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Economics, Credentials, and Our Educational Expectations

April 12, 2002

Mr. C. Turner

“The mere existence of school discourages and disables the poor from taking
control of their own learning.”1

Part I : Outline, Thesis and Rationale

This research paper will examine the current policy of accreditation in the
educational system of Ontario as it relates to the economic conditions of the people of
Ontario. I believe the study of dropouts is of particular relevance in the context of recent
changes in the educational system designed to entrench standards of excellence and
student/teacher testing. As more students fail these standards we can expect a greater
number of dropouts. With increased dropouts we can also expect a larger number of
people returning as adults to achieve credentials at one institution or another.

The research in this is a self-styled archeology of educational norms and values

observable within the educational discourse of historical Ontario. A historical analysis of
the origins of our current credential system in Ontario will help us understand something
about the ground in which our current educational expectations have formed.

This research works toward constructing a statistical picture of historical

demographic trends relating to education and studies that emphasize the economic
condition of individuals in relation to achievement and educational certification. An

Illich, Ivan. Deschooling Society. New York, 1970. p.11.

attempt has also been made to collect relevant statistics from accessible research studies
relating the economic disadvantage suffered by high school dropouts.

This study will look at high school enrolments, the development of the credential
system and the sorting impact that this publicly funded institution created as it relates to
assumptions between income and credentials.

Part I : Thesis

The origins and purposes of schooling have always had a strong economic
component. In our daily adult lives this impact is felt and much of our activity is directed
toward satisfying needs that relate to our personal economic condition. In our society we
allow expectations about credentials to guide daily employment decisions. We believe
that credentials are relevant to occupations and higher incomes.

This paper proposes a reconceptualization of Ontario’s credential system to

minimize the negative economic impact of our existing educational credentials and norms
on the least advantaged in our society. A division between adult and adolescent credential
systems that coincided with the termination of compulsory education would help students
to graduate in Grade 10 with adequate credentials to gain entrance to the labour market,
future vocational or higher educational institutions. Such a division would create an adult
public educational system with increased responsibilities to contribute to accessible life-
long adult learning.

If the educational community were define and support a new Grade 10 diploma
recognizing the basic achievements of advanced literacy and numeracy at the age of
sixteen rather than the Grade 12, they would reduce the number of dropouts, and avoid
perpetuating and maintaining institutional barriers that have obstructed the economic
success of historically marginalized groups.

Although from an economic and administrative perspective it might be more
advantageous to dispense with the Grade 12 diploma altogether, such a radical departure
from policy is unnecessary to acknowledge the accomplishments of our youth in the form
of a Grade 10 diploma. Overall, I think the proposal for change in this paper is
conservative in application and scope.

Part I : Rational

Educational policy is part of a political process that attempts to balance

educational outcomes with economic goals, whether it be cost-efficient institutions or a
more competitive workforce. The authority to create and regulate economic and
educational policy in Ontario is divided among two levels of government as set out in
s.91 and s.92 of the Constitution Act 1867. In Ontario, our schools are shaped by policies
made by Provincial politicians and local school boards as authorized by the Constitution
and delegated via legislation and regulation.

The Education Act in Ontario legislates compulsory education from the age of six
to sixteen which for most people means education beyond Grade 8. The current Grade 12
diploma essentially connects two years of compulsory education with two years of
noncompulsory education. The average pupil completes approximately half of the thirty
credits required for the senior diploma while legally obligated to attend. For a variety of
reasons after sixteen, the statistics report, many people temporarily drop out or quit
school altogether.

An education system directed at children and adolescents ought not result in an

unfair distribution of credentials at the “starting gate” of life in a competition for
positions and opportunities for employment and higher education. Our public credential
system ought to recognize a “coming of age” transition from adolescent to adult
education and recognize the basic achievements of conscripted youth in order to
maximize the benefit of all involved rather than create a large number of “failures” who
then potentially suffer a lifetime of consequential economic prejudice.

A special focus on the dropout from the secondary school context will provide
insight into the future of these citizens. Many dropouts continue to learn in either formal
or informal learning environments in order to obtain credentials relevant to a life project
that will potentially improve their future economic condition.

Part II : Theoretical Framework : Economics and Post-Structural Structuralism

Today more so than yesterday, economic interests have a great impact on the daily
lives of most living things on the planet. Western society is rooted in the liberal market
traditions of men like Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Alfred Marshall.

Structuralism is the study of power as it is embodied in systems created by

specific people for specific reasons. According to the post-structural tradition, power is
additionally situated beyond the institutional structures and resides in the relations
between people within organizations. For example, in business, the common law has
traditionally explained relations when dealing with vicarious liability in terms of master
and servant.

In a post-structural context, “knowledge” is understood as a historical-social

construct shaped by competing discourses in an institutional struggle for power and
domination between people. From this perspective, educational institutions are the
products of a larger class-based political struggles. Using post-structural insights within
the present educational structure, schools charged with teaching “knowledge” become
spaces where the rich and powerful transmit some of the means of maintaining wealth
and privilege to their children. Not surprisingly the origins of educational institutions are
rooted in just such a task. Historically, this role was fulfilled by the application of
admission and diploma standards.

The political origins of educational institutions and the credential system can be
seen as a genealogy of economic competition. It comes as no surprise that there is a

strong link between education and economics. Often it is economic conditions that
provide incentive for educational investments, whether from the perspective of a
government wanting to promote a skilled labour force or from the perspective of people
trying to improve there lot in life. Our society believes that educational accomplishments
often translate into economic benefits.

In Western cultures, economics and education are both subjects central to issues
of government and politics. Economic conditions, like educational institutions are shaped
by a combination of public regulations and private incentives. Whether it be the search
for a better job or a path to self-fulfillment, education and economics are inextricably
linked together in the domain of political discourse.

Historically, political theory has been linked with emancipation. This paper works
toward an understanding of emancipation associated with economic independence. In this
sense, a post-emancipated society is one wherein each person is able to act in the world
free from material necessity. This conception of emancipation is different from the more
traditional critical theory of the same name linked with the Frankfurt School which aims
at allowing individuals to understand how and why social relations produce inequitable
resource distribution.

Obviously, emancipation as economic independence contradicts the current

economic reality of most people who are dependent on corporate or institutional jobs as a
means of economic security. Access to these corporations and institutions has become
essential for the well being of those who rely on “labour” to support themselves. Most of
us spend most of our time working toward a better financial position in the form of
capital savings for future economic security. The capitalist system itself is premised on
the idea of material contingency as the glue to motivate the masses into labour production
out of fear of deprivation and poverty. The elimination of poverty is antithetical to the
dominant capital mode of production which is premised on the creation of economic

It is also recognized that the feasibility and popularity of seeking a post-
emancipated society (financially independent people) is quite likely to be contested in our
current hierarchy of wealth distribution. Many professional people would reject the idea
of a post-emancipated society claiming that it would destroy the reliability and efficiency
of our current global market. Personally, I hope that eventually most people would agree
that productivity in our society would increase if we alleviate the barriers that prevent a
significant portion of our society from realizing their own interests and pursuits.

A school system that promotes the economic well being of all people would
recognize the various class positions in society. The different classes are easily
identifiable by differences in income and property. Under this view, education ought to
advocate for the interests of the disadvantaged before addressing the wants of the
dominant class. If it could be demonstrated that the G12 provides little or no direct
economic advantage to the majority of Ontarians, and that it oppresses the dispossessed
and disadvantaged classes of our communities then I would hope such insights would be
addressed in the political discourse on education from the perspective of emancipation.

An educational system focused on fostering economic independence ought to

sharply distinguish between the education of children and the education of adults. One
large distinction between adult and adolescent education is the perspective each brings to
bear on the educational system. Adults are seen as self-directed users of an educational
system likely responding to their economic condition and the desire to improve the
situation. Children view the system as a social network of conscription without much
relevance to “real life.” If a child can make a connection of relevance in the system it is
the indirect benefit of qualifying for higher education in the distant future.

Part II : History

Institutional development in capitalist societies continues to be shaped and limited

by class struggles.2 An educational discourse that recognizes the relationship between the
D.W. Livingstone, S. Stowe. Class and University Education : Inter-generational Patterns in Canada.
NALL Working Paper #36-2001. p.12. Online at

political process and policy implementation will hopefully be more conscious of how
policies are made and function in a political context.

This historical research will begin with some general observations relating to
norms inherited from the religious beginnings of “schooling” in western society. The
origins of colonial education in Upper Canada will be reviewed with an eye on the role
played by the “higher” schools, their eventual ascendancy and connection to economic
position in early Ontario.

The purpose of this historical analysis is to demonstrate how the grammar school
credential system was constructed as an elite institution designed to operate in favour of
“the clever few.” From an economic/political perspective I want to develop an awareness
for myself and others surrounding the origins and interests that created the framework for
our current credential norms.

Part II: History : Religious Origins

One of the most profound educational norms ever established in society was the
distinction created between people expected to work with their hands and those expected
to work with their heads.3 The origins of such a distinction can be traced to the priestly
castes of early ecclesiastical orders,4 and the consequences can still be seen in the work of
the modern corporate manager and the teacher.

The distinction created between manual and intellectual labour was adopted by
liberal western cultures and has generally been used to legitimize class hierarchy. 5
Although such a distinction may be artificial, its social consequences have been
Curtis, Livingstone, Smaller. Stacking the Deck. Montreal : La Maitresse D’Ecole Inc., 1992. p.104.
Curtis, Livingstone, Smaller p.105. as quoting Sohn-Rethel, A. Intellectual and Manual Labour. London :
MacMillan, 1978.
Curtis, Livingstone, Smaller p.105. as quoting Browne, K. “Schooling, Capitalism and the Mental/Manual
Division of Labour”. Sociological Review 29(3) 1981.

pronounced. To this day, managers have a difficult time conceptualizing any of their work
as manual.6

For early priestly castes, literacy and “spiritual” work were a means to obtaining
an elite economic position, while remaining unsoiled from the heavy burden of physical
work. In this manner, literacy and religion were the means for the clergy to construct
“knowledge” favourable to their class interests. Most western cultures have inherited this
social norm, and Ontario is no exception.

A class distinction between those that use there minds and those that use their
hands does more than legitimate income disparity, it further creates the expectation that
education is to take place separate from employment. Whereas labour had been
previously divided into “physical” and “intellectual” so today, employment (labour) has
become distinct from “intellectual” activity (schooling). In other words, intellectual work
is assumed to be learned in the absence of physical labour or paid employment.
Traditionally, such a norm reinforces the original social purposes of education directed
toward reproducing class inequities.

From a post-structuralist structuralist position, similar to early religious clergy,

schools proclaim “intellectual” study as their exclusive domain and justify their elite
social position, not through mere literacy but through a more complicated set of
measurement and tests of student ability that result in the bestowing of credentials. In this
way the entire “learning” process has been segregated from employment and teachers are
assured an elite social position as holders of constructed “knowledge.”

Part II: History : Origins of the Grammar School

The first schools in Upper Canada were founded by missionaries and clerics
around 1786. These schools were established for the express purpose of providing

Curtis, Livingstone, Smaller p.105. as quoting Kusterer, K. Know-how on the Job: The Important Working
Knowledge of “Unskilled” Workers. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1978..

religious instruction for the “moral and social improvement” of Upper Canadian children
in the traditions of Upper Canadian Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Methodists.7

By 1791, the province of Upper Canada was given a Constitution, and newly
arrived merchants and government officials wanted suitable education for their children.
It was this economic incentive that provided the initial impetus for the first schools, many
of which were combined with local businesses. The prevailing economic conditions and
the combined forces of parents/teachers and church/state created a number of private
venture schools intended to teach a variety of different people, for a variety of different

In the early nineteenth century, most early schools were started by individuals as a
straightforward business venture. In urban centers, schools were set up in private houses
by parents who would lodge and teach other children in exchange for services like
cooking and cleaning. In other places, schooling was combined with local cheese
production and dressmaking.8 In such schools, teacher and pupil alike worked between
sessions in the schoolroom, on family farms or in family businesses or trades. Some
schools were used as public kitchens and if separate from domestic buildings, they
doubled as churches. Other early schools were paid for by share subscriptions that
entitled the owner to vote for the trustees of the school.9

In these early years a private school might be conducted in the home by a

governess, a tutor, or in the teacher’s own house, while a public school was seen as a
larger institution with a building of its own.10

The District Schools Act of 1807 marks the beginning of provincial involvement
in education in Upper Canada. Also known as the Grammar School Act, it appointed

Houston, Prentice. Schooling and Scholars in Nineteenth-Century Ontario. Toronto : UofT Press, 1988.
p.34 Ibid.
Gidney, R. and Millar, W. Inventing Secondary Education. Montreal : McGill-Queen’s University Press,
1990. p.47.
Houston, Prentice. Schooling and Scholars in Nineteenth-Century Ontario. Toronto : 1988. p.35.

trustees for grammar schools and provided fees in each district for teacher compensation.
At the time it was seen as a state subsidy for the rich.11 In 1816, the Common School Act
extended government funding to “common schools.”12

Grammar schools were seen to be in opposition to common schools. They were

“superior schools” because they taught Greek and Latin which were required for
university and the professions.13 At the time, assumptions about class and curriculum
reinforced notions of superior schooling for an elite group. The Grammar school
undertook this task and ran programs parallel to the common schools. Pupils were
streamed at an early age, with few students ever transferring from the English stream to
the classics stream which alone led to universities and the professions.14

Nineteenth-century education distinguished between the “common” goals of

literacy and numeracy and the ”discretionary” sector of education that taught a liberal
education marked by knowledge of the languages and literature of Greece and Rome
attended by a minority of pupils who remained in school longer than the norm. 15 High
school or “higher school” in mid-century was often synonymous with grammar school, as
distinct from elementary or common schools. Both common schools and universities
were established before the grammar school became the middle ground between the two

For these early schools the demand for education was met with an influx of new
teachers. Schools and colleges absorbed clergy from the local churches who were already
trained in classical and theological education as required by Anglican and Presbyterian
ministries.16 In this manner, the liberal arts curriculum was reinforced with the additional
expectation of a theology component as prescribed by religious teachers. In 1823, the

Gidney, R. and Millar, W. Inventing Secondary Education. Montreal : 1990. p.82.
Houston, Prentice. Schooling and Scholars in Nineteenth-Century Ontario. Toronto : 1988. p.28.
Gidney, R. and Millar, W. Inventing Secondary Education. Montreal : 1990. p. 34.
Ibid P. 36.
Gidney and Millar p.13 as quoting P.B. Walters, “Occupational and Labor Market Effects on Secondary
and Postsecondary Education Expansion in the United States, 1922-1979,” American Sociological Review
49, 5 (Oct. 1984): esp. 665.
Gidney, R. and Millar, W. Inventing Secondary Education. Montreal : 1990. p.43.

province created the General Board of Education and appointed six Anglican members to
oversee the schools.17

By the 1840s, the grammar schools commonly had fewer than 30 pupils with one
or two teachers. The schools tended to be small and intimate, more like a family than the
modern schools, where “parental” or constant supervision could be exercised.18
Regulations had been drawn up that established curriculum, terms of vacations,
maximum fees and religious exercises. The legislation financed other aspects of
education such as fees for assistants on conditions such as minimum enrolment of sixty
pupils with at least twenty taking Latin.19

The legislation provided incentives for constructing and maintaining schools. For
example, Crown land was donated by the province to a grammar school trust which
provided income and revenue raised from sales.20 Such incentives created competition
between towns within an educational district to be the first group to raise a school and
guarantee the public funding.21

By 1846, Ryerson was arguing that teachers ought to have homes of their own
rather than survive on the provisions of room and board traditionally supplied to teachers
in traditional placements. The Common Schools Act22 of 1850 by Ryerson further
increased provincial regulations and supports establishing the basics of secondary
education recognizable to us today as public classrooms founded, financed, and
controlled by local or provincial governments.23

Part II: History : Origins of the High School Examination

Houston, Prentice. Schooling and Scholars in Nineteenth-Century Ontario. Toronto : 1988. p.30.
Gidney, R. and Millar, W. Inventing Secondary Education. Montreal : 1990. p. 26.
Ibid, p. 86.
Ibid, p. 87.
Ibid, p. 89.
Act for the Better Establishment and Maintenance of Common Schools in Upper Canada, 13 and 14 Vict.
(1850) cap. 48, DHE vol. 9, 31-49.
Gidney, R. and Millar, W. Inventing Secondary Education. Montreal : 1990. p. 3.

By 1853 the grammar schools were the responsibility of a particular department
of government and a particular administrator. The schools were required by law to offer a
curriculum that included “all the higher branches of a practical English and Commercial
Education,” and also “in the Latin and Greek Languages so far as to prepare students for
University College or any College affiliated to the University of Toronto...”24

In 1851, forty-four percent of the population in Upper Canada was under sixteen
years of age.25 Between 1850 and 1875 the proportion of Upper Canadian children aged
six to sixteen enrolled in the common schools of Ontario rose 165 per cent. The overall
percentage of school aged children enrolled in school also increased during this time
from 68 percent in 1850 to 86 percent by 1875.26

The children who formed the senior classes in common schools, grammar
schools, and collegiate schools at the time were from middle class families who could
afford the expenses of keeping their children in school for a few years longer than the
majority of Upper Canadians.27 Even private-venture evening schools specializing in
vocational training attest to the popularity of schools teaching marketable business and
commercial skills in the 1860s.28 Marketable skills and credentials began to play a key
role in economic positions as well as increasing enrolment in “discretionary” education.

By mid-century, there were as of yet no common matriculation standards that all

candidates were expected to attain before they entered higher education. Each institution
established its own standards and these were almost invariably sui generis.29 The
grammar school teacher had the difficult task of teaching to a multiplicity of examination
standards and universities accepted students without matriculation anyway.30 With the

Gidney, R. and Millar, W. Inventing Secondary Education. Montreal : 1990. p. 93.
Houston, Prentice. p.138. as quoting Census of Canada, 1851-52. Personal Census. Vol. 1 (Quebec: John
Lovell 1853) 310-11.
Houston, Prentice. Schooling and Scholars in Nineteenth-Century Ontario. Toronto : 1988. p.200.
Gidney, R. and Millar, W. Inventing Secondary Education. Montreal : 1990. p. 8.
Ibid, p. 39.
Ibid, p. 255.
Ibid, p. 262.

increase in grammar schools after 1850 more students matriculated until by 1880 nearly
all students were matriculants.

In 1865, Ryerson removed the Latin requirement in Grammar schools although

the subject persisted along with Greek in small groups throughout most schools.31

During this period of expansion, the educational institutions operated by the

professions such as the Law Society of Upper Canada responded to increased enrolments
and an influx of new lawyers by requiring students to undertake a series of difficult
examinations based on classical studies. The Medical Board, following the lead of the
Law Society, introduced a matriculation requirement in Greek in 1866.32 These changes
required students who wanted to maintain a superior economic or social advantage to
enroll in Latin and Greek study.

As matriculation became routine, and increased in difficulty, students studied

longer in the competition for entrance to higher education until by 1870 a common
Intermediate matriculation examination was adopted by Colleges based on the grammar
school program.33

These combined examinations created a niche for the high school. The
Intermediate certificate was used in place of institutional examinations reducing
administrative costs for all involved.34 By 1876, junior matriculation (approx. Gr 10) was
required for admission to first year university.35 The vast majority of students entered
university through the junior matriculation examination with some overlap existing
between the senior matriculation exam and first year undergraduate courses.36 These
changes in the sixties and seventies created a distinct “secondary” sector in Ontario’s
educational system.
Ibid, p. 231.
Ibid, p. 40.
Ibid, p. 268.
Ibid, p. 270.
Ibid, p. 87.
Ibid, p. 272.

Part II: History : Social Purposes : Education for the “Clever Few”

By 1870 more students sought to qualify themselves for entry to teaching, the
professions, the universities or commercial occupations. At the time, the declared social
purposes of the high schools were not limited by class or gender, but admitted only a
minority of adolescents to be prepared for particular purposes.37 It was estimated that
about one-half of one percent of the entire population attended high school and that was
thought to be just about right.38

Around this time, entrance requirements for grammar schools were established
and attendance prohibited to those who had not passed them.39 Into the 1880s education
was seen as something for “the clever few,” (at least those good at passing examinations)
to enable them entrance to university or on of the professions. To this end the High
School Entrance Examination in 1888 passed just over half of those who took it which
amounted to roughly twenty percent of those finishing fourth class (Grade 8).40

A new curriculum was introduced in 1875 that redefined the notion of a liberal
education beyond the traditional Greek and Latin and in 1885 the Commercial Diploma
was introduced. By mid-1880s high schools still had on average three teachers, while
colleges had an average of seven.41

By the 1880s the legislative grant tied to average attendance did not cover all of
the expenses involved and the majority of high schools charged tuition.42 Records of
enrolment around 1895 tell us that almost three-quarters of the parents of students in high
schools were employed in various occupations located in the top half of the social
Ibid, p.275.
Ibid, p.283.
Ibid, p.276.
Ibid, p.284.
Ibid, p.298.
Ibid, p.299.
Ibid, p.279.

Part II: History : New Social Purposes : Opening the Floodgates

The historical review demonstrates that systemic inequality present in the high
school credential system existing in the G12 is a nineteenth century construct designed to
create an advantage for a small minority of academics and professionals. Throughout the
next century, as enrolment numbers increase, the elite purposes of high schools were
abandoned under the influence of a greater public interest in educational equity. Although
the purposes of high schools had changed, the credential system did not. The award of
graduation after five or six years of high school became the norm, leaving unchanged our
forefathers built-in advantage for the “clever few.”

The decade of the 1920’s marks for the first time most students in Ontario
attended secondary schools, it also is a decade of well documented records. The
Adolescent School Attendance Act, effective Jan 1, 1921 raised the age of compulsory
attendance from fourteen to sixteen years.44 Students still had to pass a high school
admission or entrance examinations at the end of Grade 8, which was provincially set but
marked locally.45

The 1920’s also saw the educational system cut the two-year upper school in half
reducing the academic secondary school program from six to five years. Although the
length of the basic program of the Ontario school system was established by 1921 at
thirteen years, it was commonly considered unreasonable to insist that every pupil be
forced to take that long between entrance to grade 1 and graduation from grade 13, and
bright pupils were encouraged to skip grades. From 1920 to 1939 about 34% of students
who started Lower School Form I (Grade 9) completed Middle School Form II (Grade

R. Stamp. Ontario Secondary School Program Innovations and Student Retention Rates: 1920s–1970s.
Ministry of Education 1988.Ministry of Education 1988. p.8.
Ibid, p.4.
Ibid, p.16.

By 1937, the Department of Education had established the Intermediate
Certificate for completing Grade 10 and the Secondary School Diploma for completing
Grade 12.47 The elimination of Latin, a common Grade 9 curriculum and new diploma
programs provided greater incentive for students to stay enrolled in school.

By the end of the 1940’s retention rates in high school had penetrated most of
Ontario with near universal facilities in rural areas. In 1949 the entrance examination,
being merely a shadow of its former self, was formally abolished by the Department of

The Royal Commission on Education in Ontario chaired by Justice John Hope

released the Hope Report in 1950. The Report was used by the Department of Education
to recommend in 1951 that Grade 10 “should be recognized as the end of a definite stage
in the school education of the majority of pupils.” The Report required that schools
establish “a well rounded course for pupils who leave school by the time they reach the
age of 16 years so that they may finish final schooling with a sense of achievement rather
than failure.”49 These recommendations were never implemented.

By 1950, only 41 percent of Grade 9 enrolments were retained into Grade 12

meaning that over half dropped out. During the 1960’s the number increased to 63
percent and was approximately 77 percent between 1970 and 1973.50 In 1973 the Ontario
Ministry of Education introduced the full credit system and they stopped collecting
enrolment figures and other statistics by grade level making comparisons before and after
that date problematic.51

Ibid, p.47.
Ibid, p.42.
Curtis, Livingstone, Smaller pp.43-4, quoting Stewart, E. The 1955 Status of Recommendations in the
Report of the Royal Commission on Education in Ontario. M.A. Thesis, University of Michigan, 1956.
R. Stamp. Ontario Secondary School Program Innovations and Student Retention Rates: 1920s–1970s.
Ministry of Education 1988.Ministry of Education 1988. p.82.
Ibid, p.80.

Part III : Social Critique

The Vertical Mosaic: An Analysis of Social Class and Power in Canada, written
by John Porter in 1965 was a study designed to demonstrate a relation between the
dropout rate and social class.52 In response to this report, education policy in Ontario was
fundamentally changed with the introduction of the credit system in 1973 by John

More recently, in the U.S., Michelle Fine has collected and analyzed data relating
to high school dropouts in that country. In the 1980s, a full twenty-five percent of 5th
graders did not make it to high school graduation.53

Fine’s study entitled High School and Beyond tracked thirty thousand new high
school students beginning in 1980 and running for six years. The study concluded that
social class was the best predictor of who drops out, while noting that wealth was a more
efficient educational buffer for whites than for students of colour.54 Young women were
found to dropout more than young men, while 75 per cent of married and parenting
women leave high school prior to graduation.55

Fine is careful to point out that much dropout literature is unduly focused on the
characteristics of individual students who flee, rather than on attributes of the schools
from which they flee. Schools with rigid retention policies, tracking procedures, and
competency examinations, report relatively high dropout rates. (Barro 1984)56

Gidney, R. From Hope to Harris. Toronto, UofT Press, 1999. p.39.
Fine, Michelle. Framing Dropouts. Albany, NY : State University Press, 1991. p.21.
Ibid, p.22.
Ibid, p.22.
Fine p.22 as quoting Barro, Stephen M. 1984. The Incidence of Dropping Out: A Descriptive Analysis.
Washington, D.C.: Economic Research, Inc. and Oakes, J. 1985. Keeping Track : How Schools Structure
Inequality. New Haven: C.T.: Yale University Press.

One-quarter of the dropouts identified a family problem, such as pregnancy and
child care, as the reason they chose to exit school early. Fine attributed this to schools that
have been structured to not accommodate students experiencing family problems.57

According to Fine, a high school degree is economically more valuable to those

who are already privileged by class, race/ethnicity, gender, and geography.58 However,
having a diploma does yield a difference within groups.59 She further notes that in the
U.S. groups that demonstrate the greatest risk of class, racial, ethnic, or gender
exploitation attend the most disadvantaged school, are more likely to quit before
graduation, and are the least likely to return with a two year period.60

Part III : Social Critique : Economic Relevance

Few would argue against the proposition that our individual place in the economic
hierarchy of society determines the quality of our living conditions and our future
chances of success. Our individual success can be measured by our ability or inability to
secure wealth within the market framework entrenched in western society.

In most western cultures, educational credentials have become a primary criteria

by which people judge others for economic positions. According to statistics Canada
nearly half of the 20-64 age population by 1996 attained some form of post-secondary
credential. (Statistics Canada, 2000)61 Such educational achievements fairly characterize
Canada as a “learning society.”

Fine, Michelle. Framing Dropouts. Albany, NY : State University Press, 1991. p.77.
Ibid, p.23.
Ibid. p.23.
Ibid. p.24.
Livingstone and Stowe, p.5 as quoting Statistics Canada (2000). Education Indicators in Canada: Report
of the Pan-Canadian Education Indicators Program 1999. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

In general, people in Canada tend to have more education than is necessary to
hold their current job position (Livingston and Stowe 2001).62 Despite this fact most
employed people continue to be involved with employment related learning activities.

At the same time, over half of the 1999 Ontario high school graduates did not
continue to either university or community college (Livingstone, Hart and Davie 1998).63
Study after study, has indicated that lower SES income groups face greater barriers to
obtaining credentials, mainly economic. A lack of time and money, family duties and
inconvenient locations can put education beyond the reach of many people. (Livingstone
and Stowe 2001).64 Economic factors such as affordability, family socio-economic status,
labour market conditions, and availability of financing clearly influence decisions to
attend university. (Bouchard and Zhao 2000).65

Recent trends in Ontario will likely exacerbate the current divisions between
those that obtain credentials and those who do not. A University of Guelph study found
that between 1987 and 1996 the proportion of students coming from families making less
than $40,000 decreased from 40 percent to 16 percent. (Gilbert, McMillan, Quirke and
Duncan-Robinson, 1999)66 We also know that the average income in 1997 for a 1995
bachelor graduate was around $43,600 while the average high school diploma earned
$29,700 (Clark 2000).67

In Canada, children from higher income, professional families are at least four
times as likely to obtain a university degree as children from lower income, working-

D.W. Livingstone, S. Stowe. Class and University Education : Inter-generational Patterns in Canada.
NALL Working Paper #36-2001. pp.9-10.
Livingstone, D., Hart, D., Davie, L. Public Attitudes towards Education in Ontario 1998. Toronto : UofT
Press 1999. p.40.
D.W. Livingstone, S. Stowe. Class and University Education : Inter-generational Patterns in Canada.
NALL Working Paper #36-2001. p.12.
Livingstone and Stowe p.12 as quoting Bouchard, B. and Zhao, J. (2000). University education: Recent
trends in participation, accessibility and returns, Education Quarterly Review, 6(4), 24-31.
Livingstone, Stowe p.11 as quoting Gilbert, S., McMillian, I., Quirke, L., and Duncan-Robinson, J.
(1999). Accessibility and Affordability of University Education. Report to the Senate Committee on
University Planning, University of Guelph.
Livingstone and Stowe p.3. as quoting Clark, W. (2000), 100 Years of…,Canadian Social Trends.
(Winter) Statistics Canada. Catalogue#11-008.

class families (Livingstone, Hart and Davie 1998).68 Women, visible minorities and
aboriginal students still have a greater chance of dropping out than other students.
(Livingstone and Stowe 2001).69 And working class people are at greater risk of
experiencing underemployment.

In 1979 about one-third of Ontarians held post-secondary education as very

important. In 1986 that number rose to 61 percent and in 1998, approximately 70 percent
rated a college or university education very important (Livingstone, Hart and Davie
1998).70 Similar results have been obtained in a 1998 U.S. survey where three-quarters of
the public felt getting a college education was more important today than ten years ago.71
Such studies permit researchers to claim with some confidence that our society values
credentials and advanced formal education.72 So much so, that 57 percent of Canadians
believe that every qualified person who wants to attend university should be guaranteed a
place even if this requires more tax money. 73

Livingstone, Hart and Davie found that survey respondents reported an average of
fifteen hours of a week devoted to informal learning, whether it be at the library or via
educational TV.74 As well, one in four respondents indicated participation in adult
education in 1998 with approximately 50 per cent were taking courses for credits toward
a college or university degree, and the other half taking adult education that does not
result in credit.75

People’s motivation for taking courses were mostly job related. 72 per cent of
respondents reported that education was undertaken to improve job performance or for

Livingstone D., Hart D., Davie L. Public Attitudes towards Education in Ontario 1998. Toronto : UofT
Press 1999. p.42.
D.W. Livingstone, S. Stowe. Class and University Education : Inter-generational Patterns in Canada.
NALL Working Paper #36-2001. p.8.
Livingstone, D., Hart, D., Davie, L. Public Attitudes towards Education in Ontario 1998. Toronto : UofT
Press 1999. p.19.
Ibid, p.19.
Ibid, p.20.
Livingstone, D., Hart, D., Davie, L. Public Attitudes towards Education in Ontario 1998. Toronto : UofT
Press 1999. p.47.
Ibid, p.68.
Ibid, p.65.

the diploma, certificate or degree. These results are similar to those found in the United

Part IV : Conclusions

Not many people would argue against the position that people without a grade 12
diploma are likely to suffer discrimination in our community, either economically or
academically. The Province of Ontario has recently increased standards in schools that
will likely bring an increase in failure rates.

The Grade 12 diploma is the result of educational norms established in the

nineteenth century. The most notable being a common matriculation requirement used by
a minority of students for university or professional admission.

Another shared cultural norm is the value placed on credentials as an avenue

toward increasing income. In such a system the creation of credentials themselves might
be enough to create its own demand, particularly in a monopoly situation. Just as the
creation of the Grade 10 and Grade 12 diploma in the 1920s was followed by increasing
enrolment, so to the insistence on maintaining the Grade 12 diploma after the Hope
Report, created demand for this credential as a hurdle toward a real education that held
some economic relevance. This is not so much a comment on the quality of the education
provided as it is a comment on the barriers in place that prevent reasonably literate people
from continuing on in the professions or at university. Historically, entrance to college or
university was assured by the junior matriculation exam. The senior matriculation exam
was a secondary route for older students, not the norm as we have inherited it..

Overall, the history of higher education in Ontario is the history of elite

institutions. According to Gidney, the main thrust of educational policy from 1841 to
1871 was directed at increasing the interests of middle-class families. The politicians,
government officials, school trustees, superintendents, and other who built and
Livingstone, Hart and Davie p.65 as quoting National Adult Learning Survey 1997. In Individual
Learning News Online. March 1998. Online:

administered the school system in the nineteenth century were lawyers, doctors,
clergymen, businessmen, civil servants, newspaper editors, and the like.77 Directed by
class interests, it is no surprise that the growth of the grammar school went hand in hand
with a design to exclude people rather than include them.

Gidney goes on to suggest that the high school of the late nineteenth and early
twentieth century, like the modern undergraduate arts program, controlled access to
nearly all the professions and prestigious white collar occupations of the time.78 A high
school graduate was given direct access to the study of law, medicine, dentistry,
pharmacy, engineering, elementary school teaching, as well as other white collar jobs.79 It
was the high school and not an undergraduate diploma that mattered in preparing for a
vocation. During this period, the high school gradually obtained a quasi-monopoly on
secondary education and the credentialing process involved. It was able to obtain this
position because it had the advantage over the private sector of being financially
supported by the government.80

Ontario has inherited this set of elite educational norms. Even as late as 1948,
around the time of the Hope Report, it was estimated that 54 per cent of all students who
entered elementary school had dropped out by age sixteen. Of the entire 15-19 age group,
fewer than 40 per cent were in school.81 In 1948 only a minority of students proceeded
past Grade 10, and 80 per cent of Ontario’s youth failed to complete grade 12. Even
twenty years later in 1970-7, only 65 per cent of student enrolled in Grade 9 graduated
with a Grade 12 diploma.82

Gidney, R. and Millar, W. Inventing Secondary Education. Montreal : McGill-Queen’s University Press,
1990. P.70.
Ibid, p.316.
Ibid, p.316.
Ibid, p.317.
Gidney, R. From Hope to Harris. Toronto, UofT Press, 1999. p.13.
Ibid, p.14.

Gordon Berlin, formerly of the Ford Foundation stated that a high school graduate
in the late 1960s was 30 percent more likely to be employed in the fall after graduation
that dropouts, by the 1980s this gap doubled to 61 percent.83

Michelle Fine suggests that data confirm a consistent pattern of relatively high
dropout rates for low-income children and adolescents during the past century. Fine also
concludes that the consequences of being denied a high school diploma today are far
more substantial, economically and social, than in the past.84

Livingstone and Stowe present research that supports the argument that learning
capacities are similarly distributed among those born into all class origins. If such is the
case, then the consistent finding that lower class kids have less than half the chance of
upper class kids to get to university and to obtain a degree represents an large injustice.85

If the G12 no longer functions as the gatekeeper to direct access to “good” jobs, it
is because the college, university, and vocational schools have usurped the original role
of the high school diploma. Rather than having any positive function of its own, the high
school diploma exists today merely as expensive barrier imposed by employers and other
educational institutions without reason.

If Ontario were to create an additional diploma available at the end of compulsory

education (Grade 10) attesting to basic literacy and numeracy standards, then more
students would be free to leave school without any serious systemic disadvantage. The
transition from adolescent education to adult education would be smoother as students
who want to return to school could do so with a diploma rather than as a dropout.

I would expect such a change would promote youth to enter the workforce and
begin to learn how to manage money and work responsibly. According to statistics, at
least half of the population would still attend higher education, if they can afford it, in
Fine, Michelle. Framing Dropouts. Albany, NY : State University Press, 1991. p.24.
Ibid, p.31.
P.12 D.W. Livingstone, S. Stowe. Class and University Education : Inter-generational Patterns in
Canada. NALL Working Paper #36-2001.

order to obtain credentials that provide for a fiscal advantage. Such a change in emphasis
would provide greater resources for our educational system, encouraging students to
leave school before returning to a college or a university.

Such a reconceptualization envisions an educational system with three distinct

components. The first component is a mandatory adolescent education ending in Grade
10. The second component is a community oriented adult secondary education taking
shape from the remainder of high school, combined with government sponsored
vocational training. The third component is the higher educational sector that would
accept the G10 rather than the G12 for entrance requirements. If those institutions felt the
student was below standard they would be more inclined to fail them.

Financial resources beyond the G10 could fund community educational programs
open to all adults aged 16 to 80. Grade 11 and 12 courses would take on a distinctly
“adult” content as they would be required to possess relevance beyond admission to a
college or university. Such spaces might become formal and informal learning
environments tailored to the needs of individuals and groups as articulated by those
individuals and groups which could be combined with work-related educational programs
undertaken in the employment sector. Such a blending of function would combine the
budgets and reduce systemic duplication. Public attitudes suggest that schools have a
mandate to work with the recently established local Ontario training and adjustment
boards to place recent high school graduates in entry-level jobs and related vocational

As it stands today the greatest barrier to higher education is the ability to pay and
recent trends demonstrate that this barrier is increasing. If our society already relies on
this as the major limiting condition why impose an additional barrier in the form of 2
years of coerced yet voluntary education in the form of Grade 11 and 12. Economic
barriers are already tough enough, higher educational opportunities should only be
limited by the ability to pay and the ability to stay.
Livingstone, D., Hart, D., Davie, L. Public Attitudes towards Education in Ontario 1998. Toronto : UofT
Press 1999. p.40.

This reconceptualization is grounded in the expectation that public funds should
not be spent on creating inequality, that a G10 credential would provide a much larger
percentage of our citizens with equal opportunities for future success, rather than
convincing the unfortunate to dropout of public life. It is also grounded on the
expectation that work experience for the majority of middle class Canadians would
provide them with the insights necessary to begin working toward their personal goals
and economic security. An educational policy that recognizes graduation from a
compulsory to a noncompulsory system would create less systemic disadvantage for
those in our society with the least opportunity.