Articles

The Crisis in EDUCATION

Thousands of children are getting a substandard education and the booming birth rate is lining up even bigger trouble for the future. That’s why school trustees, government officials and parents are demanding

SIDNEY KATZ April 1 1953
Articles

The Crisis in EDUCATION

Thousands of children are getting a substandard education and the booming birth rate is lining up even bigger trouble for the future. That’s why school trustees, government officials and parents are demanding

SIDNEY KATZ April 1 1953

The Crisis in EDUCATION

Thousands of children are getting a substandard education and the booming birth rate is lining up even bigger trouble for the future. That’s why school trustees, government officials and parents are demanding

SIDNEY KATZ

CONCLUSION

PROBABLY the most worried and harassed group of men in Canadian public life today are the 71,889 school trustees serving on 21,141 school boards across the country. They are beset by a variety of irksome financial and administrative problems in urgent need of solution.

At the top of the list is the problem of money. Because of increased enrollments a record one hundred and forty-one million dollars was spent on school construction during 1951. But already our classrooms are bursting at the seams, and by 1954

we’ll need vast sums to build thousands of buildings to take care of an extra two hundred thousand youngsters.

The trustees are uneasy because not only are there more children, but the cost of educating each child lias gone up. In 1936 it cost eighty-nine dollars to educate one Edmonton pupil; today it’s t wo hundred.

“Where’s all the extra money to come from?” ask the trustees. Municipalities are paying seventy percent of the school bill, the provincial governments thirty percent. Trustees are reluctant to burden property owners with increased taxes. Provincial governments, approached for more money, reply “Go to Ottawa.” But Ottawa doesn’t believe in federal aid to education.

The trustees, as well as others, are worried because children in various regions don’t get the same educational opportunities. British Columbia in 1949 spent two hundred and forty-four dollars

A Saskatoon School Trustee Gives His Community" The Service Money Can't Buy"

on each school child; Newfoundland only seventyseven. “A negation of our democracy,” a spokesman for the Canadian Teachers’ Federation calls it. Similarly, the rural school child isn’t getting a square deal. Of all school-age children in Canada, ninety-four percent of urban youngsters go to school, but only seventy-five percent of the rural ones.

Our trustees and educators are plagued by religious controversies. Some groups believe there’s too much religion in the schools, others that there’s not enough, still others, that it’s the wrong kind.

Many features of the schools’ administration have been scored by trustees with a broad interest in education. Some areas have too many schools, each with its own independent board. In Swan River, Man., for example, there are two trustees for each teacher. And the Canadian Education Association reports that one out of every four rural school boards shows no interest in improving schools.

Where’s the MonefCeming Fron?

The majority of Canadians feel the effect of increased school costs most directly as local taxpayers. Thus it’s important to know what’s been happening to the community school bill.

The most important fact is that we’ve been suddenly forced to expand our school facilities at a time when everything is expensive. There was little building during depression and war, and then came a booming birth rate which jammed our classrooms to overflowing.

In Edmonton, for example, the schools have twenty-two hundred children they didn’t have last year; next year they’ll add another thirty-three hundred. The city has just completed a sevenmillion-dollar construction program; now it’s considering another one worth five millions. The need is urgent. In one high school I saw children rehearsing for a class program in the corridor in front of a washroom; further along, the corridor was jammed by fifty children studying at desks.

In Minto, N.B., a new twenty-five-room school was half empty three years ago; today the auditorium stage is a classroom. In other places, schools are using double, triple and quadruple shifts and conducting classes in attics, basements and rented stores.

The new residential suburbs and industrial sites are hardest hit by the enrollment wave. Last October Toronto Township opened the new sixroom Lynwood School. It now has two hundred and sixty pupils, with twenty-three additional ones drifting in every month. “We’ll soon have to hang the kids out of the windows,” says trustee Leslie Hughes. A twelve-hundred-unit housing development is going up in the southeastern corner of Vancouver. A minimum of two children is a residence requirement. That means that at least twenty-four hundred youngsters will require a school in an ai'ea that only has a handful of classrooms.

Better-paid teachers, better equipment, a more varied curriculum and the provision of special classes have all piled millions of dollars on the school budget. In 1939 the average male public-school teacher in Ottawa was earning $2,288; in 1951 he was getting $3,647. Toronto has found that maps, libraries, playgrounds, music rooms, projectors, gyms and auditoriums all cost money. In ten years ils school budget increased by ten million dollars.

Are the municipalit ies at the end of their financial rope as far as educational costs are concerned? Authorities like Dr. M. E. LaZerte, who heads a national trustee-teacher committee investigating school financing, believe so. “There soon won’t be enough money around to properly handle sewage, water supply and other obligations,” LaZerte says. An angry council in Ladysmith, B.C., where more than sixty percent of the budget is allocated to education, refused to lend the school board $3,299 to tide them over an operating budget. “They want our last penny,” said Mayor Leonard Ryan. In Port Arthur the council slashed fifty-seven thousand dollars from the school budget and refused to pay up until ordered to do so by'an Ontario court. Everywhere city fathers are reluctant to ask the property-owner for more money. They feel that he provides almost all the local revenue, yet only a quarter of this money benefits his property; the rest goes for education and other services which benefit all.

Another grievance of some municipalities is that they have to carry federally owned property free of taxation or at low rates. In Churchill, Man., for example, the assessed value of taxable property is seven hundred thousand dollars, yet the federally owned grain elevators and harbor installations are conservatively valued at more than five million dollars.

Should the provinces be giving more money to education? Provincial governments now feed they’re being more than generous. In eight years Ontario’s educational grants have jumped from eight to fifty-live millions New Brunswick’s grants have risen tenfold since 1913. In 1936 the provinces were only paying thirteen percent of the total school bill; today they’re paying two and three times that proportion. But school costs have been soaring even more rapidly than provincial grants.

The provincial governments claim it’s high time the federal government came to the rescue. Their argument is based on a cogent fact revealed in a study by the Canadian Federation of Mayors and Reeves; since 1930 the tax revenues of the federal government have jumped 729 percent, the provinces’ 252.6 percent, the municipalities’ only 31.4 percent. The federation claims that when the Fathers of Confederation made education a provincial - municipal responsibility they didn’t foresee this radical shift in taxation revenue.

Ottawa has turned a deaf ear to repeated pleas in parliament for financial succor. Federal authorities point out that if federal income has increased so have federal responsibilities. The last war cost ten billion dollars, defense costs are now two billion a year and another billion goes for social security. In the House Hon. Stuart Carson recently told the provinces, in effect, “You could spend more on education if you wanted to. We have given you favorable tax agreements. In the past five years you have rolled up surpluses totaling 660 million dollars. Between 1939-49 provincial expenditure on education increased by $116 millions, but on highways and bridges by $164 millions. It’s your business how you choose to spend your money.”

The argument that spending federal money on education would be unconstitutional is sometimes advanced. Under Section 93 of the BNA Act education was placed under provincial control. If the federal government was to start making sizeable contributions J it would give A a stranglehold on our schools, the argument goes. On the other hand, it’s pointed out that Ottawa is already paying thirty-five millions a year to universities, vocational and technical schools without complaints about interference. As for the constitutional propriety, the healthand - welfare field is also under pro¡ vincial jurisdiction, yet this year the

federal government will pay out $349 millions on family allowances and another $367 millions for old-age pensions.

Advocates of federal aid argue that a carefully planned system of grants to the provinces will correct the present injustice whereby a child who happens to be born in a poor province is destined to have a poor education. The American educator, Horace Mann, once said that “education is the great equalizer of the conditions of men.” But is this true in Canada where educational standards vary so greatly? In 1949 Alberta spent thirty-two dollars per capita on education, Prince Edward Island only thirteen.

Another victim of educational inequality is the rural school child. Only forty-one out of every hundred country children reach grade eight. The physical quality of the country school is apt to be low. In rural Manitoba, seventy-three percent of the youngsters drink water which is seldom or never tested, eighty-seven percent study in classrooms not equipped with artificial light, eighty-eight percent use outdoor toilets. Of Quebec’s nine thousand schools, eight thousand are one-room rural buildings contrasting sharply with the glass-and-brick showplaces in some of the larger centres.

A tried-and-true method of infusing

new blood into the rural school is for several small districts to combine and form a large school unit. For example, in 1944 the fifteen square miles surrounding Stanley, N.B., contained sixteen schools, most of them oneroomers, each run by its own board. Most of the eighteen teachers were poorly trained. In 1945 the Stanley Regional School District was formed and the main powers of administration vested in a single board. The sixteen ramshackle schools have since been reduced to six. A new half-milliondollar high school offers academic, home-economics, commercial and shop courses. There are ten times as many high-school students and the teaching staff has grown in quality and size.

The wholesale movement toward larger school units is probably the most significant and hopeful development in Canadian education in the past twenty years. In all Canada, 15,111 school districts have been replaced by 765 larger area boards. The larger unit idea equalizes school costs. The Milestone unit, near Regina, once contained ninety schools. But the people in the south part had poor land and, because of low assessments, paid a high rate of twenty-eight mills. The people in the north had rich land, highly assessed. They only paid four mills. When the larger unit was formed everybody ended up paying eleven mills and all had uniform education .

To further encourage equality Saskatchewan, like other western governments, has inaugurated a system of “equalization” grants. Thus, the relatively wealthy Moose Jaw unit receives fifteen percent of its educational costs from the province while the relatively poor Hudson Bay unit receives eighty percent.

In the larger unit more children go to school and slay longer. In the first three years of the Lamont, Alta., school division, enrollment in grade ten, eleven and twelve shot up while the number of grade-nine failures dropped. In Dauphin-Ochre (Manitoba’s only larger unit) high-school attendance has doubled.

The proposal to establish larger school units still meets with.stubborn resistance in many parts of Manitoba, Quebec, the Maritimes and Newfoundland. But wherever it has been tried it has met with approval, even by former opponents.

All taxpayers—urban and rural—are awed by present-day building costs and ask, “Do schools have to be so expensive?” In the Toronto area a twentythree-classroom high school now costs a million dollars. Is it true, as Ontario architect Burwell Coon says, “Schools are becoming fancy clubhouses”?

There are two opposing views on what kind of school buildings we should have. Dr. W. J. Dunlop, Ontario’s Minister of Education, believes we should build temporary inexpensive structures to get us over the present acute space shortage. His department

has announced it will make no more grants for gyms, swimming pools and household economic rooms. Walter Wagner, president of the Ontario Urban and Rural Trustees Association, on the other hand, refers to cheap schools as “oversized garages” that are so costly to keep in repair “that the cheap school becomes expensive in the end.”

Are rooms other than classrooms frills? Toronto’s Lawrence Park Collegiate, for example, was sharply criticized when it announced plans for another gymnasium. Yet the department curriculum requires three periods

a week of physical education for each of the school’s thirty-two teaching groups. How can it manage ninety-six periods in a week which contains only forty periods? Cafeterias are needed because so many pupils now bring their lunch. A Quebec principal defended his having a special student council room in this way: “This room is as valuable as any classroom. Students learn how to be leaders, how to plan, how to work together and how to handle money.” Furthermore, educators claim that the parents demand an attractive well - equipped school for their youngsters in spite of their grousing about the bills.

All the same, many school boards have been profligate with building funds. One eastern school, where only one hundred pupils take their lunch, has a cafeteria for five hundred. Many schools waste money on impressive entrances and lighting fixtures.

There are many ways to save money. A gymnasium can serve as an auditorium, a lab as a theatre, a library as a study room. Schools can serve the entire community by providing an evening meeting place for civic organizations. Floor plans can avoid waste space and money can be saved on materials. Expensive locks and hinges are often an extravagance. Painted concrete blocks can replace the conventional indoor lath-and-plaster wall. Some schools can be repaired instead of replaced. Ottawa saved almost a million dollars by modernizing the seventy-five-year-old Lisgar Collegiate instead of demolishing it.

The men with the power to reduce building costs in these ways are the school trustees. Chiefly due to the introduction of the larger units, the quality of trustee personnel has been improving during the past twenty years. Many are real experts in education. There are now more than a dozen trustees’ organizations and many trustees meet regularly with teachers’ committees to discuss ways and means of improving local schools. The Alberta Trustees’ Association sponsors a threeday course at Banff each year to help board secretary-treasurers raise their standards of performance. Apart from small expenses trustees are unpaid. Most share the views of Charles Hulse, of the Ottawa Public School Board: “You try to give the kind of service that money can’t buy. I can’t think of a more important job a citizen can do for his community.”

Just how much effort goes into the job of being a conscientious trustee is well illustrated by John McAskill, chairman of the Saskatoon Public School Board and vice-president of the Saskatchewan Trustees’ Association. Like most of his colleagues McAskill is a university graduate and an exteacher. He often has to neglect his haberdashery business. Last year, besides making eight out-of-town trips, he took two weeks off to attend educational conventions. The phone in his store is always ringing. Last fall, when the schools closed for two weeks on account of the polio epidemic, he was at the phone all day listening to advice and suggestions from parents, doctors and health officials. When there’s a new building to be erected he’s out examining sites or poring over plans with engineers, contractors and builders. Last year he attended more than one hundred meetings, four of them devoted to salary negotiations with teachers alone. The teachers’ confidence in McAskill is so great that, as a representative of the provincial trustees’ association, he’s often invited to go out trouble-fixing with Hector Trout, of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation. Recently they journeyed to Dalmeny where the board wanted to discharge a teacher because she used lipstick. Another time they went to North Battleford, where the principal had been summarily fired and a policeman posted at the door of the school to keep him from getting into his office.

Unfortunately, not all our trustees are of McAskill’s calibre. A Canadian Education Association survey a few years ago found that “about one quarter of our rural school-board members show no interest in improving the schools.” An important Quebec educationist says that about one half of the school boards in that province were doing a good job, many of the others were “uninterested, uneducated and rabidly opposed to change.” In many places a teacher’s job is safe only as long as he has a friend or relative on the school board. Recently, in Papineau County, two certified teachers with twelve years of experience were refused a raise from seven hundred dollars to a thousand. A job that fell vacant was given to a relative of the board chairman at the higher figure— a seventeen-year-old girl who hadn’t gone beyond grade seven. The provincial department of education caught wind of it and forced the local board to fire the girl and raise the salaries of the experienced teachers.

In many places the real enemy is public apathy. In two hundred and fifty communities in Manitoba the schools are operated by a provincial trustee because local residents are not interested enough to hold a meeting and elect their own board. Tn some places public disinterest makes it possible for the same trustees to be acclaimed for ten, twenty and even thirty years.

The Thorny Separate Schools

Many trustees are not qualified to serve because of their poor cultural and educational background. Their only purpose seems to be in keeping down the tax rate — like the stone-deaf British Columbia trustee who, for twenty years, voted against every proposal to extend the school’s services without understanding the issues involved. Tom McMaster, of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, once told a rural board chairman, “Public-spirited citizens like yourself are the bastions of society.” The chairman rose from his seat in anger, shouting, “You can’t call me that and get away with it!”

Hut the thorniest problem in education today is the separate-school issue. Roman Catholics have long believed their children should be educated in their own religious atmosphere. But mounting costs make the task of maintaining these separate schools more difficult every month.

The problem differs in each province. Ontario has a dual system of education: both public and Roman Catholic schools share in provincial grants and Roman Catholic citizens can choose to pay their taxes to support their own school system. Theoretically, this should work well. In practice, the Roman Catholic schools are financially starved. In Ottawa in a recent year the public schools had $213 to spend on each child; the Catholics only $96.

How does this happen in a community like Ottawa, where the population is more or less evenly divided on religion? In the first place, many Roman Catholic families are not supporting their school system. About eight percent of them are sending their children to public schools where, more frequently, there are kindergartens, special classes and other advantages. Catholic businessmen are also defaulting. Of 2,023 limited companies in Ottawa only one hundred paid their taxes to the separate schools. The

explanation lies in the fact that the public-school mill rate is much lower than the separate-school rate. “We can’t stay in business if our competitors are paying the lower rate,” say the Catholic businessmen. Again, the law provides that school taxes received from corporations should be divided between the two school systems according to the proportion of Catholic and non-Catholic shareholders. But in giant industries, who knows the religion of the shareholders, or where they live, or how often their shares are traded? Of the tax levy on fifty-nine million

dollars’ worth of corporation property the Roman Catholics received one million.

All this has left the Ottawa separate schools in a bad way. The Ottawa elementary schools have a budget of $3.1 millions; with the same number of children the separate schools have $1.6 millions. They are $1.6 millions in debt; they urgently need another four million dollars for repairs and new construction. Many of their buildings are like t he St. Patrick School for girls on Nepean Street, built in 1877: the heating and wiring are on their last

legs and bricks frequently fall out of the crumbling walls.

The issue evokes the most heated arguments in British Columbia which doesn t spend tax money on separate schools. About fifteen percent of the province’s population is Roman Catholic. In Vancouver there are twenty-five Catholic schools, all supported privately by local parishioners, who also pay public-school taxes.

The individual parishes are having a rough t ime of it. Father Aust in Clint on for example, a soft-spoken priest with wavy white hair, is in charge of Guardian Angel’s parish, Vancouver, located east of Stanley Park near English Bay. His school is attended by one hundred and twenty children and is supported by the monthly three-dollar payments made by their parents. He receives no grants from the city or province. He pays eight hundred dollars a year improvement tax. To make up the four-thousand-dollar annual deficit Clinton’s parishioners conduct bingo games and whist drives and are now considering showing sixteen-millimetre films. His teachers are four Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception. He’d like to have some lay teachers but he can’t afford them.

The British Columbia Catholic Education Association has been formed to fight, at the provincial level, for the right to establish a separate-school system. Most politicians avoid the issue. “It’s too hot to handle,” says Father Clinton, who would like to see separate schools integrated with the public schools, as in the Maritime provinces. They would be taught by Roman Catholic certified teachers, follow the provincial curricula and be provincially inspected. But the whole course would give the children a religious attitude. “Such a step wouldn’t destroy the public-school system,” Clinton says.

Most British Columbians—like the Vancouver Council of Women—disagree. A city like Vancouver, they argue, has excellent schools open to all. Any who want a particular religion taught should be prepared to pay for their own schools.

Newfoundland provides the best example of education conducted along purely denominational lines. The Roman Catholics, Salvation Army, Church of England and the United Church each have their own system, complete with superintendents and inspectors. Small settlements that can’t afford to support one good school sometimes have two or three; in one square mile area there are seven schools. In one community there are two two-room schools, each with sixty pupils, where grades one to eleven are taught. Piach school has three gradeeleven pupils. About a quarter of Newfoundland’s teachers leave the profession each year, the highest turnover in Canada. “They leave in sheer disgust,” explains an official of the Newfoundland Teachers’ Association. “As long as all this duplication continues, our standards are bound to remain low.”

The province of Quebec’s dual school system, on the whole, works out well. The head of the Roman Catholic and Protestant schools each has the title of deputy minister of education. Public funds are apportioned on the basis of the number of pupils enrolled. Both systems share provincial grants. “We’re embarrassed because the separate schools in other provinces aren’t getting the same square deal,” says Dr. Jim Paton, secretary of the Provincial Association of Protestant teachers. However in places like Montreal many Jewish families feel that neither the Catholic nor the Protestant schools are true public schools. As a result, one out of every four Jewish children in Montreal attends a Jewish day school.

Sloppy administration and inadequate financial backing can sabotage the efforts of the most skilful and best-intentioned teacher. The present weaknesses in our educational system have taken on a new urgency because of vastly increased enrollments and costs. If we fail to tackle our problems now then we’re guilty of turning our backs on our greatest potential asset— an educated youth, prepared to make their full contribution to the nation’s health and welfare.