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Ontario principals say they need more support as province de-streams high school courses, report finds

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The majority of Ontario high school principals say they have felt unsupported as the provincial government moves to de-stream Grade 9 courses, a new report has found.

The report, published by non-profit organization People for Education on Monday, is based on survey responses from 1,044 principals from Ontario’s 72 school boards.

“Overall (principals) believe de-streaming is important,” Executive Director Annie Kidder told CTV News Toronto. “They want it to work, but they’re saying that there’s been a really big problem with the implementation of it and not enough supports in place.”

“The worry is that students will struggle to be successful in the new de-streamed courses,” Kidder added.

According to the report, about 53 per cent of participating principals said they either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, “My school staff and I have received sufficient support from the Ministry and my school board to implement de-streaming.”

About 96 per cent of principals reported they needed an increase in learning supports, such as educational assistants, while 93 per cent said they needed support to provide teacher training and professional development on de-streaming.

The report also says that 85 per cent of respondents said they need support to reduce class sizes, which they say is critical as applied-level courses often have higher proportions of students receiving special education support.

“You've got to make sure that you're meeting the needs of all of those students,” Karen Littlewood, President of the Ontario Secondary Student Teacher’s Federation said. “When you've got 33-34 kids in a class with incredibly diverse needs, it makes it hard to challenge all of the students appropriate to their level.”

The province first announced it would be de-streaming the Grade 9 curriculum in 2021, starting with mathematics. This meant that students could no longer choose between practical, hands-on applied courses and theoretical academic courses.

Advocates have long argued that streaming ends up dividing students rather than providing them with more options. It also disproportionately impacts racialized and low-income students.

A de-streamed Grade 9 science curriculum was introduced in 2022 and a new English curriculum came into effect in the fall of 2023.

The report suggests that several principals said the late introduction of these curriculums was a key challenge for staff.

“The English curriculum, I believe, was released on June 28 last year, so that was definitely not enough time,” Littlewood said. “You should be able to get familiar with the curriculum, be working with your colleagues, develop some best practices, working together as a department within the school to see what are the best ways to deliver this curriculum and then you look at the individual class and the needs that are in the class, and you further fine-tune it to make sure that everybody has what they need support wise going forward.”

“It's not a quick process. We certainly don't put a quarter in the machine and expect the lesson to come out. They're very individualized to the classroom to make sure that everybody has what they need,” Littlewood added.

As such, a number of school boards are already looking ahead to Grade 10. Twelve Ontario school boards have begun the process of de-streaming the following grade, with five of them saying they will have plans in place for all Grade 10 courses by September 2024.

The report notes that having students continue to choose between academic and applied courses in Grade 10 “may result in inequities like those that existed with streaming in Grade 9.”

As a result of the report, People for Education is calling on the government to provide learning supports that meet the needs of schools, to consult with educators as well as students and staff on the implementation of streaming, and to monitor and evaluate that implementation.

“Simply de-streaming curriculum is not enough,” the report reads.

“The province must implement a comprehensive evaluation plan to ensure successful outcomes, in particular for the students who have been disproportionately disadvantaged by streaming in the past.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government has invested “unprecedented funding” into the de-streaming process, citing $104 million in additional supports and the hiring of 2,000 new educators.

Nearly half of those educators were focused on de-streaming classes, the spokesperson said.

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