After years of calls from some educators and advocacy groups to end the practice, the Ontario government says it will do away with academic streaming in Grade 9.
Streaming — in which students must choose to pursue either an “academic” or “applied” track when they begin high school — has been shown to disproportionately affect Black and low-income students when it comes to graduation rates and the chance of going to a post-secondary institution.
Details of the province’s decision were first published in the Toronto Star on Monday morning. In an exclusive interview with the newspaper, Education Minister Stephen Lecce called streaming a “systemic, racist, discriminatory” practice.
Ontario is one of the few places in Canada that continues to separate students into the hands-on applied stream and the post-secondary-track academic stream as they start high school.
A 2017 report led by York University professor Carl James found that Black teens in the Greater Toronto Area were being streamed into applied course tracks at significantly higher rates than other students.
Fifty-three per cent of Black students were in academic programs as compared to 81 per cent of white and 80 per cent of other so-called racialized students, meaning those who are part of other visible minorities. Conversely, 39 per cent of Black students were enrolled in applied programs, compared to 18 per cent of other racialized groups and 16 per cent of white students.
Meanwhile, a 2015 report from the group People for Education found that students taking applied courses in Grade 9 were much less likely to go to university and that students from low-income groups were more likely to enrol in applied courses.
The Toronto District School Board, which began phasing out streamed courses in Grades 9 and 10 in recent years, previously found that only 40 per cent of students who took an applied course in Grade 9 graduated within five years.
Ban on suspensions for younger students
The Ministry of Education also says it will implement a ban on suspensions for students in junior kindergarten to Grade 3, another practice that has been shown to disproportionately impact Black students.
The 2017 study by James reported that 42 per cent of all Black students in the Toronto, York, Peel and Durham school boards had been suspended at least once by the time they leave high school.
The issue was also highlighted in a recent third-party review of the Peel District School Board that painted a damning picture of dysfunction among administrators who are ill-prepared to deal with anti-Black racism directly affecting students.
The review found that black students make up only 10.2 per cent of the secondary school population in Peel but represent about 22.5 per cent of the students receiving suspensions. Further, reviewers heard anecdotally that some principals “use any excuse” to suspend Black students, including wearing hoodies or hoop earrings.
The ministry says it will also work to ensure that there are appropriate penalties for educators who make racist comments or behave in a discriminatory way.