It’s past time to end academic streaming

Posted on January 29, 2018 in Education Policy Context – Opinion/Editorials – In Grade 8, students are asked to make a decision on whether to be “streamed” into academic or applied courses in Grades 9 and 10. Studies prove that it holds racialized and lower income kids back from succeeding in life. It must be stopped.
Jan. 29, 2018.   By

Approving a three-year plan to phase out academic streaming for Grade 9 and 10 students should be a no-brainer when it goes before the Toronto District School Board on Feb. 7.

The only questions that should be raised are why it wasn’t done sooner and can it be done more quickly.

After all, streaming — which puts kids into either academic or applied courses in high school — was supposed to be phased out in Ontario in 1999.

Yet almost 20 years later, it’s still with us despite overwhelming evidence that it hurts rather than helps kids.

The first problem is that students are asked to choose whether they will take academic or applied courses in Grade 8. They not only do so with little understanding of the implications for their future; studies also suggest teachers and guidance councillors actually push racialized and low-income students into taking applied courses. That perpetuates income-based disparities in educational outcomes.

This has been documented in study after study, decade after decade. For example, a TDSB study found only 6 per cent of students from the highest income neighbourhoods take a majority of their courses in the applied stream, compared to 33 per cent of students from the lowest income neighbourhoods.

Meanwhile, a York University study found only 53 per cent of Black students are enrolled in academic courses compared to 81 per cent of white students and 80 per cent of students of other races.

Other studies have shown kids in applied courses are actually less likely to pass subjects than if they were in the academic courses, and that even taking one applied course can affect their chance of graduating high school, never mind going on to college or university.

The evidence is overwhelming. This policy reinforces racial and economic disparities, while yielding no educational benefits. It’s long past time the TDSB — and all other Ontario school boards — ended streaming in Grades 9 and 10. The sooner the better.

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One Response to “It’s past time to end academic streaming”

  1. I absolutely agree that streaming should be phased out. Limiting a student in grade 9 to their future of attending college or university is quite premature. I still did not know what I wanted to do in grade 12 and made a rash decision when I applied to university (luckily I enjoy my program). Aspects of both academic and applied streams should be incorporated into one class delivery system which allows for all types of learners to flourish. In my experience, there has been massive stereotypes and stigma perpetuated against students in the applied streams on behalf of the teachers who openly became frustrated with students in my academic classes if we were ‘misbehaving’ or not achieving to his or her expectations, saying things like “come on guys this isn’t applied!” Also, they assumed that all students in the academic stream had the goal of attending university, and was explicitly focused on. This is not true- many of my peers from high school went on to college instead. The assumption of academic=university is troubling because it leads students to believe that going to college is the lesser choice in life, when in reality, students who take academic courses usually just have a different style of learning that they best respond to.


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