By Robert Cribb Staff Reporter
When Arthur Goldstein enrolled to take three credits at the TCT High School in 2008 and 2009 — at a price of between $500 and $700 each — he knew in advance what he was doing: “It’s basically a black market for high school grades.”
After earning a 74 per cent grade in Grade 12 advanced functions at Don Mills Collegiate, Goldstein says he wasn’t confident he’d get accepted into the biotechnology/economics program at Waterloo where he wanted to go.
“There’s so much pressure to get good grades and get in at such a young age that some people feel like it’s the only way to get in.”
What he discovered at TCT met expectations: Lax attendance policies, “unqualified” teachers who would walk out of the classrooms for exams, leaving students to share answers or use the Wi-Fi connection to find answers on their phones, he says.
“I (would tell the teacher) ‘I can’t do this,’ and I asked her how would you do this question and she just said don’t worry about that question.”
While each credit was supposed to be 110 hours by provincial standard, he says he never came close to investing that kind of time.
Goldstein walked out with a 95 per cent which was transferred to his high school transcript.
He entered Waterloo in September 2009 with an entrance scholarship based on an overall average in the 90s and has since transferred to Ryerson University after switching programs of study.
Goldstein, 21, says even though he saw a huge disparity in how marks were earned, he was never worried about the validity of his credits because the private school was accredited.
“It was pretty much a sham operation. They’re making a ****load of money off of people who are just trying to get a good grade and that’s not how the school system should be run. I literally knew what I was doing was wrong. There’s a glitch in the system and people are taking advantage of it and I guess I partook in that.”
TCT High School had its credit-granting authority revoked last August by the ministry for a series of “extremely serious issues.”
But by that October, the principal and at least some students transferred to another private school called Durham Secondary Academy and Middle School which moved into TCT’s location on Consumers Rd. in Toronto.
Mario Pietrangelo, listed as principal of TCT High School in ministry documents, is currently a teacher at Durham Secondary Academy.
He did not respond to requests for an interview.
“I accepted students who were left stranded by TCT,” says Durham’s principal, George Vanderkuur.
He blames TCT’s revocation on poor record-keeping by the past administration.
“But my reputation with the Ministry was really, really good,” Vanderkuur says. “So because I took it over, things are back on track.”
Ministry records show two formal complaints filed against Durham Academy for “mark inflation” since December of last year.
In one case, a public school guidance counsellor complained that a student’s English grades rose from 60s at her regular school to 95 per cent at Durham, that the grade was given without completion of the mandatory 110 hours of classroom time, and that the teacher wasn’t qualified to teach the course.
“I think we dealt with that,” said Vanderkuur, 69, whose school charges $980 per course. “I spoke to the Ministry about those.”
Vanderkuur said only about half of his compliment of seven teachers are accredited by the Ontario College of Teachers. Unlike public schools, private schools are not required to hire teachers certified by the Ontario College of Teachers and no education or training is necessary to open a private school.
“By far the worst teachers I’ve had have been accredited (by the Ontario College of Teachers),” he said. “Not everybody is a good teacher just because they get through teachers’ college.”
Vanderkuur, who spent his career in the public system, acknowledges abuses in the private school system.
“It exists. The ministry should have investigators who go around and find out how it’s happening and why it’s happening. An inspector is really like a consultant. They don’t have the resources.”
Another Toronto school that lost its credit-granting authority last year — Eastern Canada High School — continues to operate under the same name at the same location, the investigation has found.
“We never closed our doors,” says Abdinur Farah, principal of the school.
In April of last year, less than a year after opening, Farah was told he would be shut down because of problems with assessment and evaluation.
He quickly reapplied for his authority, which was reissued before his school lost its credit-granting authority in June 2010.
“We did apply as a new school, paid the fees and we were given permission to start the new school in the summer of 2010,” he said in written responses to questions from the Star.
“Our credit-granting authority was restored by the end of the next semester after we passed a series of rigorous inspections.”
Ministry officials say that when a school has its authority to grant credits revoked “there are no specific timelines for which it must wait before re-opening.”
Perhaps the most egregious offences recorded by ministry inspectors over the past five years belong to Toronto College High School.
The school’s problems with the province date back to 2009 when inspectors cited “insufficient interaction between the teacher and students,” insufficient hours for credits, and evaluations that consisted of true/false questions, documents show.
The province removed the school’s authority to grant credits.
Less than 10 months later, principal Paul Pu was back up and running the same school, handing out credits with the province’s blessing.
An April 2010 inspection report found several more problems related to teaching plans, transcripts and record-keeping but allowed the school to remain operating.
Then, four months later, a re-inspection report details the school’s failure to meet provincial standards in all 30 criteria assessed.
Among the startling list of “extremely serious issues” flagged by ministry inspectors were courses scheduled for less than 110 hours (credits were being scheduled for between 40 and 80 hours), “no course calendar,” “no school timetable,” “teaching staff consisted (of) one teacher and a teaching assistant delivering 11 credits,” “no lesson plan, unit plans, course outlines or student work/assessments available.”
The school’s credit-granting authority was again revoked.
Today, Pu is listed in federal documents as the director of a private career college called Toronto College of Technology with locations in Toronto and Mississauga.
Pu declined repeated requests for comment.
The following student journalists from the Ryerson School of Journalism contributed to the research and reporting of this series: Marta Iwanek, Carys Mills, Mariana Ionova, Liam McGowan, Alex Bosanac and Shaheer Choudhury