Do you identify as being black, Spanish-speaking, or gay or lesbian? Do you need additional assistance with academia? If you answered no, then yes, you have just stumbled upon a gaping hole in the TDSB’s newest plan to “shrink the learning gap”. Derived from TDSB student censuses conducted from 2006 to 2011, LGBTQ students had a graduation of only 68.8%. Additionally, students who identified themselves as belonging to the black, Latin, or mixed racial groups were shown to have significantly lower graduation rates and fewer applications to post-secondary institutions. Graduation rates ranged from 64.5% to 91.1% with black, Latino, and mixed race students at the lower end of the spectrum, while East and South Asian students sat at the higher end. In accordance to this data, only 10.4% of East Asian students avoided applying to post-secondary education, whereas an overwhelming 51% of Latin students did not apply to post-secondary institutions, closely followed by black students at 47.3%. Although the Board’s plan to improve the marks of the students of these races by 15% is well intended, its outcome may leave others feeling secluded and helpless.
The Toronto District School Board draws its conclusions from the board-wide censuses, but that is exactly what they are- censuses from across the entirety of the Toronto public school system. No distinction is given to the various demographics found in distinct communities scattered throughout the city. On the grand scale, because the data obtained from the censuses is an average of all the students in the TDSB, it is not truly descriptive of any single school. A serious flaw arises when a race targeted by the board’s accelerated improvement programs is not present at the school, or is a minority. Not surprisingly, the plans intended to help that specific ethnic group would then be rendered useless. The TDSB loses money implementing the program for an insignificant few, students of other races needing assistance will not gain that privilege, and parents (and constituents) will not be impressed with the wasteful allocation of funds. Clues that this fate will indeed befall the proposed program are close at hand. Analyzing the scores of the 2014 Ontario School Literacy Test, a measly 17% of grade 10 students were deemed literate at Heydon Park Secondary School. Heydon Park SS is located in Chinatown (see Map 1), which is primarily comprised of East Asian students. Contradicting the census results, this evidence points out that in this region, it is the East Asian student population that needs the most attention, more so than any of the races targeted by the TDSB. As can be imagined, implementing programs to assist any other race than East Asian at this location can only be seen as a blunder. Inevitably, the program will then have to be removed entirely, or altered to target students of East Asian descent. A similar problem exists at Marc Garneau, where the student population is predominantly South Asian. The majority of the student body will be ignored by these additional programs.
Although census data indicates a correlation between race and student performance at school, a student’s success is a direct product of the socio-economic status of their family and their own parents’ level of education. As shown by studies of several thousand TDSB students, 72.6% of those whose parents have attended university were given acceptances to post-secondary education, whereas only 52% of students whose parents completed only high school were granted offers into post-secondary institutions. Parents who have been to university themselves are more likely to urge their children to study hard and acquire post-secondary education. Aligned with this data is the fact that students whose parents have professional degrees were 16.4% more likely to accept offers into university or college than students whose parents did not have higher education. Data of these types are more relevant to student success than race or sexuality, pointing out another questionable aspect of the current TDSB plan. Attributing a student’s achievement to race is a rather peculiar way of interpreting data- it is the student’s family influences that are more definitive than this trait. Wealth in a family is often a factor that can heavily sway students’ attending post-secondary education. At a school like Marc Garneau in a low income neighbourhood, several of these problems exist.
A solution to this issue comes in the form of an investment catering more specifically to the demographics of a region, with the result being a more appropriate student success program. First and foremost, census data must be analyzed by region. This method will provide information previously unknown, given the size of the previous censuses. The academic setbacks can be addressed, and improvement programs implemented for each region without making generalizations for everyone- which in the end will contribute little. Admittedly, this will cost the TDSB more, but in the end the results will outweigh the costs. The second part of the solution requires a little more finesse than identifying students by race to determine their need. As students’ socio-economic status can be easily obtained from each region’s censuses, students can be grouped by their risk of failing to graduate or likelihood of attending post-secondary education and thus programs to help these students get the best education can be enacted appropriately.
It is evident that the Toronto District School Board is concerned about student success, but their process of solving this problem can be improved and expanded. The Board is not clear on what programs they intend to implement to help students, but their method for identifying target groups for potential programs needs to be refined. An investment in students is an investment in the future, and one that it does not do well to cut corners on.
TDSB. “The TDSB Grade 9 Cohort 2006-2011:.” (n.d.): n. pag. Www.tdsb.on.ca. Sept. 2012. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
TDSB. “ONTARIO SECONDARY SCHOOL LITERACY TEST RESULTS.” ONTARIO SECONDARY SCHOOL LITERACY TEST RESULTS: SCHOOLS IN THE TORONTO DISTRICT SCHOOL BOARD First-time Eligible Students – Spring 2014 (n.d.): n. pag. Www.tdsb.on.ca. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
TDSB. “TDSB Students and Families: Demographic Profile.” 2011-12 Student & Parent Census (n.d.): n. pag. 17 June 2013. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
This article was written with assistance from Daniel Pekar and Victor Yu.