Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Is This "Public" Education?

Re: TheStar.com: York tutor fee spurs debate

In York Region the public school board has decided to provide an afternoon tutoring program for students to attend. Normally this does not cause an uproar amongst educators, parents and teachers. However, this time the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) is charging $190.00 for a sixteen hours of tutoring called “Learning Advantage.”

The students for “Learning Advantage” are recommended by classroom teachers. So, Parents believing the teachers know what is best in terms of education, fork over the extra $190.00 for their child/student to take the extra tutoring sessions.

The main question in this situation is this: Should Public Education boards be charging for providing tutoring services?

There are two views for this answer:

York Region Department of Education trustees, with the exception of Board Vice-Chair Diane Giangrande, supported charging parents for this type of service. They claim it provides a pretty valuable service at abouth a quarter of the cost than than commercial tutoring services like Oxford & Sylvain tutoring services. The Board also points out the program they provide to after students after school is in line with the Ontario curriculum.

The program sounds like a positive step for students looking for more assistance in gaining the skills and concepts within education. But the problem lies with how the students are selected by the Board for the program.

The classroom teacher recommends the student to be in the program. At this point the teacher doesn’t mention that other agencies are available (i.e. Oxford or Sylvain), but recommends the Board sponsored “Learning Advantage” program. The parent, believing the student’s teacher knows what they are doing as a professional in the field of education and, thus, knows what is best for my child. Thus, the parent forks over the money to the board instead of investigating places like Oxford or Sylvain. The classroom teacher seems to be in a conflict of interest in this case.

The classroom teacher must recommend the Board’s own program through fear. It is probably not a stretch to believe there is some pressure from the school’s administation and fellow teachers to recommend a large number of students to tutoring sessions. This is probably because there is pressure from the board to make this program a success by showing there is a demand for after school tutoring services like the “Learning Advantage” program. Therefore, if a teacher fails to recommend this program there might be outside factors that might want to shuffle this said teacher towards the door in terms of employment. Of course the administration of the school would never admit to shuffling the teacher towards the door for not recommending students to the “Learning Advantage” program, the Administation of the school would classify the teacher with having “poor classroom management” or some other questionable reason to dismiss a teacher. So the impression the teacher is left with is either “tow the line” or get out. Its pretty easy to see which option the teacher will choose.

That is what happens when the edict comes from above. The teachers in York Region seem to be stuck because the trustees will want this program to work in order to be re-elected in the next election. If the program fails then it will be the trustees’ heads who will roll. So hence, the pressure from above will be extreme on the classroom teacher to make this program succeed through recommending the students to the program and then executing the program. If the program fails, you can bet the Trustees will blame the teachers for the problems.

Now back to the original the question for another view: Should Public Boards be charging for tutoring services?

The Public Board should not be providing tutoring services to those students who are doing well. That is what is the problem with the “Learning Advantage” program. The students taking the program are at or above the academic levels they are expected to be at. The system should be concentrating these services to students who are considered to below level or “at risk”.

That is what is occurring in schools in New York City. In the New York City Department of Education schools receive funding to provide Saturday classes for students who require extra assistance in order bring their grades up. Unlike the York Region Board’s program, the students attending the New York tutoring services would likely fail their school year if not for the extra help. What does the City of New York charge for these services? Nothing. These are the students that the York Region Board should be focusing their efforts on.

The other students should be encouraged to study with their parents as much as possible. What should parents of students be doing if their students are doing adquately in school and still want more education? The parents can easily hit the libary with their child for new reading material. How can the children learn more in that library? By applying the skills and concept they learned in class to the new reading material in the classroom. What skills and concepts to investigate with the child? The ones from the Ontario Curriculum that the child is learning of course. Where to find that? The Ontario Ministry of Education has the Ontario curriculum downloadable from their website for free. So for the price of library card a parent can re-enforce what is being learned in the classroom with their child.

The students that are reading at grade level should be encouraged to read and write with their parents. Parents should be settling down with their child at night to investigate a good book from the library and trying out the skills their child is learning at school. This will show their student the skills learned at school are important and are being done at home. Parents should also be involved in helping out with the homework. This helps the student to know that if there is a concept they don’t quite understand they can inquire with the parent. If the parent doesn’t know what to do, an inquiry with the teacher can be followed up with the next day by the student. This also allows the student to teach the concept to the parent the next time at home. There is an old adage in education “if you can teach it, you gotta know it.” So the student is more likely to understand the concept if they are able to teach it to the parent.

Parents should have responsibility for their child’s education. The tutoring services that the York Region District School Board is piloting seem to replace the above. Do all parents have to time to sit down with their child and read a book? No, but the school system should not be forced to be “parents”. The idea of parents not being parents anymore and the school system being forced to replace the parental responsibilities is a whole other issue for another blog entry.

Every parent wants their child(ren) to succeed. With that in mind, parents need to make time for their children and their education. Otherwise, the school system seems to think it can replace parenting bit by bit as parents fail to assume their responsibilites. In the case of the “Learning Advantage” program, the parents seem to fail to take the time to sit down with their children and read a simple book and do some math.

Should the Public School system be providing tutoring services? No they should not as it only puts pressure on classroom teachers to make the “program via edict” succeed as well as letting parents not fulfill their roll in their child’s education.

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