Friday, April 27, 2012

Parents take note - Bill 36 is an attack on you

Having successfully removed teachers as an "obstacle" to the BC Education Plan, yesterday George Abbott introduced enabling legislation to change the school year, day, and total instructional time provided to students.

Bill 36 removes the requirement for School Boards to follow the standard school calendar, and most importantly allows the Minister to change, through regulation, the minimum number of instructional hours in the year. It also enables more online and blended learning for all grade levels and the introduction of fees for International Baccalaureate programs.

Although the media has focused on the school year, the scariest part of this legislation is the change to the minimum number of instructional hours through regulation. Here is the actual section of the Bill, which allows the Minister to:

prescribing the minimum number of hours of instruction that a board must offer to students enrolled in the schools in its school district, including prescribing that there is no minimum number of hours of instruction for prescribed classes of students, schools or educational programs;

If parents are wondering what this might look like, then look no further than the changes that have taken place in the delivery of Planning 10. In some schools in BC, every grade 10 student goes to the gymnasium once a week for a lecture (this can be in excess of 100 students). There is no or little further instructional time for these students. The remainder of the course is taught through a "blended" model with online components or simply assignments that are done on the student's own time and handed in. The instructional time goes from 400 minutes per week in a class with 30 students, to 80 minutes per week in a class with 100 or more students. Typically this can reduce the teacher hours needed by half.

This already happens at a school in my District, Greater Victoria. Here is the "rationale" for the over-sized class buried on our Class Size report (

Students meet weekly as a whole group with the two Vice Principals before dividing into smaller groups. Students work independently, frequently in small groups on specific projects. The Vice Principals requested this configuration.

Under Bill 22, teachers will simply be told to accept this configuration and class size. No limits will exist. Under Bill 36, students will simply be told to accept this configuration. No minimum instructional time will exist.

Currently, for any class this large, there had to be smaller classes to compensate, because the School Act had class size averages required. So perhaps there was some rationale for doing this for some classes to enable smaller classes in more challenging subject areas. Now, under Bill 22 and Bill 36, a District can configure as many of these classes as they want.

A brief look at the success rates of self-directed online learning with inadequate instructional time and teacher support shows that these programs are dismal failures. Even with supports distributed learning completion rates are much lower than in a "brick and mortar" school (see for instance, this North Vancouver school report: In the US, where some states are requiring students to take at least one course in an online or blended model, the failure rates are similarly poor.

Independent, self-directed, blended learning works for a small segment of the population. It is not particularly successful for the majority of teenagers. At this age, students need motivation, structure, face to face instruction, and social interaction. Reducing instructional time will worsen student outcomes for the majority of students.

This is all about saving money and gutting the public education system.


  1. This is also an attack on families where there is no adult at home during the day. If children as young as five can take online courses there has to be adequate supervision of those children when they are not in class. In Maple Ridge, the so-called elementary "cyber school" has been excluding certain SES families for years. And the "lap top program" at a local high school requires students to provide their own laptop computers. This legislation means that across the province, lower SES students will not be able to avail themselves of such opportunities and their "choices" at the physical school itself will be further narrowed. Furthermore, in high schools, teacher-librarians are increasingly asked to "supervise" (ie. not teach) large numbers of students who require a place to work on their online courses using the school's computers or the students' own. Where else can kids go when they have empty blocks instead of classes, and work to do but no space to do it? This is so aggravating for teacher-librarians whose amazing skills are not adequately exploited.

  2. As a high school teacher I have seen kids fail online courses again and again because teenagers are simply for the most part not self motivated. It is difficult enough for an adult to stay focused, if this becomes a reality many students and parents will suffer and as a consequence I hope they over throw this government and this ridiculous bill.

  3. This bill is a direct result of districts like Nanaimo that refused to allow my daughter to register in an online course she was interested in doing on her own time. Why? She is in grade 6. It would have been no skin off their nose to let a bright kid challenge herself, but NO all they could do was tell her it was against policy. Now it isn't and they can suck it up and register her. Any policy that stands in the way of a kid who wants to learn and is asking to learn is stupid to say the least.

    1. The problem will be not with the addition of DL courses as a choice, but with the replacement of options in schools with DL. There is also an impact on what schools are able to offer when large numbers sign up for DL. I know in Victoria there already has been an impact on high school PE offerings because so many students sign up for PE online.

  4. Excerpt from Bill 36:

    ...prescribing the minimum number of hours of instruction that a board must offer to students enrolled in the schools in its school district, including prescribing that there is no minimum number of hours of instruction for prescribed classes of students, schools or educational programs...

    Hmmm...imagine this...students view lectures at home via internet for, say, 2 hours each day...students only required to attend 1 of 2 or more "shifts" available at physical school building for, say, 3 hours each school of 2 lecture hours at home + 3 hours at school building each day is deemed equivalent to 5 hours of instruction each day...double and triple shifts at schools allows higher utilization of school buildings and many school buildings are declared surplus and closed...Hmmm.

    Is this what the government is trying to enable?

    There are related comments on the BC Education Plan website here(1), here(2), here(3), and here(4).

  5. I was wondering what "easter eggs" were hiding in Bill 36. For a reference, our DL success rates in SD57 are about 20%, according to a staffer at our DL school. I've marked DL for them for 13 years, and have seen the limitations of the existing models. Most of the courses are paper-based, with students doing most of the work on the honour system and submitting a sample for assessment (most student just skip ahead to the hand-in stuff). The online courses are cumbersome, and the technology is as much a hindrance as a help. The "teachers" are increasingly forced into being case managers for 100s of students, signing off on completed papers, while contract markers rush through the assessment without having any other contact with the school or students. The plans to examine new modes of blended and/or distance learning are getting stale. The use of Moodle is one of the few "improvements" made in the last 10 years. The whole idea of an interactive web has barely touched the school. I mention all this because it is a joke to think we can turn over more learning to our DL schools, given the glacial pace of change, the diminished learning experiences, and the poor success rates. Where dynamic DL schools exist, fantastic (I've interacted with them while doing course-writing), but this success is definitely not province-wide.