Back again at the Board on the achievement gap

Given the pace of many meetings, I find it’s therapeutic to make dishcloths because, at least, by the end I have done something concrete.

So, last Saturday, I packed up my yarn and went to the public hearings of the TDSB’s Achievement Gap Taskforce, Breaking the Cycle. I wasn’t optimistic that it would be more than some self-congratulatory self-effacing exercise, the kind the Board does every few years but, still, I wanted to listen.

About 25 presenters came to talk to the Taskforce. Others who weren’t quick enough to sign up also sat sprinkled in the audience. A few trustees, the Board Chair, and the Director rotated through during the day.

As should be expected, many deputants appealed for additional resources, calling for more tutors, smaller classes, mentorship programs, and more interpreters.

But the arguments were also more nuanced. Students talked about the disengagement of their fellow students, the lack of responsibility, the lack of motivation.  Staff talked about ensuring the “academic dignity” of their students. Community agencies reminded panelists that if student are having a problem, their families are having a problem – yet they often treated separately. Community members raised the need to understand “lateral violence.”

Others recognized that identified needs would always outstrip available resources, so called for better coordination and a sustained commitment of program resources. Support programs come and go, and the lack of consistency and rapid turnover means that word-of-mouth referrals may often be out of date. Parents are left, not knowing where to turn.

Grade 8/9 transitions were identified as challenging because students are suddenly thrust into a larger environment, with higher expectations and less monitoring. Others called for a shift towards learning to learn.

The strongest theme, among the students who presented, was the need for connection to their schools. Their stories and those of their classmates were about the need to belong and the cost when students are not engaged. Their words underlined what we already know about the importance of building relations to students and community.

Students also described the importance of role models; one young Black student, upon seeing the meeting chair was also Black male, said that made him want to be the one who “rang the bell,” too, to signal time was up. A youth worker veered off his comments when he saw a former teacher and coach in the room, saying that this man in the corner had made the difference between the life he now led as a college-educated community worker and one where he may well have ended up in jail or worse. The room melted at the end of the presentation, when they hugged, student towering over teacher.

Lloyd McKell, the Chair, pressed respondents further for solutions.

The network of Aboriginal and Metis Educators highlighted the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Aboriginal Education Strategy, a concrete framework ready for implementation. They reported that the Toronto Catholic school board already offers Aboriginal Grade 11 English and Grade 9 Visual Arts as core courses rather than as options. Pens scribbled when the network pointed out that enhanced funding is offered to school boards for offering these courses. The network also underscored that these learnings are important to students of all cultures.

Mirroring the Director’s call for a parent academy in his Vision of Hope, a presenter from Hispanic community spoke about a weekly, Spanish-language community-based program for parents which addressed issues such as mental health or multiple intelligences. The need to create supportive social networks was identified as a need for parents as well as students. [At my own daughter’s high school, we once tried to facilitate linguistic groupings at parent information nights, allowing people to find a space where they could network more easily.]

Among the day’s presentations were also some disheartening moments.

Speakers from the Somali community reminded taskforce members that twenty years ago, they had forwarded a similar set of recommendations. They were not implemented, so they were back.

Another presenter explained that when members of the Hispanic community met with one of the then Directors of Education, fifteen years ago, about their concerns for students in their community, they were reportedly told that if the school board did something for them, then the Board would have to “do something for everyone” too.

An final unfortunate note was that since microphones were not available, some speakers, especially women, were difficult to hear.

On the upside, I got two dishcloths done.

TDSB Achievement Gap Task Force

An opportunity gap – not an achievement gap

TDSB’s Equity Foundation Statement


One Comment to “Back again at the Board on the achievement gap”

  1. “The strongest theme, among the students who presented, was the need for connection to their schools.” For an educator this is called trust. Students should be able to speak to someone they feel comfortable with on a professional level. In Ontario, repeat sex offenders are allowed to teach in our schools.
    We do not allow convicted sex offenders to have kids in their homes, why should we allow teachers who have been convicted of sexual assult in the classrooms of Ontario.


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