The Ontario government plans to add 1,000 teachers and other educators in elementary schools to target reading and math skills after widespread concerns of learning loss during the pandemic.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce pledged on Sunday $180-million for programs designed to turn around disappointing results released in November, 2022, that showed elementary students struggling in reading, writing and math.

Last fall the Education Quality and Accountability Office released its latest assessments that showed just 73 per cent of Grade 3 students were meeting the provincial standard in reading and writing in 2021-2022, down from 77 per cent recorded in 2018-2019. In math, Grade 3′s were marginally worse in 2022 with 59 per cent meeting the standard (down one percentage point from 2019). However, among Grade 6 students less than half met the provincial standard in 2022 (47 per cent) down from 50 per cent in the 2019 assessment.

At the time Mr. Lecce announced the government would roll out “math action teams” to address the issue, and on Sunday he reiterated that pledge saying $70-million would be spent hiring 300 educators with an aim to “triage” schools that scored in the lowest 20 per cent of the EQAO scores. “We will double the number of school math teacher coaches‚ we will be funding one dedicated math lead in every single board to spearhead math training,” he said at a press conference at an Etobicoke library.

The majority of the money – $109-million – will go toward an “overhaul” of the languages curriculum to be delivered before the next school year begins in September, 2023, pay for software to screen all children in Grade 1 and 2 for foundational skills and hire 700 specialty educators to target areas of high need among the province’s 3,960 elementary schools.

“Some of this is old money that’s already been announced,” said CUPE-Ontario School Boards Council of Unions president Laura Walton, referring to the provincial budget released in March that pledged two-year commitments of $25-million for reading supports and $12.6-million for math.

Sunday’s announcement is also less than half what the government offered in October, 2022, in payments to parents, Ms. Walton said. The ministry pledged $365-million to give parents $200 a child ($250 for children with special needs) that was intended to be spent on private tutoring or other educational supports.

She argued that new education funding would be better spent shrinking class sizes for early learners and getting early childhood educators for all kindergartners; currently, split classes that combine senior kindergarten and Grade 1 students do not qualify for an ECE.

Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, one of the province’s four major teachers unions with about 83,000 members, declined to offer detailed comment on Sunday, but did post a response on Twitter criticizing a lack of consultation on plans to roll out a new languages curriculum by September.

“Making critical curricular decisions without input from educators who are in classrooms delivering the curriculum is irresponsible,” the group wrote.

The Globe and Mail, April 16, 2023