Falling off the spectrum

I know that bargaining is underway/about to resume for education workers in Ontario and that things will work out how they will. I simply cannot stop thinking about a couple of the fundamental issues and am hoping that the government listens to the educators at the table. Really listens.

The issues most troubling to me are about classroom size and the need for supports for students with special needs. People who are not directly involved in classrooms do not seem to understand that a larger class size is not about teachers having more work, although that will definitely happen. What teachers and other classroom educators know is that you cannot effectively meet the needs of every child when there are too many needs to be met. This is not a reflection on teachers. This is a reflection on the reality of children and their needs.

Let’s look at this from the point of view of a learning spectrum. It is true that statistically speaking most students are “average learners”. It is estimated that about 68% of any particular age group fall within average on the cognitive abilities spectrum. So, in a class of 25 students, that’s 17 students. It’s important to note that those 17 students span a very wide range. If you were to test their cognitive and academic abilities and chart them out of 100 same aged students, theoretically they would range from the 27th percentile to the 76th percentile. That is a huge range. To put it into perspective for those of us more familiar with the old standards of IQ tests, students would have IQs ranging from 85 to 115. There would also be students in the class (about 3) who fall below that range (IQ scores 70-85) and the same number that are above (IQ scores 115-130).

These are statistics, though. In education, we deal with real human beings.  In that “average” range of students, a child may be strong in math, but low in language. That same child may have issues with processing (either visual or oral) but still remain within the average range. Children with identified and non-identified learning disabilities are in this range. There are children with family situations that are incredible for preparing a child for learning each day and there are those whose families have challenges meeting some or all needs of their children. There are a multitude of issues that impact learning, both visible and invisible. Within each classroom of 25 children, there are 25 unique and important learning needs.

If you increase the classroom size and have 30 children, you have 20 children that fit within the average range that is anything but average. You have more children at the edges of those averages and more children who fall outside those averages. Alongside the idea of larger classrooms is the real threat of losing supports within and outside the classroom for students. If supports for students – whether is it an educational assistant, speech and language therapists, social workers, occupational therapists, physical therapists, etc. – are cut back further than they are, we are jeopardizing students ability to learn and will teeter on the edge of violating the human rights of students who deserve and are entitled to an education that addresses their individual abilities and needs.

This is not an education that meets with budget constraints caused and imposed by the government. These students – all students – deserve an education that meets their needs.

The loss of supports in and outside the classroom and an overall larger classroom serves no one. It is not in the best interest of a strong educational system. And in the long run, it is not in the best interest of the future of Ontario.

As the negotiations continue, I hope that the educators are listened to. The bottom line is this: stop governing for today’s problems and govern for the future by supporting the system which is entrusted with the education of Ontario’s future generations.

Do not allow even one child to fall off the spectrum.

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