Ontario's Tory government has invited private consortia to rewrite the secondary curriculum to make it more "rigorous".
The consortia, most likely to be publishers, will have to put up a $1 million bond, (Pounds 415,000) payable if they do not finish on time, which will effectively preclude teachers from bidding for the work.
At the same time the government has announced that graduation will depend on performance on literacy and numeracy tests and that streaming in grade nine (age 14) will be reinstated.
The moves are part of a drive to raise standards in Ontario which, with 10 million people is Canada's largest state. It spends more per capita than any other province but has been achieving some of the lowest literacy and numeracy rankings in the country.
"Our government is committed to a quality high-school programme that will prepare students for success in a highly competitive global economy," said Davey Johnson, the education minister.
The official reason for taking the new curriculum out of the hands of teachers, traditionally seconded to the ministry for the task, is that it is the only way the September 1999 deadline for implementation can be met. In fact, only the grade nine curriculum must be ready then.
Observers say the real reason is to ensure a shift away from progressive education in a state claimed to be the most committed to such methods in the world. John Ibbotson, author of a study on the two-and-a-half years of Tory rule in Ontario, said the government did not trust the bureaucrats in the ministry of education or the teachers who traditionally write the curriculum.
Marat Sadem-Thompson, president of the Ontario Federation of Women's Teachers' Associations, defended the current curriculum, which embraces whole-word reading and which she helped to write. She said the development of a child's sense of self-worth is "more precious than facts or what is found in books".
The "Policy Documents" that state what the ministry is expecting in the new curriculum list the facts - disguised as "critical knowledge" - that pupils must learn in each subject. But they also say lessons must be "closely connected to pupils' lives", and accord "learning to work in a team" the same importance as literacy.
The row follows a two-week teachers strike in October after the government transferred most of the school boards' powers, including taxation, to the education minister.