No 2-tier Education! Day -1

Today is the last post in this series. Tomorrow, the legislature sits, parents and teachers will demonstrate, there will have hopefully been fruitful talks between the union and the government, and perhaps there will be a way forward that will not involve a teachers’ strike.

In this countdown to Legislature Day, I have tried to flesh out some of the effects that recommendations in the Glaze report will have if adopted. I have focussed on the most contentious ones, because they are contentious for a reason – they will contribute to a more centralized, authoritarian, business oriented system that will have negative impacts on everyone, especially students. Our Canadian ideal of equity in education will go out the window, opening the door to a two-tiered education system, the deficiencies of which are so clearly on display in Britain.

Now to summarize very briefly what I have been trying to say in the series:

  1. a top-down authoritarian approach to teachers tends to be counter-productive because the vast proportion of teachers are in the profession because they want to contribute. They want their students to succeed, and to have “shared responsibility” for school improvement. When teachers are given the autonomy, respect and time to collaborate they will produce the best results. Principals are also part of the teaching team, and should be there to support teachers, not just to monitor them.
  2. Standardized schooling, monitored by standardized tests, results in a narrow, joyless curriculum that will not prepare students for the future. When “raising standards” is interpreted to mean solely “getting good scores on standardized tests” there are all kinds of negative results, particularly for schools labelled as “bad”, and especially for disadvantaged students.
  3. Education should not be seen as a commodity – everyone should be assured that their child will get a good education in the public schools. Parents are not “consumers” and the idea of shopping around for the best schools is a ridiculous one, especially in rural Nova Scotia. Most fundamentally, children are not widgets who should be “produced” in standardized units of “human capital”.
  4. Improvements in equity also improve excellence. Finland discovered this when they started to reform their system. Addressing child poverty and building a strong universal early childhood programme are the starting steps on the path to a truly excellent education system.
  5. Britain is not a model to follow. Decades of ignoring, marginalizing and dictating to teachers has resulted in a huge teacher shortage here, but have not “raised standards” (as shown in international comparisons). Recent cutbacks have only widened the gap between good and failing schools.

Now, where do we go from here? What would I like to see the government do with the Glaze report? What would I like to see the Teachers Union negotiate for?

First, before we go any further, as teachers know well, it is not “flipflopping” to actually learn. Changing your mind when presented with new evidence is what rational people do. Indeed, making mistakes is how we all learn, and the mark of a good leader is one who can listen and absorb new information before deciding on a course of action.

Before accepting any of the 11 first recommendations of the Glaze report, the government needs to share the research and sources the report and recommendations are based on with teachers and the public, and then listen to the experts, teachers, about any new/different evidence they may have. Then they should set up a process for genuine consultation, with teachers, and with the public and a date for implementation that respects the need for consultation. It is ridiculous that there is more public consultation about  putting a bus lane on Gottingen Street than there has been about dissolving school boards, a fundamental piece of our democracy.

Here are the 7 recommendations (out of the first 11) that I feel qualified to comment on, with my thoughts on them, since I won’t be around for public consultations:

1.Unify the system by dissolving the seven elected regional school boards and create one provincial advisory council. The structure of the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial (CSAP) board will not change. 2. Money saved from dissolving elected boards (expenses/stipends) will go back into the education system. 3. A portion of the money saved will go to enhance the role and influence of School Advisory Councils (SACs) for all schools (or families of schools) in the province to strengthen the local voice in schools.

This is a frightening and bad idea, particularly when it is recognized that the cost savings will be minimal. The plan for replacing regional input looks like it’s going to involve appointed, not elected, representatives. We all need to see that a new plan is going to actually be better than what it replaces. How exactly is this going to help students?

4.Ensure voices of Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotians are heard at senior and ministerial levels.

Great idea, but now that some of those voices have been fired, I’d like to hear the plan.

5.Change the name of superintendents to Regional Executive Directors and enhance their role to focus on student achievement, reporting directly to the Deputy Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

What’s in a name? But, more importantly, what is meant by “focus on student achievement”- if standardized test results are going to be the only measure (and the idea of a special office for student assessment tells me that this is the way this is going) then this could lead to test results being used to judge teachers, which will be bad for kids.

6.Move principals, vice principals and other supervisory staff at the board level from the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) while protecting salaries, pensions and benefits.

This has caused huge concern on the part of teachers and principals, not because it will weaken the union, (although it’s hard not to think that this is the government’s motivation) but because it will fundamentally affect the way schools collaborate and teachers work together. It will negatively affect students – a BAD idea.

7.Create a provincial College of Educators, a self-regulating professional association, for teachers.

This is a bad idea on so many fronts (see point 1 in the summary). It has caused disruption and a rise in the number of grievances in Ontario, has been tried and abandoned in BC and is the core of an authoritative, top down system as Britain has. It will also cost huge amounts, for something that will not help students.

Let’s look at evidence, and follow good educational examples, not bad ones. We do not have to sacrifice equity on the altar of excellence – Finland focused on equity, and excellence followed. Let’s recognize that we have to start early – establishing universal early childhood education (perhaps by expanding the new pre-primary program) and working to eliminate child poverty have been shown to improve outcomes across the board. Let’s make teaching into a respected profession that people want to join, and then give teachers the autonomy and time to collaborate that will help students (and also help prevent the teacher shortage that will be our lot if we continue down this path). Let’s  wait for the report on inclusion, due out soon, and act on its recommendations, as well as implement firm class size caps.

The Glaze report was a rush job, with no research or consultation with teachers. If it is imposed on Nova Scotians it will send our province down the road to a 2 tiered education system – in which many students will be very poorly served.  The government’s priority should be talking to the teachers right now – not ramming through these hastily commissioned recommendations.

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Teamwork!

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mollyhurd

Molly Hurd’s perspectives on education have been developed out of her wide variety of teaching experiences in northern Quebec, rural Nova Scotia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Britain. She was also a teacher and head teacher at Halifax Independent School for twenty years. She believes passionately that keeping children’s natural love of learning alive throughout their school years is one of the very best things a school can do for its students. She is the author of “Best School in the World: How students, teachers and parents have created a model that can transform Canada’s public schools” published by Formac Publishing in 2017.

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