Hire more special ed teachers, Ontarians say

TheStar.com – Ontario/parentcentral.ca
April 22, 2010.   Kristin Rushowy,  EDUCATION REPORTER

Hiring more special education teachers would boost achievement in elementary schools the most, say 75 per cent of Ontarians surveyed.

An annual survey, done by the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto, says while something like early childhood education is “broadly supported, it is viewed as less likely to improve elementary-level student achievement than an increase in the number of special education teachers or lower class size.”

The province has already capped class size for primary students at 20 students, but will relax that for its new program of full-day kindergarten, where classes can average 26 children.

The survey’s findings come as boards complain that funding for special education falls short.

Bruce Davis, chair of the Toronto District School Board, said he personally approached the province about special education funding only to later learn a further $3 million was being cut.

“I was mortified to learn that our special education grants were going down,” said Davis. “It affects every classroom; your child does not have to have special needs and it affects their classroom. It’s important that we have the funding to support those students.”

The Toronto board now faces a $23 million shortfall for the 2010-2011 school year for special education — money it usually finds by deferring repairs and maintenance to city schools.

Ontario spends about $2.25 billion on special education across the province. From 2002 to this school year, the Toronto board has received 17.5 per cent more in special education funding, or roughly $43 million, despite a drop in overall enrolment.

But since 2005, the board’s special needs population has increased from 31,600 to 36,800.

The OISE survey of 1,001 adults by telephone has a margin of error of 4 to 5 per cent, 95 per cent of the time.

Public perceptions of education

Only 14 per cent of the population supports Africentric schools, such as the one Toronto public board opened last fall.

More than 60 per cent of Ontarians are “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with the school system.

Two-thirds support province-wide, standardized testing of all students (rather than a sample as teacher unions are pushing for)

Just over half — 55 per cent — of Ontario adults support full-day kindergarten.

Source: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

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