A first step in overhauling the system

Earlier this month, The Globe and Mail published an op-ed by Paul W. Bennett, the director of Schoolhouse Institute, entitled Canada’s Bureaucratic School System Needs a Top-To-Bottom Overhaul. This mini-essay was adapted from Bennett’s book The State of the System: A Reality Check on Canada’s Schools.

As the title of his op-ed makes plain, Bennett emphatically urged a revamping of the public-school system. The Covid pandemic, he wrote, revealed that “(T)he centralized and over-bureaucratic school system proved to be vulnerable and ill-equipped to respond to the massive pandemic disruption.”

Bennett chronicled some of the ways in which public schools failed their populations of students, families and teachers. He referred to the distance learning in the Toronto District School Board and elsewhere as “mostly an educational disaster. When it was over, at least one-quarter of all students went missing and were unaccounted for in Canadian public education.”

“Sizeable numbers of students and parents”, Bennett observed “are opting out of in-person schools and choosing online learning or gravitating to alternative school options, including home education “learning pods.”

He lamented the overall state of the country’s schools. They “have lost their way and become largely unresponsive to the public they still claim to serve… Today’s pandemic education crisis has alerted us to the need for systemic change. Saving the system may require reinventing it from the schools up. For all that to happen, the walls must come down, and those closest to students must be given more responsibility for learning and the quality of public education.”

Very noticeably, Bennett did not point to the overwhelmingly positive response by independent schools to the massive Covid disruption. This may have simply been an oversight. However, what is widely known and has been commented upon by objective “outside” observers, was that the independent schools in the Jewish community, for example, quickly, substantively and successfully pivoted to provide meaningful educational experiences to their student, family and teacher populations.

If the public-school system is to be reformed, as Bennett wishes, such reform should include the public funding of at least part of the general studies curriculum of Ontario’s independent schools. (Indeed, the six next largest provinces of Canada already do so.)

This should be the natural first step. It would broaden the scope of Ontario’s public school system and make it truly more accessible to all Ontarians by making it, as Bennett advocates, more responsive to the public they serve. And of course, it would help remedy the decades-old injustice and unfairness on which the funding of Ontario’s public-school system is based.

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Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom.

GAJE

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