The new, long awaited, much consulted, education curriculum was finally released by the provincial government March 15th. While a number of changes were set out by the Ford government, the one that will have the largest impact on high schools in Ontario is increased class sizes. Beginning in the 2019-20 school year, regular class sizes in secondary schools will increase from 22 to 28 students.
Some argue that this increase is not so bad. After all, past generations attended classes with 30, 35, or in some cases 40 students in a classroom. Given the need to do more with less, this is a good idea. What is the harm in adding a few more students to a class? While this arrangement may work in large urban schools, a move to increase class sizes will have dire consequences for our rural schools.
Rural secondary schools already have split classes or double grading. Adding more students and reducing the number of classes available per semester means fewer, not more, course selections for students, and more multi-section classes. This decreases opportunities for rural students to get the same quality and level of education as their urban counterparts. Fewer classes means fewer teachers in the school, and fewer in-class resources such as educational assistants. Larger class sizes also guarantee less one-on-one support for students who need help.
If you crowd more students into individual classrooms, you actually end up with more empty spaces in your rural schools. In Dundas County, both UCDSB secondary schools are presently over 50 per cent full. Ford’s plan drops both schools to below 50 per cent.
The school closure moratorium enacted by the previous government will end once the Ministry of Education completes its overhaul of the pupil accommodation review guidelines. While officials from the Upper Canada District School Board say that they do not intend to order any school closures in the next four years, the board is facing a large deficit. Already the board has enacted nearly $800,000 in cuts to get through to the end of this school year. It may not want to cut, but if the provincial government starts looking for more savings, does it make sense to keep multiple schools open at less than 50 per cent occupancy? If you are looking at the numbers first, and consequences second, where do you cut?
It is a numbers game, and our rural schools continue to be on the losing end of the equation.