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Province's high school changes don't add up, says retired math teacher

Retired CCI math teacher says new graduation requirements announced by Ford government are more political than functional
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The article was first published by CollingwoodToday, a Village Media publication. 

While the province has rung the bell on new proposed graduation requirements for high school students, some Ontario school boards and organizations are concerned about a lack of detail in the province’s plan.

On May 30, the province’s Ministry of Education announced a plan to reform graduation requirements for high school students for the first time in 25 years. New requirements under the plan include a new financial literacy graduation requirement, the return of home economics education, a new requirement that all teachers must pass a math proficiency test beginning in February 2025, a revamp of career education including $14 million to launch career coaching, and a return to having student exit surveys.

But the sum of the changes was lacking for retired Collingwood Collegiate Institute math teacher and department chair Brian Feldman. 

“I find there isn’t a lot of detail there,” said Feldman.

Starting in September 2025, students will be required to score 70 per cent or higher to meet the financial literacy graduation requirement in their Grade 10 math course under the proposed plan.

While financial literacy is important, Feldman said that Grade 10 math seems to be an arbitrary place to add that requirement. He also said if the province wants to add something in to the Grade 10 math curriculum, something will need to come out, and he wonders if it would make more sense to add financial literacy to another subject field.

“A lot of the financial literacy components aren’t mathematical, like avoiding scams. It’s more research, information and decision-making. Even budgeting is more about researching and understanding costs,” Feldman explained, suggesting it would make more sense to add the component to the career studies courses students take in Grade 10.

He also notes that subjects such as calculating interest, loans, mortgages and savings is already part of the Grade 11 math curriculum.

Feldman points to students needing to achieve 70 per cent on a financial literacy assessment in order to graduate.

“What happens if they don’t? Can they have a second attempt? Is it an exam, or part of their credit? It’s unclear to me,” he said.

Feldman expressed frustration with the Ministry of Education making announcements before details are decided.

“Many of their announcements, like with banning cell phones, it’s fine to say that and no one disagrees...but I don’t think the government is actually going in there and confiscating cell phones. There’s no plan there,” he said.

“They’re announcing things that are popular. It’s a political announcement,” said Feldman.

The Ontario Family Studies Home Economic Educators’ Association put out a media release following the province’s announcement, welcoming the news that the province would revisit the value of home economics courses.

“However, we want to remind the ministry that family studies education — rebranded from home economics in the 1970s — has always been an important and vibrant part of education in our province,” notes the release, which is signed by the association president Theresa Aqui.

She noted that more than 130,000 secondary students across Ontario took a family studies course in the 2021-22 school year.

“We don't need to bring back home economics, because this subject is already offered in schools, but we do need to promote and fund family studies courses to ensure that more students have the opportunity to learn from this incredibly valuable subject area,” wrote Aqui in the release.

The Simcoe County District School Board declined to comment on the changes.

“We will not be commenting until we receive further direction and have time to review curriculum documents,” wrote Sarah Kekewich, manager of communications for the board in an email.

Pauline Stevenson, manager of communications for the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, said her board was surprised by the announcement late last week.

“We are certainly looking forward to learning more about how the government will be supporting the implementation of these new requirements. Ensuring adequate funding will be crucial to a successful rollout,” she said in an email.

Stevenson said both financial literacy and life skills are important for students, and the board supports opportunities for their students to develop in those areas.

“The issue is that new requirements need to be backed up with the appropriate funding so that we can provide meaningful, professional learning for educators and provide them with access to useful classroom resources. At this point, we haven't received information about those key pieces,” she said.

Stevenson also said the board looks forward to being able to provide input into an implementation plan for the changes to make them successful.

When contacted for further comment this week, a spokesperson for the ministry said consultation on the plans will occur this fall, and will include families, teachers, school boards and experts. She said consultation will include determining which life skills would be most beneficial to add to the curriculum, and could include skills such as nutritious cooking, changing a tire, sewing a button, using first aid, personal responsibility and basic economics.

“More information on consultations and next steps on the implementation of the policy updates will be provided as it becomes available,” wrote the spokesperson in an email.

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