Posts tagged ‘Education’

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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April 19, 2012

TDSB budget woes: Education assistants and school superintendents as a “nice-to-have”

My young son hated school when he started it; he hated school so much he ran away frequently. One January morning, wearing no shoes, he ran out straight out the school doors having realized stopping to grab outerwear would slow his escape. His heroic kindergarten education assistant was the one who caught him again.

So when Mike Harris threatened to cut funding for education assistants, I began a long career as a parent activist. My son will graduate from high school next year, and education assistants are being cut once more. (I don’t remember a time when school funding wasn’t being cut.)

In 2012, the Toronto District School Board is looking at another yawning funding gap, one that has now grown to over $100 million a year.

School trustees might choose to face down the current Liberal government, to refuse to implement a funding formula which systematically underfunds high-cost urban areas like Toronto. But the last time the Board did that, it was put under provincial supervision. And nothing changed.

So, instead, trustees are faced with staff layoffs. (Lay-off notices went out this week to over 700 education assistants, school secretaries, high school teachers and other staff, some with almost three decades of work at the Board.)

This will get worse. The first announced wave has moved the Board less than halfway to their budget target. Board staff and committees are looking now for another $60 million to cut.

More staff will fall, and it’s going to get ugly. For instance, senior staff came under ruthless attack at the last Board meeting, the quality of their contribution to the education enterprise being debated, as they sat there behind the trustees. Superintendents are an easy target. If women who chase into a snow storm after a small angry child are a “nice-to-have,” then these senior staff have little chance of showing they are a “must have.”

Really, the debate over central service staff is a mug’s game which the non-profit sector has been playing for years. Funding for core administrative staff pays for people who run the payroll, pay bills, hire staff, keep computers running, conduct health & safety inspections or maintain harassment prevention offices. Core staff are the ones who let others do the work of the organization, whether teaching or serving clients. Yet they are not seen as “mission critical.”

Trustees will be faced with tough choices. This, now, is the time they cannot be parochial or arbitrary in their decisions.

One of the key tools they have at their disposal, then, is one they adopted a few years ago: the Learning Opportunities Index (LOI), which ranks schools according to communities’ needs. The LOI was created because the school board was looking for better criteria to drive resource allocations. Trustees chose, as the framework for its decisions, the principle of equity, the idea that those who are stronger can do with less.

Almost three decades later, during the latest revision, the Board renewed that policy commitment and strengthened it, adopting a policy which said

In order to provide a more equitable distribution of resources, the Learning Opportunities Index shall be used when resources are being allocated to school.. [going on to describe a few exceptions: those where allocations are universal (for all schools), required by legislation and collective agreements, and finally where a better measure of need can be found.]

The LOI has to be used as filter for these discussions of where budget cuts are going to hit.

This is not going to be a popular tactic, but it is in accord to the Board’s own policies and history. It is also a just and judicious approach. As they wrestle with these hard questions, that’s what trustees must hang onto.

June 1, 2011

Toronto District School Board 2011 budget deliberations begin

The head office of the Toronto District School...

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A useful e-mail is circulating around the Toronto District School Board, summarizing some of the early budget deliberations, as trustees face another year of shortfall. The Board’s Budget Committee met on Monday, May 30. Here is the synopsis. The conclusion provides some useful steps for concerned parents and advocates:

The Committee members defeated the Staff recommendations to balance the 2011-2012 Budget, which included the following:

  • Shifting $30m (million) from large capital repairs to smaller projects
  • Permit Fees Increase – 22% as of Jan. 2012 — $ 1.60 m
  • Department Budget Reductions $3.70 m
  • Using savings from previous years   $13.10m
  • Transportation (no impact on students) $.25 m
  • Reduction to central departments casual replacement budgets $1.00 m
  • Purchasing of utilities $.80 m
  • Auditing for enrolment and class size efficiencies $ 1. 00 m
  • Broader Public Sector Directive and reduction of meeting expenses $ .20 m
  • Reducing of External Consultants $3.70 m

Possible total (short-term) savings found:   $ 55. 35 million

After this recommendation was defeated, the Budget committee agreed to meet Wednesday June 8th (time to be confirmed) to look at recommendations again. They asked staff to look at the possibility of lessening the $30 m cutback from capital funding (to $20 m or $25 m for example), and balance the remainder from items from another document presented (Appendix “B”) which lists items which are either under or unfunded items by the Ministry of Education.  Here is the list from Appendix “B”:

  • Outdoor Ed  $6.7 m
  • Regular Ed. Assistants  $ 22.6 m
  • Literacy Teachers  $15.2 m
  • Library Teachers   $ 6.25 m
  • Guidance Teachers  $5.59 m
  • Classroom Consultants, Central Coordinating Principals etc. $3.5 m
  • School budgets   $10.27 m
  • Elementary supervision  $9.31 m
  • School safety monitors   $6.13 m
  • School office  $8.06
  • Vice Principals  $8.34 m
  • Special education    $15.4 m
  • Model Schools   $8.5 m
  • Safe Schools   $3.05 m
  • Board Administration  $18.48 m
  • Transportation  $ 2.49 m
  • Permits   $11.2 m
  • Vision of Hope  $1.00 m
  • Aboriginal Education  $438,284
  • Continuing Education  $8. 01 m

Total:  $170,633,755.00 million under or non-funded items

Why does the TDSB have a funding gap?

There is currently a $150,000,000 million difference between what the TDSB receives in “directed grant” monies from the Ministry of Education (i.e., for things such as Full Day Kindergarten etc.) and what we choose to spend. Sometimes, the Ministry does not send enough money to cover an initiative that they direct the board to do, for example, adequate funding for teachers’ salaries to fully implement Full Day Kindergarten. This means money must be found elsewhere to cover this cost.

Sweatered vs. Unsweatered Grants from the Ministry of Education (MoE):   Grants from the Ministry are either sweatered (meaning they have to be spent on a certain program or in a certain way), or unsweatered (meaning the board has flexibility about how they spend the money).  For example, special education funding is sweatered by the MoE and can only be spent by the TDSB on special education programs and services.  The TDSB must also be accountable and track these monies to show the MoE they were spent as directed.

However, the Learning Opportunities Grant (LOG) is an unsweatered Ministry grant, which means the TDSB has flexibility in using these funds event though the LOG is intended, in theory, to fund programs and services for students who are deemed “at risk” due to poverty and other factors, and/or who are aboriginal. While some of the LOG funding does indeed go to support students ‘at risk’, much of it is used to pay for under or unfunded items through the MoE’s funding formula and initiative funding.

The Inner City Advisory Committee (ICAC) and the Learning Opportunities Grant (LOG)

The ICAC has always argued that the Model Schools for Inner Cities Program (MSIC) should be funded by the LOG because that is what the grant is supposedly for. The Model Schools provides a holistic and innovative program in 105 schools across Toronto, and does this on a budget of $8.5 million that has not changed since 2006, in spite of inflationary pressures, salary increases, rising food costs etc.   Next year, in an effort to reach more underserved students, staff have decided to expand the MSIC to reach 125 schools across the city.  Last night the ICAC motion, asking for a 5% increase (approximately $425,000) to the MSIC funding, was defeated. (The motion is attached in pdf above.)

What can you do?

1.     Email or call your/all trustee(s) to ask that the motion be reconsidered at the June 8th Budget Committee meeting. (www.tdsb.on.ca click on “boardroom” to find a list of 22 trustees)

2.     Request a deputation (speaking for 5 minutes) spot for the June 8th Budget Committee meeting (http://www.tdsb.on.ca/_site/ViewItem.asp?siteid=88&menuid=310&pageid=239)

3.     Attend the June 8th Budget Committee meeting and the Board meeting where the Trustees debate the budget – June 22nd

4.     Advocate for a fully funded education system which meets the needs of all children and supports each and every one in achieving their highest potential.

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