Parent groups, unions upset at Ontario Education ministry’s school finder web site

  • April 16, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO -It’s “discriminatory,” “demoralizing” and should be taken down.

At least that’s what an Ontario Catholic parent group is saying about a new government web site called “School Information Finder.

Brian Evoy, president of the Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education , said the web site allows parents to choose schools based upon some discriminating indicators such as the percentage of students from lower-income families and those who don’t speak English as a first language. Provincial test scores are also a criteria.

“What we need to say in Ontario is that all schools are equal,” Evoy told The Register, a day after an April 6 meeting in Toronto between Ontario Education Minister Kathleen Wynne and public education partners.

“It demoralizes a school community,” he said, referring to the demographic criteria and distinction between special needs and gifted students. “Why do we publicize it? It doesn’t mean a school is any better or any less.”

According to Evoy, the web site leads to a “ranking” of schools, a charge Wynne has denied.

The education ministry web site was launched during the first week of April and was originally designed to allow parents to compare three schools at a time. Among the factors listed on the web site are: the percentage of parents who have some university education, the percentage of students new to Canada from non-English and non-French-speaking countries, and the percentage of special education and gifted students.

Education ministry spokesperson Patricia MacNeil said after hearing public education groups’ concerns, Wynne has decided to remove the function which allows parents to pick three schools at a time, put them in a virtual bag and compare them. MacNeil said test scores and demographic information for schools with fewer students will also be removed from the site.

But she said the web site will remain. The ministry will continue to accept feedback from its education partners and “what new information should be added.”

The information on the web site is readily available elsewhere to parents, MacNeil said, adding that it’s about “transparency” and “accountability” to parents and taxpayers.

Like Evoy, Elaine MacNeil, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) , said she was surprised by the ministry’s lack of consultation in launching the web site because she said Wynne has been more collaborative in the past. She said the web site can still continue to create a “shopping bag” mentality when parents are selecting a school for their children.

“It’s almost like social demographic profiling (where you can) choose a school that will look more like your kids,” MacNeil said.

Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association president Paula Peroni said she is concerned about the relevance of the web site’s criteria.

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