Textbooks, teaching and testing

Who is responsible for education?

A photo of hands typing on a laptop with the words, from the editor showing on the screen.

It is a privilege to be back as editor of Education Forum. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation has a long and proud history of publishing articles on topics relating to public education, both here in Ontario and abroad. I am excited to be part of the publication again!

I was unpacking some boxes of books today and I came across my 1911 first edition of Ontario High School English Grammar. Complete with an imprint of Ontario’s coat of arms, the green canvas cover boasts that it was “authorized by the Minister of Education” and that it sold for a mere 45 cents. I picked it up at a used bookstore decades ago, back when I regularly taught grammar to secondary students. The book is marked with underlines and margin notes, delicately written in the burgundy ink of a long-gone fountain pen. There is something about these scribblings that always had me imagine that they were made by a teacher and not a student. The delicate cursive notes document someone’s journey through a prescribed guide of English grammar.

I am not sure when the Ontario government abandoned the writing of textbooks such as this one. Even as an elementary student in the 1970s, I can recall my school texts bearing the Pearson and Scholastic logos. A quick dive back into my musty box of books and I find my Grade 2 reader, Higgleby’s House, was published by Ginn and Company (the same folks who brought you Mr. Mugs, in case you’re wondering). So, the Ontario Ministry of Education has been out of the textbook game for quite a while.

Looking back even further, in 1965 the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation began publishing resource books for secondary school teachers. This was in response to members looking for curricular leadership when the Ministry was providing none.

However, our provincial government has suddenly become more interested, as of late, in all things curricular. Math scores from the EQAO standardized tests has suddenly become a great concern. The solution? Apparently giving teachers a math test themselves will provide some type of panacea. I highly recommend Peter Bates’ article “Testing the Teachers” in this issue. In it, he clearly separates fact from fiction and outlines not only the flaws of such testing, but also the flawed logic and political maneuvering that brought the government to this solution.

As for curricular leadership, it should come as no surprise that the most significant and most impressive strides are being made by educators themselves. In our 2017 fall issue of Education Forum, I interviewed researchED founder Tom Bennett about his revolutionary movement of empowering educators by sharing the elements of learning and cognitive science. His grass-root, international conferences bring together educators and educational researchers to share best practices and promote evidence-informed instruction. In this issue, check out Nicole Charron’s article, “How students learn: How I teach.” Nicole is a secondary teacher in Ottawa who has been applying recent findings from cognitive science to her instruction to help students better remember the concepts they have learned in her class. She embodies the spirit of researchED and takes control of her own pedagogy by finding and applying evidence-informed techniques.

Finally, I cannot write about who is taking responsibility for public education in Ontario without mentioning the topic of funding. Our current provincial government has undertaken a plan to remove 25 per cent of all secondary school teachers in order to cut cost. These cuts will devastate what is now internationally recognized as one of the top public school systems in the world. If one wanted to engage the government on this issue, I recommend reading this issue’s piece “Investing in Education: Investing in our Future” by Gary Fenn and Chris Samuel. They explore the Conference Board of Canada’s report on public education that has found that for every $1 invested in our schools, it yields $1.30. This is a credible and very pragmatic argument to increase funding to public education, not cut it.

Education Forum is always looking for writers interested in telling stories about public education. If you are interested in writing for us, please visit our contribute page.

About Randy Banderob
Randy Banderob is the editor of Education Forum and education-forum.ca.

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