A letter to the Minister of Education, Kathleen Wynne concerning the School Information Finder
April 17, 2009
Dear Minister Wynne:
The Ministry of Education’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy, and the Ontario government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy mark significant progress in addressing equity issues in Ontario, and the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto applauds these important initiatives. It is in this context that we write you to express our support for the concerns raised by People for Education and other community-based education advocacy organizations related to the School Information Finder website, and our strong concern that the Ministry of Education has not taken the website offline while it is undergoing review.
We are pleased that community concerns are being considered through the review of the School Information Finder website, so that it may better identify factors relevant to choosing the best school for one’s children. The immediate removal of schools with fewer than 50 students and the site’s ‘shopping bag’ function allowing for quick comparison of schools were important initial responses.
We remain concerned by the continued presence of this website on the Ministry site, which seems to contravene the Ministry of Education’s stance that one of public education’s greatest strengths is its diversity, contributing to a richness of Ontario’s students’ education. While the stated purpose of the School Finder is to “to search for publicly funded schools in Ontario and learn more about them” the continued inclusion of the percentage of university educated parents, of children in families under the low income cut off, of ESL students, of students not from English or French speaking countries, and of special education students, instead will promote further segregation based on class, race and ability. We are particularly concerned that the Ministry has disaggregated the percentage of gifted students from the special needs population in which it is usually nested.
Research conducted by the Centre for Urban and Community Studies at the University of Toronto, in collaboration with St. Christopher House, has shown the disturbing extent to which Toronto is becoming “three cities” – a growing ‘poor’ city, a static ‘rich’ city, and a dramatically shrinking ‘middle.’ One of the outcomes of that research has been an attempt to look at all public policy decisions from the perspective of whether they exacerbate, or diminish, this disturbing polarization. The School Finder, in its current incarnation, seems most likely to accelerate, rather than counter, this trend.
There are many other factors, such after-school programming, language courses, or a school pool, which are more relevant to parents looking for the best educational experience for their children. We urge the Ministry of Education to contemplate this and take the School Information Finder offline while it is undergoing review. We recommend that the demographic component of the site be removed, or the site be disbanded and replaced with a tool that will better allow communities to learn more about publicly funded schools in this province.
John Campey, Executive Director
Community Social Planning Council of Toronto