Many Ontario high-school principals struggle with large classes and not enough student supports for destreamed courses, according to a new survey.
In a report released Monday, the People for Education advocacy group found that 96 per cent of high-school principals say they needed more learning supports, including educational assistants and special education teachers, to support destreaming. Roughly the same percentage of principals said they needed support for teacher training.
The survey also found that only 34 per cent of secondary schools reported lower class sizes to support destreaming in the past school year, compared to 40 per cent the previous year.
Ontario announced in 2020 that it was phasing out streaming, starting with Grade 9. Streaming divides students into hands-on applied courses, or an academic track that sets them on the path for postsecondary studies. Research has shown that students from low-income families, with Indigenous backgrounds or with special needs were more likely to be enrolled in the applied stream and were 4.5 times more likely not to earn a diploma compared with their peers in the academic stream.
Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education, said that while destreaming is welcome, the implementation in Grade 9 has been “problematic.”
“Nobody is saying we shouldn’t be doing this. But they’re all saying, ‘we need more support,’ ‘it was difficult to do on the heels of the pandemic,’ and that in some cases, there hasn’t been enough time for teachers to prepare to teach the new curriculum, but also to understand the deeper implications of destreaming,” Ms. Kidder said.
She said that the province needs to listen to principals and teachers to properly understand what resources and supports are needed to destream courses.
Isha Chaudhuri, a spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce, contends that the province has invested about $104-million this year in destreaming supports and hired more educators for destreamed classes.
“Our government took action to de-stream the entire grade nine curriculum to remove barriers from student success, while also investing unprecedented funding,” she said in an e-mailed statement.
The People for Education report is part of an annual survey of principals and is based on responses from 1,044 principals across all 72 publicly funded boards in Ontario.
It found that schools in higher-income neighbourhoods were more likely to have smaller class sizes to support destreamed courses, as well as more opportunities for students to speak with guidance counsellors. The advocacy group said that it was concerning because schools in low-income neighbourhoods have disproportionate numbers of students negatively affected by streaming and, therefore, need more supports.
However, the report also found that secondary schools in lower-income neighbourhoods were more likely to provide tutoring programs, with 70 per cent saying they have these supports in place compared to 63 per cent in high-income neighbourhoods.
Tristan Kim, president of the Ontario Student Trustees’s Association, said that although destreaming is necessary from an equity perspective, “some teachers are having a bit of a struggle” adapting, particularly because of large class sizes.
He worries that the province will begin the process of destreaming Grade 10 courses without properly addressing the issues that have been raised in the earlier grade.
“We think it’s great that it’s happening. It just needs time,” Mr. Kim said.