Education Minister Ramona Jennex announced Thursday that an expert review of Nova Scotia’s public education system and its recommendations would be seriously considered as a cost cutting measure.
“At a time when our province is dealing with steady enrolment decline while slowly recovering from a recession, we can no longer afford to do things the way we've been doing them,” said Jennex.
Ben Levin, an education expert and professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, analyzed Nova Scotia’s public education system and concluded that school closures and the reduction of the number of teaching assistants in special education is required.
Jennex continued, “We're going to be looking at this and doing further study.”
Levin’s recommendation to reduce the number of teaching assistants is a new approach to cost cutting in education and easily could be seen as detrimental to the education of certain students. Alternatively, Levin states in his report that there is no practical evidence that proves aides actually help students with learning disabilities improve their academic performance.
“More and more children are being referred into special education and there seems no end to this increase. At one time, experts thought that 3–4 per cent of all children might require special education services. Now many systems are around 15 per cent with continuing pressure to increase these numbers,” said the report.
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The report also speculates that the number of students with physical disabilities has remained constant or even possibly has declined. This means that there is a potential increased sensitivity to differences that at one time were regarded as part of a normal range in student behaviour.
Along the lines of school closures, Levin recommended that small remote schools should stay open for easier student access and less unreasonable bus rides. What should be closed, Levin concluded, are schools in cities and towns where there are too many per capita.
The report concluded that Nova Scotia has a good public school system that serves the province well, but it can easily continue to improve. This is imperative, said the report, for Nova Scotia because of the financial and demographic challenges that the province is facing. “My hope is that the ideas and suggestions in this report will lead to an even stronger and more effective system of public education for all the people of Nova Scotia,” said Levin in the report.