Archive for September, 2012

September 24, 2012

Parking enforcement, ab absurdo

Neighbours stood grumbling at the corner this morning. One had found a ticket on their car, and they were trying to figure it out. “Count how many feet!” said one. “What’s a meter again?” asked the other. “How do owe know if it’s nine feet or nine meters?” one more said. “There’s no sign!”

Not that, though, Toronto parking signs are known for clarity: No parking unless it’s November, or June, in the first half of the month or the last, before 9 a.m. or after 1 p.m. unless it’s between 3 and 4 p.m. hiding the No Stopping sign. The complexity of these things is legendary. (Miss Wilmut, I think I need to go back to grade school again.)Example of a bylaw officer employed to do stra...

My uncle, in his latter years, simply resigned himself to it, announcing he wasn’t going to get upset about these things anymore. It’s the cost of an urban car, he said. While that approach may be good for one’s blood pressure, it doesn’t work at the broader level. Sure, metered parking and other small burdens are the price for a questionable urban form of transport, but when the daily administrations of the law are unclear and seemingly capricious, it does a greater community harm. It builds cynical and disengaged citizenry.

I normally let these things roll, but I too recently got stung by such pedantry.

One of my daughter’s friends biked over to our house early Saturday morning to borrow our family car (yes, not all urban dwellers own one) to take a load of friends to go do day work on an organic farm. She returned the car after sundown, parking it at the end of our block by an unseen fire hydrant. Yup, oops!

For that though, we got two tickets, one a little before midnight and the second just after 7 a.m. of the Sunday morning. Officially, two different dates, yes, but, please, only one “sleep.”

Yes, we can fight the tickets, but the damage is done. The apparently mercenary approach, this “over-policing,” breeds discontent.

It also provides an insight to a middle-class community as to how some communities “known to police” fall away from us.

(To rub salt in the wound, while this all went on, my son’s rear bicycle wheel was stolen.)

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September 17, 2012

Who are the students identified as having special education needs in the TDSB?

Are boys,Black students or students from low-income families more likely to be identified as Special Needs in the Toronto District School Board? Are children from more privileged backgrounds likely to be identified as Gifted?

A new research report from the board confirms what parents have often worried about.

This latest release confirms the racial and socio-economic backgrounds of its students are reflected in who is identified as Special Needs.

The report is drawn from a longitudinal study of the TDSB students who were in Grade 9, over 18,000 of them in 2006. It follows this cohort of students through each grade. (By now 79% of the studied students have graduated.)

According to the new Fact Sheet on Special Education:

  • Nearly 2/3 of students identified as having special education needs in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) are male.
  • Students who live with no or only one parent are more likely to be in a special needs program (other than Gifted) than those who live with both parents. In fact, not a single student who did not live with a parent was identified as Gifted (These would include students who lived independently or with other family members). Gifted students were also most likely to have parents with a university-level education (77% of Gifted students compared to 44% of students overall) and a professional-level occupation (56% of students in Gifted compared to 27% of students).
  • Tracking the pattern of low-income Special Needs students are the racial backgrounds of students in special ed. classes. The starkest contract was for students of African, Caribbean and Black backgrounds. Black students were the most likely of all other racial groups to be identified as having a Mild Intellectual Delay (MID), making up almost one-third (32%) of those so identified even though they make up only 1/8 (12%) of the overall student population. Black students also made up 17% of those identified with a learning disability. Interestingly, Whites made up more than half (53%) of students identified with a learning disability although they represent 34% of the total population. This may be that as a result of parents paying for private evaluations.
  • Gifted programs show that those with racial and class privilege are much more likely to be accessing these supports (which include smaller class sizes and enriched materials). 77% of students identified as Gifted have university-educated parents. White and East Asian students make up 80% of the Gifted identifications although together they represent just over half (53%) of the total enrollment in the year studied. Seven percent of the remaining students were South Asian. Less than 5% of Gifted students were Black (to be proportionate there should be twice as many).

The release concludes with a summary of the Board’s commitment to review the processes which may give rise to these inequities and act as barriers to student success. Several areas for review include

  • the structure of congregated/integrated program delivery (whether students should be grouped together or supported in class),
  • the process for referral, identification and placements of students suspected of having a disability, and
  • ensuring student learning is culturally and socio-demographically sensitive (for instance, gifted girls tend to be less disruptive so are less frequently identified).

The publication page by the Board’s Research & Information Services department is a hidden treasure, deep within the TDSB’s website, under the Tab “About Us.” (About us — truer words.)

Keep watching this page. Later this year, the results from the school board’s second parent/student census will be posted.

There, we may find the evidence of what we have suspected, that our schools still reflect more the realities of our community than its aspirations.

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September 3, 2012

A clash of values within the public education system

While much of the recent media headlines have been on Premier McGuinty’s Putting Students First Act (Bill 115), another storm has been brewing on the edges of school board, one which is much more fundamental to the ideals we hold for our public education system.

“Religion, politics and education are never good friends,” was the response of one committee member at the recent TDSB Equity Policy Advisory Committee meeting.

Bill 113, the Accepting Schools Act (2012), has caused a furor among those who are strictly religious. The Act focuses on reducing bullying, specifically “To encourage a positive school climate and prevent inappropriate behaviour, including bullying, sexual assault, gender-based violence and incidents based on homophobia, transphobia or biphobia.” It’s an important public statement.

Concretely, this means middle school kids can’t call something (or someone) a “fag” because they think it’s stupid.

Leading the charge is Public Education Advocates for Christian Equality (P.E.A.C.E.), which was formed when the Hamilton school board adopted an equity policy which, following the provincial human rights legislation, includes sexual orientation as a prohibited grounds for discrimination.

The panic has spread to the Toronto area. School board staff have reported that principals have received thousands of a five-page “Traditional Values” form letters from parents requesting their children opt out of any lessons dealing with “family values,” environmentalism, ethics, gal, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered issues, sex education, STDs & condoms and/or abortion.

In one Toronto neighbourhood, up to another hundred parents have asked taken a more radical step and asked to home school. One school superintendent spent a recent Friday afternoon signing up to 20 of these permission forms. (Truancy laws require that parents demonstrate a child will be educated, within or outside the provincial school system.)

TDSB equity staff are clear that nothing in the curriculum has changed since the Bill 113’s passage (“still age-appropriate and culturally-sensitive”), but are disturbed by the panic they see.

Student trustees are organizing a video campaign – no doubt when the rest of the system settles down.

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