Are students involved in the decision-making process, actually involved in the Board meetings and policy- making process?
Green: As recently as June, I met with a group called Students of Toronto Against Racism. They weren't interested in giving me their opinions and going away. They were much more interested in becoming involved in the policy setting groups, where we will be moving to the next stage of our anti-racist work and our multicultural, multi-ethnic policies. Next year, we are initiating opportunities for students at the second level and some at the intermediary level to take part in our sub-committees, which come up with the policy that goes to the Board on a whole range of topics, including transition from elementary to secondary school. We've also begun inviting students to professional development sessions for teachers.
You say by the year 2000, about 70 per cent of the student population won't have English as their first language. What do you have to accommodate them, so they are integrated within the social aspect of the school system?
Green: English as second language is a real challenge in Toronto. We're trying to use the monies for ESL a little more smartly. We've established two centres that attempt to deal with the whole family, not just the student, and assess how we might integrate the efforts of the Board with all the other agencies servicing Canada's new citizens. In doing that, we've found we have avoided the replication of a lot of service and been much more precise and direct about how kids could be helped. There are two kinds of ESL instruction. One takes a young person into a kind of immersion setting for a brief and early time in order to give them the basic they'll need. As soon as possible we attempt to move students who are not speaking English fluently, into a setting where they are in interaction daily around important ideas and concepts with students who speak English and don't speak their language.
Dominico: At Albert Campbell Collegiate in Scarborough. In 1990, a native language survey found that 39.1 per cent of the students had English as their mother tongue; 36.4 per cent claimed Cantonese; the other 25 per cent listed 50 other languages as their mother tongue. This has implications for the federal government, which wants us to talk with them about national goals. I think most of us would like some national goals.
What do you think of standardized testing and why?
Green: We need testing of students' performance; more than standardized testing. It's essential for parents to know where their children are in relation to other children, or its essential for those children to know that. But I think it's also important that the tests we use are tests that reflect what children have learned and should be learning. We have a sophisticated system called benchmarks, which looks at children and standardizes children's responses across at certain age levels at five different levels of performance.
Dominico: I don't want to use the jargon, so let's go back. Are we going to measure children against each, or against specific things we think are important. I'd like our children measured against specific learning benchmarks. Let's agree on what we think as a community is important and let's measure the children against that.
How do you switch your roles from time to time, so we can get something that works together and not hear the extremes of perspectives that we are hearing?
Green: First, the observation that people work in isolation is fair, but it's also true particularly in the last five years there have been some very significant efforts and some of them quite successful to cut across the boundaries of a particular school board, or a particular institution to take advantage of the things that are working well and translate them and transport them so we don't have to reinvent the wheel. We're already on our Board well along the way to identifying and remedying some of the difficulties we all agree exist. I think we've reached a point now where partnerships of every kind are going to be essential. We aren't going to be able to determine our own agendas alone and it's naive, it's arrogant, to so assume.
Dominico: I couldn't agree more that we need to collaborate. Lately we're told so often we should be making schools more competitive. I'm not sure I want more pressure on children. I don't want higher suicide rates. I want them to learn to survive and function, but I don't want any more pressure on kids. I'd be quite willing to work with the Toronto Board.
What is it at Limitless Learning that is so fundamentally different from what is done in the public system now?
Every day our teachers have an interaction, one-on-one, with every student. We want three things to happen: we want the homework checked every day for two basic reasons. We believe active learning and the doing of homework is very important. Second, we want to check the homework right off the bat as it gives us a way into this particular student that day. How are they doing? Did they learn what I tried to teach yesterday? If they didn't if there's a block there what's the sense of going on? I don't want what Toffler calls the factory model; I don't want the covert curriculum; sameness, standardization, submission, willingness to do rote tasks, punctuality call it what you will. So, on the basis of the homework I try to teach the students something that day that that student can learn that day.