Trustees on cash for grades

Community Nov 30, 2010 East York Mirror

It was not only the tweet heard round the country, but it garnered an appearance on CNN by the Toronto District School Board's (TDSB) top bureaucrat, Director of Education Chris Spence.

"Should we pay kids in our more disadvantaged communities to do well in school? Perhaps as part of a poverty reduction scheme?" Spence asked his almost 2,000 followers on Twitter two weeks ago.

The musing unleashed a flood of opinions, said Spence five days later on CNN.

"The feedback's been mixed," he said. "There's people who hate it, there's people who love it.

"I'm all about trying different things to support our students. And one of the things I want to do is lead with questions rather than solutions. And this is a good question for us because we need to say to ourselves, 'What else can we do to ensure every student gets the opportunity to walk that stage with pride, dignity and options?'' And this may be a way to support students."

During his television appearance, he said he was "amazed" when he visited a program in New York City two years ago where students received payment based on their success in school.

"One kid had a cheque for $86 and he said, 'You know what? I can go to college. I can go to university.' For too many of these kids, post-secondary education is seen in the abstract and not a reality," Spence said. "I mean there's a whole series of things we can look at, but I think just having this conversation is great."

What is clear is that the idea of giving incentives to students - beyond the use of traditional scholarships - no longer exists in the abstract; it is an "out-of-the-box" idea that is now being explored by TDSB staff.

"It's such a high level concept right now, (but) it's starting to unfold a little bit," Spence said. "What we've done is set up an anti-poverty task force to take a look at this. You can talk about attendance, you can talk about being involved in certain social justice things around the school, all the things that we know help to engage kids. The thing is they've got to be in the building. And for some of these kids in some of these communities, they're not even there."

The question of who would fund such a program is unclear. The Minister of Education has stated the province doesn't support the idea.

One charitable organization, Pathways to Education Canada, currently provides financial support such as bus tickets tied to students' attendance and a bursary for post-secondary education. The program, which started in Regent Park in 2001, also provides tutoring and mentoring to help students graduate high school.

However, one trustee has said philanthropy might only work to kick off programs rather than covering ongoing operating funding.

"You can't count on rich people to deal with the education system, it's everybody's responsibility," said longtime Trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher.

Cary-Meagher, like most of her colleagues, expressed mild skepticism at paying students cash for grades.

Toronto Community News canvassed all TDSB trustees - the ones who would ultimately have to approve any program paying students for success - on their initial reaction to the idea. They responded as follows (comments may be abridged):

 

ETOBICOKE NORTH - John Hastings

This idea is most intriguing but significantly flawed in that it reinforces an entitlement culture and fails to account for expanding a basic understanding of money as a key function in society and in our economy, according to financial planners with whom I have chatted.

We need a comprehensive financial literacy program in our education system as we have attempted in a modest manner in north Etobicoke.

As alternatives, we need to examine micro-finance as an effective model to move people out of poverty as occurs in Canada and internationally. With skills learned to sustain economic independence and maximize personal dignity for our families and students, we would have a better world. For any kind of financing learning, it must be linked to a longer term model as found in the Pathways to Education model, private-sector lead and administered to assist students financially for their post-secondary education futures.

This program is performance-based and linked to specific benchmarks, not the short-term, which focuses on consumer rather than educational values and true learning.

 

ETOBICOKE CENTRE - Chris Glover

I would have to say that we don't have the information now to endorse or not to endorse this concept. It would seem that the concept raises a whole range of issues and questions. Who gets the financial reward and who doesn't? How do the kids whose income is just slightly too high for the program feel about their friends getting a financial reward for studying? We know that poverty is one of the largest determinants of academic success. Is this an appropriate way of addressing poverty?

 

ETOBICOKE-LAKESHORE - Pamela Gough

I think it's important to understand that the director's tweet was merely him musing about one of many ideas that are being thrown around about providing more support to students coming from underprivileged backgrounds.

The tweet's term 'paying students' is not precise language to describe the idea he was talking about. 'Providing incentives to students' might capture it better, as would 'rewarding effort' and after all, what is a scholarship program if not an incentive to work hard and a reward for effort?

Dr. Spence was referring to the concept of working with the TDSB's external partners to find a variety of ways to directly support students from underprivileged backgrounds so that they can overcome the obstacles that poverty throws into the pathway of school success. There are many successful examples of this in the TDSB and in other school jurisdictions across North America. I also understand that there are community partners who are interested in contributing to the TDSB's closing the achievement gap for students coming from families of low income.

Too many students struggle with poverty in our city. If we can harness the goodwill of the TDSB's external community partners to find innovative, effective ways to help these students achieve their potential, that sounds like something that we should be broadly looking at. I'll be looking carefully at the details of all the recommendations of the Anti-Poverty Task Force and until their report is released, I'll keep an open mind.

 

YORK WEST - Stephnie Payne

Did not respond to inquiry.

 

YORK CENTRE - Howard Kaplan

Part of the problem with endemic poverty in our society is the unequal distribution of wealth, especially during times of economic crisis, such as what we're experiencing now. Too often the governments use this 'crisis' in order to 'bail out' the largest and wealthiest corporations with massive tax cuts. In order to pay for this, the governments then cut back on social services, which inevitably harm the poorest sectors of society.

It is this philosophy (that) also infects governments' attitudes to education, where education is seen as an expense, a cost, a ledger debit, rather than an investment in the future of our society. So we see in Ontario, gross underfunding of many sectors of education, in building maintenance, in school libraries, in music and the arts, etc, etc, etc. To make up these deficits many schools are forced to do fundraising for various programs, including considering going after corporate sponsorships, accepting corporate gifts such as new computers and requesting donations (fees) for text books, supplies, etc.

This inevitably affects poorer communities with fewer resources for fundraising and donations. The EQAO results also play a part in the growing divide between rich communities and poor ones, since many parents - often the wealthier ones - will often seek to transfer their kids to those schools with higher EQAO results.

These are some of the structural deficits in our education system, which go some way to increasing the economic divide between richer and poorer neighbourhoods. Giving kids a cash 'reward' for good marks is not the answer. We have to go deeper and democratize the way our education system is funded.

 

YORK SOUTH-WESTON - Chris Tonks

I think the matter needs to be explored further in terms of whether this type of initiative has been successful in other jurisdictions. I'm not in favour of committing large amounts of public money to an initiative such as this unless the provincial government was to support a program like this and as we know they have indicated they are not supportive at this point and time. We cannot afford to fund something like from solely within our TDSB budget or from local school budgets. I would be willing to entertain possible private partnerships to fund such initiatives. I'm not in support of such a program being initiated at the elementary level.

 

PARKDALE-HIGH PARK - Irene Atkinson

The TDSB trustees have not discussed this matter. I imagine developing the criteria for who should get paid for what and how much, would be very difficult. Perhaps food vouchers, more breakfast and lunch programs in inner-city schools, streetcar tickets, mandatory reading clinics in the primary division, small monetary prizes for doing well in class assignments, more specialty teachers for art, music, drama, more sports teams, clothing donations from some trendy places. I really don't know what would work.

 

EGLINTON-LAWRENCE - Howard Goodman

Did not respond to inquiry.

 

DAVENPORT - Maria Rodrigues

I support looking at other options to help our students succeed, including giving students financial assistance as has been done successfully through Pathways to Education.

 

TRINITY-SPADINA - Chris Bolton

Did not respond to inquiry.

 

ST. PAUL'S - Shelley Laskin

"Yes, it (Spence's tweet) was a provocative question, but as the director explained to me, it was purely meant to raise the issue of how do we get better outcomes for all our students, because students from our disadvantaged communities are failing miserably. This has not been a board discussion and I do look forward to the proposals the task force will put forward. But in a public debate, I agree with those (who) believe no question should be off limits and that every idea should be subject to evidence-based scrutiny, no matter what my reaction might be to the question. The director has explained the purpose of the Anti-Poverty Task Force will be to assess where we are at with our own anti-poverty initiatives; determine what more we should be doing; and propose directions for consideration. Work is just beginning.

 

WILLOWDALE - Mari Rutka

Not every idea is worth implementing, but it is important to be able to discuss ideas for improving student success. As with any idea, I am interested in knowing what evidence exists as to the efficacy of a particular strategy or method. If there is strong evidence that a certain measure works, then we should consider its use. If there isn't, then we need to look at other approaches.

 

DON VALLEY WEST - Gerri Gershon

I would say that the idea is not a good one, however, I believe that everything should be on the table when we are brainstorming possible ways to student success.

 

TORONTO CENTRE-ROSEDALE - Sheila Ward

This is a case of where some media people have jumped to conclusions and, secondly, have no idea of how the board operates.

The director asked a question - he didn't make a statement nor did he make a suggestion. He posed a question, presumably to promote discussion. I assume the anti-poverty group will look at this question as another item in a list of many things that have potential to assist students who need assistance.

Since there is no proposal, and no committee is looking at this issue at the moment, there is nothing for any trustee to comment on, other than to give a personal opinion about it.

My opinion - I need a ton of information before I would either support or reject the possibility. Cost? Who would pay? Who gets it and who doesn't? What's the standard? How long would you continue someone on it? What if a kid fails? What if they skip classes and still get relatively good marks? Has this been done anywhere else before? If so, what results?

Those are just a few things I would need before I could express any intelligent thoughts about it. To express an opinion without such information is irresponsible for an elected official, in my view.

 

TORONTO-DANFORTH - Cathy Dandy

I think it is premature to discuss this concept; the board is not currently considering it, nor have we considered it in the past. I am focused on being a part of the discussion on the report created by the task force.

 

BEACHES-EAST YORK - Sheila Cary-Meagher

I've heard of this talked about for a while and I have to admit being of two minds. At the moment, I'm sort of - if you've got a thing from one to 10 - I'm sort of over at about two to two-and-a-half in the direct payment thing but I'm at probably nine at things like scholarships or involvement in enticing students into better grades.

Paying somebody 50 bucks for getting an A isn't what I would call a biggie. I can't see students getting all warm and fuzzy and excited and enthusiastic and get a sudden love of learning at 50 bucks an A. On the other hand, if I know that if I complete four years of high school and get grades good enough to go to university that someone will pay my university tuition, I think that would motivate me.

 

DON VALLEY EAST - Michael Coteau

Did not respond to inquiry.

 

SCARBOROUGH SOUTHWEST - Elizabeth Moyer

1) There are already incentives in place for students to achieve, it's called scholarships, and for those more economically disadvantaged there are more opportunities

2) Not all people or students are incented the same way (there is much research around this) so a one-size-fits-all solution does not work. We are a large and diverse board.

3) While I appreciate that student achievement and success is important and a primary goal for me for the next four years, it is not a one question solution nor a simple answer. What I'm sure the director meant was to start a dialogue not look for a simple answer.

 

SCARBOROUGH CENTRE - David Smith

Did not respond to inquiry.

 

SCARBOROUGH-AGINCOURT - Soo Wong

The current discussion or suggestion by the director is still in the "discussion stage"; hence, until I received a formal report by the director on the anti-poverty strategy, it is too premature to comment. However, it is my expectation that the director's anti-poverty strategy report should be thoroughly research with current, evidence-based and affordable interventions. I am also looking for interventions that will opportunities for our diverse student community.

 

SCARBOROUGH-ROUGE RIVER - Shaun Chen

It's an intriguing conversation to have. One big question is who is going to fund this initiative? I doubt the province has any interest in announcing a grant for the TDSB to pay its students. In a board that is so strapped for cash, is this the best use of our resources?

I am interested in exploring the idea of providing incentives such as TTC tickets or lunch vouchers to students from disadvantaged communities. I would rather know that the money is being used for essentials, than simply hand out cash.

There is an achievement gap, no doubt, but I am not sure paying kids to stay in school is the solution.

 

SCARBOROUGH EAST - Jerry Chadwick

The concept came to our attention via a tweet sent out by Director Dr. Chris Spence. Obviously it was a case of just floating an idea out and seeing what type of response it got. Well, it got lots from the Minister of Education to CNN, so in that case it succeeded.

Before this strategy could even be considered there would have to be evidence that such a plan could make a difference in student success levels, which is our main responsibility. However far fetched it might sound, I will not accept nor dismiss it without a great deal more information. If our students will achieve more success and if the money can come from sources outside of our budget, then the idea warrants further discussion at the board table.

Trustees on cash for grades

Community Nov 30, 2010 East York Mirror

It was not only the tweet heard round the country, but it garnered an appearance on CNN by the Toronto District School Board's (TDSB) top bureaucrat, Director of Education Chris Spence.

"Should we pay kids in our more disadvantaged communities to do well in school? Perhaps as part of a poverty reduction scheme?" Spence asked his almost 2,000 followers on Twitter two weeks ago.

The musing unleashed a flood of opinions, said Spence five days later on CNN.

"The feedback's been mixed," he said. "There's people who hate it, there's people who love it.

"I'm all about trying different things to support our students. And one of the things I want to do is lead with questions rather than solutions. And this is a good question for us because we need to say to ourselves, 'What else can we do to ensure every student gets the opportunity to walk that stage with pride, dignity and options?'' And this may be a way to support students."

During his television appearance, he said he was "amazed" when he visited a program in New York City two years ago where students received payment based on their success in school.

"One kid had a cheque for $86 and he said, 'You know what? I can go to college. I can go to university.' For too many of these kids, post-secondary education is seen in the abstract and not a reality," Spence said. "I mean there's a whole series of things we can look at, but I think just having this conversation is great."

What is clear is that the idea of giving incentives to students - beyond the use of traditional scholarships - no longer exists in the abstract; it is an "out-of-the-box" idea that is now being explored by TDSB staff.

"It's such a high level concept right now, (but) it's starting to unfold a little bit," Spence said. "What we've done is set up an anti-poverty task force to take a look at this. You can talk about attendance, you can talk about being involved in certain social justice things around the school, all the things that we know help to engage kids. The thing is they've got to be in the building. And for some of these kids in some of these communities, they're not even there."

The question of who would fund such a program is unclear. The Minister of Education has stated the province doesn't support the idea.

One charitable organization, Pathways to Education Canada, currently provides financial support such as bus tickets tied to students' attendance and a bursary for post-secondary education. The program, which started in Regent Park in 2001, also provides tutoring and mentoring to help students graduate high school.

However, one trustee has said philanthropy might only work to kick off programs rather than covering ongoing operating funding.

"You can't count on rich people to deal with the education system, it's everybody's responsibility," said longtime Trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher.

Cary-Meagher, like most of her colleagues, expressed mild skepticism at paying students cash for grades.

Toronto Community News canvassed all TDSB trustees - the ones who would ultimately have to approve any program paying students for success - on their initial reaction to the idea. They responded as follows (comments may be abridged):

 

ETOBICOKE NORTH - John Hastings

This idea is most intriguing but significantly flawed in that it reinforces an entitlement culture and fails to account for expanding a basic understanding of money as a key function in society and in our economy, according to financial planners with whom I have chatted.

We need a comprehensive financial literacy program in our education system as we have attempted in a modest manner in north Etobicoke.

As alternatives, we need to examine micro-finance as an effective model to move people out of poverty as occurs in Canada and internationally. With skills learned to sustain economic independence and maximize personal dignity for our families and students, we would have a better world. For any kind of financing learning, it must be linked to a longer term model as found in the Pathways to Education model, private-sector lead and administered to assist students financially for their post-secondary education futures.

This program is performance-based and linked to specific benchmarks, not the short-term, which focuses on consumer rather than educational values and true learning.

 

ETOBICOKE CENTRE - Chris Glover

I would have to say that we don't have the information now to endorse or not to endorse this concept. It would seem that the concept raises a whole range of issues and questions. Who gets the financial reward and who doesn't? How do the kids whose income is just slightly too high for the program feel about their friends getting a financial reward for studying? We know that poverty is one of the largest determinants of academic success. Is this an appropriate way of addressing poverty?

 

ETOBICOKE-LAKESHORE - Pamela Gough

I think it's important to understand that the director's tweet was merely him musing about one of many ideas that are being thrown around about providing more support to students coming from underprivileged backgrounds.

The tweet's term 'paying students' is not precise language to describe the idea he was talking about. 'Providing incentives to students' might capture it better, as would 'rewarding effort' and after all, what is a scholarship program if not an incentive to work hard and a reward for effort?

Dr. Spence was referring to the concept of working with the TDSB's external partners to find a variety of ways to directly support students from underprivileged backgrounds so that they can overcome the obstacles that poverty throws into the pathway of school success. There are many successful examples of this in the TDSB and in other school jurisdictions across North America. I also understand that there are community partners who are interested in contributing to the TDSB's closing the achievement gap for students coming from families of low income.

Too many students struggle with poverty in our city. If we can harness the goodwill of the TDSB's external community partners to find innovative, effective ways to help these students achieve their potential, that sounds like something that we should be broadly looking at. I'll be looking carefully at the details of all the recommendations of the Anti-Poverty Task Force and until their report is released, I'll keep an open mind.

 

YORK WEST - Stephnie Payne

Did not respond to inquiry.

 

YORK CENTRE - Howard Kaplan

Part of the problem with endemic poverty in our society is the unequal distribution of wealth, especially during times of economic crisis, such as what we're experiencing now. Too often the governments use this 'crisis' in order to 'bail out' the largest and wealthiest corporations with massive tax cuts. In order to pay for this, the governments then cut back on social services, which inevitably harm the poorest sectors of society.

It is this philosophy (that) also infects governments' attitudes to education, where education is seen as an expense, a cost, a ledger debit, rather than an investment in the future of our society. So we see in Ontario, gross underfunding of many sectors of education, in building maintenance, in school libraries, in music and the arts, etc, etc, etc. To make up these deficits many schools are forced to do fundraising for various programs, including considering going after corporate sponsorships, accepting corporate gifts such as new computers and requesting donations (fees) for text books, supplies, etc.

This inevitably affects poorer communities with fewer resources for fundraising and donations. The EQAO results also play a part in the growing divide between rich communities and poor ones, since many parents - often the wealthier ones - will often seek to transfer their kids to those schools with higher EQAO results.

These are some of the structural deficits in our education system, which go some way to increasing the economic divide between richer and poorer neighbourhoods. Giving kids a cash 'reward' for good marks is not the answer. We have to go deeper and democratize the way our education system is funded.

 

YORK SOUTH-WESTON - Chris Tonks

I think the matter needs to be explored further in terms of whether this type of initiative has been successful in other jurisdictions. I'm not in favour of committing large amounts of public money to an initiative such as this unless the provincial government was to support a program like this and as we know they have indicated they are not supportive at this point and time. We cannot afford to fund something like from solely within our TDSB budget or from local school budgets. I would be willing to entertain possible private partnerships to fund such initiatives. I'm not in support of such a program being initiated at the elementary level.

 

PARKDALE-HIGH PARK - Irene Atkinson

The TDSB trustees have not discussed this matter. I imagine developing the criteria for who should get paid for what and how much, would be very difficult. Perhaps food vouchers, more breakfast and lunch programs in inner-city schools, streetcar tickets, mandatory reading clinics in the primary division, small monetary prizes for doing well in class assignments, more specialty teachers for art, music, drama, more sports teams, clothing donations from some trendy places. I really don't know what would work.

 

EGLINTON-LAWRENCE - Howard Goodman

Did not respond to inquiry.

 

DAVENPORT - Maria Rodrigues

I support looking at other options to help our students succeed, including giving students financial assistance as has been done successfully through Pathways to Education.

 

TRINITY-SPADINA - Chris Bolton

Did not respond to inquiry.

 

ST. PAUL'S - Shelley Laskin

"Yes, it (Spence's tweet) was a provocative question, but as the director explained to me, it was purely meant to raise the issue of how do we get better outcomes for all our students, because students from our disadvantaged communities are failing miserably. This has not been a board discussion and I do look forward to the proposals the task force will put forward. But in a public debate, I agree with those (who) believe no question should be off limits and that every idea should be subject to evidence-based scrutiny, no matter what my reaction might be to the question. The director has explained the purpose of the Anti-Poverty Task Force will be to assess where we are at with our own anti-poverty initiatives; determine what more we should be doing; and propose directions for consideration. Work is just beginning.

 

WILLOWDALE - Mari Rutka

Not every idea is worth implementing, but it is important to be able to discuss ideas for improving student success. As with any idea, I am interested in knowing what evidence exists as to the efficacy of a particular strategy or method. If there is strong evidence that a certain measure works, then we should consider its use. If there isn't, then we need to look at other approaches.

 

DON VALLEY WEST - Gerri Gershon

I would say that the idea is not a good one, however, I believe that everything should be on the table when we are brainstorming possible ways to student success.

 

TORONTO CENTRE-ROSEDALE - Sheila Ward

This is a case of where some media people have jumped to conclusions and, secondly, have no idea of how the board operates.

The director asked a question - he didn't make a statement nor did he make a suggestion. He posed a question, presumably to promote discussion. I assume the anti-poverty group will look at this question as another item in a list of many things that have potential to assist students who need assistance.

Since there is no proposal, and no committee is looking at this issue at the moment, there is nothing for any trustee to comment on, other than to give a personal opinion about it.

My opinion - I need a ton of information before I would either support or reject the possibility. Cost? Who would pay? Who gets it and who doesn't? What's the standard? How long would you continue someone on it? What if a kid fails? What if they skip classes and still get relatively good marks? Has this been done anywhere else before? If so, what results?

Those are just a few things I would need before I could express any intelligent thoughts about it. To express an opinion without such information is irresponsible for an elected official, in my view.

 

TORONTO-DANFORTH - Cathy Dandy

I think it is premature to discuss this concept; the board is not currently considering it, nor have we considered it in the past. I am focused on being a part of the discussion on the report created by the task force.

 

BEACHES-EAST YORK - Sheila Cary-Meagher

I've heard of this talked about for a while and I have to admit being of two minds. At the moment, I'm sort of - if you've got a thing from one to 10 - I'm sort of over at about two to two-and-a-half in the direct payment thing but I'm at probably nine at things like scholarships or involvement in enticing students into better grades.

Paying somebody 50 bucks for getting an A isn't what I would call a biggie. I can't see students getting all warm and fuzzy and excited and enthusiastic and get a sudden love of learning at 50 bucks an A. On the other hand, if I know that if I complete four years of high school and get grades good enough to go to university that someone will pay my university tuition, I think that would motivate me.

 

DON VALLEY EAST - Michael Coteau

Did not respond to inquiry.

 

SCARBOROUGH SOUTHWEST - Elizabeth Moyer

1) There are already incentives in place for students to achieve, it's called scholarships, and for those more economically disadvantaged there are more opportunities

2) Not all people or students are incented the same way (there is much research around this) so a one-size-fits-all solution does not work. We are a large and diverse board.

3) While I appreciate that student achievement and success is important and a primary goal for me for the next four years, it is not a one question solution nor a simple answer. What I'm sure the director meant was to start a dialogue not look for a simple answer.

 

SCARBOROUGH CENTRE - David Smith

Did not respond to inquiry.

 

SCARBOROUGH-AGINCOURT - Soo Wong

The current discussion or suggestion by the director is still in the "discussion stage"; hence, until I received a formal report by the director on the anti-poverty strategy, it is too premature to comment. However, it is my expectation that the director's anti-poverty strategy report should be thoroughly research with current, evidence-based and affordable interventions. I am also looking for interventions that will opportunities for our diverse student community.

 

SCARBOROUGH-ROUGE RIVER - Shaun Chen

It's an intriguing conversation to have. One big question is who is going to fund this initiative? I doubt the province has any interest in announcing a grant for the TDSB to pay its students. In a board that is so strapped for cash, is this the best use of our resources?

I am interested in exploring the idea of providing incentives such as TTC tickets or lunch vouchers to students from disadvantaged communities. I would rather know that the money is being used for essentials, than simply hand out cash.

There is an achievement gap, no doubt, but I am not sure paying kids to stay in school is the solution.

 

SCARBOROUGH EAST - Jerry Chadwick

The concept came to our attention via a tweet sent out by Director Dr. Chris Spence. Obviously it was a case of just floating an idea out and seeing what type of response it got. Well, it got lots from the Minister of Education to CNN, so in that case it succeeded.

Before this strategy could even be considered there would have to be evidence that such a plan could make a difference in student success levels, which is our main responsibility. However far fetched it might sound, I will not accept nor dismiss it without a great deal more information. If our students will achieve more success and if the money can come from sources outside of our budget, then the idea warrants further discussion at the board table.

Trustees on cash for grades

Community Nov 30, 2010 East York Mirror

It was not only the tweet heard round the country, but it garnered an appearance on CNN by the Toronto District School Board's (TDSB) top bureaucrat, Director of Education Chris Spence.

"Should we pay kids in our more disadvantaged communities to do well in school? Perhaps as part of a poverty reduction scheme?" Spence asked his almost 2,000 followers on Twitter two weeks ago.

The musing unleashed a flood of opinions, said Spence five days later on CNN.

"The feedback's been mixed," he said. "There's people who hate it, there's people who love it.

"I'm all about trying different things to support our students. And one of the things I want to do is lead with questions rather than solutions. And this is a good question for us because we need to say to ourselves, 'What else can we do to ensure every student gets the opportunity to walk that stage with pride, dignity and options?'' And this may be a way to support students."

During his television appearance, he said he was "amazed" when he visited a program in New York City two years ago where students received payment based on their success in school.

"One kid had a cheque for $86 and he said, 'You know what? I can go to college. I can go to university.' For too many of these kids, post-secondary education is seen in the abstract and not a reality," Spence said. "I mean there's a whole series of things we can look at, but I think just having this conversation is great."

What is clear is that the idea of giving incentives to students - beyond the use of traditional scholarships - no longer exists in the abstract; it is an "out-of-the-box" idea that is now being explored by TDSB staff.

"It's such a high level concept right now, (but) it's starting to unfold a little bit," Spence said. "What we've done is set up an anti-poverty task force to take a look at this. You can talk about attendance, you can talk about being involved in certain social justice things around the school, all the things that we know help to engage kids. The thing is they've got to be in the building. And for some of these kids in some of these communities, they're not even there."

The question of who would fund such a program is unclear. The Minister of Education has stated the province doesn't support the idea.

One charitable organization, Pathways to Education Canada, currently provides financial support such as bus tickets tied to students' attendance and a bursary for post-secondary education. The program, which started in Regent Park in 2001, also provides tutoring and mentoring to help students graduate high school.

However, one trustee has said philanthropy might only work to kick off programs rather than covering ongoing operating funding.

"You can't count on rich people to deal with the education system, it's everybody's responsibility," said longtime Trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher.

Cary-Meagher, like most of her colleagues, expressed mild skepticism at paying students cash for grades.

Toronto Community News canvassed all TDSB trustees - the ones who would ultimately have to approve any program paying students for success - on their initial reaction to the idea. They responded as follows (comments may be abridged):

 

ETOBICOKE NORTH - John Hastings

This idea is most intriguing but significantly flawed in that it reinforces an entitlement culture and fails to account for expanding a basic understanding of money as a key function in society and in our economy, according to financial planners with whom I have chatted.

We need a comprehensive financial literacy program in our education system as we have attempted in a modest manner in north Etobicoke.

As alternatives, we need to examine micro-finance as an effective model to move people out of poverty as occurs in Canada and internationally. With skills learned to sustain economic independence and maximize personal dignity for our families and students, we would have a better world. For any kind of financing learning, it must be linked to a longer term model as found in the Pathways to Education model, private-sector lead and administered to assist students financially for their post-secondary education futures.

This program is performance-based and linked to specific benchmarks, not the short-term, which focuses on consumer rather than educational values and true learning.

 

ETOBICOKE CENTRE - Chris Glover

I would have to say that we don't have the information now to endorse or not to endorse this concept. It would seem that the concept raises a whole range of issues and questions. Who gets the financial reward and who doesn't? How do the kids whose income is just slightly too high for the program feel about their friends getting a financial reward for studying? We know that poverty is one of the largest determinants of academic success. Is this an appropriate way of addressing poverty?

 

ETOBICOKE-LAKESHORE - Pamela Gough

I think it's important to understand that the director's tweet was merely him musing about one of many ideas that are being thrown around about providing more support to students coming from underprivileged backgrounds.

The tweet's term 'paying students' is not precise language to describe the idea he was talking about. 'Providing incentives to students' might capture it better, as would 'rewarding effort' and after all, what is a scholarship program if not an incentive to work hard and a reward for effort?

Dr. Spence was referring to the concept of working with the TDSB's external partners to find a variety of ways to directly support students from underprivileged backgrounds so that they can overcome the obstacles that poverty throws into the pathway of school success. There are many successful examples of this in the TDSB and in other school jurisdictions across North America. I also understand that there are community partners who are interested in contributing to the TDSB's closing the achievement gap for students coming from families of low income.

Too many students struggle with poverty in our city. If we can harness the goodwill of the TDSB's external community partners to find innovative, effective ways to help these students achieve their potential, that sounds like something that we should be broadly looking at. I'll be looking carefully at the details of all the recommendations of the Anti-Poverty Task Force and until their report is released, I'll keep an open mind.

 

YORK WEST - Stephnie Payne

Did not respond to inquiry.

 

YORK CENTRE - Howard Kaplan

Part of the problem with endemic poverty in our society is the unequal distribution of wealth, especially during times of economic crisis, such as what we're experiencing now. Too often the governments use this 'crisis' in order to 'bail out' the largest and wealthiest corporations with massive tax cuts. In order to pay for this, the governments then cut back on social services, which inevitably harm the poorest sectors of society.

It is this philosophy (that) also infects governments' attitudes to education, where education is seen as an expense, a cost, a ledger debit, rather than an investment in the future of our society. So we see in Ontario, gross underfunding of many sectors of education, in building maintenance, in school libraries, in music and the arts, etc, etc, etc. To make up these deficits many schools are forced to do fundraising for various programs, including considering going after corporate sponsorships, accepting corporate gifts such as new computers and requesting donations (fees) for text books, supplies, etc.

This inevitably affects poorer communities with fewer resources for fundraising and donations. The EQAO results also play a part in the growing divide between rich communities and poor ones, since many parents - often the wealthier ones - will often seek to transfer their kids to those schools with higher EQAO results.

These are some of the structural deficits in our education system, which go some way to increasing the economic divide between richer and poorer neighbourhoods. Giving kids a cash 'reward' for good marks is not the answer. We have to go deeper and democratize the way our education system is funded.

 

YORK SOUTH-WESTON - Chris Tonks

I think the matter needs to be explored further in terms of whether this type of initiative has been successful in other jurisdictions. I'm not in favour of committing large amounts of public money to an initiative such as this unless the provincial government was to support a program like this and as we know they have indicated they are not supportive at this point and time. We cannot afford to fund something like from solely within our TDSB budget or from local school budgets. I would be willing to entertain possible private partnerships to fund such initiatives. I'm not in support of such a program being initiated at the elementary level.

 

PARKDALE-HIGH PARK - Irene Atkinson

The TDSB trustees have not discussed this matter. I imagine developing the criteria for who should get paid for what and how much, would be very difficult. Perhaps food vouchers, more breakfast and lunch programs in inner-city schools, streetcar tickets, mandatory reading clinics in the primary division, small monetary prizes for doing well in class assignments, more specialty teachers for art, music, drama, more sports teams, clothing donations from some trendy places. I really don't know what would work.

 

EGLINTON-LAWRENCE - Howard Goodman

Did not respond to inquiry.

 

DAVENPORT - Maria Rodrigues

I support looking at other options to help our students succeed, including giving students financial assistance as has been done successfully through Pathways to Education.

 

TRINITY-SPADINA - Chris Bolton

Did not respond to inquiry.

 

ST. PAUL'S - Shelley Laskin

"Yes, it (Spence's tweet) was a provocative question, but as the director explained to me, it was purely meant to raise the issue of how do we get better outcomes for all our students, because students from our disadvantaged communities are failing miserably. This has not been a board discussion and I do look forward to the proposals the task force will put forward. But in a public debate, I agree with those (who) believe no question should be off limits and that every idea should be subject to evidence-based scrutiny, no matter what my reaction might be to the question. The director has explained the purpose of the Anti-Poverty Task Force will be to assess where we are at with our own anti-poverty initiatives; determine what more we should be doing; and propose directions for consideration. Work is just beginning.

 

WILLOWDALE - Mari Rutka

Not every idea is worth implementing, but it is important to be able to discuss ideas for improving student success. As with any idea, I am interested in knowing what evidence exists as to the efficacy of a particular strategy or method. If there is strong evidence that a certain measure works, then we should consider its use. If there isn't, then we need to look at other approaches.

 

DON VALLEY WEST - Gerri Gershon

I would say that the idea is not a good one, however, I believe that everything should be on the table when we are brainstorming possible ways to student success.

 

TORONTO CENTRE-ROSEDALE - Sheila Ward

This is a case of where some media people have jumped to conclusions and, secondly, have no idea of how the board operates.

The director asked a question - he didn't make a statement nor did he make a suggestion. He posed a question, presumably to promote discussion. I assume the anti-poverty group will look at this question as another item in a list of many things that have potential to assist students who need assistance.

Since there is no proposal, and no committee is looking at this issue at the moment, there is nothing for any trustee to comment on, other than to give a personal opinion about it.

My opinion - I need a ton of information before I would either support or reject the possibility. Cost? Who would pay? Who gets it and who doesn't? What's the standard? How long would you continue someone on it? What if a kid fails? What if they skip classes and still get relatively good marks? Has this been done anywhere else before? If so, what results?

Those are just a few things I would need before I could express any intelligent thoughts about it. To express an opinion without such information is irresponsible for an elected official, in my view.

 

TORONTO-DANFORTH - Cathy Dandy

I think it is premature to discuss this concept; the board is not currently considering it, nor have we considered it in the past. I am focused on being a part of the discussion on the report created by the task force.

 

BEACHES-EAST YORK - Sheila Cary-Meagher

I've heard of this talked about for a while and I have to admit being of two minds. At the moment, I'm sort of - if you've got a thing from one to 10 - I'm sort of over at about two to two-and-a-half in the direct payment thing but I'm at probably nine at things like scholarships or involvement in enticing students into better grades.

Paying somebody 50 bucks for getting an A isn't what I would call a biggie. I can't see students getting all warm and fuzzy and excited and enthusiastic and get a sudden love of learning at 50 bucks an A. On the other hand, if I know that if I complete four years of high school and get grades good enough to go to university that someone will pay my university tuition, I think that would motivate me.

 

DON VALLEY EAST - Michael Coteau

Did not respond to inquiry.

 

SCARBOROUGH SOUTHWEST - Elizabeth Moyer

1) There are already incentives in place for students to achieve, it's called scholarships, and for those more economically disadvantaged there are more opportunities

2) Not all people or students are incented the same way (there is much research around this) so a one-size-fits-all solution does not work. We are a large and diverse board.

3) While I appreciate that student achievement and success is important and a primary goal for me for the next four years, it is not a one question solution nor a simple answer. What I'm sure the director meant was to start a dialogue not look for a simple answer.

 

SCARBOROUGH CENTRE - David Smith

Did not respond to inquiry.

 

SCARBOROUGH-AGINCOURT - Soo Wong

The current discussion or suggestion by the director is still in the "discussion stage"; hence, until I received a formal report by the director on the anti-poverty strategy, it is too premature to comment. However, it is my expectation that the director's anti-poverty strategy report should be thoroughly research with current, evidence-based and affordable interventions. I am also looking for interventions that will opportunities for our diverse student community.

 

SCARBOROUGH-ROUGE RIVER - Shaun Chen

It's an intriguing conversation to have. One big question is who is going to fund this initiative? I doubt the province has any interest in announcing a grant for the TDSB to pay its students. In a board that is so strapped for cash, is this the best use of our resources?

I am interested in exploring the idea of providing incentives such as TTC tickets or lunch vouchers to students from disadvantaged communities. I would rather know that the money is being used for essentials, than simply hand out cash.

There is an achievement gap, no doubt, but I am not sure paying kids to stay in school is the solution.

 

SCARBOROUGH EAST - Jerry Chadwick

The concept came to our attention via a tweet sent out by Director Dr. Chris Spence. Obviously it was a case of just floating an idea out and seeing what type of response it got. Well, it got lots from the Minister of Education to CNN, so in that case it succeeded.

Before this strategy could even be considered there would have to be evidence that such a plan could make a difference in student success levels, which is our main responsibility. However far fetched it might sound, I will not accept nor dismiss it without a great deal more information. If our students will achieve more success and if the money can come from sources outside of our budget, then the idea warrants further discussion at the board table.