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Transcript: Premier's Remarks To The Building Blocks For Education Summit

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Transcript: Premier's Remarks To The Building Blocks For Education Summit

Office of the Premier

Thank you so much, Michael, for your kind introduction. And thank you both, Michael Barber and Michael Fullan, on a couple accounts, for chairing our education summit and for your leadership in helping all of us achieve more for our children.

Michael made reference to the big family that I grew up in and I believe, as I am sure you do, that some of the most important lessons learned in life are learned at home while still growing up. So, I want you to imagine dinner time in the McGuinty household: five kids on the bench on this side, five kids on the bench on this side, my father at this end of the table and sainted mother - when she had time sit - at the opposite end of the table.

My dad was an impressive guy to us children. He was 6 foot 4'', 240 pounds and a university professor. He would hold forth from time to time at the dinner table and one of his favourite lessons was this: he would look us all in the eye and say, "Kids remember, nobody here is as strong as all of us, nobody here is as smart as all of us." 


And that's why we have come together. I think we all have this basic fundamental understanding that the single most important thing that we can do to pursue this magnificent enterprise of education is to find and create opportunities for us to come together, and to share, and to better understand and find ways to move forward. So, I thank you all for being here.

I also want to thank all of our speakers for sharing your time, your talent, and your experience. And again, I'd like to thank all of you ladies and gentlemen for participating in our summit. Thank you for traveling here, from places near and far, so that together we can tackle whole system reform.

I just want to make one other comment before I get underway. Michael made reference to the fact that once you get the policy right -- and that's a lot of work -- you've only just begun. I'm reminded of the story because I've just returned recently from a canoe trip up in northern Ontario. I was with my three sons and this is kind of a tradition in my household. And my wife and daughter won't accompany us because we refuse to portage a bathtub and hot water heater. 

So we came across a moose. I have never gone moose hunting, but they tell me moose hunting works this way. First, in Ontario you have to apply for and obtain a permit, a moose tag. Once you get the tag, then you've got to acquire the necessary equipment. Then you've got to load up your car. Then you've got to drive up into the woods. Then you've got to take your equipment out of the car. Then you've got to haul it into the woods. Then you've got to sit there and you've got to wait for the moose. And after a day, or two, or three, or four, you may come across a moose. And you shoot the moose. Once that's done, that's when the work begins. It's not unlike that when it comes to developing a policy. After you develop the policy, the work begins.

I would have liked to have stayed after my remarks for a question and answer session this morning, but today marks the return of our Legislature for the fall sitting. So, in a few minutes, I'll be taking questions from the opposition parties. Believe me, I'd much prefer to take yours.

This is a busy time for all of us with school just underway. My wife, as Michael mentioned, Terri, is a teacher. So I know how exciting and inspiring it can be at this time. The kids have recharged over the summer. They're full of energy for the year ahead and they've learned new things that they're so eager to share - which reminds me of a story.

It was the first day of Grade One. The teacher asks the class: "If I have two rabbits, and add two more rabbits, how many rabbits do I have?" A little boy answers: "Why teacher that would make nine rabbits." The teacher gently responds: "No, I'm sorry. I'm not sure you understand the question." To which the little boy replies: "Actually, I'm not sure you understand rabbits."

[Laughter]

That just goes to show kids have got a lot to teach us. And we, of course, have a lot to learn from each other.

I'm proud to say Ontarians have a long history of international collaboration in education. It goes right back to the man who is considered the father of public education in Ontario -- Egerton Ryerson. In 1844 and 1845, when he was putting together his proposals for Ontario's public school system, he travelled to more than 20 countries to study their systems, learn about the best and apply it here in Ontario. So, 166 years later, we're pleased to return the favour by creating this opportunity for all of us to share what we have learned about "whole system reform".

Now, before I do that, I offer 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 somebody else's experience. 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 more recent education story. When we formed the government seven years ago, our schools were suffering from neglect, poor performance, and low morale. Labour unrest -- strikes -- were the order of the day. Parents had lost confidence in our school system. Record numbers of students had 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. And the numbers were barely moving. 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, seven years later, we haven't lost a single day to a teachers' strike. Optimism, confidence and respect are back in our schools. We have smaller classes in the early years. They're capped at 23 with 90 per cent of our classes having 20 or fewer students. We have funded over 11,000 more teaching positions and better training for those teachers. We offer our children a richer educational experience with more teacher specialists in physical education, music and art. And we have made a massive investment in school building projects.

Most importantly, we're getting results: Our test scores are up by 14 percentage points -- 68 per cent of our students now meet the Ontario standard which is a B or 70 per cent. Our graduation rate is up by 11 percentage points -- 79 per cent of our young people now graduate from high school. And our PISA ranking puts us in the top five internationally in science and reading.

So, are we excited about our progress? You bet. We have worked hard to move every student, of every background, forward. And with nearly four out 10 Ontario students being immigrants, that's a lot of background.

Now, are we satisfied with our progress? Different question: Are we satisfied with our progress? Well, I'm reminded of that Belgian car that broke the world land speed record in 1899 when it went 100 kilometers per hour. The name of the car was "La Jamais Contente," the "never satisfied!"

I think we can all be proud of the progress we make in our schools, but I don't think we should ever, ever be fully satisfied because there's always more to do, more to be learned.

And I thought it might be helpful if I simply shared some of what I have learned along the way -- as a practitioner, of course, and not an expert. So here are eight 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, that they are, in a word, 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.

As Premier, I take personal responsibility for driving academic achievement. 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, Leona Dombrowsky, our deputy minister, Kevin Costante, my special advisor, Michael Fullan, and a few others.

My team reports to me on the progress we're making, or lack thereof, and how we can accelerate 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. I want all our partners to know that education is not just a government priority -- it's my personal priority.

I visit Ontario schools regularly and 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, parents, students and other education partners. This keeps us in the know. It energizes us. It proves our personal commitment.

Lesson three. It doesn't matter how much money you invest. It doesn't matter how much you want change. You won't get results unless you enlist your teachers in the cause of better education.

We worked hard to build a positive, working relationship with our teachers. We do not engage in inflammatory rhetoric. We do not use our teachers as a political punching bag. Public bickering undermines public confidence.

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. There is no place to hide. I know that teachers feel pressured by published graduation rates and test scores. I'm okay with that. I also feel pressured to keep improving and improving.

Transparency and accountability are the order of the day. That's the way it should be in an open society. And the fact is, we're getting good results in Ontario because we're getting good work from our teachers. And to better celebrate that good work, I created the "Premier's Awards for Teaching Excellence".

Lesson four. To succeed, you need to build capacity. You need to make changes to grow stronger. You need to empower the right people in the right way so that, together, you will deliver success.

In Ontario, we started by creating our "Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat. " It's a new arm of the government dedicated to achievement in reading, writing and mathematics through better teaching.

Our Secretariat began its work by offering literacy and numeracy training to our teachers during the summer. Over 25,000 teachers have taken advantage of this voluntary training. Then we offered extra training to teachers who wanted to serve as coaches 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 helps support teaching and learning there. Among other things, we send teachers with specialized training into struggling schools to help them improve.

Then we developed a teacher induction and mentoring program to help new teachers. Then we improved the training we offer our school principals because the best principals improve the teaching in their schools. Then we reached out to our school districts by giving them extra support in the development of their "student performance improvement plans," plans we have made mandatory for all our school districts.

We have, literally, dozens of new strategies we deploy to get results. Districts and schools are innovating all the time. We support them to do more and to spread their good ideas to others.

My point is this: you can't do too much to improve your teaching, but you can easily do too little.

Lesson five. Settle on a few priorities and pursue them relentlessly. We chose class sizes, test scores, and graduation rates. That agenda is my personal education compass and I take it with me wherever I go.

Now, over time, many of your allies in education and education reform will grow bored or disheartened. Progress can be slow at times. It's tough slogging. It takes discipline to stay the course. You've got to learn to recognize "distracters" and say "no" to them.

I'll give you an example. We passed a law requiring students to keep learning until the age of 18. Then, we thought we might take it a step further by proposing to deny driver's licenses to students who dropped out of school. That discussion turned into one about the rights of kids to drive and not about education. It became, in short, a distraction. So we dropped it.

Where you can, take your distracters off the table. In Ontario, 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 altogether.

Since 2003, we have increased our education budget by $6 billion -- or 40 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 provided funding for over 3,700 more elementary specialist teachers for music, art and physical education -- programs that are often the first on the chopping block. And we invested in safer and healthier schools, knowing that learning is a lot harder if you're not healthy or you don't feel safe. So, today, our schools have Safe School Teams, bullying is treated as a serious offence, and 20 minutes of daily physical activity is mandatory in elementary schools.

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

Lesson seven. You're never done. You're never done learning about how to do things better and you're never done applying those lessons.

For example, we have learned a lot about the importance of readying our youngest learners for Grade One and how this "readiness" is a powerful predictor of a child's ability to succeed in school and later in life. So, last week, we took our next step towards a better Ontario education. We introduced full-day learning for our 4- and 5-year-old children.

You know, I was thinking, today's kindergarten students will be wrapping up their postsecondary education some time around 2030. That's 20 years from now. We don't know what the world is going to look like in five years let alone 20.

Five years ago, most of us hadn't heard of Facebook. Today, half a billion people are using it. Five years ago, YouTube was just starting up.  Well, more video was uploaded to YouTube in the last two months than all the combined TV programming of ABC, NBC, and CBS since 1948.

The pace of change is breathtaking and accelerating. I tell my kids that being Premier for eight years is not that long. They say, "Dad, that's 24 iPod generations."

The reality of 2010 is that we can't teach our kids everything they'll need to know in 2030. But we can and should be mindful of George Bernard Shaw's sage advice when he said this: "What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child."

My friends, we must teach our children that their work as learners will never be done. And you and I must understand that our work as education reformers will never be done. There will always be more for us to learn, more for us to do.

Lesson eight. 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 may not be 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 dad's side, his mom was married at 16 to a man of 32. They both had their 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.

The McGuintys settled in the Ottawa Valley as immigrants from Ireland -- part of the exodus during the famine in the 1840s. 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 mother has 26 grandchildren. Every, single one of those grandkids will go on to college or university because they can, because it is expected 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 public education.

My friends, you and I are rich beneficiaries of public education. The quality of our lives, the responsibilities we have been granted, the influence we hold, none of these would be but for the education we received, the education we were given.

And now, we have, each in our own way, been commissioned by our generation to make education even better for those that follow. That's why we are here. That's what we will do. And on behalf of all those children whose lives you will have enriched, I thank you.

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