Like most jurisdictions Ontario has an extensive, systematic curriculum review process. Curriculum is updated on a seven-year cycle designed to ensure that students are learning the required skills and knowledge with the most proven effective methods. The process requires consultation with:

  • Focus groups
  • Subject experts
  • Minister’s Advisory Council on Special Education
  • Faculties of Education
  • Employers
  • Parents
  • Students
  • Universities, colleges
  • Other branches of the Ministry of Education
  • Other ministries
  • NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations).

This input leads to recommended revisions which writing teams then use to revise the curriculum. When completed the revised curriculum is passed along for further consultation, then fact checked and published.

The process takes two years, and is an attempt to include as much input as possible. But you can’t make everyone happy, all the time, no matter how hard you try. Public education in Ontario tries to be everything to all people. Since over 90% of Ontario students attend public schools, a staggering number, public schools seems to be doing a terrific job. But when you are serving this many families, someone will always be displeased with something.

In 2010 Ontario released a revised version of its Health and Physical Education curriculum, designed by experts in the field in accordance with input from the various stakeholders. Part of the revision was a new sex education curriculum which conservative religious groups opposed almost immediately. In protest, they threatened to withdraw their children from public schools, and then premier Dalton McGuinty, afraid of the political fallout, withdrew the new sex education curriculum. Consequently, the current sex education curriculum is the same one written in the 1990’s, and is terribly outdated.

The curriculum review process was designed to prevent these kind of problems. The consultative framework ensures that the revised curriculum reflects both the best educational practices at the time and the recommendations of the stakeholders. By pandering to a vocal minority the government subverted that process and as a result our students receive a very outdated education.

Last year was the end of the seven-year curriculum review cycle in Ontario. In 2014 a new cycle begins and first up for revision is K-12 Mathematics, currently one of the most politically loaded topics in education.

Earlier this week the minister informed the mainstream media, via email, that the math curriculum review is”underway”. This isn’t normal practice. Lauren Ramey, Press Secretary to Liz Sandals, confirmed that “research” has begun, but was unwilling to commit to how far along the process is.

Today Education Minister Liz Sandals, said that Ontario students should “learn your multiplication tables” setting off speculation that the minister was reversing her position and “shaking up the curriculum“. I’m sure the minister knows that the current curriculum doesn’t require students to learn their multiplication tables, and we won’t see a revised curriculum for at least two years. Minister Sandals is playing politics with curriculum just as McGuinty did in 2010.

Just as before we have vocal groups agitating about curriculum and demanding change. “Back to basics” advocates want rote learning of math facts, teaching of algorithms and less discovery math. Minister Sandals is appeasing them by endorsing rote learning and announcing an already scheduled curriculum review to give the illusion of action.The minister is indicating, before the math review has started, a willingness to listen to special interest group demands about curriculum.

We’ve seen this before, and the results weren’t good. Appeasing special interest groups is a never-ending game of wack-a-mole. As soon as you meet one set of demands another group pops up demanding something contradictory. Real leadership is doing the right thing no matter the political cost.

A systematic consultation process with broad-based input is effective. Politicians need to let stakeholders and curriculum experts do their job. Our students’ education is too important to be impacted by something as trivial as politics.