On the heels of the province's announcement that it will begin collecting and analyzing data on the ethnicity of students, a new report finds Toronto students from racialized and marginalized communities are at a significant disadvantage due to the "streaming" process in schools.
The report from the non-profit Social Planning Toronto suggests that, despite "provincial claims that streaming has been abolished," quantitative data from the Toronto District School Board shows students are still organized into pathways based on course levels.
"While our education system strives to level the playing field for marginalized students, children of colour and lower income students are overrepresented in lower streams which can limit their future opportunities and may not reflect their goals or potential," reads the report.
The research, which included 52 in-depth interviews with students and parents in the Weston-Mount Dennis area, also found Grade 8 may be too early to make important decisions about selecting course levels.
Sean Meagher, executive director of Social Planning Toronto, said the research was qualitative — a snapshot of one community, which he said reflects what's happening across Ontario.
"There are pretty universal challenges," he explained. "13-year-olds are too young to be making major life decisions in every part of the province."
'Stigma' surrounds streaming
The report's findings reflect what Andre Harriott experienced as a student in Toronto and Brampton.
Now 23-years-old and a recent graduate of York University, Harriott is pursuing his master's in education. Growing up, he was first an International Baccalaureate student — a challenging, globally-recognized stream — and later switched to academic. But many of his friends, he said, were in applied classes, or taking a mix of courses.
"I noticed the effects on their self-esteem," Harriott said. "Friends who were in applied didn't see themselves going into academic. They felt it was too hard, or only for the 'smarter kids.'"
He noticed the stigma and polarization it caused, and also a lack of orientation about learning goals and expectations between different streams — something he said came up repeatedly as a concern among students when he was a peer researcher for the Social Planning Toronto report.
"We have to look at which kinds of students are being streamed," he said. "Why in the applied streams is there over-representation of racialized students, Black students?"
Decision-makers in the education realm need to brainstorm a better way, he added, which could mean taking cues from high schools that are giving de-streaming a shot, including Toronto's Oakwood Collegiate Institute which has chosen to de-stream Grade 9.
"It holds kids to a higher level of standards or excellence," Harriott said.
Pilot underway at 16 TDSB schools
In a statement, the Toronto District School Board said the report outlines the "known challenges and outcomes associated with the practice of streaming and further demonstrates the need for change."
"That is why a number of TDSB schools have already been supporting students in opting into academic level courses as a way of enhancing potential options," the statement continues.
There is a pilot underway at 16 schools to learn more about the strategies needed to undertake this on a system-wide basis, the TDSB said, which lines up with the province's new direction.
Announced on Thursday by Education Minister Mitzie Hunter, Ontario's three-year strategy includes revisiting the Grade 9 streaming of kids into applied or academic courses.
Meagher praised the announcement, which also includes collecting and analyzing demographic data to better address systemic barriers.
"But they also need to change the practices," he added.