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Global Education Competitiveness Summit Washington, D.C.

Archived Bulletin

Global Education Competitiveness Summit Washington, D.C.

Office of the Premier

Thank you Governor Pawlenty,

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me here today.

Let me begin by thanking Governor Pawlenty for his leadership both in this forum and back in Minnesota.

Canada and Minnesota do about $16 billion worth of trade every year.

That supports about 140,000 jobs on each side of the border.

We're friends, neighbours, allies and we create jobs for each other.

I was recently in New York City where I met with Gary Cohn.

He heads up Goldman Sachs, which, as you know, is a highly successful global financial services firm.

Mr. Cohn said to me: "My workers fly in the same airplanes as the competition.

They ride in the same taxis. Sleep in the same hotels and use the same technology. Success today comes down to one thing: talent."

If you think about the world we live in today, it's a world where you can borrow your capital, copy your technology and buy your natural resources.

There's only one thing left on which to build your advantage, build a strong economy, and a great society: talent.

And that's what I want to talk to you about today, about what we've been doing in Ontario to nurture our talent by improving education.

I'll begin with a caveat. 

I hope our experience in Ontario is of some value to you.

But I believe you should never try to draw too many lessons from someone else's experience. 

And just as we modified international experience to serve our purposes, so should you.

The best education reform plan for you is one you develop to suit you.

Now, let me tell you a little bit about Ontario's recent education story.

When we formed the government six years ago, our schools were suffering from neglect, poor performance and low morale. 

Labour unrest -- strikes -- were the order of the day.

Parents lost confidence in the school system.

Record numbers of kids left for private schools. 

Only 54 per cent of students were meeting the provincial standard for literacy and numeracy and only 68 per cent of students were graduating from high school. 

Teachers, who could, retired early. Others left Ontario to teach elsewhere.

In 2003, we earned the privilege of serving Ontarians as their government.

We campaigned on a plan to achieve progress in our schools.

We promised peace, stability, respect, smaller classes, higher test scores and higher graduation rates.

Today, six years later, we haven't lost a single day to a teachers' strike.

Optimism, confidence and respect are back in our schools.

As promised, we've lowered class sizes for our youngest students.

Now, 90 per cent of our classes for four- to eight-year-olds have 20 or fewer children -- it used to be only 31 per cent.

Most importantly, we're getting results:

  • Our test scores are up. We've gone from 54 to 65 per cent of our kids meeting the Ontario standard.
  • Our graduation rate is up. It has jumped from 68 to 77 per cent. That means 14,000 more high school students graduated in the class of 2008 than in the class of 2004.
  • Our PISA ranking puts us in the top five internationally.

Of course, there's more to do.

And I would like to move faster.

But, we've made real, measurable progress.

So, I thought it might be helpful if I simply shared some of what I have learned along the way - as a practitioner and not an expert.

Here are seven lessons I've learned about making progress in our schools.

Lesson one:

The drive to make progress in our schools can't be a fad.

It has to be an enduring, government priority backed by resources and an intelligent plan.

Teachers and principals can smell a fad a thousand miles away and they will wait for it to pass them by.

People need to know that your reforms are real, that they transcend politics, that they are permanent and that they are irresistible. 

Lesson two:

Education reform is not important to your government unless it's important to the head of your government -- personally. And their actions must support that.

If I, as Premier, did not take a personal and active interest in driving academic achievement, progress would come to a halt.

Here are a few things I do: 

Every two months, I convene my "Premier's Education Results Team".

This group includes my minister of education, Kathleen Wynne, our deputy minister, Ben Levin and my special advisor, Michael Fullan.

My team reports to me on progress we're making and how we can accelerate that progress.

The meeting ends with me, personally, giving direction on how our government should keep moving forward.

Word of the meeting gets out. I encourage that.

Because I want all our partners to know that education is not just a government priority -- it's my personal priority.

I also meet with a group of 20 principals. We call our group, "Leader to Leader."

Ten of the principals are from schools that are excelling.

And, they are matched with ten others from schools that are struggling.

Of course, this gives the principals an opportunity to learn from each other.

But that's something they could have done on their own.

The real reason I meet with these principals is to get a sense from people working on the frontlines of how our plan is working.

Of course, I also visit Ontario schools regularly, where I put my favourite question to principals and teachers:

"What can we do, working together, to achieve even better results?"

In short, I believe the leader of the government needs regular contact with principals, teachers, and other education partners.

This keeps us in the know. It energizes us and it proves our personal commitment.

Lesson three:

It doesn't matter how much money you invest.

It doesn't matter how much people want change.

You won't get results unless teachers are onside.

We have worked hard to build a positive working relationship with our teachers.

We do not engage in inflammatory rhetoric.

Public bickering undermines public confidence.

To better celebrate our teachers and our successes, I have created the Premier's Awards for Teaching Excellence.

Policy development and implementation happen in dialogue with our education partners.

We don't always agree.

But I am reminded of some of the best political advice I ever received.

I got it from my mother on my wedding day.

She said: "Whatever happens, keep talking."

So, in Ontario, we keep talking to our teachers.

I make it clear to them and all our education partners, that our pursuit of improvement will be relentless.

And there is no place to hide.

Teachers feel the pressure from their school's published test scores and graduation rates.

But perhaps, more importantly, they feel pressure from a public that is confident in the progress we are making and hungry for more.

We recently launched a school information finder website which allows people to compare demographic and student data, including test scores, from different schools.

Our education partners objected to this. 

The public was all for it. So we went ahead.

In a sense, there has been an awakening in Ontario.

This new reality has also emboldened our government to pass two new laws:

One requires our young people to continue learning until the age of 18 or until they complete high school -- whichever comes first.

The other is a new law that lets us intervene in a school district that is failing academically.

Just as we have the right to turn individual schools around, we are giving ourselves the power to turn entire school districts around.

And this new appetite for progress has also allowed us to move forward with a new plan to implement all-day learning for four- and five-year olds.

Lesson four:

Don't forget the hard part: you must improve your teaching.

Sure, you can have world class standards, rigorous testing and brilliant data management so we know precisely how each student is faring -- but you still have to improve your teaching.

We chose not to do these in Ontario, but you can shut down schools that don't perform, pay your best teachers more, try to get rid of poor performing teachers, and try to hire only the best performing teachers.

But I'm guessing over 90 per cent of your teachers aren't going anywhere.

And if you want your students to do better, you're going to need your teachers to do better.

That means giving them new knowledge and getting them to put that new knowledge into practice.

That means building capacity in the system. And that's the hard part!

In Ontario, we started down the path of better teaching by creating a Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat.

A new arm of the government dedicated to academic achievement in reading, writing and mathematics through better teaching.

Our new Secretariat began its work by offering literacy and numeracy training to our teachers during the summer.

So far, over 20,000 are taking advantage of this volunteer training.

Then we offered extra training to teachers who wanted to serve as lead teachers in their schools.

So they could help other teachers.

Then we stepped that up.

We created our "Ontario Focused Intervention Partnership."

This gives struggling schools extra resources and help to improve teaching.

Then we developed a new teacher induction program to improve teaching.

Then we improved the training we offer our school principals because the best principals improve the teaching in their schools.

I could keep going, but my point is this: you can't do too much to improve your teaching.

But you can easily do too little.

Lesson five:

If you want to achieve your goals, you need to keep up the pressure -- all the time.

Over time, as you pursue progress, your education leaders in government itself, let alone your teachers on the front lines, will grow bored or disheartened.

Progress can be slow, it's tough slogging.

It takes discipline to stay the course.

You've got to learn to recognize distracters and say 'no' to them.

At one point in time we considered denying driver's licenses to students who dropped out of school.

But the discussion turned into one about the rights of kids to drive and not about education.

Where you can, take your distracters off the table.

We addressed complaints about class size by reducing class size.

We shelved labour challenges by entering into unprecedented long-term, four-year employment agreements with our teachers.

We quieted complaints about crumbling schools by investing heavily in school repairs and renovations.

By taking all of these off the table, our agenda became the only real one left.

It became unavoidable.

Lesson six:

Once you start making progress, you've got permission to invest in more.

Nobody wants to invest in failure.

But investing in success, well, that's another story.

Since 2003, we have increased our education budget by $5 billion -- or 34 per cent.

And -- what's more -- not all that new funding was strictly to improve test scores and graduation rates.

The progress we achieved in those areas gave us permission to enrich the overall Ontario education experience.

For example, we hired over 3,000 more specialist teachers for music, art and phys ed -- programs that are often the first on the chopping block.

These kinds of investments also helped us win over some of the skeptics who thought our academic reforms were too Spartan, too utilitarian, and too political.

We are also investing heavily in repairs and renovations to our schools.

We're spending another $5 billion on over 12,000 capital projects.

Winston Churchill once said: "First we shape our buildings, and then they shape us."

If we want schools that inspire our children, then at minimum we must ensure they are in good repair.

Lesson seven:

The best way to sustain your effort to improve your schools is to keep it personal.

If it's only a matter of good public policy, that's not enough to keep you going over the long run.

Here's why I'm so committed to making Ontario schools the best we can make them.

On my father's side, his mom was married at 16 to a man of 32.

They both had a Grade 8 education.

They had six kids.

My dad was the youngest.

My grandmother ran a boarding house. My grandfather was a night watchman.

On my mother's side, her dad left one day when she was still very young.

He never came back.

So her mother, left alone with five little girls, earned a living cleaning other people's houses. 

Two generations later, I enjoy the privilege of serving 13 million Ontarians as their Premier.

That's the power of education, the power to lift all of us up.

My dad was the first in his family to finish high school.

He went on to earn a PhD. My mom became a nurse.

My parents had 10 kids. All 10 of us graduated from university.

My dad has passed away.

Today, my mom has 26 grandchildren.

Every, single one of those grandkids will go on to university -- it is expected.

They can do it. And the opportunity is there.

Now the most extraordinary thing about my story is how ordinary it is.

Millions and millions of families around the world owe their success to accessible, public education.

In his book, "In Praise of Education", John Goodlad offers this magnificent description:

"Education is the foundation of our freedom. It's the guarantee of our future, it's the cause of our prosperity and our power, it's the bastion of our security, it's the bright and shining beacon -- it's the source of our enlightenment."

Those are gorgeous words. I love that description of education, this noble enterprise you and I champion.

Our challenge is to nail that vision down to the bedrock of determined political action.

Our responsibility is to build an education system worthy of the dreams we dream for our children.

Thank you.

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