The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) was founded in 1998 after the amalgamation of six GTA school boards previously known as the Metropolitan Toronto School Board. The TDSB is Canada’s largest school board and the fourth largest school board in North America, serving 583 schools and approximately 247,000 students. Toronto’s diverse population is reflected in the student body of the TDSB, with 71% of students identifying as non-White.
Racial Background (JK-Grade 12)Source: 2016-2017 TDSB Student and Parent Census
History of Race Relations, Racism, and Equity Policies
Policies looking to fight against anti-Black racism in Toronto school boards have been ongoing since 1970. The Toronto Board of Education, the pre-amalgamation school board with the highest proportion of Black students, conducted its first All Student Count survey in 1970 to understand how changing immigration policies had impacted the racial makeup of its schools. Starting in 1980, annual surveys were conducted to observe educational outcomes of students based on race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status. These studies found a consistent gap between the educational outcomes of Black and White students. Other studies observed that the Board’s curriculum was strongly Eurocentric, observing a “fundamental incompatibility between the single cultural base of the school system’s operation and the multicultural base of the community”. In the following years, the Toronto Board of Education put in place several programs to close this achievement gap and combat racism in its schools, however, these efforts showed little success.
In 1992, following the Yonge Street Riots, the Government of Ontario issued an investigation into systemic racism in the province’s institutions. The following report, later referred to as The Lewis Report, discussed the systemic of the Ontario school system in addressing discrimination in its schools, showing that previous efforts were not adequate in addressing these issues. The report pointed to failures in equitable hiring practices, Eurocentric curriculum, lack of equity training, and disproportionate discipline of racialized students as causes of this disparity in educational outcomes. The Report highlighted these concerns through a series of pleas to the Premier:
Where are the courses in Black history? Where are the visible minority teachers? Why are there so few role models? Why do our white guidance counsellors know so little of different cultural backgrounds? Why are racist incidents and epithets tolerate? Why are there double standards of discipline? Why are minority students streamed? Why do they discourage us from University? Where are we going to find jobs? What’s the use of having an education if there’s no employment? How long does it take to change the curriculum so that we’re a part of it? (Lewis, 1992, p. 20-21)
These issues have continued to be highlighted in investigations in the years following. In 2005, after Ontario Human Rights Commission brought forward a complaint against the TDSB alleging that the Board’s zero-tolerance disciplinary policies disproportionate impacted Black students and violated the Ontario Human Rights Code. The TDSB was forced to acknowledge this systemic violence against Black students and dismantled its zero-tolerance policy in 2008.
Equity in Education Today: 51 Years Later
The TDSB was the first school board in Ontario to collect disaggregated race-based data on educational and disciplinary outcomes. This data allows us to understand how the experience of education differs between racialized and non-racialized students and helps us identify systemic gaps in education outcomes between these groups. This is important for understanding how racism effects our systems of education and informs how we can address these problems.
Disciplinary Action: In the most recent student census, it was shown that Black, Indigenous, mixed-race and Middle Eastern students are expelled at disproportionately high rate. This trend was also identified in the 1992 Lewis report and the 2005 Ontario Human Rights Commission complaint against the TDSB. Black students, while making up only 12% of the student body, make up nearly half of total expulsions. Disproportionate discipline based on race is also reflected in suspensions, with 42% of Black students being suspended before graduating high school, compared to 18% among White students. These trends show a systemic over-punishment of Black and other racialized students, showing that the TDSB continues to fall short of addressing systemic racism in its student disciplinary policies.
Comparison of Expulsion Rates with Representation in the Student Population by Student Ethno-Racial Background
Cumulative Suspensions for Black, Other Racialized, & White High School Students, TDSB (2006-2011 Cohort)
Streaming and Educational Opportunity: It has been well documented that across the Ontario education system teachers, administrators, and guidance councillors have lower expectations of Black students than that of their white counterparts. This implicit racism leads Black students to be disproportionately streamed into non-academic programs, underrepresented in gifted programs, and overrepresented in special needs classrooms. This practice of streaming into non-academic programs reduces one’s educational opportunities later in life, leading to lower rates of enrolment in post-secondary education by Black students after graduation. The practice of streaming was officially ended in 1999 but has carried on until today. In July of 2020, the Ontario Government announced that they would again end the practice of streaming after observing that 47% of Black high school students were streamed into applied-level courses, compared to 20% of non-Black students. This is yet another issue that was highlighted in the Lewis Report 29 years ago that has not been adequately addressed on a systemic level.
Special Education Identification for Black, Other Racialized, and White High School Students, TDSB (2006-2011 Cohort)
Confirmation in Post-Secondary Education for Black, Other Racialized, and White High school Students, TDSB (2006-2011 Cohort).
Are There Ways To Close These Gaps?
In January of 2008 the TDSB published the Improving Success for Black Students report which recommended the creation of an Africentric school program. This program was meant to target gaps in education outcomes through the creation of an education environment in which Black students see themselves and are encouraged to thrive. As a result, the Africentric Alternative School (AAS) opened in 2009 and such programs have spread to other programs in the years since. The AAS partnered with York University’s Centre for Education and Community and the TDSB to research the effects of such a learning environment on its students. A study published through this collaboration noted that aspects of AAS such as the development of positive Black identity, a culturally representative curriculum, and high educational expectations all had positive effects on students.
The TDSB is one of the most proactive school boards in Ontario in trying to address anti-black racism in education. New programs like the Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement look to address the systemic barriers Black students face in their education. TDSB’s Multi-Year Strategic Action Plan aims to reduce streaming, increase the proportion of Black students in academic programs, increase the number of Black students graduating to post-secondary education, reduce the number of Black students in Special Ed programs, and address the disproportionate effect of disciplinary practices on Black and racialized students. However, instances of racism still regularly go ignored or are not properly addressed by school administration. The TDSB still shows the need for more robust reporting and accountability measures, as stories of racist bullying by both students and staff without adequate accountability are still all-to-common. Educators and students have repeatedly called for the Black experience to be more represented in high school curriculums, with a petition to make a race and ethnicity course mandatory in highschools launched in June of 2020 receiving over 65,000 signatures. Such measures, along with increased equity training for teachers and administration, equitable hiring practices, and targeted anti-racist education for guidance counsellor can be used to recreate the success shown in the Africentric Alternative School by creating a learning environment in which Black and racialized students see themselves and are encouraged to thrive.
By Noah Kelly, Intern