ARTICLES

OUR HIGH SCHOOLS ARE HEADED FOR A CRACK-UP

UNLESS WE hire another twenty-four hundred teachers right away build another twenty-five hundred classrooms raise more than a hundred million dollars to pay for them

Robert Walker May 21 1960
ARTICLES

OUR HIGH SCHOOLS ARE HEADED FOR A CRACK-UP

UNLESS WE hire another twenty-four hundred teachers right away build another twenty-five hundred classrooms raise more than a hundred million dollars to pay for them

Robert Walker May 21 1960

OUR HIGH SCHOOLS ARE HEADED FOR A CRACK-UP

UNLESS WE hire another twenty-four hundred teachers right away build another twenty-five hundred classrooms raise more than a hundred million dollars to pay for them

Robert Walker

ONE WAY TO DO IT: FEDERAL MONEY.

BUT IT MEANS A FIGHT

Eight years ago the children of the baby boom that followed World War II began toddling into Canadian elementary schools. They brought confusion, then alarm, as nearly seven hundred thousand youngsters reached school age within two years.

We were short ten thousand teachers; classrooms overflowed until two or three six-year-olds took turns at the same desk the same day, and one school trustee predicted, "We ll soon be hanging children out the windows.” Above all. school-board budgets rose so suddenly and steeply that some town councils refused to meet them until dragged into court.

Now', with the crest of the student flood towering over the high schools, educators and legislators are forced to ask if we can keep financing education the same old way much longer. Under the ninety-threeyear-old British North America Act, the provinces control—and pay for—education, splitting the cost with local governments. Are the cities and towns, even the provinces, going broke paying for schools? Can the federal government help? Will it? And would the provinces accept such help?

Time for pondering such questions is running out. This coming September, the older of the postwar babies, some three hundred thousand summerbronzed teenagers, will march into high school, abruptly becoming twice the problem they’ve been for eight years. The high schools now hold, with great difficulty, about 780,000 pupils and it’s estimated there will be more than a million in less than four years. After the sharp postwar peak, the birth rate continued to climb steadily. Meanwhile, we’ve been sending an ever greater percentage of teenagers to high school — and keeping them there longer.

This means a new kind of crisis in education, according to Dr. R. B. Jackson, research director of the Ontario College of Education, “unique in our history and unique in the history of the western world.” Jackson and other education authorities warn we must not be lulled because elementary schools seem to have worked a miracle by absorbing three million pupils, whom they are somehow educating.

What’s different about CONTINUED ON PAGE 62

continued from page 26

“The cost of education: twelve times what we spend on movies but half what we pay to run cars”

the high-school crisis? Chiefly, these three things:

► It costs more than twice as much to educate a high schooler — in Ontario, for instance, $524 annually, compared with $241 for a grade-school youngster — because high-school teachers earn more and high-school buildings cost more.

^ High-school teachers are harder to find because they’re supposed to have more training — at least four years beyond high-school graduation — although right now one quarter of our thirty-six thousand secondary teachers lack this minimum qualification.

^ School trustees are already at the climax of a decade of borrowing, building and teacher hunting that has surpassed the effort of the previous fifty years, and they’re running out of places to look for more teachers and more credit.

For example, while the teachers’ colleges struggled to enroll more student teachers, married women with education degrees were lured back to classrooms, but this source is largely exhausted. And, as New Brunswick’s deputy minister of education. Dr. F. H. MacDiarmid, remarks. “They volunteered to meet an emergency and can't be expected to remain indefinitely.”

Neither can the school boards borrow indefinitely to build. In 1946, after the restricted building of the Depression and the war. Canadian boards had debenture debts of only a hundred and thirty million dollars. Today they owe a billion and

a half, most of it borrowed at inflated interest rates to build schools at inflated construction costs. Little of this outlay has been preparation for the bigger enrollments of the future or to refurbish worn-out buildings; it has barely kept pace with current needs.

The total annual cost of education at the end of the war was less than two hundred million dollars and last year it was up to $1,137,000,000 — approaching six times as much. This is roughly twelve times what we paid last year to get into movies, or three hundred million dollars more than we spent on drinking, or nearly half what we spent on passenger cars. Moreover, with education currently financed almost entirely by ordinary municipal and provincial taxes, less than a hundred million dollars came last year from the federal government. This arrangement, Dr. Jackson predicts, “will bring us to the end of the present taxation road within five years.”

This is where we stand. What do we have to do about the high schools? The cities, towns and provinces will have to find more than a hundred million extra dollars in the next couple of years. A quarter of a million teenagers coming through the doors into the first year of high school is what school boards have come to consider normal. This will increase next September and in September 1961 by an estimated average of fortyfive thousand children both years. Dr. Murray Ross, president of Ontario’s new-

ly chartered York University, says, “What happens after that, it scares us to think; we now expect the third stage of the crisis —in the universities—as early as 1962.”

But merely to give ninety thousand extra high-school pupils a place to sit down in the next two years, we must build twenty-five hundred new classrooms, plus about four hundred gymnasiums, cafeterias. auditoriums and laboratories, to say nothing of libraries and swimming pools. Assuming, optimistically, that construction costs get no higher, this means school boards must borrow about seventyfive million dollars and will pay back over twenty years, even if interest rates get no higher, about a hundred and forty million.

Free school-bus service, a minor item before the provinces began closing rural local schools and driving pupils to centralized schools, will get progressively costlier. It already costs nearly a hundred thousand dollars every day of the school year for everything from the conventional school bus to three surviving horse-drawn carts in New Brunswick and a pair of modern snowmobiles in Alberta.

Twenty-four hundred extra high-school teachers, needed to maintain the pupilteacher ratio of twenty-eight to one, will cost nearly fifteen million dollars annually in extra salaries, assuming we can find that many teachers.

One Saturday in March, the Toronto Globe and Mail set an all-time record with eight pages of want ads for teachers

in Ontario alone. Dr. C. P. Collins, research officer of the Canadian Education Association, says, “While provincial education departments are understandably reluctant to say it, construction has.been completed on at least one high school in nearly every province in the last few years, where the school then stood empty for six months or more because it lost the competition for teachers. The result is classes of fifty or sixty in the nearest functioning high school.”

In trying to predict whether we will find enough money, buildings and teachers for our high schools, the greatest number of question marks surround the teacher shortage.

Unlike most of organized labor, Canadian teachers called enthusiastically for more automation in their field as long ago as their 1958 national conference. But teaching machines and educational television, bo'th at the crudely experimental stage in any case, are emerging as supplements to the live teacher. Assumption University, at Windsor, Ont., is trying out a language-teaching device but no high school is using one. The national CBC network telecasts a weekly half-hour educational show, supplemented by local shows, but no Canadian authority foresees television replacing even one teacher for decades at least.

On as much as fifty percent of the examinations in some high-school grades, British Columbia and Alberta use machines to mark papers, the chore that puts

the greatest strain in the shortest time on teachers. This spring, for the first time, Ontario will try the machine-type tests on thirty percent of five of the papers in its senior-matriculation or high-school-leaving exams.

In a basement housing the research department of the Ontario College of Education. I recently watched a pretty girl, seated at a desk-like electronic device, marking interim “achievement tests” in English from Ontario high schools. She knew nothing about teaching English but to mark these tests she did not need to know a word of the language. She slipped one paper into a slot under her right hand and turned a switch under her left. Muttering to itself, the machine read, electronically, a series of pencil checks; a needle on a six-inch semi-circular dial in front of the girl quivered up to the figure “45.” She jotted this mark on the paper. Compared to a trained teacher, who can mark perhaps fifty essay-type papers a day, this girl can process a thousand. Even this is slow; the research department has ordered a punch-card calculator to mark six thousand papers hourly.

Some educators are uneasy about the “black-or-white, check-only-one” type of question this technique requires; even proponents of the machines say they'll never entirely supplant the essay question and the human marker’s judgment. But Dr. Jackson, who supervised creation of these special exams, says, “Considering the coming enrollment, we'll eventually have to use them for everything they can measure.”

For the immediate emergency, meanwhile, the schools still need more fleshand-blood teachers. Dr. D. C. Munroe, for instance, who heads McGill University's Institute of Education at Montreal, says he has six hundred student high-

school teachers currently enrolled, “but we should have seven hundred next year and eight hundred the year after.”

Departments of education and local school boards have tried everything from higher salaries to public oratory to attract teachers. For example:

In Nova Scotia last year, normal-school teachers tramped around to every senior high school, armed with literature and speeches on teaching as a career, while the province approved another seventy thousand dollars in prospective teachers’ scholarships, twenty-five thousand of it for new high-school teachers.

In British Columbia, another nineteen high schools recently formed Future Teachers’ Clubs — sixty percent of provincial high schools had them already — in which teenagers watch teachers in action and then get the feel of the profession by taking a turn at instructing younger pupils.

Since 1955, for university graduates, Ontario has run emergency courses, in the humid heat of the Toronto summer, that turn out high-school teachers of a sort without sending them through two years of education college. Also, during the winters of the two-year course, these people may teach right away under temporary certificates from the department of education. This summer, the courses will spread to London and Kingston, in the hope of increasing enrollment from 950 to about 1,100, the number of extra teachers needed to meet next autumn’s influx.

Happily, some of the technically “unqualified” people attracted lately to teaching by publicity given to the shortage, are excellent natural teachers. Several engineers, thrown out of work two winters ago when the research program on the Avro Arrow was discontinued at Toronto,

are doing well as summer-course highschool teachers.

One school - board official told me: “Some people coming to us from industry are more promising than some of the supposedly trained deadwood in my schools. One man. earning $9,600 a year in industry, took a cut last year to $5,100 because, as he said, he felt he was doing nothing worthwhile with his life. But you can't hire such a man unless you show the department you’ve tried and failed to get a teacher with a certificate. What I sometimes do, and so do some other boards, is line up the desirable man; wait until the last minute; put a tiny ad in the paper; and pray no ‘qualified’ dunce will see it. If not, we get our letter of permission and hire the man we want.”

What has given the profession its massive growth in the last ten years, however, has been the higher salary, followed by a

lagging but inevitable professional prestige. As Dr. Murray Ross sardonically remarks, “Teachers are almost up to the used-car salesmen’s bracket.” Alberta, for example, employed about six thousand teachers at the end of the war for less than nine million dollars a year; today, with only about twice as many teachers, it's paying them forty-one million. The national average for a high-school teacher is now $5,804 annually.

While paying these higher salaries, school boards found their budgets subject to a two-way stretch. In the last ten years, they’ve undertaken about sixteen hundred building projects to supply three hundred thousand new classrooms. Yet the pace is getting faster. D. E. Pope, deputy director of education for the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal, told me: “Within four years, we’ll probably have twenty thousand pupils in our high-school

system, an average jump of a thousand every autumn. We hope to complete two new schools, each with twelve hundred pupil places, by next September; then, two more of similar size by September 1961. But. by that time, the old Westmount high school must be replaced, so we'll just about be ready."

Hamilton. Ont., where the enrollments of nearly four high schools are now housed on the shift system in two normal-size buildings, was also looking forward to two high schools for next September. But Hamilton is now sure it won't be ready.

Thanks to a four-month carpenters' strike, neither school will be ready until next winter. This means that Hamilton's Flill Park high school, itself only five years old. with a rated capacity of 1.475 pupil places, has a current load of twenty-five hundred and will open in the fall with three thousand pupils — more than two for every available desk.

In Vancouver, where, according to opposition members of the provincial government. seven thousand high-schoolers will be on shifts next year, builders' strikes have also been threatened. Leslie

Peterson, minister of education, says the students won’t have to go on shift if construction is not halted.

The province recently bought eight million dollars' worth of school-board bonds, which should buy about four hundred classrooms, and Peterson believes tight money is the heart of the schools’ troubles: "The rates at which school

boards must borrow — six or seven percent — arc not merely high. They are usurious." he charges.

Nearly every province has adopted some scheme in the last decade to help

municipalities finance schools. From Ontario west, all cities and towns as well as rural areas, get some direct grants or a "protected market" for their bonds. In every province east of Ontario, except Newfoundland, the larger cities like Halifax. Fredericton and Montreal, must pay their own construction costs. But Quebec, for instance, always guarantees municipal bonds to make them easier to sell.

According to education authorities, however, this is good for the school boards' troubles the way a tweed coat is good for dandruff — it's not really the cure needed.

All the obvious cures are unpalatable to someone. Several authorities suggest a provincial sales tax. earmarked for education. but they concede sales taxes fall as heavily on the poor as on the rich.

Dr. Jackson believes we need "a committee or a commission, whatever you want to call it." to study the bases of assessment on property, from which municipalities get their inadequate schoolbudget money. But he adds, "it's neither fair nor reasonable to expect property owners to pay for everything. The committee should also study the problem of sharing school costs with the federal government."

However, one education-department official told me; "I can name five provincial premiers who would fight bitterly, no matter how broke they were, against Ottawa's moving into education in a big way."

Other considerations: Ottawa has

shown no apparent eagerness to start footing any bills; and such a move, even without a request for control of schools, would mean an amendment to the British North America Act. Dr. Collins, of the Canadian Education Association, told me: "I've heard some legal opinions that Ottawa could not. even if it wanted to. give away money for education with no strings attached — as the BN A Act stands."

The BN A Act was passed by men who couldn't have foreseen our situation. Even at the turn of the century. Nova Scotia, for example, contributed a quarter of a million dollars a year to education. Over the forty years leading to World War II. this only multiplied five times. But in the fifteen years since the war. it has multiplied again seven times and Nova Scotia today pays the schools an annual fifteen million dollars.

"Education has existed in those fifteen years," Dr. Jackson remarks, "in a climate of such continual crisis that no emergency, except possibly a school on fire, alarms us any more. We survived what we thought we couldn’t in the Fifties.

“But what we called the 'baby boom was a birth-rate increase to perhaps 350,000 a year. The rate this year may reach half a million, and all those children will cost more to educate than today's pupils.

"It's good, of course, that we want to give them all the education they can assimilate. But we must snap out of our dream of pie in the sky' for everyone forever.”