It is becoming obvious we have an Education Minister that is running amock. Parents should be freaking out right about now; any and all conversation about their child's education has come to a screeching halt.
Just over a week ago, Jeff Johnson, our self-righteous Education Minister, ordered all 62 school boards in our province to send him details about teachers whose discipline didn't make it to the Alberta Teachers' Association.
Parents should be freaking out right about now - May 28, 2014
In a nutshell, he's asked for any complaint registered against any teacher, and every action taken afterward, over the past 10 years.
And he gave school boards 2 weeks to get it done. Just as many staff members take an earned summer break, and all remaining are busy trying to compile final examination and enrolment data.
If I had to cook supper in 5 minutes, unless I have leftovers, I wouldn't do it. I'd go get fast food instead, regardless of its diminished nutritional value.
So, Minister Johnson, if you're really wanting a decent amount of data to chew on, are you going to settle for leftovers, or be okay with fast food?
No? Then why are you giving your chefs such a short timeline to cook something up?
When it comes to fast food, I have no idea what goes into it. Does my hot dog include bone dust swept up off the factory floor? How much sugar is in my ketchup? How much of that seasoning is MSG and how much of it is salt? Did someone spit in my burger for making such a ridiculous request?
How much irrelevant yet personal and private employment data is going to get swept up off the factory floor and mixed into this hot dog of a report that Johnson is supposed to get? Oh, and he's supposed to eat, then digest, 62 hot dogs. Something's going to get regurgitated that shouldn't be.
This is a most valid concern, considering the Privacy Commissioner just laid the smack down on Johnson for doing exactly that; regurgitating something he was not even supposed to have access to; teachers' private emails. Johnson's complete lack of an apology, rationalized by saying "next time I'll get permission", shows to the ATA there is no intention of ever protecting their private information. So it makes sense that the ATA has again asked the Privacy Commissioner to get involved and tell Johnson to back down on this most recent order.
These concerns were echoed by the Alberta School Boards Association, so when you have multiple Educational partners expressing concern, shouldn't that give the Minister pause?
The other concern that the ATA has expressed is that none of the hot dog is Jeff Johnson's to demand, bone dust and all. School boards employ teachers, not the Minister. His response is somewhat troublesome;
"School boards serve at the pleasure of the minister and the minister can dissolve a school board."
So now the school boards, whether they agree with him or not, know what the expectation is in the future. Give Johnson your homework, or he'll smack you around.
By the way, did you know most schools have an anti-bullying policy of some sort?
Funny thing is, Johnson is suggesting the ATA told him to get this information, when in fact, the ATA said in effect "not you, anybody but you". What the ATA said was that stories Johnson has heard about teachers not getting disciplined were unsubstantiated, and that evidence was needed, but that Johnson should remain impartial and not be in charge of it himself.
He should have listened to them. What he has now done by ordering the boards to get this information for him is tacitly suggested that his baby, the Taskforce on Teaching Excellence, didn't do their research. If they had, he wouldn't need to ask for this information, he'd already have it.
So why laud the Taskforce so much when he was just going to debunk it by his own actions anyway? Because it's never actually been about Education, it's been about Jeff Johnson.
He has now ... tacitly suggested that his baby, the Taskforce on Teaching Excellence, didn't do their research.
Three episodes ago I was asked in comments what I thought the end game for Johnson was. Why would he do all this?
Firstly, it's very possible that the process for intervention in teacher conduct or practice could be tweaked to make the system even better. In my discussions recently with a school division leader, I would say there is an appetite for an improvement to the process.
But the end does not justify the means. You cannot justify making an adversary out of the ATA by saying "it's just to improve process". In discussions with ATA spokespeople, I'd say the ATA would have been open to improving process, had they just been included in it.
Besides that, the ATA aren't the only teachers in the province (despite their best efforts). So where is Johnson's efforts to measure process in charter or private schools?
No, this is not why Johnson is doing all this. Johnson is looking out for numero uno. And to be clear, the students have not been numero uno from the start.
It only makes sense that Johnson was, at one time, hoping his gall would land him a high-ranking spot under the next leadership. It's obvious that Johnson thinks that will be under Jim Prentice's leadership. That's why even after Prentice rebuked Johnson, Johnson stuck to flying the Prentice banner. He's hoping there's another portfolio of equal or greater importance waiting for his heavy-hand. And with current Premier David Hancock doing nothing to stop the bleeding, Johnson is getting tacit approval, if not encouragement.
And what if Prentice doesn't reward Johnson for his bull-headed approach? Well there is always another party flag to wave, instead. So what party would sympathize with such anti-union activities?
Danielle Smith and I crossed paths at Canada Day celebrations once again. She asked me the exact same question; why would Johnson do all this. After going through option 1 as I already have here, I suggested that he's prepping himself to cross the floor. "To who?" she asked.
My smirk was my response. She laughed, and her aide told me that my "outside view" was bizarre. I asked why it was so bizarre when their colleague Rob Anderson has already endorsed Johnson publicly. Smith was surprised, almost to the point of disbelief, until I told her I could forward her the link. She shrugged, and conceded the fact that Anderson and Johnson were "friends" at one point in time.
It would be a significant surprise if Johnson hasn't at least looked up the Wildrose Party's Member Approved Policy. He has been posturing himself perfectly to support it's Education Policy (Section III, Subsection B, Clause 6). Interestingly, this clause shows just as much research into teacher accountability as the Taskforce on Teaching Excellence - you know, the one Johnson himself just debunked.
It's clear Johnson is setting himself up to go to wherever the winning party is. And right now, students aren't it.
What's worse, is that while we have 2 more months of waiting to find out what the new PC leader will do, that party has already had a chance to muzzle it's dog. Even if the PC party were to get someone more amicable and constructive in the Education Ministry, it'll take them at least 2 years to dig themselves out of this mess. And then we'll be into a provincial election. Students will have not been the focal point for this government's entire term.
Yup, parents should be freaking out right about now. Until there is a party with a strong Education Policy, supported by consultation with the public, backed by research, that will work with all stakeholders as opposed to against, with their primary focus on students, governing our province, parents should continue to be freaking out.
For those of you who don't know, "tatlo" is the number 3 in Tagalog.
Parents should be freaking out right about now. Even though we’ve had issues including Jeff Johnson’s insertion into Alberta Education, and the calculated release of the grossly uninformed Task Force on Teacher Excellence, the reason parents should have first started freaking out was introduced to us even earlier. As one very prolific Edmonton Journal columnist calls it, this reason is/was the “Great Canadian Math Debate”.
Since Ralph Klein was Premier, every four years Education, and particularly Teachers, get attacked. Interestingly enough, it always happens to land at exactly the halfway point between elections. Two years after the 2008 election, teachers were in a battle to get the raise they were guaranteed in a province-wide agreement led by the Premier Ed Stelmach. Then as they approached election season, the government offered some concessions to Teachers in hopes that they have a short memory. Unfortunately, Teachers do. Two years after the 2012 election, again Teachers are in a battle against the government, and now the battle even includes the Official Opposition. What concessions should we expect from the government during the 2016 election that they won’t claw back in 2018? Is the Wildrose, widely viewed as the next government, any different when they have joined in the attack themselves?
The Great Math "Debate"
First, Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies expressed a concern in a poorly-worded change.org petition (I originally dismissed it based on this very issue). It was rooted in the idea that Alberta students perform poorly on international tests in mathematics. It got a little attention. Then the Wildrose adopted it for talking points, Dr. Tran-Davies got an editor to correct (although not completely) the petition, and it developed into a “debate” pressed by the Official Opposition and a couple of very outspoken media personalities. The points of the "debate"; that the Alberta Government is trying to shift all of Education to an unproven “discovery” approach and is forcing instruction to ignore “basics” in math.
"Discovery" and "debate" are in quotation marks, because in actual fact both terms are misleading. The term "discovery" means to learn something for the first time. At which point, all learning is "discovery" learning. The term we should be using is "inquiry", which is more about investigating for understanding. The term "debate" connotes dialogue. There isn't much of that happening, mostly it's just a bunch of announcements of opinions. I should note that this blog does not constitute a dialogue, and therefore doesn't contribute much to the idea of "debate" either, but when in Rome...
The myths involved in this “debate” are plentiful. The problem is, nobody is debunking them completely (although some have approached it). So here is my attempt, finally, at doing just that.
The title of “Dr.” means that you are an expert in everything.
Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies is up-front about pointing out that she is no mathematician nor teacher. I give her kudos for that. However, other mathematics professors who have joined the “debate” seem to have forgotten that they profess (which largely means research) advanced math, and are not trained in Education. That unfortunately limits the value of their input (but to be clear, does not discount their concerns). Such individuals who can be considered experts of both math and education, such as Dr. Craig Loewen of the University of Lethbridge, have had constructive input into the curriculum.
Curriculum determines the approach used to instruct math concepts.
Teachers determine the approach used to instruct math concepts. Teachers are expected to use methods that are best for the students. There is no one-size-fits-all method to teaching math, but mastery is still expected nonetheless. Curriculum only informs what is to be taught.
Teachers are being forced to ignore "the basics".
Teachers are autonomous professionals. If a teacher feels as though they are not permitted to teach the basics, they should take their issue up with Member Services at the Alberta Teachers' Association. It is up to teachers how they feel it is best to deliver the curriculum to their unique and varied students, and oftentimes this requires a differentiated approach. To say that teachers are being force to ignore the "basics" is to say teachers are not autonomous professionals. If you fear that teachers are not given that autonomy, take your issue up with the Education Minister.
PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), carried out by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, is a reliable measurement tool for the efficacy of a region’s math instruction.
Firstly, the OECD is for Economic, not Educational Cooperation and Development. This should be our first indicator that something is rotten in the state of ... well in this case, France.
Secondly, PISA is a measurement tool that uses data from different tests in different countries, and different countries report their results differently, almost in a self-selected manner. Certainly they’ll tell you it’s all the same test, but what they don’t advertise is that regions can also pick and choose various questions to be included in the test. If a country wants to improve their PISA scores, they simply need to make their math tests easier, or only have the best regions of their country participate. In Alberta’s case, our PISA score can drop simply because of the increase in our expectations of our math students, or because other countries pick only their best jurisdictions to report. Using PISA as a standardized test has the same problem as using Provincial Achievement Tests; a standardized test can't work if there are too many variables making each test subject different before you even test them. China reports only a few jurisdictions, Alberta reports the whole province. A student who grew up learning Isa, Dalawa, Tatlo writes the same Provincial Achievement Test as a student who grew up learning One, Two, Three. See the problem here?
Teachers have had meaningful input into the curriculum redesign process.
Even though the world’s leading regions in education (such as Finland) ask the Alberta Teachers Association for advice, curriculum redesign has kept the ATA at arm’s length. It hasn’t been until just a few months ago (years after curriculum redevelopment started) that Minister Jeff Johnson has started listening to the ATA and considerably relaxed his deadlines and expectations for the completion of the curriculum redesign and its implementation. Had teachers had meaningful input into the curriculum redesign process, you would have seen a much larger emphasis on professional development to prepare teachers for the new curriculum.
The Western and Northern Canadian Protocol (WNCP) predetermines the direction education will take, so consultation with the public is merely a smoke screen.
The WCNP is simply an organization of collaboration, not of predetermination. For that matter, if the WNCP were in fact predetermining education, then we should also see scores from the Yukon, NWT, Saskatchewan and Manitoba plunge, and that is not the case. There is ample evidence showing that results from public consultations have been considered in the curriculum redesign process.
With the introduction of Student Learning Assessments (SLAs), grades will disappear, and so will accountability.
SLAs are completed at the beginning of the year. They are to be used by teachers to guide their instruction. Grading strategies for the remainder of the year are determined by the School Board, various curricular departments within the board, School Administration and finally teachers, in that order. If a school chooses not to use grades, it is not because it is mandated as such from the government. Furthermore, any assessment strategy employed by a teacher should show that each student matches the SLA at the beginning of the year, and show a trend for the student of either maintaining or improving their understanding of the curricular concepts. Any student who shows evidence of a reduction in performance should also have documentation to indicate what strategies were used to address that reduction, and should also show evidence of subsequent improvement following those strategies. All this documentation exists, teachers are required to do it. Accountability is not a concern here.
David Staples provides no useful feedback.
David Staples shows a bias because that is his job. He is very good at his job, somehow finding justification for writing 42 columns on this supposed “debate”. In fact, many people across Canada are now equating his name with this whole "debate". This is the time of stardom a columnist dreams of, so to maintain this high-profile status that sells his column, he must write prolifically. And write he does. His viewpoints are based on the idea that “basic math” is needed for every child.
Personal anecdote; when I was learning math, I didn’t not learn it because I could memorize things. My father, in fact, taught me math using a very “discovery”, or rather an "inquiry" approach. This was 20 years ago. So to go back to “the way we used to do it” might just mean going back to “discovery” ... *ahem* ... "inquiry".
Nonetheless, Mr. Staples does provide an insight that allows us to identify issues that require rectifying. Taken with a grain of salt, it can be very useful. But make sure you take it with a grain of salt, because much like the first myth debunked, a columnist does not a journalist make; see Joe Bower for more discussion on this thought.
The Wildrose are representing the concerns of all Albertans in this "debate".
The Wildrose, rather than representing concerns, are telling Albertans what to be concerned about. In a telephone town hall that I can only describe as a “push poll”, the majority of individuals whose questions were aired were those that were speaking against teachers, math instruction, or curriculum redesign. Of 15 questioners that I noted, 1 educational aide got through long enough to praise teachers on their balanced instruction, 1 parent got through to do the same, and no teachers were aired. When I pressed them about how they chose which questions got through, it became evident that their town hall had not only self-selected data, but also inaccurate data. They couldn’t even find the question I had asked.
That question was “Danielle, when a parent comes to you expressing concern, do you ask first if they have approached their child’s teacher, and if they haven’t, do you direct them there?” I have never received a follow-up as they promised in the teletownpushpollhall.
You know what seems odd to me? Numbers that aren't divisible by two.
Being an Education Critic makes you an Education Expert.
The Wildrose are seemingly unware of the fact that they are arguing about one thing when the issue is something completely different; similar to arguing about how clouds are formed when the discussion is actually about acid rain. The Wildrose are caught in a problem in that they confuse the “what” of teaching with the “how” of teaching. For example, if you need to transport oil, there are many ways you can do it. You can pipe it, drive it, put it on a train, break it down into other products that are easier to consume like gasoline and ethanol, etc. So if you don’t want the oil on a train, what should you do?
By Wildrose logic, don’t use oil, use canola instead.
Certainly that would change the transport options, and moving to “greener” solutions is a noble goal, but we would lose all the value that exists in oil.
Curriculum defines “what” teachers are expected to impart to students, not “how”. Certainly “how” to teach something depends on what is being taught, but if parents are displeased with “how” teachers teach, asking them to try a different “how” makes far more sense than trying a different “what”.
In a meeting with Wildrose Education Critic Bruce McAllister and Leader Danielle Smith, I was told that they believe strongly in a “return to teaching the basics.” At first that sounds like a “what” item. But when they explain what they think the basics are, they suggest things like memorizing times tables, methods of long division, vertical addition and formula memorization. These are not the “what”, but rather the “how”. As I’ve learned, there are more than a few ways to skin a fish.
When I asked them how they know what the basics were, the response from Ms. Smith was “the easiest way for a student to learn.” Again, a “how”. My response and question was “what if the easiest way for a student to learn divisibility by 9 is by summing up the digits, not memorizing the times table?”
The two seconds of stunned silence was telling. So was the response from Mr. McAllister when it finally came; “we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this.”
So we did.
I’m not saying don’t change curriculum, because in many cases a good curriculum update and overhaul is well overdue. I’m saying if you want to change the “how”, go to the person who actually make those decisions; go to the teacher.
However, who would want to go to a teacher now to discuss their child’s successes in school? After all, we are self-serving people who care more about our own then your children. But don’t worry, government has your back. They will ensure, from their offices in downtown Edmonton, that your child’s classroom is perfectly managed, and that teachers have so much oversight as to not have to think for themselves, or for your child, anymore. The government knows best.
And just in case you thought that was only a PC government, allow me to correct that misconception. Jeff Johnson believes the ATA cannot manage their own, which is why he has claimed himself savior of our discipline process. However, the Wildrose’s Rob Anderson jumped on the Johnson bandwagon. So, if the political pundits are correct and the blue and orange banners are replaced with green and pink ones in 2016, don’t expect any change to how they approach Education.
The only way to avoid that is to have an alternative. Kent Hehr had a dream of being a teacher cut short, but his passion cannot be ignored. Deron Bilous has been a teacher, so understands the profession. The Alberta Party is currently working on its Education Policy among other policies, soliciting input from all stakeholders. Ask each of these people about the Great Math "Debate", you will find a hugely different response than the one in the media.
Parents should be freaking out right about now. Regardless of which of the conservative parties take power in 2016, it won’t be professional educators making decisions about Education. It will be some elected official whose only adult experience in our schools was either delivering a Xerox machine, broadcasting a special interest segment on a morning news show, or spending 10 months bickering instead of running a school board.
According to Random House, a “task force” is a group or committee, usually of experts or specialists, formed for analyzing, investigating, or solving a specific problem.
It’s no wonder the public thinks there’s an excellence-deficit in teaching in Alberta. There’s a task force on it, so it must be a problem! Again, parents should be freaking out right about now.
But that’s not what Minister of Education Jeff Johnson says. When asked why he made the task force at all, he explains that we don’t have an excellence-deficit in teaching. He says the task force was to come up with recommendations to keep it that way.
So he put together a panel he calls experts in Education. Strange, then, that the organization considered a global leader in Educational Policy and Research, the Alberta Teachers’ Association, was not included in this panel. You know, that organization that Ministers of Education and Presidents of the world’s leading countries in Education like Finland, Singapore and more come to for advice? Yeah, that group.
When asked about this, he balks at the suggestion he didn’t include teachers on the panel, and reaffirms his belief that the panel is a “blue ribbon” expert panel.
Alright, let’s go with that. Of the people on the committee, it can be said that each one of them clearly value Education, but are they experts?
Four of them are MLAs, but simply being elected does not an expert make. Three people from post-secondary institutions, including the Chair of the Task Force, are experts, but not in K-12 Education (one of them not even in Education at all, but rather in Forestry). Only one post-secondary representative can be considered an expert in Education. One individual on the committee has a deep history rooted in Xerox Canada, just as the Minister of Education has, but sneaks onto the panel because she’s involved in a post-secondary institution. One person on the panel is a human resources expert. One person on the panel is a student, and while a great representative, not an expert in Education (the “I’m an expert because I’ve gone through school” argument doesn’t work). One is a past school board trustee and Alberta School Boards’ Association President, but again simply being elected does not an expert make. Rounding off the panel are two very passionate Principals, and certainly Educational leaders, but do they accurately represent all teachers in Alberta when they both come from the same school division, and were not elected nor appointed by elected members of the profession?
So of the members of this task force, only one is an expert in Educational research, and the rest, well, even one of the appointments smacks of cronyism.
It makes you wonder again why some of these people, including a Forestry expert’s and Xerox manager’s participation precluded inviting any of the ATA’s experts who are recognized around the world as leaders in Education and Educational research. Is it because forestry produces pulpwood, used to produce textbooks, possibly through Xerox machines?
So let’s go back to the concept of the excellence-deficit. What is “excellence”? Let’s go to the “Task Force’s” report.
We don’t know. But whatever it is, we want it in front of every student.
How can Johnson's Task Force provide recommendations on excellence if it doesn't even know what it looks like? That would be like me offering advice on how to rebuild a 1985 Pontiac Bonneville; just because I've driven one doesn't mean I know a thing about making it better.
In my teaching preparation program at the University of Lethbridge, this was one of the first discussions we would have in our Curriculum and Instruction class; what does an excellent teacher look like? Through a standard Think-Pair-Share activity, we discovered that everyone’s view of an excellent teacher depended upon our own individual needs, and yet a teacher had to try to meet every one of them. I recall my professor telling me “it’s hard, but if you’re passionate about it, you’ll make it happen.”
Now that we've decoded what constitutes a "blue-ribbon" panel according to Jeff Johnson, as well as what "excellence" is, let’s have a look at these recommendations. Some of the recommendations are awesome, but the fact that they show up in this report is redundant; they are the same things the ATA has been asking for years. Some of the recommendations are great considerations, poorly executed. Some of the recommendations undermine not only the profession, but the entire system of Education. It should be noted that I have summarized recommendations significantly, so to read the exact language, I recommend actually reading the report.
Let’s start with recommendations 1 and 6, which basically ask us to align everything with Inspiring Education. This makes sense, however when we get to the point where government tells post-secondary institutions how to prepare teachers, we might be looking at trouble.
Now to recommendations 2, 3, 22, 23 and 24 which all discuss the roles of school leaders, namely Principals. They also discuss the standards to which these school leaders should be held. This is dangerous territory, discussing holding school leaders to different standards than other teachers. The Task Force even states that teachers are all expected to share their expertise, regardless of any leadership designation. So if that is their belief, should they not all be held to the same gold standard? Any suggestion to hold Principals to a different standard suggests that Principals should not be considered teachers, but rather business managers. The truth is, in Alberta, Principals are teachers, they are roles that cannot be separated.
Now to recommendations 4, 11, 12, 18, 22 and 23, all of which have to do with practice review and teacher/school leader competency. First and foremost, teachers are not afraid of regular review. If anything, they should be pleased with the idea, so long as there are supports to enable professional development, and that the review process helps them advance their abilities in their profession, and advance the quality of education students receive. The problems come with the lack of research the Task Force seems to have actually undertaken, making recommendations on things they know little about. For example, they suggested that standards should receive regular review when they already do. They also suggest that teachers professional growth plans are whimsical documents with no relevance, when they produced no research to back that assertion up. They suggested that encouraging teachers through a sort of merit system would help, when research has shown time and time again that it doesn’t because education works best under a professional model, not an industrial model. They suggest a return to cyclical evaluations, a system we moved away from almost two decades ago, and a system that Ontario tried and failed at, showing how ineffective such a system would be in actually improving or assurance excellence in education. Frankly, I say bring on practice review, but in collaboration with the professional body. Teachers would love to become better at their job, if nothing else but to advance the profession and education on the whole. But doing it in such a way that undermines professional courtesy will also undermine the profession, and so you should not be surprised when teachers get defensive. My recommendation; start from scratch on practice review, involve the teachers, and you’ll get an even better system that is more accountable but still honours the profession. The fact that six of the report’s recommendations are built upon faulty, incomplete information, and attempt to make changes to teachers, not with teachers, should give people pause about the entire report.
Recommendation 5 gets a paragraph to itself. This recommendation asks teacher prep programs to look not only at marks, but other attributes of potential teachers. Does this mean universities will then be afforded the opportunity to refuse admission to a potential teacher because their Facebook profile happens to include a photo of their rendition of "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy"? Or their race, sexual orientation, etc.? Hopefully that wasn’t the recommendation’s intent, but poor wording leaves open the opportunity.
Recommendation 7 also gets its own paragraph, but it gets its own title, too. I dub this recommendation the “Anybody Can Teach” recommendation. Basically, you don’t have to be trained in Education to become a teacher. This is hugely problematic. This could suggest that a busker could simply get a letter of authority and start teaching choir. They have no training in classroom management, assessment, instructional pedagogy, and in some cases don't even have the theoretical knowledge to properly support student learning. I didn't go to university for 6 years just to have a busker take my job.
Recommendations 8, 9, 10, 16 and 17 are among my favourite recommendations. They aren’t new, various organizations have been recommending it for years. Basically it amounts to mentorship. Give student teachers more experience time. Give first-year and struggling teachers mentorship opportunities. Give school leaders mentorship as well. I love these recommendations if implemented properly. Mentorship is useless without appropriate supports. If asked to mentor, a teacher or school leader needs to be afforded the time to be able to appropriately support their mentee. The mentee must also have the time available to interact with their mentor. There is a cost factor with this, but in my opinion, the quality of teaching that would result would far outweigh the costs of implementing. I’m worried, however, about Recommendation 9 which discusses part-time paid internships for first-year teachers, which would see tonnes of part-time positions, but no full-time positions, and this could be a killer for any profession; just look at the Nurses of Alberta for evidence on that.
Recommendations 13 and 14 are two more of my favourites, but again they are nothing new. Basically it suggests giving teachers the professional supports they need to get their jobs done spectacularly. If this means giving every teacher the professional development they need to operate current technology to its most efficient usage, I’m in. If this means giving every teacher some extra training on supporting the various special needs in the school, I’m in. If this means reducing the red tape to getting a student the support they need, I’m in (I have a student who might just be gifted, but because she moved to Canada after she turned 14, she is not “eligible” for the appropriate assessments to give her a gifted designation … so we limit her potential). If it means giving teachers time to collaborate and find best practices in delivering Education, then I’m in. However, this is not simply going to happen by batting our eyes at the issues; we must fund these solutions. While this recommendation is a great one, it misses addressing some far more significant issues, including ensuring excessive class size, poverty, foster care, or hunger aren’t the reasons why we need extra supports.
A slight concern about a framework for choosing school leaders in recommendation 15. At the outset this sounds like a good idea, but then we forget about the diversity of schools in the province. We have schools with 30 students, and other schools with 3000. Being an educational leader in Oyen is far different than being an educational leader in Edmonton. I suggest dropping this recommendation in favor of giving school boards the autonomy to make their own decisions to fill their own needs.
Recommendations 19 and 20 show to me one more time how little research the Task Force completed, or rather how much it ignored. First, the term “conduct” and “practice review” (a synonym in this case for measuring competence) are used interchangeably by the Task Force, yet are significantly different. They said separate the conduct and practice review systems, even though they are already separated. Secondly, the recommendations kill the Board of Reference, which basically would result in the ability for an employer to remove any teacher in any capacity without cause. I’m a squeaky wheel in my school because I value the education my students receive and expect my school to meet the highest educational standards; if I get too squeaky, will I get fired? There would be no protection for me, so I would be better off simply becoming a drone. This does not protect teachers, and holds students’ education at ransom. These are by far the worst recommendations in the Task Force’s report, but to be fair the confusion surrounding “conduct” and “practice review” is definitely worth clarifying.
Recommendation 21 rubbed me the wrong way, but not because of the idea of review or recertification, although I disagree with it, too (recertification wouldn’t be necessary with a strengthened practice review process as discussed before). As I said before, teachers should not be afraid of practice review, and strengthening the process should not be an idea demonized. However, to suggest the current system is flatly ineffective because the ATA “gets in the way” is a gross mischaracterization. Firstly, the preamble to this recommendation was far too emotional for my taste; it is the only section where the Task Force intentionally inserted emphasis by boldfacing “no” when describing how many teachers have had their certificate removed for incompetence in the past 10 years. The Task Force ignored the fact that the ATA has only had control of the review for 5 of those years, and can’t do anything unless a superintendent sends a particular case their way. This is because teachers’ competency is under a system of supervision called the Teacher Growth, Supervision and Evaluation Policy, another fact ignored by the Task Force. This policy ensures that only the teachers who are found through the regular supervision of their school leadership are not meeting the Teaching Quality Standards are either supported or removed, and the Task Force patently wrote it off as ineffective without explanation but then later asked us to follow it. The Task Force further erred by not including the fact that the ATA, in the past 3 years, has counselled over 200 teachers out of the profession because they shouldn’t be there (I know one of them); a fact the Task Force couldn’t possibly have known because they never consulted with the ATA. Now the ATA suggests that if there are bad teachers still out there, its superintendents’ fault for not reporting them to the ATA, however I’d rather suggest that superintendents must be doing a great job of finding those poor teachers and getting them the help they need to become better teachers without having to escalate to the ATA. The fact that “the Task Force found this statistic (no teachers losing their certificate for incompetence) almost inconceivable” makes sense, they didn’t even conceive of how practice review was happening in the first place. As for recertification, the Task Force reported other jurisdictions doing it already, but many of those jurisdictions are not considered among the best in the world for Education, as Alberta is. It makes little sense to model teacher certification after systems with lower results when a system already works here in a jurisdiction that has an enviable education system. Should practice review happen? Absolutely, and it’s a good thing too, because it already does. The Task Force’s only problem is that the review happens under a professional model, not under an industrial model.
Last but not least, the proverbial gun-to-the-head, recommendation 25. Basically it says “change everything, and if you can’t, split the ATA”. The idea that an organization cannot separate its self-interest (union) and public interest (professional) roles is ludicrous. Many organizations in Alberta do this already. More importantly, the self-interest teachers have is the public interest; we aren’t asking for huge lumps of money, we’re asking for better classroom conditions; we aren’t asking for diamond-studded pensions, we’re asking for supports so that we can do our job. The insinuation that teachers would not work to better the education system, but only to make our lives easier, is insulting. If we were interested in making our lives easier, we wouldn’t be teachers.
So let’s put this in context. Your child’s education is under the charge of professionals known as teachers. When those professionals are not given the supports they need to do their job well, it’s your child’s education that suffers. When those professionals are not given the autonomy they require to improve themselves, and by extension their schools and the education system, it’s your child’s education that suffers. When changes to an education system are dictated by a poorly informed, heavily biased task force without regard for the professional body of educators, it’s your child’s education that suffers.
When you take your Lamborghini in for maintenance, you take it into a Lamborghini-certified mechanic. Imagine if the mechanic hasn’t had any training for the past 5 years, so doesn’t really understand the latest technological developments. Imagine they have to try and maintain your car’s computer system with software that is obsolete. Imagine that mechanic being given only 2 hours to do a complete inspection of this high-performance vehicle. Imagine that mechanic doesn’t even get the opportunity to consult with other mechanics on how to better do his/her job. Imagine instead they have to complete evaluation after evaluation with no time or money afforded to them to develop their skills. Do you really think your mechanic has been valued? Wouldn’t you want your mechanic to have the tools and resources needed to maintain and improve your amazing little Aventador?
Assuming your answer is yes, why would we discuss measuring the excellence of the mechanic when the mechanic doesn’t even have the resources to do their job?
By the way, I’m not suggesting a Lamborghini is as valuable as your child, because it certainly isn’t, but it’s among the closest representations I could get.
So once again, parents should be freaking out right about now. If Jeff Johnson’s attack on teachers doesn’t freak you out, the devaluing of the people who spend hours with your kids every day should.
A reminder, the deadline for submitting your feedback on the recommendations is June 15, 2014. Alberta needs you to respond, please take the time to do so.
Teachers don't have short memories. Many people think teachers have forgotten that they voted the PCs in. In actual fact, teachers did not vote PCs in, Albertans did. Many people think teachers will forget these most recent contract negotiations come 2016. In actual fact, it will be the only thing we remember.
Last week my local voted on the proposed framework shoved in our faces by Premier Alison Redford. To make sure I met the expectation that we not share the results until today, I haven't posted this until today. Regardless, it was obvious that our local did not buck the trend.
If you read carefully over this Proposed ... pardon me ... Imposed Framework Agreement, it stated that the ATA and the School Boards should work hard to "ratify" the agreement. This leaves us open to significant interpretation. One could argue that to ratify an agreement, all you have to do is recognize it as a legitimate document worthy of consideration. Simply by voting to accept or not to accept it would in effect be a ratification. I asked about this when our local voted, and the ATA representative there said I was not out-to-lunch. My question: "so simply by voting on this, we are ratifying it?" The response: "um, yes."
So the only way to tell Redford, Johnson, and the PCs to shove it was to not vote on it all.
I spoiled my ballot. I refused to vote on an "agreement" that so blatantly removed democracy as an option. As is the norm in Canada these days, the guise of democracy covered up an imposition. This was no "agreement", never has been, and now that we are entering a period of legislated teacher contracts, I would not be surprised if it never will be again.
Tell me it ain't so, that somehow the PCs figured out a way of making me think my democratic duty was best served by not voting!
So now Johnson has introduced legislation telling Boards, the ATA, and Alberta voters to shove it in return. There was never any intention on Johnson's part to "bargain" or "propose" anything. Working with teachers is not an interest of his. Johnson's suggestion that "legislation is the only way" shows an apparent lack of respect for the decades of successful local bargaining this province is used to. It also shows anything but forward thinking. It shows dictatorship, a complete reversal from the democracy we claim to espouse.
But don't you worry, teachers don't have short memories. Teachers will always remember who truly runs the Education system. It isn't Alison Redford, and it certainly isn't Jeff Johnson.
The problem is, until the PCs realize this, it isn't teachers, either.
On Wednesday this week, I was surprised to find out that Premier Alison Redford had made another provincial proposal to teachers for a framework for their contracts. The Provincial Executive Council of the Alberta Teacher's Association has sent it on to locals for consideration. This could mean we'd be entering into another province-wide agreement very shortly.
Two things from this. If it takes the Premier to get involved everytime, such as when Dave Hancock was Education Minister when then Premier Ed Stelmach pitched a 5-year and got it signed, and now with Redford superseding current Education Minister Jeff Johnson, why bother having a Minister of Education at all?
But that's not the biggest thing I get from this. The biggest thing starts from the question "where was the Alberta School Boards Association in all this?" It seems to me they had no idea this was going down at all, trustees were never informed the conversation between the PC government and the ATA was even happening, and one blogger has even wondered why the ASBA even exist in the first place.
That's not deep enough. The ASBA has other purposes, just like the ATA is not simply a bargaining entity. However, trustees don't have too many other significant duties than good interactions with their teachers. Well, okay, they give direction to the implementation of education in their area as well.
Trustees have been sidelined for years now, starting most prominently with Stelmach. When he pitched a 5-year deal, ASBA was concerned then about funding, but much worse, trustees were not given the opportunity to bargain as much for local issues. Some boards didn't even have trustees involved at all, and instead had Employer Bargaining Authorities, like the one that my Board was a part of called the School Boards Employer Bargaining Authority. That means that trustees have been removed from discussing complete contracts with their employees for over 8 years. Some trustees have never even been involved in such discussions at all.
So why do we even have elections for them if they aren't given an opportunity to represent us? Well, okay, they give direction to the implementation of education in their area as well. However, if you were to ask Education Minister Jeff Johnson, the only direction required should be "Inspiring Education". So again, why do we even elect trustees at all?
Then I recall some of the recent goings on following the latest provincial election. Evan Berger, appointed (without a competition) to a six-figure post in the Alberta Government, despite being dumped by the electorate for a Wildrose MLA in Pat Stier. A police college that was expected to go into Fort Macleod because those citizens elected a mayor that would make it happen got cancelled. It makes one wonder ... if the PCs are in government, does it matter who we elect?
We want elections to count. We want our voices heard. So we vote for trustees who we think will represent our interests best. We vote for MLAs who we believe will do the same. We vote for mayors who will work to better our communities, but aren't able to anyway because their hands are tied to the Alberta Government's purse-strings. Our elections don't count. Considering our elections come up this October, the fact that who I elect doesn't matter bothers me significantly, because I firmly believe we need trustees who are empowered, and councillors and mayors who aren't going to have to worry about the PC boot falling on them.
If we are to see this change, we need to vote for a party who will make elections count. They'll give your vote an opportunity to work. They'll give trustees, councillors and mayors the opportunity to represent our interests to the better of our community.
Do you know of a party who has made it their platform to get elections to count?
Click here to see the letter in PDF Format.
Dear Mr. Johnson,
I would like to thank you for your message, but it does raise some concerns for me. I am concerned about how you collected the email addresses of teachers you sent this letter to. Certainly you sent this to my school board email account which is public domain, but your reference to a “list” of email addresses concerns me, and makes me wonder how you came to get my email address. It suggests that you had access to some unknown database of emails and used it without the consent of the owners of those emails. The suggestion that you are taking ownership of this “list” also concerns me. I know I certainly did not provide any email address to your office for the purposes of this communication, and had I actually been invited to do so, I would not have provided you with my work email address.
However, in the spirit of keeping a constructive and collegial relationship with you, I would like to invite you to continue to communicate with me. I would prefer you use my personal email, so as to separate my political discussions from my professional discussions. I am sending this email using that address. It is my expectation that you develop a new database where permission has been given to you to communicate with teachers as citizens through private emails, and that I am included in that new database. It is also my expectation that my privacy is assured, and that no person other than the Minister of Education (or their representative) uses that database, and by extension, my personal email account.
Aside from my concerns of Privacy, I do have some other concerns I wish to raise with you. First, due to the projected losses in Budget 2013, it seems that every department is looking at cuts, including Education. It is my view that any budget cuts were fully preventable, and that many budget cuts could be deemed unnecessary should the revenue and tax structure of the province be adjusted or changed, but that is for discussion with the Finance Minister.
It has been rumored that the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement is one of those significant programs facing the chopping block. I hope that this is indeed just rumor and nothing more. However, if AISI is cut, many of the province’s best innovations in teaching will disappear with it. If you truly value the innovations we have brought to classrooms around the province (as you suggested in your email to teachers), you will also value the AISI projects, and continue to fund them. If you cut AISI, you are looking at as many as 350 teachers losing their jobs. These teachers were hired specifically for the AISI projects their divisions are undertaking, and therefore have no classrooms waiting for them should their jobs disappear. AISI funding cuts will also remove Professional Development funding for every other teacher in the province as well. You can almost guarantee that with that many teaching jobs lost, remaining teachers will not be allocated time to innovate and improve their practice, and with their Professional Development funds drying up, those innovations may all but cease. This is not the way to encourage our Education system to remain among the best in the world.
Another concern I have is that in your email of December 12, 2013 to board chairs, you seem to be trying to subvert the local bargaining process. Local bargaining participants are the locals of the Alberta Teachers Association and their respective School Boards. The Minister has no role in such negotiations, and to insert yourself into such discussions could easily make it difficult for teachers or School Boards to feel as though you are supportive of that process.
Your suggestion that our province should consider merit-pay for teachers is also troublesome. Being a co-chair of Inspiring Education, where discussions have occurred surrounding incentive pay, you have undoubtedly been exposed to piles of research indicating the ineffective and destructive nature of merit-pay in Education. Mentioning it now inserts questions that have no place in our Education system. It is confusing as to why an Education Minister would do this.
With regards to the prescriptive curriculum, you are absolutely right, it does need to be addressed, but this is old news. Since 2007, your department has been working on updating and improving the Arts Education curriculum. The new curriculum under the original proposal was set to be rolled out this year, and even though your department went back to the drawing board in 2009, it seems as though you are still at that drawing board. It used to be that teachers had significant input into curriculum development, but the reason this curriculum review went back to the drawing board is because they were not involved appropriately in the process. While I agree with your statement that prescriptive curriculum must be reviewed, I would love if that statement were converted into action. The Arts Education curriculum review needs get back underway again in a fully transparent way, so as to avoid having to go back to the drawing board again, and teachers must have significant involvement in the development of the curriculum, as we are the professionals in both Arts Education content and Arts Education pedagogy. In many areas, Arts Education is the reason some of our students come to school. The Arts breathe of life, culture, character, peace and community; all the things in the “unwritten curriculum”. We need an Arts Education curriculum that provides the time, space and opportunity to explore these aspects of our society and our students’ lives. By extension, we need our Education Ministry to set curriculum and resource development as a priority to ensure that such a curriculum exists.
I can understand your frustration with the fact that tripartite agreements broke down in November of 2012. I am quite frustrated with this too. It seems to me that the ATA proposal was more than reasonable, and considering the pinch you are currently experiencing with a poor projection of Budget 2013, a 0% raise this year and next would look rather favorable (especially when looked at through the lens of our previous contract, which would have teachers receiving an approximately 4% raise this year alone). However, with the concerns I’ve already mentioned it is understandable how a person can have a difficult time taking you at your word. You explain that you would like to try to reduce low-importance administrative tasks to deal with teacher workload, but it is hard to believe that will actually happen. I hope you can understand that, from my perspective, hard caps on time is a perfectly reasonable trade-off for not having to worry about your budget in a time when you have to consider cuts.
However, none of that matters now, as we are in local bargaining, where you can almost be guaranteed that hard caps will be discussed, and so will raises. As such, your involvement in the bargaining process is not appropriate, no matter how frustrated you are with the past.
I would prefer to work constructively with you. To that end I ask that you remove yourself completely from the local bargaining process, giving the School Boards the autonomy they have earned through the electoral process, and giving teachers the opportunity to focus on classroom conditions, not politics. I also ask that you review any consideration you have given to cutting AISI funding, and really evaluate AISI’s long-term benefits. Lastly, I ask that you re-double or re-triple efforts to improving the curriculum of all Arts Education. I would be happy to provide you with input at each of step of these processes.