At The York Region District School Board Annual Quest Conference
I want to begin by congratulating all at the York Region District School Board on a couple of counts. First of all, for hosting yet another highly successful and stimulating Quest Conference. The attendance at this conference and the high calibre of your speakers and panelists are a testament to the high regard in which Quest conferences are held. The second reason that you deserve our congratulations is for the leadership that you bring to public education not only in your community, but in Ontario.
Thank you so much, Bill, for your very kind and generous introduction.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak, the chance to meet such a distinguished audience.
I want to begin by congratulating all at the York Region District School Board on a couple of counts.
First of all, for hosting yet another highly successful and stimulating Quest Conference.
The attendance at this conference and the high calibre of your speakers and panelists are a testament to the high regard in which Quest conferences are held.
The second reason that you deserve our congratulations is for the leadership that you bring to public education not only in your community, but in Ontario.
It is virtually impossible to get into a conversation about the exceptional delivery of education in Ontario and not talk about some innovative best practice developed by York. Well done.
My minister Gerard Kennedy was originally scheduled to deliver this speech today, but I bumped him.
And I bumped him because I really wanted to be part of this conference.
One reason is that I wanted to tell you how proud I am of the job that Minister Kennedy is doing.
There's a new tone in education, a new momentum, and the Minister of Education is helping to make that happen by working with all of you.
Today I want to talk about our plan for Ontario because the most important part of it is our quest to make public education the best education.
We just recently celebrated the first anniversary of our swearing in as the government of Ontario, and on that first day I spoke of the tremendous privilege that it is to serve the people of Ontario as their Premier.
And I feel that even more strongly today.
Each Premier has the opportunity, indeed, the responsibility to place before Ontarians the great challenge of our generation.
And I believe that our challenge, one that you that I share, is to work together to strengthen our people.
Because even in this technological age, our people are Ontario's greatest competitive advantage.
The place with the best-educated, most highly skilled people, the healthiest people, the most prosperous people will be the place to be long into the future.
And our job is to ensure that Ontario is that place.
That's what our government's plan for Ontario is all about.
It's a plan to improve the health of our people.
It's a plan to ensure prosperity for our people.
And it's a plan to strengthen the education and skills of our people.
I tell everybody that making public education the best education is the single most important thing that we can do together to build a bright and promising future for all of us.
We know that in today's economy, the jurisdiction with the best educated, most highly skilled workforce gets the best jobs and the most investment.
But it's even more than just that.
When we get education right, we also get the benefits.
You and I share that tremendous responsibility to get public education right.
It's also a tremendous challenge.
For too many years in too many places we let a good system slide.
We let it slide to the point where many families were choosing private schools over public education.
Too many families in public schools were longing for the financial ability to get into private schools.
The number of children attending private schools in Ontario increased by 40 per cent in the eight years preceding our election.
200 new private schools opened.
400 public schools closed.
We let it slide to the point where a stunning number of our young people were not finishing school.
At last count, an estimated 30 per cent won't complete high school.
As many as another 40 per cent on top of that don't continue their education beyond high school.
We let it slide to the point where success stories -- and they are remarkable --are overshadowed by news of sliding morale, crumbling schools, lost programs and endless bickering.
Well, in the last election, Ontarians chose to stop that slide.
And I believe they sent a message to all of us who believe in public education.
I believe that what they said was this: "We want to believe in public education again. We want to send our kids to you knowing -- not hoping, not praying -- knowing that they are getting the best possible education."
I think what they really said was: "show me."
You heard that Missouri is known as the "show me" state.
Well, Ontario is now the "show me" province of Canada.
When my dad was growing up -- a devoted educator who spent 27 years as a university professor and 16 years as a trustee -- when he was growing up, what the priest said was the word of God.
What the accountants said was beyond reproach.
What the doctor said could not be disputed.
Today, we have a very savvy, sophisticated, consumer-oriented population.
And I think this is good and healthy for government.
Ontarians today have very legitimate expectations.
So they said to us: "Show me."
Show me that public education is still the ladder of opportunity that our parents said it was.
Show me that it's capable of excelling.
And show me as soon as possible, real, measurable progress.
They issued a challenge to all of us who care about public education.
Well, as a government, we have chosen to accept, to embrace that challenge.
It was an important choice to make, but I believe it was the right choice.
But it wasn't an easy one to make.
As the government, we inherited a large deficit.
There was -- taking every ministry, not just education -- a demand for government to do more, i.e., spend more.
We chose to hold the line in almost every other department.
In fact, in 15 other ministries, over the course of the next four years, budgets will either be flatlined, or decrease.
And we chose to introduce a new premium to address rising health care costs at some considerable political risk.
We chose not to put into health care, money needed for education.
We chose instead to ask Ontarians to invest more in health care.
That way we were able to invest an additional $1.1 billion in education in our first year.
Over 75 per cent of new program spending has been allocated to our top two priorities, education and health care, with education getting an impressive nine per cent increase.
The reason that I went to the wall for education is that I think it's just bad public policy to put our children's future -- and our future -- on hold.
And quite apart form our moral obligation to put our children's interests first, economists will tell you that we can't allow present-day consumption -- think health care -- to compromise our investment in future priority -- think education.
So we made an undeniably strong commitment to public education.
And we ask all educators to renew your commitment.
We've asked you to resist the siren call of cynicism and to work with us.
We ask you to embrace hope, and you have.
And on behalf of Ontarians, we're very grateful.
I want to make a final point about the cost of education.
I want you to know that your government is leading by example.
Everyone in Cabinet took a 25 per cent cut. MPPs, all of them, have had their pay frozen.
All of our deputy ministers have had their pay frozen.
So what do I say to our partners in education?
I'm asking you to see three things:
Number one, we are running a deficit.
We are not the federal government, we are not the government of Alberta.
Number two, this government is bending over backwards to invest new dollars in education.
And number three, remember, we live in a "show me" province.
And it's in everyone's interest that as much of that new money as possible flows into showing Ontarians that education is getting better.
I'm pleased with the support we've been getting from educators and say we're making real progress.
Provincewide reading, writing and math test results are up.
For our English language students in Grade 3, there is improvement of seven percentage points in math, four points in reading, and three points in writing.
In Grade 6, they're up four points in math, two in reading and remain stable in writing.
Now I know a test is not the only measure of success.
But they are the best way to demonstrate success for Ontarians living in the "show me" province.
Better test scores are a sign of progress.
They are testaments to the work you and your colleagues are doing in our classrooms and high schools.
At the same time though, they are proof of the work that lies ahead, because roughly four out of every ten students in Grade 3 and Grade 6 are not meeting the provincial standard in reading, writing and math.
Four out of ten.
Few of us would tell our kids that 60 per cent is asking enough.
And we shouldn't tell ourselves it is, either.
You know, when we talk about numbers and standards it can seem a little distant.
So let me tell you what is really at stake here.
Four out of ten are not making the grade.
That means those children are at risk.
They are at risk of doing poorly throughout their school years.
They are at risk of dropping out of high school.
They are at risk of growing up to be less than all they could be.
Less than all we need them to be.
I don't want to lose those kids.
I want them to win.
I want them to succeed, for themselves, for their family and for their future.
As Premier, my job is to work to ensure that Ontario succeeds, that we have the strongest society possible.
Financed by the strongest economy possible.
And to build that economy, to build that society, we need everyone, and I mean everyone, at their best.
You don't decide in Grade 7 or 8 to drop out of school.
But you certainly get a feeling for school by then, a feeling for how you stack up and whether you fit in. Kids are smart.
They know false praise when they hear it.
They need to experience minimal success and they need to experience it by age 12 -- a magical but critical time when they cling to childhood, but start peering at adult life.
When they start to ponder their place in the world and their future in school.
That's why our sole focus is on success in elementary school.
We have an ambitious agenda.
We want so much for our kids.
We want schools in good repair.
We want exposure to music and the arts.
We want regular physical activity.
We want care through education.
We want a safe learning environment and so much more.
But we are focused in the "show me" province at the beginning of the 21st century -- in the face of the skeptical public who asks us day-in and day-out: "Why should I send my kids to public education? Why should I invest in public education?" -- we are focused on results.
Because we believe we have this golden opportunity to show Ontarians that our public education is the best education.
Because we believe that you and I share this heavy responsibility to help our children do better.
And because we know that Ontario can only succeed tomorrow if our students succeed today.
So we believe our students should be able to read and write and do math at a high level of comprehension by the age of 12.
And this means more than the basic ability to read, write and do arithmetic.
It includes the growing capacity to understand information from a variety of sources, to interpret information across a variety of disciplines, and to think and to communicate at a higher degree of critical analysis.
Our goal is 75 per cent of Grade 6 students reaching the provincial standard in reading, writing and math.
And we're not just saying: "Okay schools, that's the target, fire away. You're on your own, we hope you hit it, good luck."
We are working with our schools, with our teachers, with our principals, with our boards.
I've established internally what I call a results team.
I meet with my education results team regularly.
I am inserting myself into the process.
We have a Premier that is committed to public education.
We are making some fundamental changes within the ministry in order to help you do your job.
That's what our new literacy and numeracy secretariat is all about.
Its job is to work with you, with schools and boards, one-on-one to see what's best for teenagers.
So we share best practices, so that the government just doesn't preside over education. We want to participate in education as a working partner.
Michael Fullan, a leading expert delivering positive change in education, continues to work with us to develop our approach.
And I'm very pleased that Avis Glaze has been a big part of the success here in York Region.
Avis is our first chief student achievement officer.
I know she is going to gather a tremendous team.
You know, we have a chief medical officer of health in Ontario because we know there are urgent health challenges to be met on the ground in our neighourhoods.
Well, we now have a chief student achievement officer, because the need to meet the education challenge is just as important and just as urgent, and it has to be met on the ground in our schools.
We are making progress.
Class sizes in the early grades are on the way down.
In fact, they are down in more than 1,300 schools this September because we trained and hired over 1,100 new teachers.
That means more students are getting the individual attention that they need.
We are training lead teachers in best practices in each and every one of our elementary schools.
So far, 3,000 kindergarten to Grade 3 lead teachers have received core training in reading and math that they can share with their colleagues.
Now we are training another 8,000 lead teachers in Grade 4 and 6.
I want to make an important point here.
These lead teachers, every one of them, they volunteer for this training.
Thousands of them took the training over the summer.
The point is this: when you give our teachers the opportunity to be better at what they do, they take it, because our teachers care.
Our teachers are dedicated and our teachers work hard.
And when you give our schools the opportunity to grow and improve, they too will see it, because our school leaders, including our principals, care.
They're dedicated and they work hard.
The right teaching and the right leadership at the right moment can make all the difference in the world to a child.
That's the thinking behind our learning opportunities.
It's a program that helps struggling students succeed and it's working.
That's why we increased it by another $160 million.
In Essex County, just to give you an example, they're using this money to fund something they call Turning Point.
It's an alternative to forgetting kids who have been suspended.
It's a new program that allows them to continue learning with the help of the teacher in a non-school setting.
Along with counseling and things such as anger management and study skills.
So when these students return to school, they haven't fallen behind and they're better prepared to cope.
You see, boards and schools and conferences just like this one are coming up with innovative ways of meeting the goals that we set.
I don't believe that they have to micro-manage education.
You have to believe in educators, give them the tools they need and work with them.
You have to believe in our students and give them the opportunity they need to succeed.
That's why we are moving forward with our plan to keep our young people learning.
In the classroom, skill training, or apprenticeship program.
There's too much at stake to give up on kids, or let them give up on themselves at 16.
Now I know there has been some negative reaction to this idea.
And the criticism is: "Look, McGuinty you don't get it.
It is really difficult to deal with these students.
It can't be done, so don't try."
We may lose them by the thousands on an annual basis, but all you can do is write them off.
Well I'm not prepared to accept that.
I'm not prepared to write them off.
In fact, I don't think we have the right to write them off.
And I'm tired of seeing those young people in shopping malls and later on in unemployment and social services or even in the criminal justice system, where I used to work.
I want to see them in good jobs, I want to see them in strong communities, I want to see them in a province that is thriving because everyone is at their best.
And that doesn't mean that we have to lock them all up somewhere in a classroom.
But it does mean we need to provide meaningful opportunities and credible alternatives.
That's why we've increased the number of core courses that focus on workplace skills.
That's why we are renewing the technological education within our schools so it's relevant in today's world.
And it's why we are supporting 7,000 new apprenticeships backed by a proposed 25 to 30 per cent tax credit for employers, because those apprenticeships will assist those youth.
We're making progress because we accepted the challenge to make education the best education -- and because you accepted that challenge with us.
We are making real progress and we need to keep working together.
We need to keep our focus where we need it most, on our students.
And we need to target our resources where we need it most, in our schools.
I want to leave you with a few thoughts about the importance of the work we are going to achieve together.
The other day I spoke at the opening of a new school in Fergus.
As Premier, I go to openings all the time.
Factory openings, fair openings, theatre openings.
But I told the young people in Fergus, the openings, the most important ones, are the school openings.
And here is why.
Factories create things, fairs celebrate seasons, theatres tell stories, but schools, now they are different.
They build societies.
When we get public education right, we build a higher workforce who can attract the best jobs.
But we get more than just people who are good at what they do.
We get good people.
We get good citizens.
People who can build prosperous lives, but also people who can build better neighbourhoods, stronger communities, a more cohesive and caring society.
Education allows young people to compete and to take on the world.
But at its very best, it also prepares them to make the world better in small ways just by looking out for one another.
And in ways so big we can't even imagine.
Our generation has worked so hard to cure cancers, we made real progress, tremendous progress, but we are not there yet.
But we haven't given up hope, that's why we build schools.
We want our kids to learn what we know about science.
Our generation wanted to stop wars. The Cold War that we grew up with did thaw, only to have the war on terrorism take its place.
But we haven't given up hope, that's why we build schools.
So that our young can learn about history and improve upon it.
Our generation is trying to clean things up.
A lot of our waterways are cleaner than they've been in years, but some days our air can be thick with smog and it's making people sick.
But we have not given up hope.
And that's why we build schools, so our children can learn about the environment and make it better.
More than anything else, that as a society we have hope because we have our children and now they are counting on us to seize this moment in the history of public education, to seize this opportunity, this alliance between a committed government and committed educators.
The schools they want, the province we need, the society that we long for on behalf of ourselves and our children and our children's children, all these things are ours to deliver and now is the time to deliver it.
Thank you very much.