Government Proposed Changes in K-12 Education

Teachers, education workers, parents and students demonstrate outside Conservative Party fundraiser, Etobicoke, February 27, 2019.

The Ontario government claims that all its changes are aimed at "modernizing" Ontario classrooms. The mantra of modernization hides the overall direction in which it wants to take Ontario. The government proposes to remove billions from the public education system through increasing class sizes and attacking the working conditions of teachers and education workers, while permanently handing over portions of the education of the youth to private interests on a centralized basis.

Class Size

The government announced that changes would be coming to average class sizes in Ontario. Average class sizes do not actually determine how big classes are or must be, but rather determine the funding a school board will receive for teachers and support staff. Thus, going from an average class size of 22 to 28 in grades 9 to 12 for example, means that for every 28 (instead of 22) students the school board will obtain funding for one teacher. The board then allocates teachers to ensure the overall average across the entire school board is at or below the average set by the government. (TML Weekly will deal further with how education is funded in Ontario and the relationship between average class sizes and class composition in future articles.)

As for class sizes, the government announced that the limit for the number of students in full-day junior and senior kindergarten will remain at 29 students. However, the funding for early childhood educators (ECEs) who work alongside teachers in these classes when they have more than 16 students will be reduced from 1.14 to 1.0 full-time equivalent (FTE). This will result in greater pressure on school boards to attack the number of ECEs and/or their working conditions. In addition, in January, the government made it clear that full-day kindergarten is guaranteed for only one more year.

Average class sizes for students in grades 4 to 8 will be increased from a school board-wide average of 23.84 to 24.5 students.

As noted above, the government intends to increase average class sizes in grades 9 to 12 from a school board-wide average of 22 to 28 students. The average will be calculated across the entire school board and all grades of that assigned average (grades 4 to 8 or grades 9 to 12). The Minister of Education has self-servingly claimed increasing class sizes in this manner is "evidence-based" and will better prepare students for work and university and even build "resilience." This is equivalent to an abuser claiming that their abuse was only to make the victim tougher.

Along with changes to average class sizes, the government is changing the way schools are funded. It is eliminating a number of discretionary funds that previous governments used to fund education. This will result in overall cuts to the supports students require in their schools. These changes include the elimination of the Local Priorities Fund, Cost Adjustment Allocation, and Human Resource Transition Supplement. It will also change "Classroom Loading Factors" to reflect the new class averages it wants to impose, increase Utilities Funding to reflect increased cost, increase and "review" Student Transportation Funding that funds busing and other forms of transportation to schools.


The government plans to "centralize the delivery of all e-learning courses" and require students in grades 9 to 12 to take a minimum of four e-learning classes to graduate high school with "exemptions for some students on an individual basis." These e-learning classes will have an even higher average number of students per class than the proposed increased average of 35 students to be raised from 28. Currently e-learning courses are delivered by school boards. A central hub for all e-learning courses being offered by boards across the province into which students can register already exists. The government may well seek to hand the delivery and content of e-learning over to a private e-learning company financed by public funds and use this to remove thousands of courses from the requirement of having to be delivered by teachers employed by school boards and represented by unions. No explanation as to how such a direction would benefit the youth was provided. The government's own e-learning site, prior to the announcement, clearly pointed out that e-learning is not beneficial for all students; a claim that was removed after it was pointed out by many on social media.

"Up to the Minute" Curriculum Changes

The Minister of Education announced in her press conference that the government plans to put in place new arrangements to permit itself to change what is taught in schools on an "up to the minute" basis. She presented the measure as a money saving move to save on printing and distribution of new curriculum documents, something that is currently the practice when curriculum is updated so that educators and the public know what is expected to be taught and learned in the classroom. By the next school year, the government plans to "bring in a new digital curriculum platform" where curricula will only be available online and there can be "up to the minute" changes made. The Ontario curricula is already available on the Ontario government's website and is accessible anywhere and downloadable, including onto smart devices.

These measures are very similar to changes made at the Federal level by the then Harper Conservatives to how regulations made by Ministers were promulgated to the public. The Harper government was harmonizing many Canadian regulations with those of the United States and slipped within an omnibus budget bill, including a law that it would no longer have to print new regulations in the Canada Gazette when passed. The new regulations were typically sent out to public institutions and legal firms that needed to know the laws under which they were expected to operate.

The Harper government claimed that it was simply making things more efficient and less costly by having it solely on-line. In fact, the aim was to hide from view changes to regulations that were being enacted to serve the biggest North American monopolies. These regulations establish the entire way of life in Canada and the standards that individuals, public institutions and businesses are expected to uphold. The move to have the government make changes to curricula "up to the minute" will no doubt be part and parcel of efforts to tie what is taught to the short term with the narrow demands of high-tech and other monopolies for trained employees paid for by the public purse. It may also be used to criminalize teachers based on claims that they did not follow the most up-to-date curriculum.

Changes to How Standardized Tests are Used

The Minister of Education announced that the Education and Quality Assurance Office (EQAO) will be given a "stronger, broader mandate." The Board of Directors for the Office has had a new full-time chair imposed on it, replacing its previous part-time chair David Cooke, the former Minister of Education under the Ontario NDP government of Bob Rae. The new chair, Dr. Cameron Montgomery, is being tasked with working to modernize "what and how [EQAO] evaluates."

This is likely linked in part to the government's announcement that it intends to change the way teachers are hired and placed. The government claims that teachers are currently hired and placed based mainly on seniority and this prevents teachers that would be a better "fit" from being selected. This is to fool the gullible, as experience in teaching is a key factor in the quality of how content is delivered. What the government is trying to do is to divide new teachers from more experienced teachers to bring in new regimes of tying teacher promotion and possibly even pay to standardized test scores or what the government calls a measure of "student achievement."

In the name of promoting better teachers, the government hopes to introduce greater competition amongst teachers for jobs and promotion to attack their unity to defend their working conditions, which are students learning conditions. The McGuinty Liberal government too began its assault on teachers and education workers in this manner during the 2011-12 contract negotiation period. The McGuinty government imposed through regulation a system of seniority for hiring teachers for full-time contracts and long-term appointments, while at the same time imposing contracts onto all teachers and education workers in violation of their rights. In both the case of the Liberals then and the PCs now, the aim is not to defend younger teachers but to divert them from defending the teaching profession as a whole from the attacks of narrow private interests.

New Law and Order Measures

The government is prohibiting cell phone use in schools during instructional time by adding it to the provincial code of conduct, "unless teachers use their professional judgement to decide otherwise." What this shows is that the government does not recognize teachers' professional judgement on a whole, but only when it comes to whether or not to criminalize student behaviour. It shows that the government will empower teachers only when it comes to how they will enforce arbitrary rules that they had no say in establishing. These changes do not empower teachers' professional judgement when it comes to the direction of education. In fact, it further reveals the attempts to disempower teachers in the name of affirming their professional judgement only in specific instances.

This article was published in

Number 11 - March 28, 2019

Article Link:
Government Proposed Changes in K-12 Education


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