Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City)

Just asking

I have a couple of questions that are at least tangentially related
to issues being brought up during this, the federal election season
here in Canada:

  • Education: Could somebody please tell me why standardized testing
    is supposed to be a bad thing? Keep in mind that I’m not talking about
    any specific standardized tests, but the actual concept itself, which
    seems to get a number of people’s knickers in a knot. I’m actually
    having trouble seeing why it’s as bad as the it’s-the-end-of-education
    crowd (whose Venn diagram circle has severe overlap with the I-majored-in-underwater-basketweaving crowd) says it is.

  • Toronto Island Bridge/Bizjet airport: Could somebody please tell me why the island bridge, if built, would do more harm than good? (I admit that I bounce back and forth on the Island Airport issue from month to month).

Feel free to use the comments; that’s what they’re there for.

41 replies on “Just asking”

How to Get Your Girlfriend to Rant, by Joey deVilla.
Seriously, standardized testing is something I know about, having been a long-term employee of The Princeton Review. Standardized testing just doesn’t work, because the people who write the tests are not robots and therefore any standardized test is going to be inherently biased, and in the US the bias is generally towards white people who have a lot of money. Math word problems pose unfamiliar situations – which kid in a landlocked state is familiar with regattas? Vocabulary tests do the same thing. Kids whose first language isn’t English lose out, massively, and bright ones are placed in remedial classes. The problem is that no one test can accurately gauge anything across the board except how well kids do on that particular test, and really, that isn’t helpful to anyone. Now, I am speaking as a white girl who grew up in a family that had some money, and I spanked the SAT within an inch of its life. And without that score, I might not have gotten into the #4 liberal arts college in America, wahoo. But that doesn’t mean that any test that is out there can accurately measure how smart I am. What if my teacher in third grade taught us something wrong about pronouns? Then my class was boned on the ERBs or whatever testing was done that year. There is no way to know what’s going on with X kid, so standardized testing is always a false measurement in some way, big or small.

The problem with standarized testing is multifold.
Problem 1 is universality of the testing. Do you test all students, including special needs (special ed/english as a second language) students? If so, should those scores of the special needs students be counted against the schools scores?
If you force those students to take the test, and count their scores, then schools that are magnets for such children end up receiving a worse grade than they deserve. It could also encourage schools to claim that they do not have the proper facilities to educate such children, which means that such children get *no* integration into a “regular” classroom. (Currently in the US special education students are integrated for one or two subjects into “regular” classrooms.)
If you say that those children do not have to take the test, or that their scores will not be counted against the school average, then you may have a problem of schools pushing low achieving students into special needs classes, or not releasing ESL students into mainstream classrooms–all because they may bring down the average of the school.
Problem 2 is teaching to the test. If *everything* is dependent upon how well a school does on one test, then the tendency is for teachers to teach to the test, which means that you may lose out on things that are not directly related to the test: students do work that is similar to what they will be tested upon, instead of work that may be more useful in the long run. (i.e. worsheets with problems similar to the test questions, instead of projects that actually apply the material.)
As my knowledge is of the US educational system, I gave rather broad answers about standardized testing in general, since I don’t know the specifics of Canadian standardized testing.
I come from a family of teachers (one of whom was a Canadian great-grandmother, so I’m not *comepletely* off base), so I get to hear a lot of this, whether I want to or not.
Random (but not really)

Other issues with standardized tests:
1) It doesn’t tell you much that the teacher doesn’t already know. There will be some really bad teachers who are totally clueless about which students are learning the material and which aren’t (and some students who are very bright but unmotivated, who will score much better than the teacher expects). But, by and large, most teachers will be able to accurately predict the scores of most students. Time and energy spent preparing for the test, taking the test, and evaluating the results could all be better spent educating the students.
2) If you really don’t trust your teachers (which is what mandated standardized testing means) then testing once a year is pointless–it just tells you which students have had a year of their life wasted with the wrong teacher or in the wrong class. To be useful in spotting students who aren’t learning, you’d really need to do standardized testing several times a year, so that there’d be time to intervene.
3) It greatly reduces the flexibility of the teacher to focus on what seems to be working. Some classes are going to be excited about Shakespeare and others are going to be bored by it. A good teacher can shift the lesson plan to run the class either way–maybe taking the Shakespeare-hating class and teaching them essay-writing skills or Beat poets. The students still learn just as much “English,” but they might do much better or worse on a “standardized” test that had a few more or fewerShakespeare questions than usual.

Well, I seem to have hit a nerve here. I have responses, which I’ll have to post later. I’m at work right now, where there exist certain quantitative criteria that must be met in order for me to continue receiving a paycheque.

How to get your girlfriend’s friends to rant, by Joey deVilla
The Redhead’s got it down. The other problem with standardized tests is that test prep companies(as in the Redhead’s experience at TPR and my own 10-year stint at Kaplan) learn how they’re written, and inflate peoples scores by teaching them not completely what’s on the tests, but tricks to beat them as well(Kaplan spun these as “strategies.” Let’s face it, that’s how people with C+ averages get into business school.
Even I, who took only one Physics class the first time through college, have scored moderately well on the MCAT, based only on what I remember from HS Biology and Chemistry, and what I learned spouting Kaplan’s BS for 10 years.
Food for thought, I hope.

One more issue with standard testing hit my Mother pretty hard. She taught grade 5 and 6 English as a Second Langauge. Her kids, regardless of their time in Canada, had to complete the same test and we expected to hit the same numbers as native english speakers.
I know that’s not a general problem, it’s more of a policy issue, but nevertheless it’s related.
Tyler (forgot my login)

Criteria like “the quantity of time spent working shall be far greater than zero”?

Re: Teaching to the test.
To further complicate the issue, here are two issues being raised here in Washington regarding the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) test.
The first is that this test is being used as part of the federal No Child Left Behind program that Dubya is so fond of. It boils down to this: state and federal funding is dependent upon the WASL scores. It’s seen as a way to make the school accountable for the academic success of their students, which is a great theory but it comes at a cost, particularly for schools already hit by budget cuts. And, trust me, a school that cuts its arts program to make ends meet is not going to reinstate it the instant they’re back in the black.
Besides, don’t you want your kid to go to the school that’s ranked #1 in 4th Grade aptitude?
The second problem is that, ultimately, the numbers are meaningless. This past spring the state lowered the scores required to pass. This just blows my mind. If this were an engineering experiment, if this was a crash test, you would not change the test in order to ensure that the product passes muster. And yet…
I just watch dumbfounded.
Click Tracks

Not only that but almost every student in Washington is required to take the test. Just moved to the country? Don’t speak a lick of English? Doesn’t matter! Take the test! IEPed Special Ed student with a 1.0 reading level? Sorry, you get to take the (three week long, makes you feel really stupid) test too.
Since the WASL is a standards based test, kids who miss the cut off for passing by even one point, fail that section of the test. Then, the only information given to teachers and families is the numerical score. We never get to see which test items our students did poorly on so we could improve instruction and help students succeed in the future.
Finally, the scores are then published in the papers. God forbid the school has a high student turn over rate, or poverty level (ora high number of special needs or beginning english language learner kids). Those things aren’t taken into account.
Decisions about schools, teachers and students are being made based on this test. This test that is costing Washington millions of dollars, is changed in some way every year (making year to year comparisons impossible!) and is worthless as far as driving instruction.
I agree that schools should have higher standards and that students should be tested. Currently my district has a test that is given in the fall and spring that shows student’s growth. It lets parents, teachers and students see which areas the student has made progress in and which areas the student needs more help in. It’s a great way to test kids and it is being discontinued because of the WASL.

standardized testing good.
Imagine if we took the “all students are special in their own way” approach to evaluating driving tests or medical board exams, airline pilots or bridge engineers?
Testing shouldn’t be thought of as a one shot deal. It would be better to think of it as feedback as opposed to a final evaluation. If you score badly there are areas you need to go back and work on and then you take the test again later. The test just shows where you are now, not tomorrow after a little more practice. There is almost always a tomorrow when it comes to failing a test but less so when you take those skill out in the world.
Both Joey and I would probably be destitute panhandlers if we were tossed out of academia for failing more than one time and thinking it was the end of everything as opposed to feedback saying we needed to drink and write for newspapers a little less and attend classes a little more. At least he would have the accordion thing to fall back on. Me, I would be probably just yelling at the dirty sock puppet on my hand.
Failure is also a fact of life. Seeing that the sun still comes up after one is an important learning experience. Shielding people by giving them soft testing just prolongs the inevitable and makes it harder for them to cope when it does happen. It also increase the chances that it happens on something bigger in life that is harder to rebound from.
Also when you screw with the feedback a person becomes unable to make informed decisions about what they should be doing. There are people out there that should never pursue math or writing or in my case, singing. Giving people milktoast generic feedback about their abilities is the equivalent of giving them career beer goggles.
Joey is a friend, so when we were in that bar that fateful night and I saw the girl looking at him and his accordion in an interesting, but not interested way, I gave him good feedback, which in that case was none. And I encouraged everybody at the table to do likewise. When Wendy looked at him at his christmas party a while later, we gave everybody in the house good feedback, run! She’s about to go through him like a bleach blond cougar through the side of a junior hockey team bus.
If someone is bad at something, let them know. Then they can decide if they want get better at that thing or try something else instead.
Take do it yourself investors, beginner self taught motorcycle riders, or those people who think they can fly by jumping off heights. A little unbiased feedback would have saved them a lot of pain later.
Also a standardized test sets a known quantity. You know, kind of like a standardized side of the road to drive on, a standardized colour of traffic light to stop at, or a standardized test for the strength of metal holding your car together. For computer types how much do you enjoy all your different standards? Or for employers of computer programmers, how useful is it to have a known standard level of programming abilities?
island airport bad. I first held the idea that people against it were a bunch of whiners and that for the area to grow economically we would need to let it grow. Then one day I was riding my bicycle along queen’s quay and the wind was blowing in from the south. There was a turboprop plane spooling up its jets out on the island. Even from where I was the noise was higher than would be allowed in any industrial workplace without protection. I feel for any property owner along there, it would substantially change their quality of living. When these people bought their homes here it wasn’t with intent of having window rattling ambient noise.
The solution is fast public transit out to pearson from downtown a la most first world major cities. Also no major city in the world seems to be suffering from a lack of a downtown airport, ie: London, New York. Or even Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary, all of which have viable public transit servicing their airports. It would be interesting to see where all the flights come and go from the island airport anyway. It’s not like you can fly toronto island / jfk direct. I am guessing that they are mostly private planes and small charters.
just a sensitive earred, passed a few more courses than I failed kind of guy,

I live in Washington state. All 4th graders here have to take what’s called the WASL. What you described here with teachers ‘teaching to the test’ is exactly what goes on at my daughter’s school (she happens to be in the 4th grade). I think this is part of why she has problems in math when I ask her to apply it to a real life situation.
Side note: has anyone noticed that they teach math VERY differently now than they did even a generation ago? (i.e. when I was in school hehe)

To answer the neglected question …
The issue was never the bridge itself but the island airport expansion that would become possible once the bridge was completed, including the use of small jets. Increased airport traffic is incompatible with the plan to build more mixed use neighbourhoods and parks along the waterfront.
If you would like to see this in action, in SimCity, build a waterfront town and include a small communter airport on an island just offshore. Once your city is humming along, upgrade to a larger airport and watch the neighbouring property values plummet.
Lob a meteor at the airport to relieve the air pollution!

Um, Eldon, nice image there with the cougar.
But you don’t get my point, which is that if standardized testing were actually equal, it might have merit. However it is not, and it bites people in the ass who would otherwise be successful. There’s no “fail” on many standardized tests (though the state one here, the MCAS, which was instituted after my time, will keep you from graduating), but there is a lot of consequence. Having unbiased feedback is great, but when the test itself is biased, you’ll never get that kind of feedback.

From what little I remember of physics… lobbing a meteor at anything would pretty much relieve it and everything around it for a good distance of existence, let alone air pollution

The imagery was only to convey the intensity of the feedback. honest.
I think you make a good example with the regatta math problems. You are right that a standard test can be biased culturally. It is just that I think any test can be biased. The current standard ones or locally set ones. So it becomes a lesser of two evils thing. At least with a standardized test it can be updated more easily to remove biases that are discovered by getting lots of teacher feedback and it would suffer less from local biases and more people can work at making one test more objective. Some current biases in word problems may also be just outdating occurring too. Such as the one about the buggy whip factory production.
I think that local bias is the greater evil as it is way less likely to be as objective as a independently set third party test would be. This is why there is independent third party car crash testing or airplane testing.
It also comes down to why you are measuring or testing to begin with. If it is to evaluate individual teachers, schools or districts to determine which need more support then it would be necessary to compare them to others and a test that compares without a local bias in it becomes necessary. If it is to evaluate a student’s ability in certain subjects to see if they are prepared for university again it is to compare them to a minimum compentency that the universities expect.
A single standardized test that tries to sum up a students ability in a single number obviously has its shortcomings. So with things like the SAT there are problems. However a standardized test for each subject would be useful. A student applying to science and one applying to fine art could then both have the same total score if they added up their subject specific standard scores but then each would have a set of subject scores relevant to their abilities and interests. I believe the British system of A levels and O levels is based on standard exams by subject. Can any readers confirms this for me?
I also think people who think a single standard test score labels someone for life over a locally set test one when it comes to going on to unversity are kidding themselves.
First, I don’t think there are any universities that use a single factor such as a standard test score in determining admission. It is only one of a bunch that they use including essays, interviews, references, extra curriculars, volunteer work, etc…
Secondly, to overcome local test and grade creep biases that have been going of for years some universities handicap scores from the schools that students are applying from based on how students from that same school in the previous years did at that university. For example, if a 90% student from school 1 and a 70% student from school 2 both get a 75% in their first year the university will knock down the marks of future students from school 1 to reflect this.
Most of my points here are focused on the standard testing that comes at the end of high school and is used to go on to university. These are similiar to the tests that are used to go from university onto post grads, such as the GMAT or MCAT or LSAT etc. From the end of high school onward standardized testing is the most prevelent as it is when the greastest variety of students from the most different locations are trying to be evaluated and compared to each other and a common yardstick is necessary to do this. They may not all be applicable to the role and needs of testing in schools at lower levels where it is more about feedback for improvement.

Testing shouldn’t be thought of as a one shot deal.
It shouldn’t be, but it is. Administrators and school boards see the tests, see the results and that’s all she wrote. They see that their funding is cut because their state test scores were low so they change the curriculum to boost that.
I agree with you, we definitely need standards in this arena. There has to be a way to figure out how things are balancing out. But what’s the use of a test that changes every year or every two year? To use the bridge engineering example, if you designed a bridge and it failed to meet specs when it’s tested, what would you do: change the bridge or change the test?
The WASL (Washington state test) has been changed in drastic ways every year since its creation and this year the standards to pass (this is a test with pass/fail options) have been lowered by 7%. That may boost some egos but it makes for lousy statistics.

Meaning that you must produce at least 500 lines of code per day with no more than 1.2 bugs reported per day? Or meaning that you must, for example, make it easier to follow comment threads in Blogware posts?
The former would make a great standardized test. You count the lines of code, and then you count the bug reports filed against them, and you divide. The latter is so wishy-washy that any decent test author would laugh — can you show me 8.2 units of “easier”? Come back tomorrow with a real metric, one we can measure. Preferably with Scantron sheets.
And hey, I just noticed that this numbers-versus-results analogy even provides examples of the cultural bias The Redhead is talking about! Measuring strict lines of code means that a bad Python coder who writes 20 lines of sloppy Python (with a big data-loss bug) will show up as being more “productive” than a good Perl coder who turns out 5 lines of well-styled Perl (with one small formatting bug) to do the same task. Even better, the test proves both of them need to learn from a real programmer: that guy in the corner whose 150 lines of C contain a remote root exploit.

We’ve hit an important milestone here — my first straw man comment!
Using “lines of code” as a metric has been so largely discredited in the programming community that your use of it as an example is like talking about Air Canada’s safety record based on zeppelin statistics. These days, LOC is pretty much used only as a measure how how much or how little typing one has to do to get results in a particular language, not of programmer productivity.
As for the the quantifiable work, it was that I would have certain tasks done at the appointed time.

I’m sort of insulted, Joey, that you assume I don’t know that LOC is a meaningless metric. In fact, the phrase “5 lines of well-styled Perl” should be a dead giveaway that I’m not arguing from experience here.
I think I didn’t state my point well, so I’ll restate it: meaninglessness generalizes. LOC is a stupid measure of programmer ability because it doesn’t provide an indication of quality — it just spits out a number. And that number is useless. But this isn’t a problem with the LOC metric specifically, that scantron tests or provincial essay-writing tests with a standard marking guide magically avoid. The rot goes through the entire tree.
Scantron tests don’t measure student ability. They give a measure of circle-filling ability. (And they don’t provide good life experience, unless most of your life consists of picking from exactly four clearly different and easily-distinguished choices, two of which are obviously wrong. I don’t know about you, but I don’t spend most of my time looking at restaurant menus that offer a choice of Hamburger, Styrofoam, Sheep, or Poison.)
Essay questions, if they have a single marking guide that removes all subjectivity, test the ability of the student to guess what’s in the marking guide — Kevin Drum provided a critique by way of example a while back of how this can go wrong. And if they don’t have a standard marking guide, so that each person grading gets to use their judgement… well, we already have that. It’s called the system as it exists already, without standardized testing.
It’s true that math questions, with a single marking guide, come close to being regular enough for standardization… but even then, there’s slippage. Math-test evaluators could spend hours arguing over whether to give a higher score to student A who got the right answer with the wrong method or student B, who used the right method but produced the wrong answer. Lucky guess vs. close enough, triangle wins.

But there’s always a footnote, isn’t there? The caveat here is that most standardized-testing proponents talk about the tests as a performance review rather than a diagnostic tool. Fill in enough of the right bubbles and your school gets extra cash in the next state budget. Fill in too few and your school doesn’t get extra cash, and from what I’ve heard about them, your parents don’t get test results with sufficient explanation to improve your situation.
It’d be nice if standardized testing produced better students, but all it seems to produce is better test-takers. And you can take that to the zeppelin hangar.

But the problem with standardized testing is precisely that it is NOT used for feedback, at least not here in the US. It is used to generate a number, and those numbers are used to determine a pass/fail grade for that school.
Those numbers also ignore the reality of that area and that school.
For example, it is well known that a child’s reading ability can be related to how much their parents read to them, and that upper and middle class parents are more likely than lower income parents to read to their children. This means that lower income kids are starting off with a handicap. Then consider the fact that schools tend to be segregated by income–lower income kids go to a school in a lower income neighborhood, middle class kids go to school in a middle class neighborhood.
This means that the school in the lower income neigborhood is disadvantaged from the first day the kids walk in the door. Yet these schools are expected to acheive the same test scores as other schools.
These are the types of problems that standardized tests do not, and cannot address–at least not right now.
Random (but not really)

I think that it’s important to separate the various issues being discussed here:
(1) Standardized testing.
(2) Interpretation of results.
(3) Use of (interpreted) results for evaluation of students’ performance.
(4) Use of (interpreted) results for evaluation of schools’ performance.
(5) Use of evaluation of schools’ performance as a criterion for funding decisions.
Often these all get wrapped up together. But they really are different topics, and linking them together is a policy (i.e., political) decision.
To address a couple of the points made above:
Yes, there are cultural biases in some tests. But is it necessarily the case that all standardized tests must have statistically significant cultural biases? If so, is this also true of other kinds of tests? (If it is true, then this is not an argument against standardized tests, but against tests in general. If it’s not, then what essential difference is there between standardized and non-standardized tests that allow the latter to avoid cultural biases?)
There will always be identifiable segments of the population that do worse on any test than other segments. It is also true that there will always be a leading cause of death. Discuss. 🙂
More seriously, let’s turn it around and suggest that this “identifiable segment” phenomenon could actually be a good thing: it can provide a basis for arguing that the IS in question is in fact disadvantaged and should receive more attention/public assistance/whatever. As with any measurement, proper interpretation is vital.

One needs to keep in mind that the current schools, with current teaching methods, are often failing. I’ve known perfectly intelligent people who got through school without ever learning how to write a paragraph, let alone an essay. The drive to standardized testing is a direct result of the failure of the school system in general, and to convince the proponents of standardized testing that it is wrongheaded, the opponents of it need to do more than argue for the status quo. If people didn’t think the status quo was badly broken, then they wouldn’t be pushing for the various major reforms that they are; for them, teaching to the test is seen as better than teaching nothing but empty self-esteem.
So, if not standardized testing, then what do you do to fix the status quo? “More money” is not an answer without indicating where it will be spent, and how…. keeping in mind that many current fads for spending (like low class sizes) have no scientific basis behind them. [The problem with low class sizes being best summed up by pointing out that as in all other jobs, not all teachers are equally competent; so sometimes having one teacher in a class of 24 is better, on the whole, than two with classes of 12…. even before you consider the added benefits (teacher’s aide, additional materials) the solo teacher could have had with that money].
That being said, while I think standardized testing is generally a good idea, it is one that is easily mis-implemented (bad tests, misuse of results, skewing of results by pushing poor students into dropping out so that they don’t count against the test scores,….); you can’t just wave a magic wand and say “now we have standardized tests, therefore the schools will be better”. There’s a lot of hard work that has to go along with the tests to use them properly and make them function well.
As a related aside, the notion that standardized test marks on a state/province wide level are flawed while local marks are not presupposes levels of universal competence and diligence in teachers that certainly were not evident when I was in school.

Well, every one seems to be talking about standardized testing, I figured I should mentioned your second point.
The bridge and the island airport.
I moved out of toronto last year, so My information may be a bit late and mostly based on memory. The people I spent most of my time with where very much against the bridge, because of its effect on the waterfront of the area. Essentially, part of the increased size of the airport would be to put severe restrictions on the area’s boating community.
Currently any one sailing, rowing, kayaking, or any other kind of water based transportation much avoid a reasonably large area in front of the landing strip. (for VERY good reason) The area currently is large enough to be a minor inconvenience for moving around but certainly not a major problem. However if the airport is increased, then that area will be increased by 4 times. The larger planes, would need additional space in case they crashed… and large masts.. and airplanes don’t go together.
The increase in size would effectively close of the western waterway.
Aside from that issue, the general issue was annoyance at the increased noise and air pollution.
If you want to meet people who are REALLY against the airport.. talk to any of the yachting associations in the area.

Standardized testing (at least in the case of high-school students) makes it more difficult for college administrators to discriminate, sometimes in useful ways.

If you’re not going to expand the airport, then there’s no reason to build a bridge.
I fly in to Toronto Island once in a while, so for purely selfish reasons I hope they keep the airport as it is. It’s a real pleasure to fly there. Of all the big-city airports that Air Canada goes to, it’s by far the best I’ve seen.

You’re right that throwing money at the problem won’t make it go away. However (there’s always an however) there are specific places that money could go that would help to improve the situaiton.
Anecdote: (and I do know the danger of anecdotal evidence, but I think this illustrates my point) my uncle used to teach high school math. He is, in fact, a fantastic teacher. Just for fun, he spent an afternoon in my cousn’s 6th grade classroom, and taught the kids a bit of calculus. They loved it AND got it. He is not, however, a teacher any longer, and that is because the pay for teachers is slightly above abysmal, and he wasn’t able to support his family, despite their frugal lifestyle.
My point is that to improve the educational system, we need quality teachers. You know the kind–I’m sure you had at least one in all your years of schooling–they love teaching and really want kids to learn. Unfortunately, these kinds of teachers, unless they have a spouse who has a decent paying job, frequently are snatched up elsewhere, because it’s difficult to make a good living teaching.
As I see it now, education draws two kinds of people. Those who love teaching and are willing to teach despite the low pay and disrespect, and those who couldn’t do much else and ended up in teaching despite having no knack and little interest in education. (Unfortunately I think we’ve all had those kinds of teachers as well.)
Unless and until high quality teachers are drawn to teaching, and receive salaries that will keep them in education, there are going to continue to be problems in the school system, and all the standardized test in the world won’t solve the problem.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to rant. I just have strong feelings about education.
Random (but not really)

Heh. One should expect people to feel strongly about education, given the importance of it. Education is important, and providing a good education to as many people as possible is an important leveler in trying to equalize opportunities.
Good teachers are essential to any hope of improving education, and need to be both recruited, and encouraged to stay in the profession (not only through pay, but through supporting resources to make the job better; poor work conditions will often do more to get folks out of a job than pay alone).
While I’d like to see reductions in tenure (and/or remove some other specific provisions in the local teachers’ contracts, like bonus salary if they’ve done administration courses even for non-administrators), I think concurrent moves to make being a teacher more attractive as a career are good ideas.
In some ways, standardized testing is a more general version of what my Prof in Atlantic Canadian history referred to as ‘megaproject syndrome’…. the belief that ‘at last, this one idea will make everything better’. Big problems seldom have simple cureall fixes where one change suddenly reverses a downward trend years in the making, yet politicians persist in claiming they’ve found one.

You have a herd of 100 cows. 17 of them get sick and die. How many cows do you have left?
a) 82 cows
b) 83 cows
c) This question is biased against urban students who have not lived amongst cows; anyone who has not seen a cow, or a picture of a cow; any ESL student who might not know the meaning of “cow”; Hindus; and vegans. Because “cow” can also be a term of opprobrium, the question is also sexist. I refuse to answer it on the grounds of resistance to cultural genocide.

“the pay for teachers is slightly above abysmal”…
An Ontario public school teacher with two university degrees and 10 years in the system earns more than $72,000 for eight months’ work, participates in an insanely generous pension plan, and practically has to commit arson or necrophilia to be fired. You can’t see it but I’m doing the “World’s Smallest Violin” gesture.

(Sorry, that should be ten months–ten minus a long Christmas holiday, anyway…)

Just to give you a little history on the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan: the province used to manage it for the teachers with a fixed annual return (I think it was approx. <2% per year -- but let me check that). Any surplus above that fixed rate went straight into the general account for the province (ie. pension funds deducted from salary went straight to other gov't programs -- without notifying the membership).
Anyone who has any investments or an RRSP knows a monkey could achieve a better return than 2%. The teachers' union woke up and realized how the money was being redirected and asked if they could give managing the pension funds a try.
A couple of years later and a few wise investments decisions, the teachers' pension is doing quite well.
So the "lavish" pension is the direct result of wise, self-directed management. Why not let teachers take advantage of smart business decisions? We expect CEOs to walk home with hard-earned bonus packages, what's so bad about similar results from collective (aka. union) effort?
Sorry but I can't comment on the arson/necrophilia angle. I have heard of a teacher out west who was teaching anti-semitic material. They got rid of him fairly quickly (I hope).
Re: the 10yrs == 72K salary. How much do you expect to be making when you're 35 years old? Only 50k?
You know teachers receive no pay during the summertime, don't you? Last cheque at the end of June, first cheque near the start of October. My favourite was when the NDP government deferred the last June paycheque until late fall in order to save some $$ via cash management. Try that in any other industry and you would have riots.
Just some food for thought while you're playing your violin concerto. It's pretty easy to dump on teachers -- who hasn't had a bad math/history/english/music/gym teacher at least once in their lives -- but the full picture that's necessary for sound public policy should be better understood.

Wow. I’m 33 and I’m making a smidgen more than $50K for working twelve months a year, which puts me ahead of the vast majority of Canadian working people. You might want to get a clue, bud.

Let’s assume an employee is up for review each year. Furthermore, let’s also assume that a person changes jobs every two-three years with a subsequent jump in pay (otherwise, why change jobs).
Yearly review increase (2% CPI + 3% salary increase) = 5%, you’re crazy if you’re not negotiating against inflation.
Value 2: Changing jobs nets a $5,000 salary increase
Scenario 1: Starting at 25k and never changing jobs ~= 40k after 10 years
Scenario 2: Starting at 25k, changing jobs at year 3, year 5 and year 7 ~= 64k
Here’s the calculation cop out: regional and industry conditions notwithstanding. It’s just straight math. But it’s not too crazy to assume that during the 10 year period you’re not improving your skills via self-study or courses which result in the 5k increase on job change.
How much is post-secondary education worth in the workplace?
We want people with expertise in subject matter to be teaching our children don’t we? And you have to pay for that expertise (post-secondary education and/or tradesmanship).
[Aside: I think teachers’ pay starts at 35k; with that as a starting point, scenario 1 ~= 57k and scenario 2 ~= 74k. While a teacher may remain at the same school for their whole career, the good ones gain responsibility via department headships or supervising extracirrucular activities.]

In terms of industry variations, Canada’s economy is still largely based on resources (the hewers of wood, drawers of water type stuff). But resource-based economies will always be squeezed as any commodity environment will. Added value is where the big money is (eg. refinement of commodities; knowledge sectors; innovative technologies).
How to break out of the resource commodity squeeze? Education.
Granted, certain infrastructures in Canada haven’t been revised or revisited in years (healthcare, education) and could use some reflection. Teachers are highly visible, but hardly the cause of society’s ills.

The problem with the bridge to the airport isn’t the bridge. It is the people behind it. The Toronto Port Authority is a federal government non-profit corporation, an unelected body filled by patronage appointments, their mandate is to manage the port (not that the port of Toronto is important, but we have Dennis Mills to thank for setting up this body) and to use any surplus to improve the port, which includes the fading island airport. However, every year they have been in existence they have lost money, and every year, their deficit grows by about 7 per cent. They do their best to hide their mis-management on the web, but since they need to get a budget top-up from the City, it’s in the record, if you dig through budget reports. Their annual budget is around $20 million, but essentially they are bankrupt, and always have been.
So where’s the money to “build” a bridge come from? Why the City, that’s where. Threaten to build a bridge nobody wants or needs, and then don’t build it, and pocket the claimed $24 million.
After all, the TPA are the ones who’ve soaked the City for $8 million for a ferry terminal, y’know the one they haven’t built yet, though the Rochester Ferry started a month ago.
So, if you run across somebody who wants the bridge built, I’m sure I can set them up with a really computer lease package, see I know this hairdresser, and his brother plays hockey …

1) My sister is a teacher. She started in the mid-30’s – as they all do since they’re all substitute teachers fresh out of school unless your mom works for the school board and you can get a full year gig – but is fast approaching my salary. I’ve been working in IT for 8 years, she’s been teaching for 4. I didn’t get a raise this year – she will.
2) The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan is the best plan in Canada. Their plan is better than CAW’s, than CUPE’s, anybody’s. (I work in the financial industry, where this is common knowledge). They don’t have to plan for their retirement AT ALL, since their pension plan is taking care of it.
Yes she does a lot of after school work – as do many professionals. I just love reading work-related stuff on my own time (not) just to stay current. And she gets two months a year off. The crappy part is having to report to three bosses – the principal, the parents, and the kids. I report to my manager, his director, his vp…

I don’t feel sorry for anyone who gets a nice salary for 10 months of work and can’t manage their money.

An Ontario public school teacher with two university degrees and 10 years in the system earns more than $72,000 for eight months’ work, participates in an insanely generous pension plan, and practically has to commit arson or necrophilia to be fired. You can’t see it but I’m doing the “World’s Smallest Violin” gesture.
I’ll have to get my mother to move to Ontario then. She has a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree, and a PhD and earns nothing *close* to $72k. (She teaches 10 year olds–she is NOT an administrator.)
And I don’t know about the Canadian system, but the “eight months work” is certainly a fallacy in the US. During the summers teachers are required to take extended education courses–at their own expense. And all the teachers I know work far more than 40 hours per week: My mom works 7 to 4, and then has papers to grade, projects to create, lessons plans, (that also doesn’t include parent-teacher conferences, which typically have to occur very early in the morning or after 5.)
On top of that, a teacher’s supply budget in the US is nothing if not minimal. In the US many teachers spend substantial amounts out of their own pocket for classroom supplies: the “library” in my mother’s classroom is filled entirely with books she has acquired.
And don’t ask my mom about her retirement. She and my mother-in-law both say they’ll have to work until they’re 90 to be able to afford to retire.

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