Friday, October 14, 2011

Abbott's plan: Drastic changes with no consultation? Deja vu all over again

Yesterday the Minister of Education announced with some further description the coming legislative changes to BC's education system. Seems the "21st century learning" buzz was indeed a set-up and here it comes. (see for the news release)

The Minister assures us we've all been consulted: "I want you to know about another discussion that’s taking place. It’s a much broader conversation government has been having with students, parents, teachers, and other education partners about our plan to make our good education system a great one."

Did I miss something? I remember that fancy online book, with the little boxes that you could enter a few sentences into. Is that the "broader conversation" he's talking about? Or maybe it was the hour long tweet chat. Yes - there was real depth to that consultation. Or perhaps the closed door meeting with the Superintendent's association? Is that where the conversation got "broad"?

Instead of investing dollars back into funding what is needed - smaller classes, more specialist teachers, building new schools in fast growing areas like Surrey - the government seems intent on forcing unwanted change on an underfunded system and of wasting a lot of money paying big IT companies for " Learning empowered by technology". I guess that's why IBM was at that closed door presentation with the Superintendents. Is this going to be another BCeSIS writ large?

Here are my fears from the "five key elements":

1. "Personalized learning for every student". We will take resources out of classrooms and instead spend them writing up "plans". More administrative paperwork, less teaching and learning. Fewer teachers and maybe fewer instructional hours for students. Students receiving credit for private educational services (such as art, music and sports outside the public school system) and a corresponding drop in the elective course offerings available at schools.

2. "Quality teaching and learning". So far, the emphasis has been on "fix the teacher" rather than "respect the teacher" or "support the teacher". I see further erosion of teaching professionalism through increased supervision, evaluation and discipline by administrators (many of whom have very little teaching experience). This will be a serious morale issue for teachers. It is also terribly unfair to hold teachers "accountable" when teachers do not have adequate resources to do their jobs. 

3. "More flexibility and choice". Choice is about a system that puts "my child first", not a system that puts "our children first". Since the opening of catchment areas, for example, those who can, have fled inner city schools leading to a ghetto-ization in poorer neighborhoods. Flexibility is about giving school administrators most of the say in how resources are allocated. This creates a system where everyone must fight over ever declining funding rather than a system with minimum standards for everyone. "Flexibility" in class size meant some classes of 15 but others of 45, rather than every class under 30. This was a real set back for equal opportunity - a foundational principle of our public system.

4. "High standards". This probably means more standardized testing beyond the Foundation Skills Assessment. Are we headed down the road the US took?

5. "Learning empowered by technology". This sounds like a lot of money for some tech companies to come and outfit schools with something. In the best case, it will at least be useful technology for classrooms. In the worst, it will be another BCeSIS - a mega-dollar data collection boondoggle extraordinaire.  It might also mean more distributed learning and less instructional time with teachers.

Sadly, this looks to be another "Year 2000", another "Portfolio", another government agenda put together in board rooms, not classrooms, that is doomed to fail.


  1. Amen. I agree with your take Tara. Maybe someone should redevelop a BCLiberal dictionary (I seem to remember seeing one around 2002-2003), defining (i.e. translating) terms like 'consultation', 'personalized learning', and 'flexibility' into plain speak. All we are seeing is Abbott pushing for a system where money can be saved/cut under the mantra of "21st century learning". He can cut the fat (teachers- students' most vocal advocates) out of the system to be replaced by... what? Kind of short on the details, isn't he. But that's okay, he has broadly discussed it with some people, in secret, with the helpful advice of his spin doctors I'm sure. My guess: despite ridiculously low success rates, he is going to push our students into more distance learning, where they will finally get the flexibility to flounder on their own in an impersonal and under-supported medium.  Now there is true leadership. I suppose we can just speculate until this next promised renaissance in learning occurs- with their track record, it will likely be a train wreck as usual.

  2. Thanks Tara for providing this analysis. And thanks teachers for defending public education and for enduring these difficult times during your strike for our sake (parents/students)and for your rights.

  3. I guess we will get to see what it looks like to have 48,000 teachers quit. OH! Abbott forgot one key component in his grand scheme. Kids by nature really don't like doing school work. He looks at this radical change in education as though it's intended for 40 year olds trying to get their GED. Are they kidding, or are they really that stupid? Can Abbott be that stupid? Wow! It takes my breath away.

  4. Wasn't it Crusty Clark who said she intends to increase international student enrollment to help shore up the funding for public schools? Why would students come to BC for a school system - Abbott intends to put in place? They could get that type of education anywhere. Just think about for a second; one of the more highly regarded public education systems in North America gets replaced by the Rosetta stone on-line learning program.