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A Toronto District School Board sign is shown in front of a high school in Toronto in 2018. Streaming divides students as they enter high school where they take hands-on applied courses, or enter an academic track that sets them on the path for postsecondary studies.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Ontario secondary schools in high-income neighbourhoods were nearly twice as likely to offer smaller classes for de-streamed courses than those in lower-income areas of the province, according to a new report that paints a worrying picture around the implementation of a major shift in public education.

Streaming divides students as they enter high school where they take hands-on applied courses, or enter an academic track that sets them on the path for postsecondary studies. The system is used only in Ontario, which has begun phasing out the practice.

The advocacy group, People for Education, released a report on Monday that showed 63 per cent of principals in high-income neighbourhoods say their schools offered smaller class sizes for de-streamed courses. That compares with 38 per cent of principals from schools in low-income communities.

Annie Kidder, the organization’s executive director, said the research on the effect of class sizes may show mixed results, but there is evidence about the benefit of smaller classes for students who are disadvantaged.

“We have to make sure all those supports are in place to make it work,” she said.

Research has shown that Black students, Indigenous students, those with special education needs, and from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are disproportionately placed in non-academic streams, which are associated with poorer education outcomes.

The province phased out streaming of Grade 9 math this school year so that all students take the same course. It plans to de-stream all Grade 9 courses in the fall.

Ms. Kidder described de-streaming as “incredibly important.” However, the report found that only 30 per cent of principals said they received sufficient support from the Ministry of Education to implement the changes. Ms. Kidder worries that not enough supports will be put in place again this fall.

The report is part of an annual survey of principals by People for Education, and is based on 184 survey responses.

“It hadn’t been clearly thought through as a kind of comprehensive program,” Ms. Kidder said. “You can’t flip a switch. You have to make sure the supports are in place. And it seems that they were not.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Mr. Lecce is running again in the riding of King-Vaughan.

The report also found that almost 90 per cent of principals said their teachers received training and professional development. However, they also reported challenges in training because it happened in a short time span and they were also dealing with pandemic-related schooling issues.

Antonella Rubino, president of the Catholic Principals’ Council of Ontario, said staff need more training and supports to properly execute de-streaming courses. She said that the pandemic has made it difficult to roll it out properly.

“There’s no runway to properly execute this,” Ms. Rubino said, adding that she is concerned that about how the changes will be supported in the fall.

“We know we’ve got to go there and we want to get there, but the timing has been tough this year,” Ms. Rubino said.

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