Canada — the average hotel stay has been about four weeks — Toronto’s public and Catholic school boards scrambled together last week to find empty classrooms and hire supply teachers and Arabic interpreters to run two-hour morning classes for children while they’re living at the hotel. The costs, including buses, will be covered by the province’s newcomer program.

Walaa al Sarji, 6, can’t wait to play football and hockey in school.

“It’s the right thing to do; you can’t promise people a new life and not prepare them for getting an education,” said Karen Falconer, the Toronto District School Board’s executive superintendent of Continuing and International Education.

Some 265 refugee children are living at the hotel at the moment. Only 75 took part in the morning programs Monday, although twice as many have signed up for Tuesday.

Ahmad al Sarji, 14, feels more welcome here compared to the school experiece in Lebanon.

“I understand why many of these parents aren’t comfortable at first with the idea of putting their kids on a school bus and letting them go,” said Falconer. “We have to build trust.”

Source: Young refugees offered pop-up classes while awaiting homes | Toronto Star