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Understanding de-streaming

This section contains a curated collection of resources aimed at articulating why de-streaming is not only a good thing for students, but an ethical imperative.


Questions and answers about de-streaming

Why de-stream?

  • Even with the best intentions, streaming is hurting a lot of kids by negatively altering the trajectories of their lives. Research has now made it clear: Grade 8 is far too soon to be making lifelong career choices. Student minds at that age are just not ready for that kind of long-term decision making (Source).

  • This negative effect is having a much greater impact on Indigenous and Black students, students receiving special education supports, and students from low-income families. They are disproportionately funneled into the Applied stream and it contributes to cycles of poverty and lack of opportunity.

What affect does streaming have on students?

  • Students in the Applied stream simply do not have the career and life opportunities that students in the Academic stream do. All options remain open to students in the Academic stream, while they do not for those in the Applied stream. When students feel that school no longer offers the value for them that it does for others, they are more likely to drop out. Consequently, the Applied stream has a much higher drop out rate.

  • Applied courses are taught under the assumption that underachieving students need a learning program better aligned to their perceived lower skills and with lower expectations so that they can find success. This was considered acceptable for such a long time because it was assumed that their low performance is inevitable, that their intelligence is fixed. (Or, in a darker sense, that they aren’t as valuable citizens as the Academic students). Longitudinal data shows that even when students are successful in the Applied stream, this does not lead to the same positive outcomes as similar success in Academic courses.

  • Students’ interests or learning skills and even intelligences are not fixed. Some have ‘growth spurts’ later than others, yet streaming cuts them off or makes it far more difficult to get the education they need for the career they want.

  • Streaming creates a class system within schools which triggers a self-fulling prophecy.

Will a de-streamed class make things more challenging for students who would have been enrolled in the Academic stream?

  • This fear has not been realised in every other Canadian province that has long removed all streaming in grade 9. Ontario is not stepping into unknown, risky territory with this policy change.

  • In a de-streamed grade nine class, the students coming to grade 9 from grade 8 are not experiencing any effect of being ‘de-streamed’ since they never were streamed to begin with (with the exception specialized elementary programs that some school boards offer). It is a continuation of their experience of learning together with peers that are not sorted by perceived ability.

  • We know the positive benefits that classroom culture can have on students. Putting students in a situation where they feel they are second-class has had a terrible effect on their academics and future trajectories.

  • There is no reason to believe that continuing with the same non-streamed experience they had in elementary school will be detrimental to their continued learning in grade 9. All evidence points to the opposite.

Will a de-streamed class make things more challenging for students who would have been enrolled in the Applied stream?

  • Ontario is the last province to de-stream grade 9 and this did not turn out to be a major concern in other provinces.

  • All students benefit from learning with a diverse classroom community of learners.

  • They also benefit from starting high school without an introduction to a two-tiered learning system that looks a lot like socio-economic classes. Just like in elementary school, all students should learn in a community of us, not a community of ‘us and them.’

  • Some students will find school more challenging than they would have in an Applied course, but the low expectations they would have received in Applied would have had adverse effects on their lives. The high expectations and the additional supported-challenges can have life-long positive benefits for students and can greatly improve their personal self-worth.

Is de-streaming even possible without additional funding for more EAs?

  • More funding for special education and EAs is and continues to be a need, but having students all learn together as they did in elementary school does not necessarily create a new additional demand for EAs.

  • Those who adamantly believe that many students will suffer and experience failure in de-streamed classes without EA support reveal an underlying belief that those students are simply not capable. It should be a reminder to us that it’s not just courses that need to be de-streamed but also our minds that sometimes make assumptions about certain students. Those feelings can run deep, but should be firmly questioned since those core beliefs have a heavy impact on students. In what is known as the “golem” or “reverse pygmalion” effect, students will live down to our low expectations.

De-streaming has been tried before and was a failure. Why are we doing this again?

  • In the late 1990s, Ontario began a process of de-streaming. At first it was with pilot boards and later one full year of grade nine was de-streamed which resulted in moderately positive results. While this policy shift was still in its infancy, it was cut short by the incoming government based on a political promise, not research.

  • Though the implementation of de-streaming was a bit messier in the 90's, and in the end was cancelled, this does not mean it was not a failure. Regardless of any government cancelling it, it remains and ethical imperative.

  • There is now a heightened societal awareness of systemic racism and discrimination that gives all teachers a better understanding of why de-streaming is imperative, which was not the case at all in the 90's and led to intense push-back by teachers and unions.

Will teaching a de-streamed class make teaching more demanding?

  • Teachers of intermediate grades teach in an unstreamed environment every day. Some days are hard, some days are amazing. It’s teaching. Those who wish to make it easier by filtering out students who are more in need should perhaps reflect on their motivations for teaching.

  • De-streaming requires teachers to de-stream their minds and assumptions as well. In a de-streamed class there are no Applied students or Academic students - they are all just students. They are a group of kids in a classroom with a teacher that cares about them and wants them to learn and thrive. Yes, this is demanding work, but anyone with a desire to remove from that class the students that perhaps need that support more than others and put them in a segregated classroom should deeply question the assumptions and motives behind those thoughts. Some of what made teaching Academic courses 'easier' are benefits that should have never existed.

Is the provincial government doing this just to save money?

  • The research on the benefits of de-streaming has piled up over decades. All other Canadian provinces have already moved on this long ago. The OECD has called on all governments to delay any form of streaming until the upper years of secondary school. Even if this somehow saves money, it is still an ethical imperative regardless of any politician’s motivations. (Source)

  • As addressed in another question here, in general, secondary schools could use more support, more EAs and more funding, but this is not a de-streaming issue. There is no evidence that this is a money-saving scheme.

Is de-streaming possible without smaller class sizes?

  • Ample research indicates that changing class sizes alone, without shifting how the teaching is done, has no effect on learning. But, when a teacher takes the opportunity of a smaller class to implement more effective practices and teaching methods, much better outcomes can result. So yes, classes should be smaller in general, and if teachers make significant changes to their instructional practice as a result, it would make teaching more effective. But this is not a de-streaming issue. (Source)

  • When students advance from non-streamed grade 8, with a class size average of 24.5, they will likely see a slightly smaller grade 9 class which has to be, on average, 23 students. While it is ideal that both of these numbers be lower, class size is not an issue that makes de-streaming impossible.

  • Educators can concurrently advocate for smaller class sizes and de-streaming. The presence of one is not contingent on the other.

Is the provincial government doing this to sabotage public education so that more parents will opt for private schools?

  • Unfortunately some parents may misunderstand or fear de-streaming and opt for private schools (which typically do not stream themselves). However, since there is enough international scholarship about the harm of streaming and the need to end the practice, de-streaming efforts actually improve the quality of the education provided. Essentially, de-streaming serves as a reinforcement of the value of public education, not a diminishment of it.

  • Following the example of top-performing education systems from around the world, getting Ontario in line with the rest of the provinces, and essentially doing what is right, is unlikely to be an attempt to sabotage the education system.

What do you mean streaming is racist?

  • The brains of racialized and low income kids are the same as any kid, yet their outcomes in our schools are markedly different from other groups. Black students are twice as likely to be streamed into Applied courses. It is considered racist because it harms some racial groups while benefiting others.

  • Research on bias in Ontario has shown that educator perceptions of students map onto demographic identities. Black students, for instance, are more often given lower ratings on Learning Skills, even when given the same grades. This was shown to have significant impact on their educational trajectories and teacher stream recommendation for high school. (Source)

There are no racialized students in my school. Why do we need to address systemic racism by de-streaming?

  • While racialized students bear the largest portion of negative outcomes from a streamed education, streaming (a kind of segregation) affects us all. The presence of a racialized body in a school should not be the only trigger to end this practice.

  • Streaming has the same effect on any student. If there are students streamed into Applied courses in your school then there is unintended damage being done.

  • It is on all of us to confront and address systemic racism. It is not only those in proximity to racialized people.

How can I teach a de-streamed class without adequate training on how to do it?

  • What de-streamed classes require is simply good teaching using Universal Design for Learning, Differentiated Instruction, and Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogy. This applies to every class in every grade, not just newly de-streamed classes.

  • Some training is required, but it centers around re-culturing and overcoming bias and understanding the effects of streaming, and it is ideal if boards can provide this for educators.

  • The vast majority of students that would have been streamed to Applied are not identified students with particular needs that require specialist training - they are just kids. The assumption that de-streaming requires a great deal of additional training reveals underlying bias and assumptions about these students.


Supports for understanding de-streaming

Academic Streaming (Jason To)

  • This three part blog from Ontario secondary educator Jason To makes the case for why streaming is bad for kids and society.

Destreaming in Ontario: History, Evidence and Educator Reflections (Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario)

  • HEQCO's summary the evidence for de-streaming.

EP 06: Streaming and Educational Pathways, ft. Alison Gaymes-San Vicente, Gillian Parekh, Diana Grimaldos & Annie Kidder

  • This podcast explores the many ways that students are streamed in Ontario school and the impact it has on student lives. The speakers challenge us to consider the ways in which we have normalized and perpetuate marginalization and offer ideas to educators, schools and systems to disrupt these patterns.

Destreaming Science in Ontario Schools (Brandon Zoras)

  • Looking at why and how we need to destream science in Ontario schools from the perspective of science teaching.

Destreaming 101 (Nelson)

  • This course is designed to support educators who are new to destreamed pedagogy, or looking to learn more about the history of destreaming, its historical impact on students, and strategies to support the implementation of destreaming curriculum.

How Ontario Can Get De-Streaming Right (People for Education)

  • Suggested policy direction from People for Education.

Coalition for Alternatives to Streaming in Education (CASE)

  • A diverse group of organizations, community groups, parents, students, educators and individuals who share the common goal of effectively ending the practice of academic streaming in Ontario schools.

  • CASE Fact Sheet and Recommendations

Applied or Academic: High Impact Decisions for Ontario students (People for Education)

  • Research publication on the negative impact streaming has on students and society.

Streaming in Ontario (Science Teacher' Association of Ontario)

  • STAO's statement on de-streaming.

Destreaming Education: Our Two Cents (Edugals)

  • Two Ontario educators make the case for de-streaming in this blog and podcast.

Timing is everything: The implementation of de-streaming in Ontario's high schools (People for Education)

  • Report on de-streaming implementation in Ontario based on a survey of Ontario principals. While praising the policy, People for Education share concerns about implementation and offer recommendations.


Research on de-streaming

Equity and Quality in Education - Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools (large PDF)

  • OECD white paper that recommends eliminating streaming until the upper grades of secondary school.

How to End Streaming in Ontario Schools (Ontario 360, U of T)

  • In this paper, Tianna Follwell and Sam Andrey show how streaming has harmful and disadvantageous consequences for both individual students and education systems more broadly.

Marginal at Best- A narrative on streaming in public education (Alison Gaymes San Vicente, Policy Alternatives)

  • Understanding the influence of streaming as a form of institutionalized violence against racialized and disadvantaged students.

Restacking the Deck (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)

  • An examination of streaming by class, race and gender in Ontario schools.

Towards Race Equity in Education - The Schooling of Black Students in the Greater Toronto Area (York University)

  • This report, authored by Dr. Carl James and Tana Turner, documents the first community-led project that captures education issues from the perspectives of black community members, parents, students, and educators.


Other forms of streaming in Ontario

Stop Streaming Black Kids into Special Education (ETFO)

  • Calling out another kind of racial streaming taking place in Ontario.

The Case for Inclusive Education (TDSB)

  • Title says it all.


Supporting videos