Archive for the ‘Anti-Racism Policy’ Category


The Pandemic upended Canadian provincial systems and school lockdowns at their height affected the lives of some 5 million students and their families. Three years after its onset, the impact of the COVID-19 disruption is beginning to show in terms of student learning loss, foundational skills deficits, and psycho-social after-effects. While initially disoriented and slow to react, education authorities and researchers now recognize that a new set of priorities has come to the fore –‘learning recovery’ and closing the learning gaps in literacy and numeracy, falling heavily on students from racialized and marginalized communities.

Tackling racism with new policy mandates, advocating for the hiring of more diversity, equity and inclusion officers and collecting race-based data have not only lost their urgency, but stalled in their implementation, especially outside the Greater Toronto Area and our more ethnically-diverse cities.  One elementary school principal from Central Ontario surveyed in the spring of 2022 by the Toronto-based funding advocacy organization People for Education put it best: “School closures and COVID interruptions have greatly impacted the depth of learning and conversations around anti-racism. Greater continuity would certainly be beneficial to those efforts.”  Simply stated, priorities have changed at the classroom level in Canada’s schools.

That is why the latest People for Education report (January 2023) surveying anti-racism policy in Ontario and elsewhere is problematic and raises more questions than it really answers. Written by two younger researchers, Robin Liu Hopson, M.A., Director, Policy and Research at People for Education, and  Kaushi Attygalle, Senior Research Associate for YouthREX, it focuses almost exclusively on rates of compliance with federal and provincial anti-racism strategy, legislation and directives. Most of the data is actually derived from two sources – data mined from the official websites of Ontario’s 72 publicly-funded school boards and self-reported survey responses from Ontario-based school principals. The report on “anti-racism’ policy, rather predictably, found “significant inconsistencies in the execution of these strategies.”


With the Pandemic still lingering and its after-effects increasingly visible, the report frames the fundamental problem as one of confronting racism and Indigenous injustices by taking “a closer look” at “discriminatory practices and the role that they play in perpetuating systemic racism.” It pivots off-of the findings of the 2022 Independent Special Interlocutor’s report, Missing Children and Unmarked Graves and Burial Sites associated with Indian Residential Schools.”  Residential school atrocities and isolated acts of overt racism are identified as critical because they “triggered discussions on discrimination and signaled calls for equity in Canada.”

Much of this selective, qualitative, data-limited study is informed by the conception of “anti-racism” and supporting analysis of American academic Ibram X. Kendi, and his 2019 bestseller, How to be an antiracistAnti-racism, according to Kendi is: “Belief in equality among all races, and that racial inequality is an outcome of problematic policies and power imbalances.”  It starts with the assumption that “race and racism” is at the root of inequality rather than class or other disadvantages, racism is harboured in institutions, and “different treatment is necessary for equal outcomes.”

Provincial education authorities, school districts and individual schools are assessed in the 2023 People for Education report solely on the basis of their compliance with government mandates, stemming from the 2019 federal anti-racism plan, funded at $45-million and covering three years, to promote “long-term action towards increasing equitable access to and participation in the economic, cultural, social and political spheres.” Provincial anti-racism policy in Ontario actually dates back to 2017 when it was enacted into law in the final year of the Kathleen Wynne Liberal government. Since then, only two other provinces have followed suit, British Columbia and Nova Scotia, both in 2022. Overall, fewer than half (six) of our 13 provinces and territories have developed policy initiatives ranging from developing strategies and action plans, forming advisory councils or committees, to passing new legislation.

                Provincial anti-racism work (tapping into $30-million in federal funding for community programs and $3.3-million for public education programs) fell far short of its objectives.  A recent Toronto Star news report by Kristin Rushowy (January 15, 2022) parroting the People for Education media release claimed that progress was slowed by the pandemic. That’s only partly true because an earlier November 2020 Parliament of Canada review reported only modest progress, mostly funded by federal monies.

Securing racial profile data for school systems and most other public institutions is now part of the anti-racism policy agenda and figured prominently in the People for Education findings.  Out of some 1,000 Ontario principals surveyed, representing 20 per cent of all schools, 86.7 per cent self-identified as “white,” followed by 5.2 per cent Black, 3 per cent as South Asian, 2.7 per cent East Asian, and 2.3 per cant Indigenous.

“The numbers are so stark,” said Annie Kidder, the group’s executive director. “It definitely points to a problem in the system when you are thinking of all the results where race comes into play and how important it is that we work harder to have a system where the staff, all the staff, are reflective of the students.” That buttressed the report’s key finding: “the homogenous racial profile of school principals is in contrast to Ontario’s population, which comprises more than half of Canada’s ‘visible minority’ population.”

The overwhelmingly “white” Ontario school-level leadership is definitely more geared up for ‘anti-racist work’ than district school boards. Some 94 per cent of principals reported providing staff professional development “specific to anti-racism and equity,” and 73 per cent had included “anti-racism” in their local School Improvement Plans. School districts, guided by elected school boards ostensibly representing the public, were far less compliant. Fewer than two-thirds of school boards (64%) reported collecting “race-based  and/or demographic data,” only 28 per cent had an explicit “anti-racism policy, strategy or approach” and one out of four boards (26%) made no mention of “anti-racism” in their posted equity policies.


None of the survey questions posed by People for Education researchers actually focused on gathering data that really matters: the incidence of racial acts or race-related violence in the schools, the ‘reading failure’ connection, growth in anti-racism staff complements, local resistance to disclosing racial data, and teacher skepticism about the effectiveness of top-down policy initiatives.

Much of the passive resistance may be attributable to a broader awareness of the continuing education crisis. Student literacy is identified by Illuminate Education and many American school authorities as “a social justice issue” especially relevant to Black and minority students. Each year, over four million U.S. grade 4 students are added to the population of non-readers and, according to the World Bank, living in “learning poverty.” A year ago, the Ontario Human Rights Commission Right to Read Inquiry, found reading failure to be an urgent matter  of “social justice,” for children affected by learning disabilities, marginalized or struggling with “intersecting conditions.” What’s most peculiar is that– so far– the literacy crisis disproportionately affecting disadvantaged children has been brushed aside by the very organization now urging compliance with “anti-racism” mandates.

Why have federal anti-racism initiatives in schools been stalled in their tracks, even in Ontario?  Will ‘top-down’ anti-racism policy directives work to root out racism and, more importantly, reduce the incidence of racially-motivated discrimination and violence?  How much of the impetus for collecting race-based data comes from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and its GTA board allies?  Is there a danger that racial-profiling will backfire – breeding deeper ‘racial identity’ divisions and providing evidence which only reinforces harmful and debilitating stereotypes? 

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