Statement by James Ryan, President of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA)
March 5, 2014

The Progressive Conservative Party’s math achievement action plan causes serious concerns for Catholic teachers.

A large focus of the plan is on rote learning for mathematics. This is a simplistic solution to a very complex problem. Knowing the ‘fundamentals’ is important, and knowing the multiplication tables, for example, is already an expectation in the Ontario curriculum. However, to be successful, students also need to have advanced reasoning, cognitive and problem solving skills – which cannot be attained by simply focusing on rote learning.

 The focus on rote learning and a ‘back to the basics’ approach does not address the reality of what is happening with student math performance in Ontario, and avoids a deeper conversation on improving students’ math skills.

Recent PISA and EQAO results show that Ontario’s students rank above the OECD average when it comes to basic skills. The difficulty comes in how to apply those skills to more complex problems. As any math teacher can tell you, it’s one thing to know the multiplication tables; it’s another thing to understand when multiplication is needed to solve a problem and which numbers to multiply.

Additionally, the idea of introducing merit pay to reward the ‘best’ math teachers is an outdated idea that has repeatedly been shown to have no effect on improving student achievement. In fact, in many jurisdictions where it has been implemented, it has had a deleterious impact on student achievement. This is an indication that the Ontario PCs need to develop an education policy that serves Ontario students and not the ideological ideas of the Fraser Institute.

OECTA understands the need to improve student outcomes and is already engaging with the government and subject matter experts to improve teacher instruction in math and technology by offering more learning institutes and additional qualifications courses in math and technology instruction. We encourage the Ontario PCs to take the time to talk with teachers and students.

In doing this, they will gain a better understanding of what is going on in Ontario schools and thus be able to formulate a plan that will make a difference for students. As we move through the 21st Century, we must question whether 19th Century ideas are what’s really needed to help our students, and ultimately our society, compete and succeed.