Posts tagged ‘Deprivation index’

February 9, 2014

My neighbour, Jeffrey Baldwin

If I peek through the branches out my son’s bedroom, I can see the room where Jeffrey Baldwin lived, and died, he, the five-year-old who died from neglect, in my backyard.

At that time, when he lived, my children were close to his age, and I knew some of the hardships of this community and of our school. I remember the mother who asked me for $2 so her child could enjoy the school’s hot dog lunch. I remember the girl who carried the last bits of a bag of corn flakes to school for her lunch. I remember the boy who didn’t go to school because he had no winter coat until he got a hand-me-down — how he danced along the block then in that ugly corduroy coat! And I remember the kindergarten child whose mother was always ‘sleeping’ as she wandered our street, joining snack time on our porch.

But I don’t remember Jeffrey Baldwin, who also lived here in my neighbourhood. Instead, I vaguely remember the noisy crowd of adults that sat on his porch (one of them, Jeffrey’s aunt, trained in Early Childhood Education — another shocker).

Later, I learned that Jeffrey’s sisters were at the same grade school my children were, although, in different grades. We would all have gone to the same school concerts or gathered together out in the playground. Each day, Jeffrey’s sisters would have munched on the same daily offering of muffins or yogurt and carrots or apples from the small kitchen on the main floor where volunteers chopped and baked for the snack program.

At the inquest into Jeffrey’s death, a pediatric nutritionist said that this classroom food program probably saved Jeffrey’s sister; she too was targeted, neglected by her grandparents, but, unlike Jeffrey, she was ‘allowed’ to go to school, and so she ate.

I remember the snack program donation envelopes carried home in my son’s backpack each month. And I remember the hunt to fill it with the requested $20 donation each time. Times were lean in our household, but I knew some of my neighbours had it worse than we did so I felt that obligation.

Now, years later, having heard how the snack program had sustained Jeffrey’s sister, I sobbed aloud. I hadn’t understood the role of those scrounged pennies. “One doesn’t know,” I said to myself, “what makes a difference.”

I think Jeffrey’s awful death has stuck with me, not only because of the revulsion we all feel, but also, more personally, as a neighbour who failed him.

I remember a part of the murder trial for Jeffery’s grandparents, the testimony from another neighbour, who described how one day, Jeffrey’s grandmother asked her if she would take Jeffrey, then still a baby. She considered, but refused, having no way to know the atrocity to come.

‘We didn’t know’ seems an awful, sorry excuse. Bitter lessons.

In the closing days of the inquest into Jeffrey long neglect and death, Irwin Elman, the provincial children’s advocate said  “We expect and demand more. More from the child welfare system, more from the educational system, more from the neighbours, and more from the family who stood by and watched Jeffrey starve and die…We can do better.”

Elman’s right.

What neighbourhood-based solutions would have helped?  Better snacks? Better registration and attendance records at school? The parent-child drop-in where I found solace? Neighbourliness (what sociologists describe as stronger social connections and reciprocity)? More ‘eyes on the street’? Even, just more old-fashioned nosiness? Those questions continue to gnaw at me.

Some of the answers lie in the formal and informal networks of a neighbourhood. Perhaps, the inquest’s results will tell us more.

For now, a new family, full of kids, lives in Jeffrey’s house. They know the sad history of it, but, as another neighbour explained to me, they are re-writing it, making it better this time.

We all must.

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May 30, 2010

An agreed-upon description of poverty

When older women on the Isle of Mann were polled as to whether dressing gowns are a basic life necessity, their agreement was nearly unanimous. If someone who couldn’t afford a housecoat, they were poor. However when young men were asked the same question, their response unsurprisingly was almost the mirror opposite. À chaque son goût?

Defining poverty is a difficult task for government statisticians and policy wonks, never mind the rest of us.

Two of the best thinkers on the topic, Richard Shillington and John Stapleton, recently published a Metcalf Foundation-funded paper, Cutting through the Fog: Why is it so hard to make sense of poverty measures? In clear language, they explain how some basic assumptions shape how poverty is defined in Canada. Therefore, because each definition of poverty leads to different policy resolutions, the authors conclude that, without an agreed upon definition of poverty line, Canadians will continue to be stymied in our actions to solve poverty.

Over the course of the past two years, taking a leaf from the British and European work on social exclusion, Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank took a stab at improving our income-based definitions of poverty. Together with Caledon Institute for Social Policy, they built an Ontario Deprivation Index, and then, piloted it with Statistics Canada through the Labour Force Survey.

The new index developed a common list of ten items which are most likely to distinguish the poor from the non-poor. The work now stands as a key part of the Ontario government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. The first provincial report was released last December and found that one in eight children live in a deprived situation. By its own reports, the government is committed to lowering this number.

The Ontario Deprivation Index will let us know if we have made a difference.

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April 11, 2010

Community Partnership Strategy: Neighbourhood Well-being Index

(Updates – July 1, 2011: The NWI is has been re-branded and launched as Wellbeing Toronto. July 29, 2010: This should now be referred to as the Neighbourhood Well-being Indices. Revised by the City researchers.)

Statistics and geography is about to get a whole lot more fun in the City of Toronto. City staff are working to create interactive, flash maps which allow users to explore neighbourhood-level indicators.

This fresh concept of a way to measure the vitality of a neighbourhood has now evolved into a first draft of the Neighbourhood Well-being Index (NWI). The NWI will collect neighbourhood-level information from a broad range of sources, including Statistics Canada demographic data and the City’s own administrative databases.

The NWI  is a new and separate initiative from City of Toronto staff, but it dovetails neatly with Council’s newly adopted Community Partnership Strategy, providing the broad evidence base for the strategy. The NWI also complements the move towards open data initiative, OpenTO, acting as an open data warehouse.

Some of the data to be mapped data is already available, in less friendly formats, through the City’s neighbourhood profiles, the Community Social Data Strategy and TO iMapit. The NWI will enable users to identify key populations groups or services of interest and then produce a user-friendly map of the data.

Several good examples from the U.S.A. give a preview of what the NWI might look like:

  • The New York City website Envisioning Development Toolkit is a friendly tool which compares neighbourhood rent and incomes.
  • California’s Healthy City is a more data-rich site which allows users to map local services and demographics.
  • The Reinvestment Fund’s Policy Map compares a range of data across numerous American cities.

In a sophisticated web-based interface, Toronto residents will be able to select the indicators and identify their own “priority neighbourhoods,” a shift from the current Priority Neighbourhood Areas that were selected using more universal indicators which don’t always match specific local priorities. Service-providers for youth or newcomers or seniors will able to identify the highest need neighbourhoods for each of their own populations.

Two overarching data clusters will be used as measures of a neighbourhood’s wellbeing, allowing a more granular examination of Toronto neighbourhoods. These are

  • Population Characteristics, such as Age, Gender, Language, Ethnicity, Family structure, Income.
  • Human Service Infrastructures, from and about Community Centres, Libraries, Parks, Police Stations, Schools, etc.

The NWI’s ten domains and particular indicators will likely expand as additional neighbourhood-level data becomes available. The first draft is exploring the following areas:

  • Arts, Culture and Heritage: Agency Funding & Grants; Community programs; Neighbourhood-permitted events
  • Civic Engagement and Social Inclusion: Agency Funding & Grants; City Beautification Initiatives; Community Meeting Spaces; Donations; Volunteerism; Voter Participation
  • Economic Security: 211 Calls for Service; Child Care; Community-based Services; Debt Load (excluding mortgages); Local Neighbourhood Employment; Long-term Employment; Social Assistance; Unemployment; Variety of Local Businesses; Wages & Benefits.
  • Education: Community-based Services; Early Development Instrument (EDI); High School Students applications to college/university; High School Drop-out Rates; High School Students passing Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT); Library Circulations
  • Environment: Open Space; Pollution/Toxic sites; Soil conditions
  • Housing: social housing waiting lists; property taxes; affordability (sales); adequacy (standards); rooming houses; Streets-to-Homes placements; Long-term Home Care Services survey; Toronto Community Housing tenant profiles; Homelessness & Hidden Homeless; 211 calls for information; and community based services.
  • Recreation and Leisure: Participants and drop-ins users of parks and recreation programs; waiting lists; facilities capacities
  • Safety: By-law inspections/Standards complaints [although these tend to rise with the income of a neighbourhood]; Calls for EMS; Community-based Services; Crime by major categories; Domestic Violence; Fire Code inspections; Firearms shootings and victims; Fires & Arsons; Grow Ops; Pedestrian & Cyclist Collisions & Injuries; Toronto Community Housing Safety and Incidents;
  • Transportation: Commuting; Public Transit Access; Wheel Trans Use; Traffic volumes. [One potential but unnoted measures is walkability]
  • Personal and Community Health: Birth Outcomes; Communicable Diseases; Community-based Services; Vulnerable Children (with data from Children’s Aids Societies)

Reviewers, both academic and from the community sector, are being asked to review the indicators, help identify priorities for the roll-out, and advise in the creation of an index for each domain.

The hope is that the NWI will be ready to launch in the next 16 – 18 months.

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September 12, 2009

Defining race (and racism) in the TDSB Learning Opportunity Index

The Learning Opportunities Index (LOI) is one of the Toronto District School Board’s key tools for directing resources to the neediest students in the system. Therefore, it’s vital that the index measure deprivation accurately and reliably.

The newly modified LOI dropped less predictive measures of student performance, such as average income, housing type, and immigration status and now includes variables which are better able to measure poverty. Of the new variables, the most powerful are “families on social assistance” and families in the bottom income quartile (as measured by the LIM).

Trustees bite the bullet

So, even though some schools shifted down the ranking and would now potentially lose resources, Trustees (or most of them) bit the bullet and voted to adopt the new instrument.

Still there were some misgivings.

For instance, in terms of external challenges, critical race scholars in the U.S.A. have shown race and poverty have separate effects on student achievement. That, even when income and other demographic characteristics are controlled for, students of different racial identities perform differently within the American school system. This finding has been used, reasonably, as the basis for the creation of Africentric and other race-based schools.

When the new LOI removed the variable of immigration status — often conflated with race in the Canadian context —, the TDSB faced the problem that race, in any form, had been excised. The LOI faced the critique it had been homogenized, to the detriment of its mission of accurately measuring external challenges, and to the detriment, especially, of black students.

So the Board asked the LOI review committee (of which I am a member) to also examine how and whether race should be included in the LOI.

A question for policy wonks or for research geeks

Given the range of views on the question, perhaps the task is really better suited for politicians and policy wonks than for statisticians and research geeks.

However, the review committee has begun its review. We will look at the broader literature, and we will test the utility and strength of any new race-based variable within the Toronto context.

A problem of definition

The first problem has been trying to figure out how to approach the problem.

For instance, producing an accurate description of the term”race” is tricky because race is a social, rather than a biological construction. Its definition and boundaries are blurry and ever–changing. Statistics Canada doesn’t even use the term, but instead says “visible minority” — a bare truth in Toronto — for anyone who has a heritage other than white.

Yet, within the Toronto context, when we compare the performance of “visible minority” students against that of their white peers, there are only subtle differences, sometimes in favour of students of colour. “Visible minority” status alone is not correlated to students’ academic performance. And, that’s a relief. In fact, it’s as it should be.

However, others remind us, we know there are differences between some racial groups.

So we have to explore the term further. Some advocates have been quite clear, we need to stop skirting the issue and name the problem of academic underachievement as one of Black and Aboriginal students, and a few other historically–disadvantaged groups. If we are prepared to do that, academic interventions can be better targetted.

Reliable school–level data

So, if this is the next step, to look at particular racial groups, can we get reliable school-level data? (School–level data is needed to calculate the LOI so that each school can be accurately assessed and ranked in comparison to the others.)

The school board census is the obvious answer. Among its many questions, the TDSB’s student/parent census asked respondents to identify their racial background. However, this won’t work for the LOI.

While useful at a system– or even ward–level, the census data won’t allow reliable comparisons at the school level. For example, some schools had a high non-response rate (students wrote in “Martian” as their answer to the question of their racial background, and various classes never even did the census). The census also happened long enough ago that it no longer supplies a current picture of the Board’s students.

Ranking and weighting races

Ethnic origin might be another usable category from Statistics Canada data, and one which may give more subtlety to the analysis.

Board research has shown that groups of students born in various parts of the world perform differently. Should we parse, weight and rank the value of my children’s English⁄Celtic heritage against their Chinese heritage? (As the discussion unfolds, one can’t help but feel like the evolutionary psychologist University of Western Ontario professor, Philippe Rushton wading into the world of measuring head size to explain intelligence.)

What are we trying to measure? And where does ethnicity blend into culture or language?

And, in the end, does the Board have the stomach to rank one ethnic group against another in the allocation of scarce resources?

Fixed identities

This exercise is different from research which shows different outcomes for students who have already gone through the education system. In this exercise, we are saying that because a student comes from a specific racial background, a priori,  we will award additional resources. We are pre-judging their performance.

The awkwardness of this is that a student’s racial background is different from all the other measures currently used within the LOI because race is fixed. All the other measures, such as parental marital status, education level, and income, can be changed, even re-mediated through social policy and individual effort.

Measuring racism rather than race

Perhaps then, more accurately, this quest to measure the impact of race should be more fittingly seen as a quest to measure racism. We should be measuring the disadvantage which led to the poor environment which created the external challenge some students face. Those who argue for reparations would argue for such.

So, then, the questions becomes, how to measure this.

Use a geographic lens

There is no general “measure of racism” which we can easily access to measure how Toronto students are doing in school. So this is where geography can help. We may well be looking for a measure of concentrated disadvantage or a measure of a neighbourhood peer effect.

Racism creates the inequitable conditions whereby students of colour are more likely live in poor neighbourhoods with low levels of education, fractured families, and little access to good jobs — all variables now included in the LOI and which make it a strong measure of external challenge.

Neighbourhoods may well be the key driver in a student’s performance. And it’s a premise which has some credence.

In 2005, Robert Sampson at Harvard (one of my favourite researchers), investigated the connection between race and violence; he found that the main differences between different racial groups’ levels of violence were explained by demographics and neighbourhood conditions. He recommended that interventions which “improved neighbourhood conditions and support families” would be the most effective way to reduce violence.

Sampson also found that neighbourhood distress was inversely related to the number of workers in professional occupations and the proportion of married parents. Higher levels of recent immigrants also had a dampening effect on violence. Tom Carter, at the University of Winnipeg, has cited research supporting similar conclusions in his studies on the inner city.

In effect, what looked like racial differences were actually problems rooted in poverty and deprivation.

Furthermore, an American study found that while racial segregation has been declining, educational segregation has increased. So neighbourhoods are more divided along, arguably, class lines than racial ones. (I don’t know of a similar study in a Canadian urban centre.)

More to thresh out

In the end, what seemed like an easy question may have a complex answer.

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June 11, 2009

Canadian Index of Wellbeing launched

Roy Romanow entered the room to waves of applause. The early morning crowd had grabbed a muffin or some fruit and were now visiting between tables as they waited for the early morning launch of the new Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW).

Annie Kidder from People for Education chatted with John Ralston Saul (who reminded Canadians recently of Peace, Order and Well-being). Wellesley’s Institute’s Michael Shapcott twittered about the event from the back. Three funders (United Way Toronto, Maytree Foundation and Toronto Community Foundation) sat together chatting with a reporter.

Researcher geeks from across the country clapped each other on the back and hugged. Activists were almost jovial. They were here to see the launch of a new tool which, as one speaker said, would set aside the measurement of wealth and economic growth for the measurement of happiness.

Romanow’s opening comment caught the sentiment of the moment, reminded all that the historic St. Lawrence Hall, where the launch was being held, was where some of the very fathers of Confederation had gathered in the 18o0s.

The CIW will cover 8  domains; yesterday, three of those categories were launched: Living Standards, Healthy Populations, and Community Vitality.

Reports on the other domains will emerge as they are prepared. They include:

When the Atkinson Foundation set out to introduce this measure, the task seemed unwieldy and ambitious. Yet workgroups were formed, academics were pulled in, and consultations had.

Today, the CIW is everything it needed to be.

Questioners after the presentation quickly saw its strengths, looking to see how the Index could be used for different geographies, different populations and to develop policy solutions.

Indeed, one of the wisest parts of the the new CIW’s inauguration, because it assures further sustainability, is the simultaneous launch of an Institute of Wellbeing, in association with the University of Waterloo and Social Innovation Generation.

The CIW has a real chance of making a meaningful impact on the way we see our communities. Bravo!

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May 28, 2009

The strength of EDI as a predictive tool

I am probably about to commit heresy: I hate the EDI.

The EDI, in long form the Early Development Instrument, has gained popularity as a population tool to rank students’ readiness for school. Developed by Dan Offord and Magdelena Janus at McMaster University, and popularized by Clyde Hertzman at the University of British Columbia, the EDI has been shown to have a strong correlation to the likelihood of a student cohort to achieve academically. But more tellingly, it strongly correlates to students’ socioeconomic backgrounds and the neighbourhoods where they live.

The EDI tool is administered in Senior Kindergarten by classroom teachers in the space of about fifteen minutes per student. To quote, students are assessed on five domains:

  • Physical Health and Well-being referring to physical readiness for the school day, physical independence, and gross and fine motor skills.
  • Social Knowledge and Competence referring to overall social competence, responsibility and respect, approaches to learning and readiness to explore new things.
  • Emotional Health and Maturity referring to prosocial and helping behaviours, anxious and fearful behaviour, aggressive behaviour and hyperactivity and inattention.
  • Language and Cognitive Development referring to basic and advanced literacy skills, interest in literacy/numeracy and memory, and basic numeracy skills.
  • Communication Skills & General Knowledge referring to the child’s ability to communicate needs and idea effectively and interest in the surrounding world.

In each of these domains, children who come from tougher economic circumstances or from outside the dominant linguistic or ethnoracial group are invariably disadvantaged. For instance, whether a child arrives to school with appropriate clothing, can discuss an idea, or knows her way around a picture book are all EDI measures. Low EDI scores are often, though not always, evidence of deprivation.

Children who start from further behind also face a higher hurdle, if they are to measure up to their peers. A different framework would  measure the improvements children may have made; instead the EDI uses a threshold to measure a child’s readiness for school. You make the cut-off or you’re at-risk.

The strengths that marginalized students might bring to the classroom, but which fall outside the scope of the the framework for “school readiness,” are also not recognized in the same weighty way. Internal resiliency in the face of a strange school setting doesn’t get measured.

(My favourite example of this was when the girl from across the street who spoke English as a second language began kindergarten with my daughter, she relied on my daughter to repeat the teacher’s instructions slowly. Then, in the afternoon, when they both attended Heritage language classes, they reversed roles. It was a creative coping strategy.)

Finally, I hate the the EDI because it can act as a proxy for teachers’ middle class prejudices and ethnocultural biases. However, therein also lies its strength.

Not surprisingly, groups of students who do poorly in academic rankings in Kindergarten generally continue to do poorly in the eyes of their teachers in higher grades. Teachers are at least consistent.

Like Robert Fulgham’s Kindergarten Poem, all your school really needs to know is how you did in kindergarten. If your Kindergarten teacher thought you were unruly and inattentive, then probably so will subsequent ones.

Research has shown that the EDI is a reliable predictor of children’s likelihood of completing school successfully. We can tell that early on who might not make it.

The EDI’s predictive ability is sad confirmation of the social gap that some identifiable demographic groups come from further behind and stay behind throughout their schooling.

Yet, there is hope. Hertzman’s work, with the school system in British Columbia, shows that a coordinated, community-based response can make a difference in the school readiness of all children. So, that is where our work begins.

March 2, 2009

School board releases new Learning Opportunity Index

UPDATE: The 2011 LOI has now been released. 

The voting is done. After delayed consideration and hold-out votes from a few trustees, the Toronto District School Board’s new Learning Opportunity Index (LOI) was adopted a few weeks ago. TDSB staff set to number crunching with the new variables, and today released the 2009 elementary and secondary school LOI index.

This measure of student need across the system drives some resource allocation to those highest on the Index, and so was the subject of some discomfort amongst trustees who worried “their” school would be losing resources with the re-calculation. But, as explained in another post, this index is stronger, much stronger.

The school board’s own student census of high school students and parent census of elementary students demonstrated growing income inequality. So a tool like the LOI is a remedial effort to even the odds for students. Poor students who attend poor schools do poorly because they have less. Even when the local community pulls together, bake sales and other fundraisers raise less money than one in a school with richer families. The LOI is a necessary system response to this inequality.

The strongest variable in the new LOI is the one which measures the numbers of families on social assistance. Why this is so is just speculation, at this point, but early suggestions include the variable acting as a proxy for long-term and generational poverty or for deep poverty (those on Social Assistance are well below the Low Income Measure).

The neediest school in the city lies in the junction between the 401 and Black Creek Drive, surrounded by industrial lands. Students walk through the neighbourhood bungalows from the nearby residential towers. The other most needy schools are found where we expected them, around traditional low-income areas such as Regent Park and the Jane-Finch/Black Creek neighbourhoods. Others are in or near some of the City’s Priority Neighbourhood Areas, in Scarborough, along Kingston Road or near the Lawrence Heights community. And schools which are near large Toronto Community Housing (TCHC) projects or areas with poorer housing are also popping up in the new LOI. The elementary schools with the least challenge sit, north of Rosedale, in Moore Park and Lawrence Park.

The neediest high schools are located near Jane-Finch and in Weston-Mt. Dennis, others are schools with specialized support programs or located along subway lines for easy access. The richest are near situated in or near the Lawrence Park and Leaside neighbourhoods.

Frequently Asked Questions have been attached to the new Index, further explaining its structure and use.

Staff are now turning to the harder question left to them by trustees: How do students race and ethnocultural identities affect their educational opportunities?

read more »

February 4, 2009

The TDSB's Learning Opportunity Index

Tonight the trustees of the Toronto District School Board will be looking at revisions (and here) to the Learning Opportunity Index, a measure which ranks schools according to the needs of their students and then focuses resources on the most needy ones. (The final rankings are available here.)

I had the pleasure over the past eighteen months in helping to revise and improve it, so I have two arguments to make:  first, why the LOI is an important, and essentially Canadian, educational tool, and second, why this new version is an improvement.

The purpose of the Index is to support students who are falling behind in school because of challenges they face outside of school. This new Index will allow scarce school resources to be driven to those most in need, those who are facing some of the greatest barriers to academic achievement and who are, by our measures, doing poorly in school.

The LOI deserves continued support because:

  • Our Canadian ideal of public education is to allow every student a fair chance to participate in our broader society. To do this, we have to make sure every child has a good start. Because the effects of poverty are cumulative, building exponentially, poor kids in poor schools face the largest learning barriers.
  • This is a best investment of educational dollars. Investments in poor kids make a bigger improvement than investments in kids in other income brackets – they just have more room to grow.
  • The LOI is and has always been one of the most cutting-edge educational measures in North America, mimicked in other jurisdictions, because of its statistical validity and reliability. It does the job it’s supposed to do: leveling the playing field.

The proposal going forward to the school board tonight should be supported because it shows an even stronger relationship between external challenges and academic achievement. The revisions should be supported because they:

  1. strengthen measures of poverty
    The current LOI measures income, looking at average and median incomes in the neighbourhoods where students live. These measure the middle of the pack. However educational research shows that low income is one of the main drivers of poor academic performance.

    • The proposed LOI keeps median income, for stability and consistency, but strengthens the measure of low income, adding
    • the percentage of Families who fall below Statistics Canada’s Low Income Measure (those living with incomes that are less than half the median Canadian income, i.e. those who are in the bottom quarter of income earners), and
    • includes, for the first time, a measure of families receiving social assistance.
  2. eliminate variables which confuse the issue
    Variables with a weaker correlation to academic performance were dropped; the new LOI is better able to predict how students would perform academically.

In recent years, housing type has become a poor variable because of problems of under-reporting and because no distinction is made by Statistics Canada between high-rise rental apartments and condominiums. Housing type no longer shows a strong correlation to academic performance.

Immigration is also a poor predictor of how students will perform. For instance, students from some areas of the world outperform students from other parts of the world, including students who are Canadian born. So, immigration status alone does not accurately predict academic problems.

The removal of immigration and housing type will mean that school located in areas with high immigration and multiple story dwellings may not be as high on the LOI if those income levels are not comparable to other parts of the city. However, when we looked at the academic performance of these same schools, we found they were performing more closely to the level predicted by the revised LOI. In actuality, the LOI is now a more accurate predictor of those students’ academic potential.

Some critics have also raised the issue of race as one variable that is missing from the proposed LOI. Educational research shows this can also be a factor in academic achievement because it is a substitute measure for racism. (i.e. one’s race does not predict one’s academic potential, but it does predict the barriers to academic achievement). Even though I chaired the school board’s equity advisory committee for a number of years, I feel comfortable with leaving the variable of Race aside for the moment for two reasons. First, the Board is being asked to make a public commitment to look at the variable of race when Toronto data is available, and I believe this should and will be done. Second, and sadly, because visible minority status and low income are so closely correlated in Toronto, that by strengthening the poverty measures, the proposed LOI captures many of the same students that a race variable would. In effect, race is currently a fair proxy for poverty, and so the strengthened poverty measures capture many of these same populations.

In another post, I will explain the mechanics of the LOI that make it work so well.

(Update on the TDSB’s LOI, after its release: Belonging Community: School board releases new Learning Opportunity Index)

November 15, 2008

Roots of Violence report

Reports come and reports go. (Recently, some housing activists, bemoaning this truism, thought an effective protest might be to build a home out of all the housing reports which have been released on the topic.)

Into this environment, the long-awaited Roots of Violence report was released at Queen’s Park Friday (the last day of a week being a (non-)noteworthy day itself in the news cycle). And, this new report cited the decades-long list of reports which have covered the topics of youth violence, racism and poverty. The Literature Review for the report is 570 pages alone. A separate volume of commissioned research papers is almost as long, and an additional volume on “community perspectives” was included in the release.

One goes into these things, hoping again this isn’t the perennial re-arranging of the deckchairs on the Titanic. What we are looking for are lifeboats.

The Roots of Violence report sets out thirty recommendations, three for “priority implementation.”

The first, to provide universal mental health for youth, costed at $200 million. The report authors write that they believe this cost estimate is “manageable” within the current government’s term of office.

Second, the report recommends some anti-racism initiatives – calling for the establishment of a Cabinet Committee and Premier’s Advisory Committee on Social Inclusion and Anti-Racism; the training of front-line police officers; and teacher and school principals to “better reflect the neighbourhoods they serve”. (Nothing new here, and no specifics to get us there.)

The third priority recommendation is a call for “steps [emphasis added] towards community hubs….Another winter and spring should not go by in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods with there being no safe place for youth to gather and play.” No costing is attached to the recommendation, so it’s also not likely to get far.

In their comments at the press conference, the authors largely focused the psychological and social effects of the criminalization of youth. McMurtry expounded how, with his fifty years in the justice system, both he and Police Chief Bill Blair knew that jailing kids was “a simplistic solution.” True enough, but aside from offering there are no “quick solutions,” little to move the agenda forward.

The report does suggest two other interesting bits:

  • A Youth Policy framework, a re-work of a low-key report released earlier this year at United Way Toronto. Another call to break down silos and improve service coordination. Perhaps it will work this time.
  • The development of an Index of Relative Deprivation to help target interventions at the neighbourhood level (Census Dissemination Area). Using census data, the Index gives an early hint at what the province might use in its soon to be announced Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Still, considering the vagueness of the report’s recommendations, I’m keeping my life jacket on. The ship is still sinking.

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