The Ontario government plans to end streaming for all Grade 9 courses in the next school year – a practice that has forced high-school students to choose between two academic tracks and has disproportionately affected Black and low-income teenagers.
In a memo sent to school board directors on Wednesday, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, the government said that the de-streaming of all courses was the next step after it took the step of phasing out streaming of Grade 9 math this school year so that all students were taking the same math course.
“Beginning in September, 2022, all Grade 9 subjects will be offered in one stream,” wrote Nancy Naylor, the province’s deputy minister of education.
Ontario is the only province that divides students as they enter high school into the hands-on applied stream or an academic track that sets them on the path for postsecondary studies.
Research has shown students from low-income families, with Indigenous backgrounds or with special needs are more likely to be enrolled in the applied stream and are 4½ times more likely not to earn a diploma compared with their peers in the academic stream.
The Ministry of Education memo stated that there would be a new de-streamed science course next fall. Other courses, including English and geography, would be offered as an academic-only course, meaning students would not have the option of an applied course.
Caitlin Clark, a spokeswoman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said in a statement on Wednesday that the government would look to “remove barriers for all students, including racialized children in Ontario.”
She added, “We will continue to take action to lift up all students, with an ambitious plan to support better pathways to the skilled trades, postsecondary, and good-paying jobs.”
Jason To, the co-ordinator of secondary math at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and a proponent of de-streaming, said that he was “pleasantly surprised” that all Grade 9 courses across Ontario would be de-streamed next year, as opposed to one subject at a time.
The TDSB has moved further along in de-streaming courses. All its Grade 9 students are already taking de-streamed or academic-only courses. Mr. To said that the school board plans to offer de-streamed courses to Grade 10 students next year.
He said that while the government is focused on de-streaming high-school subjects in the early grades, it should also consider how students are separated based on academic ability even in elementary school, “because we know it exists in many forms and that it can start as early as kindergarten.”
Mr. To said that he has heard from his colleagues and on social media that the rollout of the de-streamed math course in schools has been successful for the most part. Some students have struggled, but Mr. To said he wondered how much of that had to do with the pandemic’s disruptions to learning over the past two years.
“I think that the ministry is showing that they’re taking this seriously, which I think is a good step,” Mr. To said. “They are continuing on with their commitment to dismantling a system that is oppressive to marginalized groups of people.”
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