TORONTO—Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives went on the attack Wednesday, accusing the Liberal government of making a mess of the education system, spending billions more dollars only to see test scores fall.
Grade 8 math test results have fallen 16 points since the Liberals came to power over 10 years ago, even though the province spends $8.5 billion more each year on a system that has 250,000 fewer students, said PC education critic Rob Leone.
“We’re spending more, serving fewer and our results are even worse than they were in 2003,” Leone told reporters. “Where has the money gone?”
Education Minister Liz Sandals said “a lot of the expense is related to full-day kindergarten, and I make no apologies for that.”
The extra funding also went to create new high school specialist programs and to put mental health experts in every school board, added Sandals.
“We’ve introduced a lot of things that weren’t there before, and we have raised the high school graduation rate from 68 per cent at the end of the Tories by 15 percentage points to 83 per cent,” she said.
The decline on the international math test results that Leone pointed to works out to a little over a two per cent drop, said Sandals.
“Sixteen points sounds way scarier, but if you apply the multiplication table you find it’s only about two per cent,” she said. “We slipped a little bit and need to do better. No one’s arguing with that.”
Sandals urged Leone to “stop bashing public education,” and said 71 per cent of Ontario students now meet the provincial standard, a grade of A or B, up from 50 per cent 10 years ago.
The Tories want to offer extra pay to good math teachers and put supervising extracurricular activities in teachers’ job descriptions to make it mandatory.
“We want to encourage people who are experts to teach rather than go on to other professions, so we want to create incentives and differential pay structures,” said Leone. “Can we provide extra financial incentives for good math teachers to go to underperforming schools?”
Sandals said the government doesn’t like the idea of offering certain teachers incentive pay.
“The idea that somehow the person who raised the scores the most is the person who’s necessarily been the most effective teacher is just not true,” she said.
The education minister also said she has no intention of forcing teachers to supervise extracurricular activities, which she said the previous Conservative government tried to do under former premier Mike Harris.
“They started off with the same statements as Mr. Leone, and it sounds good in terms of getting votes, but when the actually tried to do it what we had was eight years of total chaos,” said Sandals.
“It was so awful. It was not a good atmosphere for students or for our employees and I’m not going back there because it didn’t work then and it won’t work now.”
Leone said the Tories want to focus on student success while the Liberals and New Democrats fight to see who can cozy up closest to the powerful teachers’ unions.
“The Liberals like to talk about labour peace as if that is more important than the success of our students,” he said.