Black students in Toronto streamed into courses below their ability, report finds

Report also finds black students suspended at much higher rates than counterparts

Posted: April 24, 2017
Last Updated: April 24, 2017

A new report says black students face an achievement and opportunity gap in GTA schools and found that black students are suspended at much higher rates than their counterparts in Toronto. (Peel District School Board/Facebook)

A new report has found that large number of black students are being streamed into applied instead of academic programs and they are suspended at much higher rates than their counterparts in Toronto.

The report, led by York University professor Carl James, followed consultations with 324 parents, students, educators, administrators in Toronto and surrounding Peel, York and Durham regions. It used data from the Toronto District School Board.

It found that 53 per cent of black students were in academic programs as compared to 81 per cent of white and 80 per cent of other racialized students. Conversely, 39 per cent of black students were enrolled in applied programs, compared to 18 per cent of other racialized groups and 16 per cent of white students.

The research also found that 42 per cent of all black students have been suspended at least once by the time they finish high school.

"Black students face an achievement and opportunity gap in GTA schools," the report reads. 

The report says educational streaming, a policy in which students are grouped based on ability, was supposed to have ended in 1999 but TDSB data shows that black students continue to be directed towards essential and applied programs of study and away from academic courses, more so than white and other racialized students.

"Participants in the consultations agreed that the promise of a quality education remains elusive for black students; a situation that is evident in all the school boards," the report reads.

"They felt that the TDSB data provides a portrait of black students that should prompt school boards throughout the GTA—if not all of Ontario— to look at their own situation."


According to the report, participants said black children begin kindergarten with ambition, confidence, excitement to learn, and high self-esteem, but are "gradually worn down" by the attitudes of teachers towards them and the education system in general.

Tana Turner, an equity consultant who facilitated the consultations, said action is needed to improve the academic journey and educational outcomes of black students.

"If we believe Ontario has one of the best educational systems in the world, we must acknowledge that the current outcomes for black students are unacceptable. We can and must do better," she said.

Alternative forms of discipline needed

James said the suspension rates of black students are of major concern.

"It destroys the confidence, the potential, the possibilities, so we're going to have to start thinking of other ways of showing students what they're doing might not be appropriate," he said.

He said improving the educational outcomes of black students in Toronto requires a collaborative effort by school boards, teachers, parents and community members.


Develop 'race equity lens,' ministry urged

The report makes several recommendations. Among other things, it urges the Ontario education ministry to:

TDSB to see what it can learn from report

Ryan Bird, media relations officer for the TDSB, said the board will review the report.

"In the upcoming days and weeks, we'll be reviewing this report to see what can be learned from it. For some time now, the TDSB has been working to review all programs with a specific focus on equity and how we can support our students in a more equitable way," he said.

According to the TDSB, applied course have an emphasis on concrete and practical learning, whereas academic courses have an emphasis on theoretical and conceptual learning. Many university applications require a student to complete academic courses to be considered for admission. 

The report was released at the third annual conference of the Ontario Alliance of Black Educators at York University on Friday.

With files from Shanifa Nasser