Ideology trumps merit in Toronto schools

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Appeared in the Epoch Times, June 27, 2023
Ideology trumps merit in Toronto schools

As the old saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Poor grammar notwithstanding, this is in fact very good advice. You shouldn’t take apart your car’s engine, for example, when things are running smoothly. It’s a surefire way to create problems where none had previously existed.

Too bad the administrators and trustees of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) never took this advice to heart. It might have saved them from a disaster of their own making.

Last year, for its specialized high schools, the TDSB replaced its merit-based admissions process with a lottery system, despite widespread opposition from parents and students.

Things have not gone well. In an ironic twist of fate, a computer error resulted in students from under-represented groups (such as Black and Indigenous students) only being considered for the 25 per cent of spots allotted to meet a diversity quota. The remaining 75 per cent of spots were, strangely, not open to them. In other words, instead of reducing “inequity,” the new lottery system robbed students from under-represented groups of spots that should rightfully (based on merit) have been theirs.

You’d think that TDSB trustees and administrators would learn from this mistake. Instead, they doubled down and went into overdrive to justify their decision.

For example, last month the TDSB released a report, which predictably concluded that the lottery system was a good idea. What the TDSB didn’t anticipate was that parents would take matters into their own hands and ask Marcin Peski, a University of Toronto economics professor, to conduct an in-depth analysis of this report’s methodology.

Peski found that the report was riddled with false citations, unattributed quotes and plagiarized text. Not only were approximately 20 per cent of the report’s citations false, but about half of the text was copied from other sources. Peski also concluded that the report’s author likely used an AI program such as ChatGPT to help write the report. TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird tried to absolve his employer from responsibility by blaming the author. But if the TDSB is going to commission and release a research report, it bears ultimate responsibility for what it allows to be published and distributed under its name.

Astonishingly, the TDSB also failed to anticipate that its new admissions policy would lead to an increase in applications and, consequently, longer waitlists, which it is managing poorly, raising the ire of frustrated parents.

While initial admissions decisions were made in December for next school year, waitlists expired in February or March (depending on whether it was a secondary or an elementary program). After this point, only students from the local catchment area were eligible for the waitlist. Of course, this essentially turned these specialized schools into regular neighbourhood public schools, which completely undermines their status as specialized schools.

This is what happens when ideology trumps merit. A rigid commitment to “equity” means that many public school boards, including the TDSB, are obsessed with erasing all differences between gender and racial groups. As a result, school boards make foolish decisions such as abolishing merit-based admissions policies for specialized schools.

With this schoolyear winding down, there’s still time for TDSB trustees and administrators to reverse course. Reinstating a merit-based admissions policy would be a positive sign that common sense can still prevail in the public education system. Ideology should not trump merit in schools.