The reforms will begin with 14-year-olds. Other changes include a more rigorous curriculum and the use of report cards with percentage grades.
The package is the latest in a long series of changes brought in by the Tories since they replaced the New Democratic party in 1994 and represents a break from the child-centred doctrines enshrined in Ontario by the Hall-Dennis Report of 1968.
Under the new system, students in Grades 9 and 10 (14 and 15-year-olds) will choose their "electives" (subject choices) with an eye towards whether they want to go into workplace, college or university streams in Grade 11.
The workplace programme, which includes school-supervised work experience,will prepare students to move straight into a job after high school. The work experience may take up as much as half the week for a year and pupils will be assessed on it.
College-stream courses will prepare students for the province's technical colleges, which award diplomas in areas such as massage therapy, tourism and business. University-stream courses will emphasise theoretical aspects of the subject under study.
Unlike previous streaming systems, which locked students into one educational path, in Ontario's new system schools will have to offer courses that allow students to move between the different types of programmes.
The return to standardised reading and writing tests puts Ontario in line with other Canadian provinces.
The literacy test is designed to assure students, parents, post-secondary institutions and employers that graduates of Ontario's high schools have the literacy skills they need. The testing will be done in Grade 10 to ensure that there is sufficient time for remedial help if it is necessary, the education ministry says.
The most innovative part of the new school regimen is the compulsory 40 hours of community work, which must be completed outside school time before graduation.
According to Aryeh Gitterman, executive co-ordinator of the Secondary School Project: "The community involvement requirement acknowledges that in Ontario we expect high-school graduates to have knowledge and skills in English and math and sciences, and also to have some experience and knowledge and skills in contributing to their communities."
Neither paid work nor work experience will count towards this requirement.Rather, students will be expected to tutor, or help out at food banks, nursing homes and other community institutions.
Randy Robinson, of the Ontario Public Service Employees' Union, says the initiative sounds too similar to the work-for-welfare system. "We don't believe that child-labour should replace paid labour in community institutions, " he said.