Fact-checking
the Ford Government

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce has made a number of claims in the media about the Ford government’s plans for publicly funded education. Unfortunately, many of these statements misrepresent the facts.

Class size averages

The government claims

The government always planned to fund Grades 9 to 12 class size averages at 22.5 students for this year. In an interview, the Minister said, “We committed in the plan announced in the spring to – in year one – have 22 [students] plus attrition. We always committed to 22 plus attrition.”

In reality

Nowhere in the government’s spring announcement on class size was there any mention of a “22 plus attrition” class size average – not in the speech, not in the accompanying press release, and not in the technical documents that outline how education funding flows to school boards. In fact, every statement the government made since announcing class size changes in March indicated an average of 28 students per class, to be phased-in over four years through attrition – that is, by not replacing teachers who retire or leave the profession. Because of this, school boards have made difficult staffing decisions, which have led to courses and programs being cancelled, course options being limited, teaching positions being lost, and secondary class size averages that exceed 22.5.

Financial literacy

The government claims

Students will finally learn financial literacy. The Minister announced, “We’ve made financial literacy – for the first time – a compulsory element of our Grade 10 careers [studies] course.”

In reality

Financial literacy was introduced several years ago. In a November 3, 2017 press release, then-Minister of Education Liz Sandals announced: “Ontario is enhancing the Grade 10 career studies course, bringing in mandatory learning on financial and digital literacy.” Even before this, in November 2009, then-Education Minister Kathleen Wynne and Conservative federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced that financial literacy would be integrated throughout the curriculum for Grades 4 to 12, beginning in September 2011.

Teachers failing math

The government claims

Teachers are failing math proficiency tests. On several occasions, the Minister has said, “We’ve seen through OISE, there’s [sic] been reports, that one-third of educators… were having challenges passing their math test.”

In reality

The Minister has completely misrepresented the study to which he is referring. In actual fact, the report from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education examined a small sample of pre-service teacher-candidates before they began their Master of Education program, and found that, “On average, about one third of pre-service candidates score at or below 70 per cent.” One of the study’s authors, Dr. Mary Reid, has repeatedly demanded the government stop “referring to OISE research for [the Conservative’s] political agenda,” and has accused the Minister of irresponsibly mishandling evidence, using it out of context, and misconstruing the study’s findings.

A multi-year math strategy

The government claims

The Ford government is the first to introduce a multi-year math strategy. Minister Lecce alleged that the previous Liberal government “didn’t have a long-term strategy for math. They had one-off policies where they would just be providing some funding on a one-off basis to different initiatives.”

In reality

In 2016, the previous government introduced the Renewed Math Strategy (RMS). The RMS was a multi-year and multi-pronged plan to improve student learning in mathematics. In fact, this PC government has incorporated many aspects of the Liberal’s RMS into their own math strategy. One of the primary differences is that, where the previous government planned to spend $220 million over four years on their strategy, this government committed $20 million less in funding over the same period.

“Back-to-Basics”

The government claims

Students need a “back-to-basics” approach to mathematics. As justification, the Minister has repeatedly stated that students lack “foundational numeracy” skills, and that “too many  students are falling behind in math.”

In reality

Research from the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) – the government’s own testing agency – contradicts the Minister’s claim. A 2019 EQAO report found that students’ foundational math knowledge is strong, but that more work might be needed to help them apply their knowledge to problem solving and critical thinking.

Discovery Math

The government claims

The previous Liberal government’s introduction of “Discovery Math” is the reason for declining math scores. According to the Minister: “There is absolute causation…  Concurrent to the introduction of that [Discovery Math] approach, we saw math numbers decline. So one would have to accept the premise that there’s a relationship between the two. What else is the reason ostensibly for such a decline?”

In reality

The current math curriculum encourages teachers to use a variety of pedagogical approaches, including rote and inquiry-based learning. By pinning the “decline in scores” to “Discovery Math” the Minister is mischaracterizing achievement. Although EQAO test scores for Grade 6 math have declined by five per cent over the past 15 years, in all other categories, math scores have increased by a combined 46 per cent during that time. Nationally, Ontario ranked second in math on the latest Pan-Canadian Assessment Program. Internationally, in the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment, only 11 jurisdictions globally had math results higher than Ontario. The fact is, while there is always room for improvement, Ontario remains a recognized national and international leader in math.

Testing teachers

The government claims

A math proficiency test for teacher-candidates will improve student performance. Asked if there is research to support this idea, the Minister said, “Among others, the EQAO has pointed to [research] that saw with that type of [teacher] testing, that you saw some incremental increase in [student] performance.”

In reality

The Minister is misrepresenting the conclusions of EQAO’s research. In a review of nearly 100 studies, the report found: teacher testing has little-to-no relationship to student achievement; exemplary teaching cannot be determined by a proficiency test; and teaching experience and continued professional development are far more likely to have positive impacts on student achievement than testing teacher-candidates will yield. The report concluded, “Standardized teacher tests [are] not linked with a level of performance consistency that justifies their widespread implementation.” And the goal to improve student learning “is often not met.”