Ontario announces $180 million to help students build math, reading and writing skills



Ontario’s education ministry says it will invest over $180 million in classroom and at-home supports to boost students’ math, reading and writing skills.

In a press conference Sunday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced the funding will bring in over 300 educators to help boost math competency and some 700 other educators to improve student literacy.

“We’ve seen the decline in reading, writing and math skills, and today’s plan is a clear signal that we’re not going to sit idle, we’re not going to hope for the best,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

“We’re going to invest through a comprehensive plan that really lifts the skills and the standards and frankly the ambitions of kids by making sure that they can exit their high school experience having mastered those fundamental skills.”

The funding is the latest move the province is undertaking to help boost student performance in schools. Low test scores, particularly for math, have been a point of focus for the Doug Ford government for years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, Once the pandemic hit, disruption to learning due to lockdowns and shifts between virtual and in-person learning is seen as a factor as to why EQAO test scores and other skills have worsened or stagnated.

Where the money will go

Of the full amount, the ministry says more than $71 million will go toward a new math plan for the coming school year, building off the math curriculum introduced in 2020, which mandates financial literacy and coding in every grade.

Lecce says the changes include doubling the number of school math coaches, introducing one math lead per board, expanding access to digital math tools for students and parents, expanding financial literacy learning and giving training for new teachers to enhance math fluency and competency.

Meanwhile, Lecce says $109 million will go toward boosting literacy rates starting this school year. This includes the hiring of additional specialist teachers and making sure the over 400,000 students in senior kindergarten to Grade 2 are screened up to twice a year to make sure they’re meeting provincial standards.

It also includes an “overhauled” language curriculum starting September that will help ensure young students can master basic literacy — something the province started working on last year after a scathing Ontario Human Rights Commission report found at least one-third of students graduate school without attaining the level of literacy needed to function fully in today’s economy.

“We know parents. We’ve heard them loud and clear, particularly parents of young children that fear that if we don’t act now in kindergarten and Grade 1 or 2 in those early formative years, that their kids could have lifelong impacts and roadblocks to success.”

“We hear them and we’re investing in them with a plan to get them on track.”

Lecce says while all school boards will benefit from the new funds, a lot of it will go toward boosting outcomes in the lowest 20 per cent of schools that have historically underperformed in math and literacy EQAO testing.

Announcement lacking in details, union leader says

Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, says the announcement was anemic in details and anemic in what it’s going to do, and has left her wondering if it was meant to be a distraction from the Grants for Student Needs announcement.

“The Grants for Student Needs announcement still has not come. That’s the paperwork that tells school boards how much money they have for the next school year,” Walton told CBC Toronto.

“This government has only provided that on time once in their entire two terms. They’re late again, which really puts some pressure on school boards to get this kind of work done.

“Like, imagine trying to figure out your household budget but not knowing what money is going to be coming in. It’s very difficult. And so I worry that this distraction is about that and I fear what we’re going to see in those GSN,” she said.

Laura Walton, president of CUPE's Ontario School Board Council of Unions
Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, says the announcement was anemic in details and anemic in what it’s going to do, and has left her wondering if it was meant to be a distraction from the Grants for Student Needs announcement. (CBC)

Walton called on Lecce to sit down and speak to the people who are currently working in the publicly funded education system and listen to what they need.

“That’s your education workers, teachers, parents, guardians, families, students. Those are the people that you need to talk to. Those are the people he does not talk to,” Walton said.

Walton also had a message for school boards.

“If you’re not happy with what you’re getting then you need to join with your community and say to the government, this isn’t good enough,  this doesn’t go far enough, and we aren’t going to be able to provide the services we need to with what you’re providing us.”

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