Ontario’s plan to raise class sizes will lead to loss of 800 public high school teaching jobs in Toronto, TDSB document shows

The Ontario government’s blueprint to increase class sizes will mean the loss of approximately 800 public high school teaching positions in Toronto, according to a TDSB document obtained by the Star.

It’s a number that, according to a local teachers union executive, would decimate the city’s secondary school system

“No government cuts what amounts to close to 20 per cent of the expert classroom staff from programming and at the same time says that they are doing their best to help students succeeed,” said Leslie Wolfe, head of the Toronto local of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.

“This, to me, is a decimation. They are in the process of manufacturing a crisis in publicly funded education at the high school level.”

The plan, announced by Education Minister Lisa Thompson on Friday, will bump up the number of students in each class from Grade 4 to Grade 12. At the secondary level, the average class size will grow to 28 from 22. In the lower grades, an average of one student will be added to each class.

The Education Ministry is still holding consultations with families, staff and school boards but Friday’s announcement was to provide school boards with information to build their budgets and staffing models.

The Toronto District School Board, in a document distributed to school trustees, did the basic math on the announced changes to gauge the impact on how many teachers will be lost. It calculated that there will be 216 fewer teachers in Grade 4 to Grade 8 in addition to the 800 at the secondary level. Approximately another 82 high school positions will be gone with the reduction in funding for secondary programs.

In protest, classroom teachers began an online campaign over the weekend encouraging each other to wear black on Monday as a symbolic form of resistence.

More positions will also be lost starting in 2020-21 when students are required to take four of their their 30 high school credits, one per year, through online learning. Wolfe said “it’s not catastrophizing” to suggest that will mean 20 per cent of her federation’s almost 5,000 members will ultimately be elimated under the government plan.

The reductions will take place over four years. Thompson said the changes will come through retirements, resignations and other attrition. No teacher will lose their job due to the class-size strategy, she said.

Still, that is a significant number of positions removed from the system, sparking concerns among educators that smaller, specialized classes will have to be chopped and there will be less opportunity for students.

TDSB chair Robin Pilkey said the numbers in the TDSB document are extremely preliminary and a clearer indication of the impact of the government’s plan will come this week when the board does staffing allocation for the next school year.

“We know it’s going to be significant,” she said. “We are concerned because we want to make sure kids get as much opportunity as possible. Fewer teachers means fewer different types of classes. The government has spent a lot of time talking about preparing kids for the future … (but) if there are fewer teachers, there’ll be larger classes and less opportunity — fewer courses, I think, is kind of the logical conclusion. That’s going to be not great for kids who are trying to figure out what to do with their future.”

To put the loss of teaching positions in perspective, Wolfe said there are approximately 100 secondary schools in Toronto and so that would mean an average of eight educators gone from each school. Obviously, small schools wouldn’t be losing eight teachers but it offers an idea.

“What I really want to underscore,” she said, “is that while no one may be losing a job, people need to understand that’s 800 fewer adults in our schools. It’s not about job loss, it’s about the reduction and expertise in our schools. And it’s about the potential loss of programs that run with smaller class sizes that serve students who need those smaller class sizes.”

Under the Ontario government’s proposal, which would save about $250 million in the first of year of a four-year plan, class sizes from kindergarten to Grade 3 would maintain their current caps.

Thompson’s announcement Friday also included a back-to-basics math curriculum, a ban on cellphones in classrooms for noneducational purposes and revisions to the health and sex-ed curriculum, including clear provisions for opting out and the opportunity for families to use the eduational materials online to teach the subject at home.

The e-learning classes will be even larger than 28, with an average of 35 students, according to a ministry memo obtained by the Star. Some educators expressed concern because there are students who don’t have a computer at home while others would miss the benefit of personal interaction that research has shown helps students succeed.

Article by Paul Hunter for the Toronto Star