Education Minister Liz Sandals talks math

Education Minister Liz Sandals says that there is a need to increase the number of math specialists teaching in Ontario classrooms, particularly within the elementary system. (CBC)

Almost 3000 Ontario teachers went to summer school to learn to teach math better, according to provincial Education Minister Liz Sandals.

"[We] spent $4 million this summer on giving teachers an opportunity to learn more about how to teach math," said Sandals in an interview with Craig Norris on The Morning Edition Tuesday.  "I was blown away, we had a huge number of teachers participating in that, almost 3000 teachers." 

The additional training was a move by the province to try to boost falling Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) math scores.

Sandals says the province is also working with local school boards to determine how much time kids in elementary school, especially in grades 4,5 and 6, are spending on math in the classroom. 

"At elementary there really aren't any provincial requirements for how much time you spend on math and we think that some of the issue may simply be giving kids a greater opportunity to practice problem solving," said Sandals. 

Contract negotiations to begin soon

The province will be renegotiating contracts with Ontario teachers starting this fall, a process that is likely to be tricky as teachers press for what they're calling 'real gains' while the Liberals try to put their financial house in order.

"There's no doubt that this is going to be a challenging round of bargaining, because the province does have to balance its budget," said Sandals about the contract negotiations between teachers and province that are starting soon.

In June, Sherry Freund, the president of bargaining for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation for Waterloo Region, told CBC K-W that the union was looking for more in this round of contract talks.

"We've made a contribution to this austerity agenda. We understand things are tight, but I think we're looking for some real gains in this round of bargaining," said Freund.

The current contracts expired August 31, along with legislation implemented by then-premier Dalton McGuinty in 2012 that put a two-year ban on strikes by teachers. 

The end of that ban, coupled with the situation in B.C., where 40,000 public school teachers are staying out of the classroom on what should be the first day of school, could add pressure to the contract negotiations in Ontario. 

In June, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers's Federation indicated that union members would recieve three quarters of their regular pay if they went on strike.

But Sandals said she has been hearing a lot of optimism from involved parties, even though she indicated that the bargaining process was likely to be lengthy, stretching through the fall and winter. 

"That's actually been the historical normal rhythm of bargaining in the school board sector," she said. "And I know better than to set time lines."

Sandals said she has already met with the Ontario Teachers Federation and has held preliminary discussions with unions.