Ontario must stop educators from limiting low-income students’ options
TheStar.com – opinion/editorials – People for Education report finds that Ontario students from low-income homes are often steered into the applied programs that block access to university.
Apr 30 2013
Not everyone will grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, or even attend university, but all students deserve the opportunity to excel at their highest possible level. As wise educators know, students thrive when adults believe in their potential.
And that’s why a new report by the advocacy group People for Education is so troubling. As the Star’s Kristin Rushowy reports, it shows that teens from low-income homes are being sent into the non-academic credit programs when they enter high school, limiting their options for post-secondary education. It’s a shame to restrict kids so early in life.
While the Ontario Ministry of Education has made considerable improvements that have increased graduation rates, it must now focus on the life-altering high-school program choices made when kids are in grade eight.
The study by Annie Kidder of People for Education found that in schools where the average family income is just $60,000, more than half the students are enrolled in “applied” math, instead of the academic program targeted to university education. Conversely, in schools where families earn an average of $110,000 a year, only 10 per cent of students take the applied course. It’s a shocking discrepancy.
As Kidder says, the ministry should launch a campaign to remind school boards, principals and guidance councillors that “having high expectations of kids is one of the biggest predictors of future success.” Parents must also be made to understand the gravity of choices made before high school even begins. Few are aware that if students change their mind and want to enter the academic program, they must first attend a summer school transfer program, which most never do.
Kidder hopes the report’s findings will lead to the elimination of the applied programs — action already underway in a one-school pilot project within the Kingston area’s Limestone District School Board. It’s not a new concept: a 1995 NDP-appointed Royal Commission on Learning recommended eliminating applied programs in grade nine and adding specialization in grade ten. That idea went nowhere after the election of the Progressive Conservative government, which appealed to middle-class worries about quality of education.
It’s a worthy conversation, but for now the ministry’s priority must be next year’s young minds. Education Minister Liz Sandals should make this a priority.
It is true that poverty creates a host of social problems, but a proclivity for math or English has nothing to do with a parent’s income. It’s also true that many kids — from all income levels — take time to mature and succeed. How unfortunate for low-income students that the education system blocks their future before they’ve had a chance to grow up.
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