Thursday, December 16, 2010

21st Century Learning – Sir Ken Robinson gets it half right

Is our current model of education outdated, boring and leaving kids behind? An interesting set of questions to ask, and certainly worth exploring, though the answers are as varied as the people and corporations and governments they represent and there is noticeably little critique about whether the questions themselves are the right ones. Such is the dialogue on so-called “21st Century Learning”, and it will be coming to a school near you.

There is no doubt that the primary basis and structure of most modern public education systems are based on a set of premises adopted during a time when the world of work looked significantly different. The late 19th Century and early 20th Century were characterized by “taylorization” – the notion that all processes could be made more efficient if they were broken down into their component parts. Factories adopted this in the form of the assembly line, with each worker performing a discrete and unique task. In schools, this model mirrored the factory image, with bells, discrete subject areas, and children moving through the system in grade groupings. The goal was to create a system that could take any citizen and turn them into the type of worker needed for the new industrial era – literate, numerate, able to follow instructions, and accustomed to moving through life in a lock-step fashion.

This is the analysis of Sir Ken Robinson, whose video “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” has become somewhat of a mantra in the 21C learning circles. The difficulty is that Sir Ken stops here.

The post World War II era brought another significant change to public education systems in the developed world. In response to the Cold War, massive expenditures were invested in public systems. Capitalism now needed not just workers for the factory floor, but thinkers, who would send spaceships to the moon and nuclear missiles wherever they might need to go. The emphasis was on science and mathematics, higher learning and creativity. Now students needed to be prepared not only for the mundane factory jobs available, but to be the creative scientific thinkers that would develop new industries and improved factory processes (such as computerization) as well as to invent ever more powerful and destructive instruments of war (such as missiles, whose technology depends on space research). A greater number of students needed to be university ready, so that they could pursue research and engineering.

The last quarter of the 20th Century brought yet another shift with the advent of large scale standardized testing. I call this the “cash register” generation – children raised to function in service industry jobs and to use a wide variety of computerized machines with a high degree of accuracy. Today’s standardized tests have driven the school system to focus more on how to learn narrow and specific questions with only one correct answer. This is a significant change from the exploration and creativity and critical thinking required to produce great researchers and innovators.

The common thread through all of these changes is that the system is based on one predominant goal – training workers for the workplace, whatever that workplace might look like. And this is where the root of the problems with so called “21st Century Learning” lie. The proponents of 21st Century Learning have not fundamentally broken from the notion that schools are training grounds for work. Do they want change? Yes. Do they have some good critiques of “20th Century Learning”? Yes. Do they have a vision for 21st Century Learning that we should embrace? Most emphatically no, because that vision is at essence no different than the predecessors they critique – one based on producing 21st Century workers.

I entered the teaching profession because I believe every child has the right to explore their intellectual and creative potential. I believe a free and democratic society depends on a citizenry able to understand and change the world they live in. In my mind, the starting point for a public education system should be the free opportunity for each child to meet their full potential as a human being.

As with many proposals for fundamental change, amongst the details are components that in fact align with a view towards a democratic and egalitarian view of public education, and those that will work against it. This was true with the factory model which did produce an incredible increase in literacy for the mass of the population. It was true for the era of science, which allowed a great deal of progressive and creative pedagogy to enter into the system and resulted in much higher rates of post-secondary education.

But fundamentally these models focused on the skills needed to be a "good" worker. Come when the bell rings. Sit and listen. Do what you are told. This will be true as well of the new ideal - 21st Century Learning. It will make very good workers in a "knowledge based", computerized economy with large numbers of service sector jobs. But will it make good citizens? Will it make artists, musicians, athletes? Will it make thinkers and writers? Will it allow every child to explore and fulfill their potential? I don't think so.

Getting to the specifics, the 7 "C"s are the vision being adopted by the BC Ministry of Education as the 7 critical skills for the 21st century. They are:
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving 
  • Creativity and innovation. 
  • Collaboration, teamwork and leadership 
  • Cross-cultural understanding 
  • Communications, computing and ICT (information, communications and technology) literacy. 
  • Career and learning self-reliance. 
  • Caring for personal health and planet earth. 
Here is my short list of “the good” and “the bad” and what is missing in this vision of learning in the 21st Century.

The Good
  • Smaller class sizes for primary through to grade 8 
  • A move away from behaviourist models towards constructivist models of learning 
  • A focus on creativity, critical thinking, cultural and environmental understanding hopefully meaning more resources for areas other than literacy and numeracy 
  • Perhaps the elimination/reduction of standardized testing as it conflicts with personalized learning 

The Bad
  • Overemphasis on workplace skills in the form of the sixth “C” – career and learning self-reliance – as well as references to apprenticeships and situational learning 
  • Overemphasis on technology rather than pedagogy in the form of the fifth “C” – computing and ICT and the tremendous influence technology companies appear to have within this movement 
  • Very large class sizes at secondary – some proposals indicate class sizes of 50 for grades 9 through 12 
  • Unclear if personalized means distance learning because no choices are available at your neighbourhood school 
  • Does not address the funding crisis – underfunded 21st C learning will be no better than underfunded 20th C learning 
  • Ignores societal issues such as poverty, which have a tremendous impact on student learning 
  • Potential for privatization – particularly in the suggestions for community based delivery models and situational/apprenticeship learning 

The Missing “C”

Class Composition. Perhaps the most disturbing omission from the discussion has been special education and inclusion. Nowhere have I seen consideration for how these ideas enable struggling learners to succeed. British Columbia has an appalling record on supporting inclusion and no doubt this is why the graduation rate for students with special needs hovers at fifty percent – considerably below the eighty percent for the population as a whole. Any significant educational reform must look specifically at the needs of these learners.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Can something good come of the Avison report?

There is no question that the report by Don Avison on the BC College of Teachers is politicized. And this is no surprise. He is following a long and sorry history of the College as a battle ground between teachers and government, beginning with its incarnation in 1987.

But perhaps the report will at long last put the College out of business. No fewer than three newspaper editorials have proposed the elimination of the College. Maybe a rudderless government will agree and do the simple thing - eliminate the College and place teacher certification back with the Ministry of Education.

The College has undermined and frustrated teachers. While there is a legitimate need to ensure that teacher misconduct is addressed, the College creates a system of double jeopardy - teachers are subject first to discipline from their employer, the school District, and then to discipline from the College. This is unfair and has created a stressful and costly system.

Avison referred in his report to the situation of a teacher who moved from District to District despite his misconduct and behaviour which posed a danger to children. This is a real and legitimate concern. But a simple and effective mechanism to avoid this scenario is an employer database, where serious discipline by a School Board is registered and recorded. This would allow Districts to know if serious misconduct charges against a teacher existed before hiring. But it would avoid the costly and unfair practice of disciplining a teacher twice - once by the school District and a second time by the College.

I agree with Trustee Mike Lombardi who wrote on Janet Steffenhagen's blog: "I believe that the BCCT should be disbanded. It is a failed experiment. The Ministry of Education should once again assume responsibility for teacher certification/ decertification in. BC. In all jurisdictions in N. A. other than BC and Ontario, teacher certification/ de-certification, is the responsibility of provincial/ state education authority."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Only in British Columbia

Those of you who lived through the crazy 1980's in BC will not be surprised by this fall's politics. Tax cut, no tax cut. BC's new education policy, no new policy. New Education Minister (George Abbot), old Education Minister (back to Margaret MacDiarmid).

But never be fooled that the change means the ideologues are going away. We remember that the death of the Socreds was the birth of the Liberals.

Also on the horizon this week is the possibility of a return of Christy Clark - anointed by some as the Sarah Palin of Canada, and known to teachers as the architect of many a failed education policy - grade 10 and 11 provincial exams, the never funded failure "portfolios", and the never made it even into policy "three graduation streams". Clark was Minister when class size and composition limits were stripped, when special education funding for most categories was eliminated, and really was in many ways the mastermind of ten years of gradual erosion of programs and services in schools.

Now is the time for education advocates to speak louder than ever. While the Liberal hopefuls are racing to lead the party and racing to distance themselves from the Campbell years, there is an opportunity to put PUBLIC education back on the agenda, to confront the testing and ranking of the FSAs, to advocate for full funding for cash strapped school boards. And while the NDP has its own inner party struggle, now is also the time to pressure them to take a position on education issues - more funding, elimination of public funding for private schools, reinstatement of class size and class composition provisions and the repeal of the essential services legislation.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Class Size & Composition in Court

In case it hasn't made the main stream media in your neighborhood, check out:

for a detailed, day by day report on the BCTF's challenge to Bills 27 and 28 which unilaterally removed class size and class composition limits in teacher collective agreements. This was a watershed moment in BC education and led to a significant degradation of learning conditions for students and working conditions for teachers.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Victoria Trustees strike Ad-Hoc Committee to Investigate Safety of Wifi

Last night's Board meeting adopted a motion to strike an ad-hoc committee of teachers, parents, trustees, support workers and other stakeholder groups to investigate the potential risks of wifi technology in schools.

This is a good first step in gathering evidence and considering adoption of a precautionary principle. Rather than conduct a grand experiment on our children, should we not first know that wifi is safe before massive expansion in schools to support a myriad of wireless devices?

Three speakers presented to the Board. One parent criticized the documentation provided by Secretary Treasurer George Ambeault, as it came primarily from Canadian Health Authorities. The parent mentioned that these authorities do not look at all scientific evidence, do not consider whether studies have corporate funding from the telecommunications industry, and have failed to take precautionary measures in the past - notably with cigarette smoking, asbestos and the tainted blood scandal.

A second parent spoke to the issue of sensitivity, which her son, a student at Mt. Doug, has experienced. He has been unable to attend school due to the presence of Wireless Access Points and the family has had difficulty getting reliable information on the location of wifi devices within the schools.

The Committee will be reporting back to the Spring Operations meeting of the Board.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

21 Century Learning - just more education hype?

The hype is there, but the details seem to be ever fewer. Even the upcoming conference on the topic organized by the BC Superintendents Association continues with vague references and buzzwords, but almost no details.

Consider this video showing Greater Victoria Superintendent John Gaiptman discuss the initiative:

What exactly does he say about it? I can't tell. What I do know is that as usual, only token gestures are given to suggest any meaningful dialogging. The Greater Victoria Teachers' Association, which represents the 1400 teachers in the district, was not invited to attend, despite such an invitation occurring in many other districts.

As usual, there are a lot of platitudes and catch phrases without any substance. Sounds a little like Gordon Campbell's farewell promise to have every grade 4 child meet or exceed expectations. That promise certainly ended quickly.

While every school staff appears to have had 21st Century Learning show up on a staff meeting agenda, no mechanism for staff input exists - these are one-way, top-down conversations.

Some of the few details emerging have educators reasonably concerned. There seems to be a strange view of the current system - that somehow we do not engage students, we do not teach creativity, we do not encourage students to explore their own interests. There is also an odd disconnect with the testing agenda so popular with this government. How exactly does FSA testing and provincial examinations fit in with personalized learning? Will there be personalized standardized tests!

Most worrisome is the suggestion that secondary schools would see the end of the traditional classroom and instead students would attend classes of up to fifty students, where the teacher was no longer instructor, but merely the "guide on the side". Exactly how will this help my already struggling grade 10 math students better understand algebra? Less individual attention is the answer? To be honest, the ones already slipping through the cracks are likely to see a huge gaping hole in this model.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What will the new Minister bring?

Last week's announcement of a cabinet shuffle was certainly good news for children, parents and teachers. Margaret MacDiarmid seemed to have little care or thought to the education portfolio and gave little of her time to talk to those directly involved. Her twenty minute speech to the BC School Trustees Association had more to do with healthcare than Education, and teachers had great difficulty even getting meetings to discuss issues with the Minister.

So it comes as some relief that the new Minister of Education is George Abbott. He has a reputation of at least listening and talking to stakeholders within the community. This would be a welcome change from the last three Ministers.

Of concern is Abbott's history of amalgamating health boards - a portent of amalgamation of school districts on a grand scale? Certainly local communities are much better served when they are able to be participants in decision making about services directly in their communities. Large regional Board do not serve this purpose, and instead isolate the decision makers and eliminate their accountability to the constituents they serve.

Also worrisome is Mr. Abbott's history with privatization and schemes to contract out and privatize components of the health care sector.

Perhaps his status as one of eight MLA potentially under threat from recall will inspire him to really listen and pay attention to those who work with children everyday about what changes are needed and how to implement them so that they work. And perhaps the Liberals are finally hearing the cries from the field about the serious funding shortfalls and how desparately school Boards need the proper inputs (funding) if we want to achieve better outputs (student success).

Let's hope so.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Premier's speech - nothing in it for the kids...

I sent the following media release today after watching the Premier's address last night:

Premier Gordon Campbell provided nothing more than empty promises during last night’s televised speech to British Columbians. His claim that every grade 4 student would be meeting or exceeding grade 4 reading, writing and math skills rang hollow. He gave no indication on how this would be achieved.

“An underfunded twenty-first century school system is no better than an underfunded twentieth century school system”, comments Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association president Tara Ehrcke. “Nowhere in Campbell’s address does he talk about how school boards, facing multi-million dollar shortfalls year after year, are supposed to provide supports and services to meet these goals.”

The Greater Victoria Board of Education faced a significant shortfall last year despite the extra funds from previous school closures. For two years, the Victoria Board has submitted a “needs budget” along with the actual budget to indicate that the needs of the District are far greater than what the provincial funding is able to support.

Just last month, the Board again approved a class configuration with almost 300 classes exceeding the limits in the School Act. One concerned teacher, Colleen Pommelet, spoke to the Board about how difficult it is to meet the wide range of ability levels in a single class. She pointed out that she was in fact teaching 17 different curricula to try to meet the diverse needs of her students.

Another teacher, Judi Chessa, spoke about the challenge of meeting needs in classes with large numbers of students who have individual education plans. She told the Board “I am sending out an SOS” because she felt she would be unable to sustain the workload.

Since the Liberals were elected, one in ten schools in British Columbia has closed, including seven in Greater Victoria. Boards are using revenues from closed schools to make up for the lack of funding from the province. Nothing in the Premier’s speech provided any hope that this disturbing trend will not continue.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What does the Premier have in mind?

Rumours are circulating about tonights televised speech. Will the Premier announce an end to democratically elected school boards? I certainly hope not. No one is better able to hold decision makers accountable than the local electorate. It would be a sad day for democracy if that is what is in store.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wifi in schools - a safety risk?

Considerable debate has begun about the safety of wifi in Victoria schools. A teacher presented to the Board last spring, and three more presentations are scheduled for the November 8th Operations subcommittee meeting.

While the evidence may not yet be conclusive, there is good reason to apply the precautionary principle - ensure it is safe before continued expansion of devices and transmitters in schools and classrooms. This is the approach the Vancouver School Board has taken, citing medical evidence of correlations between EMF frequency and certain cancers and other health effects. There is the added issue that we need to understand the health effects on children, who may respond differently and tolerate lower levels of EMF than adults.

With the Ministry looking at the use of mobile devices in their 21 Century Learning Initiative, it is more important than ever to have this debate and look carefully at the research before we embark on classrooms where every child carries a cell phone and an ipad, where wireless labs are ubiquitous, and were wireless transmitters are upgraded to facilitate this explosion in devices.

Here are some articles on the issue:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

School District 61: Perpetuating the "Motherhood Gap"

Several recent grievances demonstrate how school district 61 is complicit in the discriminatory treatment of women and mothers in a way that is a key component of the ‘Motherhood Gap’ – lower lifetime wages for mothers.

The Greater Victoria Teachers Association first grieved the failure to provide parenthood “top up” to birth mothers, while they are providing this benefit to adoptive parents and birth fathers. This has gone to an arbitration hearing and we are still waiting for the result.

Next a teacher brought to the union’s attention the discriminatory treatment of birth mothers and parents by not providing salary increments for time spent on maternity/parenthood leave. This is contrary to the Employment Standards Act, as well as Human Rights legislation. The district has offered only a half-way solution that would exclude all the mothers and parents not yet at step 10 on the salary scale that have had children in the past ten years. The union is pursuing this grievance to arbitration to seek fair wage increases for all those mothers and parents who have lost income.

Finally, the union has just grieved a case of a new mother denied “top up” benefits on a temporary contract. The union believes this too is a violation of the Employment Standards Act which states that mothers and parents must be treated “as if the leave were never taken”, with no wage or benefit loss.

Recent news reports and research studies (see for example ) have identified wage loss and wage increase loss as one of the key components of the “gender gap”…calling this phenomenon the “motherhood gap”. Teachers in at least one school district are clearly experiencing this.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Do unions make us happy?

At a recent visit to a Victoria school, a teacher spoke up at a meeting: "I'm not pro union or anti union, but when it comes right down to it, the union is the only group of people looking after my interests."

Despite the rhetoric in the press, it is generally true that unions look after the interests of their members, but also the collective interests of citizens, in many cases. The labour movement brought us the weekend, maternity leave, and an uncountable number of other advances in workplace rights. But the labour movement also represents a voice to advocate for democracy, public services, social justice.

A new research study confirms these ideas: unions make us happier (both individually as union members and collectively as a society) because they look out for the collective good.

Here is the abstract from the article at:

"While a growing literature demonstrates the impact of socio-political factors on citizens’ quality of life, scholars have paid comparatively little attention to the role political organizations such as labor unions play in this regard. We examine labor organization as a determinant of cross-national variation in life satisfaction across a sample of advanced industrial polities. Our findings strongly suggest that unions increase the life satisfaction of citizens, and that that this effect holds for non-union members as well. Moreover, we also find that labor organization has the strongest impact on the subjective well-being of citizens with lower incomes. We confirm these hypotheses using both individual and aggregate-level data from fourteen nations. We show these relationships to have an independent and separable impact from other economic, political, and cultural determinants. The implications for the study of life satisfaction and of labor unions as political actors in general are discussed."

Monday, October 4, 2010

I'll give Superman a pass

Our friends to the south have been bombarded with a frenzy of teacher and union bashing in the last couple of weeks since the release of "Waiting for Superman" and the added onslaught of NBC and Oprah and the Gates foundation, the Waltons (of Walmart fame), and no doubt a few other billionaires all weighing in on the broken US education system in the press, TV, and through giant televised forums. The mantra is that the solution to the ailing system is charter schools and getting rid of bad teachers and intrasigent teacher unions.

Charter schools are the US version of a "public private partnership" - public funding for privately run schools. They don't run under an elected school Board, but rather a private board that operates just that one school. Although touted as the solution, in fact about 37% of charter schools do worse than their public counterparts on test scores, while 20% do better.

And as to whether unions are the problem, as Diane Ravitch, an educational historian has pointed out, the states with the highest test scores historically are those in the unionized north, whereas scores in the non-unionized "right to work" states have fared worse. If test scores are what we are worried about, seems the unionized states do better. But are test scores the sign of a quality system?

The tragic suicide of a beloved Los Angeles teacher upset about his "average" rankings in the LA Times teacher ranking demonstrates just one facet of the problems with the testing approach to teacher evaluation. Interestingly, "value added" statistics like those used in the LA Times ranking also placed 13% of teachers in the lowest category one year (worst improvement in test scores) and the highest category the next (most improvement in test scores). It's hard to imagine that more than one in ten teachers magically tranformed into a "great" teacher in the course of a single year. Perhaps there is more to teaching than test scores, and more to evaluating good teaching than simple scores in a woefully unfair and invalid statistical scheme.

So what is really going on? Nothing more insidious than a complete attack on one of the most important public institutions we have - a public school system. The interference of billionaires, media empires, and the charter movement is about a massive transfer from the public to the semi-private system that charters represent. The use of the New Orleans school system as an example (as was done on the NBC program) shows the underlying agenda - shut down public neighborhood schools, eliminate school boards and other elected administrators and replace them with privately run, unaccountable "boards" that fire the teachers and replace them with younger, less trained teachers at lower wages and without a union. This is what happened in post-Katrina New Orleans. This is also what Arne Duncan did in Chicago, prior to being appointed by Obama as the chief education czar. As a result, hundreds of neighborhood public schools are gone.

There is lots of excellent commentary about these issues. Here are a few good articles:

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ontario arbitrator rejects wage freeze

For those of us entering bargaining in the midst of a so-called "wage freeze", a welcome decision arrived this week from an Ontario arbitrator who considered the legality and the reasonableness of government mandated wage freezes. In addition, arbitrated contracts even during the 2008 recession have included wage increases commensurate with inflation.

Thousands and thousands of public sector workers in Canada will be negotiating with governments that have "mandated" wage freezes, including Ontario and also British Columbia. While governments attempt to portray this as a necessary feature of the bargaining climate, in fact it is an unreasonable and unfair labour practice. No party to a collective agreement should be able to predetermine the outcome of any item of bargaining. That in itself means the bargaining process is limited, rather than open and fair to both parties. When governments impose a "wage freeze" this is just what they are doing.

The Globe & Mail reported: "In his ruling, the arbitrator says labour leaders and employers must respond to economic conditions, not a government’s fiscal policies, in setting wages."

So does this mean the recession of 2008 justifies zero wage increases based on "economic conditions"? Another recent arbitration ruling says no. In this arbitrated wage settlement, CN rail workers were seeking 3 - 4 percent wage increases to begin in 2009 - immediately following the recessionary period. While the arbitrator did not uphold these amounts, he did award increases of 1.8, 2.4 and 2.6 %. Included in his rationale were the predictions of cost of living increases in the period 2009 - 2012.

Clearly, when the "just and reasonable" tests are used, a wage freeze is not in order.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

21st Century Learning - Coming to a school near you?

I hope to mostly write my own commentary, but I just can't match Alfie here are his comments on the latest fad in education....

When “21st-Century Schooling”
Just Isn’t Good Enough:  A Modest Proposal

By Alfie Kohn

Many school administrators, and even more people who aren’t educators
but are kind enough to offer their advice about how our field can be
improved, have emphasized the need for “21st-century schools” that
teach “21st-century skills.”  But is this really enough, particularly
now that our adversaries (in other words, people who live in other
countries) may be thinking along the same lines?  Unfortunately, no.
Beginning immediately, therefore, we must begin to implement
22nd-century education.

What does that phrase mean?  How can we possibly know what skills will
be needed so far in the future?  Such challenges from skeptics – the
same kind of people who ask annoying questions about other
cutting-edge ideas, including “brain-based education” -- are to be
expected.  But if we’re confident enough to describe what education
should be like throughout the 21st century – that is, what will be
needed over the next 90 years or so -- it’s not much of a stretch to
reach a few decades beyond that.

Essentially, we can take whatever objectives or teaching strategies we
happen to favor and, merely by attaching a label that designates a
future time period, endow them (and ourselves) with an aura of novelty
and significance.  Better yet, we instantly define our critics as
impediments to progress.  If this trick works for the adjective
“21st-century,” imagine the payoff from ratcheting it up by a hundred

To describe schooling as 22nd-century, however, does suggest a
somewhat specific agenda.  First, it signifies an emphasis on
competitiveness.  Even those who talk about 21st-century schools
invariably follow that phrase with a reference to “the need to compete
in a global economy.”  The goal isn’t excellence, in other words; it’s
victory.  Education is first and foremost about being first and
foremost.  Therefore, we might as well trump the 21st-century folks by
peering even further into the future.

You may have noticed the connection between this conception of
education and the practice of continually ranking students on the
basis of their scores on standardized tests.  This is a promising
start, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough.  Twenty-second--century
schooling means that just about everything should be evaluated in
terms of who’s beating whom.  Thus, newspapers might feature headlines
like:  “U.S. Schools Now in 4th Place in Number of Hall Monitors” or
“Gates Funds $50-Billion Effort to Manufacture World-Class Cafeteria
Trays.”  Whatever the criterion, our challenge is to make sure that
people who don’t live in the United States will always be inferior to

This need to be number one also explains why we can no longer settle
for teaching to the “whole child.”  The trouble is that if you have a
whole of something, you have only one of it.  From now on, therefore,
you can expect to see conferences devoted to educating a
“child-and-a-half” (CAAH).   Nothing less will do in a 22nd-century
global – or possibly interplanetary – economy.  To cite the title of a
forthcoming best-seller that educators will be reading in place of
dusty tomes about pedagogy, The Solar System Is Flat.

In addition to competitiveness, those who specify an entire century to
frame their objectives tend not to be distracted by all the fretting
about what’s good for children.  Instead, they ask, “What do our
corporations need?” and work backwards from there.  We must never
forget the primary reason that children attend school – namely, to be
trained in the skills that will maximize the profits earned by their
future employers.  Indeed, we have already made great strides in
shifting the conversation about education to what will prove useful in
workplaces rather than wasting time discussing what might support
“democracy” (an 18th-century notion, isn’t it?) or what might promote
self development as an intrinsic good (a concept that goes back
thousands of years and is therefore antiquated by definition).

How can we redouble our commitment to business-oriented schooling?  If
necessary, we can outsource some of the learning to students in Asia,
who will memorize more facts for lower grades.  And we can complete
the process, already begun in spirit, of making universities’
education departments subsidiaries of their business schools.  More
generally, we must put an end to pointless talk about students’
“interest” in learning and instead focus on skills that will
contribute to the bottom line.  Again, we’re delighted to report that
this shift is already underway, thanks to those who keep reminding us
about the importance of 21st-century schooling.

This is no time for complacency, though.  Not everyone is on board
yet, and that means we’ll have to weed out teachers whose stubborn
attachment to less efficient educational strategies threatens to slow
down the engine of our future economy.  How can we rid our schools of
those who refuse to be team players?  Well, we can insist that all
classroom instruction be rigorously aligned to state standards – a
very effective technique since most of those standards documents were
drafted by people steeped in the models, methods, and metaphors of
corporations.  We can also use merit pay to enforce compliance by
stigmatizing anyone who doesn’t play by the new rules.  (Come to think
of it, here, too, we’re already well on our way to creating
22nd-century classrooms.)

The final distinguishing feature of education that’s geared to the
next century is its worshipful attitude toward mathematics and
technology.  “If you can’t quantify it or plug it in, who needs it?”
Of course, the reason we will continue to redirect resources toward
the STEM subjects (and away from literature and the arts) isn’t
because the former are inherently more important but simply because
they’re more useful from an economic standpoint.  And that standpoint
is the only one that matters for schools with a proper 22nd-century

One last point.  We will of course continue to talk earnestly about
the need for a curriculum that features “critical thinking” skills –
by which we mean the specific proficiencies acceptable to CEOs.  But
you will appreciate the need to delicately discourage real critical
thinking on the part of students, since this might lead them to pose
inconvenient questions about the entire enterprise and the ideology on
which it’s based.  There’s certainly no room for that in the global
competitive economy of the future.  Or the present.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Grading the Teacher - What's the Agenda?

The recent publication by the LA times of a ranking of teachers based on so-called "value added" scores should frighten not only education professionals the world over, but the rest of society too.

While the mantra continues to be "accountability", it is not hard to see the real agenda.

First off, the ranking is based on increases to standardized test scores of the students in a teacher's class. This assumes that the job of teaching is about increasing standardized test scores and the purpose of schooling is to maximize every student's ability to score well on a standardized test. What happened to learning pro-social behaviours? Critical thinking? Understanding democratic principles? Exploring the arts, music, drama and sports? Are these irrelevent?

This is truly the scariest thing about these rankings - they suggest that the purpose of education is limited only to an extremely narrow set of skills designed to enable people to perform relatively simple tasks in a job. Forget the democratic society and reaching one's potential - be it in strings, sculpture or hockey. Only reading, writing and math are what count.

Of additional concern to teachers, but also all professionals, is the notion that we be regulated by our "clients" who "shop" for the best. Professions are based on the notion that EVERY member of the profession meets a certain high standard. This is why we have professional bodies that regulate our members and ensure that those standards are maintained. Would we want to choose an airline flight by looking up a ranking of pilots before each flight and picking the best one? Of course not. Who would want the pilot at the bottom of the list. We want every pilot to meet a very high standard, and we want the same of teachers.

And lest we think this is just some crazy American phenomenon, check out the commentary up here by Margaret Wente  And by the way, I notice she doesn't propose a ranking of journalists.

Or if you'd rather read an interesting commentary, check out Alfie Kohn, an educational researcher, here:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Return of Deadlines?

Many teachers have been understandably frustrated with the poorly conceived notion that any student, at any time, should be able to "redo" any assignment, homework or test during the term or semester.

In addition to the workload issue this creates for teachers, it has a knock on effect on the habits of students. Not surprisingly, they study less, attend less, and generally get less learning done. While it is certainly important to give second chances, and to recognize that children and young adults are still learning organization and time management skills, we appear to have developed a culture where missing deadlines and time lines has no consequence and we are teaching students that this is OK.

A growing number of provinces are responding and changing course. In Ontario, teachers will now be able to deduct marks for late assignments. And in Nova Scotia, students who miss 20% of classes will automatically be required to retake the course.

In Victoria, the drive to allow every student to hand in everything late seems to have been driven by the relentless push from the school Board to "improve graduation rates" - on paper, at least. Students don't fail, they are perpetually incomplete. Yet rather than design truly self-paced learning environments, many secondary schools have adopted the practice of simply allowing students to just scrape by redoing tests, attending "course completion" in the last few days of class and cramming in just enough marks at the last minute to get a pass. This is a disservice to the student who really needs to learn to attend and study. And it is a disservice to their learning when we accept that scraping by with fifty percent means they have learned the curriculum and are ready to move on.

See news coverage of this issue at:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ontario - Doing Kindergarten Right

Both BC and Ontario will see full day K classes this fall. While BC has adopted the "ontario model" with respect to curriculum, they have fallen far short on funding.

In Ontario, K will be offered half day to four year olds and full day for five year olds next year. While there are blended junior K/senior K classes, there will be no blending or splitting with Grade 1 classes. The government recognizes that the two programs don't mix.

In addition, the Ontario government is implementing a before and after school care program with integration to schools and classrooms. Each program will have qualified Early Childhood Educators who begin the day with students and go with them into the classroom, as an additional educator along with the teacher. At noon, a second ECE will join the class and this educator goes with the students to the after school care. This provides continuity for the children and it means there will always be both a teacher and and Early Childhood Educator in each classroom.

Finally, the Ontario government has recognized that expanding the Kindergarten program means new classrooms are needed. A capitol funding program is in place to allow Districts to add additional space to schools rather than rely on portables.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lessons for responding to a wage freeze...

The Ontario government, like many others across Canada, has announced a wage freeze for public sector workers. But workers are not taking it lying down.

Lancaster House reported:

Labour leaders voiced their displeasure with the government's action. Sid Ryan, the president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, called the government's measures an "opening salvo" by a government trying to cut costs. Warren Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, declared: "It's difficult for workers to swallow some of this stuff when you see bankers and investment houses ... going back to multi-million bonuses after just being bailed out."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Is the government worried?...

A mysterious phone call from a BC government lawyer to the BCTF invited the BCTF to discuss "remedies" for not having what is called "manner and consequence" language bargained under the changes to the School Act that were imposed in 2002. At that time, despite a judicial order, ALL language on class size and composition was removed - including language that does not impose "limits", but rather the "manner" in which a class is created and the "consequences" of creating such a class. For example, language that provided TOC time to teachers with more than 2 students with an IEP was removed. This is "consequence" language.

It seems the government is finally realizing they went way beyond the pale when they chose to simply legislate the removal of all our class size and composition language and they are now worried about what the Supreme Court will say.

This is good news for teachers AND students and provides a glimmer of hope as we prepare to enter the next round of bargaining.