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Ontario school boards must now report PD day activities, student attendance

Education Minister Stephen Lecce says new regulations will help 'refocus' school boards on academic achievement and life and job skills
School boards will be required to publicly report their teacher professional development sessions, one of the first mandates handed down by Ontario's education minister under legislation giving him greater control over boards. Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce waits for his introduction before speaking to the media at an Etobicoke library, in Toronto, Sunday, April 16, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — School boards in Ontario will be required to publicly report the details of their professional development sessions, among several other performance indicators, under legislation that gives the education minister greater control over boards.

Along with PD day transparency, the regulations newly outlined by the province include mandates for boards to report on areas that include attendance rates, the percentage of students participating in a job skills program and the rate of students meeting or exceeding provincial standardized test standards. 

Education Minister Stephen Lecce says the first set of regulations that are part of the recently passed Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act will help "refocus" boards on academic achievement and life and job skills.

"This sends a clear signal to Ontario's school boards we've listened to the priorities of our parents putting common sense at the centre of our education system," Lecce wrote in a statement. 

"To improve school board transparency, school board plans will be benchmarked against system-wide performance indicators." 

Under the new regulations, boards will be required to post PD day details on their websites, including content, presenters and resources shared with educators. 

The president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association said those activities have "never been a secret." 

"For some reason, we're in a position right now where people are questioning what we do at school boards, and we're happy to tell you," said Cathy Abraham. 

The reporting requirements were welcomed by Abraham, who said many of the indicators outlined by the province are already tracked and available. The provincial regulations just appear to standardize the way that information is collected, she said. 

"We are certainly very proud of the public education that we provide our students across the province and any time we can share the work we're doing, we believe that we'll have people even more so support public education in Ontario," she said. 

What needs to be seen, she said, is how the province uses the information. 

"What matters is providing supports necessary to improve in the areas where they need improvement," she said. 

The government passed its Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act just before the summer break, giving Lecce greater powers to set regulatory priorities and school board policy. Lecce has said the legislation will get boards "back to the basics" of education, but the bill has faced criticism as a vague consolidation of ministerial power.

The regulations include setting three provincial education priorities: achievement of learnings outcomes in core academic skills, preparation of students for future success and student engagement and well-being. 

A memo from Lecce and the deputy education minister circulated to school boards on Friday notes "local needs and perspectives including Francophone and/or Catholic needs," can be taken into account when developing plans to meet those priorities. 

That flexibility is an important proviso to any discussion of provincewide priorities, Abraham said.

"What happens in Toronto is not what happens in Thunder Bay, it's not what happens in Renfrew. And we need to have the flexibility to reflect the needs of our community, which is, after all, the benefit of having locally elected trustees," she said. 

The memo notes the province plans to bring in regulations in time for the school year to establish a new certificate pathway to get more student-teachers into the classroom. It says the certificate will give teacher candidates more hands-on learning experience and provide boards with "flexibility to address short-term teacher supply needs." 

That has raised concerns among some teachers' unions, which are in the midst of negotiating new contracts with the province. 

The president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation called the new certification steam a "Band-Aid" solution to larger attraction and retention issues. 

"With 40,000 qualified teachers in the province, we don't need to have student teachers in the classroom," president Karen Littlewood wrote in a statement. "We need to have good working conditions so that we are attracting and retaining qualified professionals."

The province also says it will mandate that the Ontario College of Teachers cut down on how long it takes to issue its certification decisions for internationally trained teachers, from its current 120-day target to 60 days.  

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 31, 2023. 

Jordan Omstead, The Canadian Press