Last week the Okotoks Town Council began the process of acquiring the Wedderburn land on the north end of town across from Holy Trinity Academy and the St. James Catholic Church. They want this to be an educational, recreational and cultural facility for the community.
Council has made it easy on the NDP in Alberta. In particular one man, David Eggen.
Eggen is the Minister of Education as well as the Minister of Culture and Tourism. In one decision, Council set the scene for Eggen to make his mark in our region.
10 days ago I sat in an audience listening to Eggen speak to a conference of teachers who all gave up their summer time for the teaching profession. At that conference, Eggen told us that he had “found” funding for all 232 school infrastructure projects the former PC Government had announced.
Two things on that; first I must never forget that the PCs were in the habit of announcing and never providing all in an effort to save their own political skin. The former Education Minister is a perfect example of that.
Second, missing from Eggen’s announcement was how much he was banking on future generations to pay for it. He did say that the NDP were not borrowing for operations, but 232 infrastructure projects aren’t operational projects, they’re capital projects.
So I pulled him aside afterward (he was in a major rush to move on, but to be clear it was obvious he’d rather stay and have a depth of discussion). We had 60 seconds, but in that 60 seconds we covered a swath. The first thing he said to me was that he had to borrow through the nose to get that money.
That made the fiscal conservative in me cringe. I asked him if he really was willing to fund 232 projects that might not fit his philosophy. That peaked his attention.
“Mr. Eggen, there are school projects approved to be built outside of the communities, sometimes as far as 10 minutes outside of communities. And you just funded them.”
At that he asked for an example, and I gave him the planned school near Aldersyde which is to serve Okotoks students. I told him it is in an industrial area, it has inadequate infrastructure for traffic, which will also impact the 10-minute response time the closest firehall will have. He balked at the idea, and asked me to contact him with more details. That was the first 40 seconds. The last 20 are for another blog.
So here are the details. Okotoks has no water. It can’t get a commitment on water. As a result it can’t develop, and that includes schools. Yet its 26,000 residents keep having babies. So the Foothills School Division starts looking. It finds space in the open arms of the M.D. of Foothills by the Legacy Fieldhouse.
This would be the third school project designed to be built outside the Okotoks community. Davisburg has two schools, one in each school division, and while it could be argued that they serve a different community, that is prime agricultural land that has been eroded to form dots of acreages all over the countryside. Further, is some instances busses are covering or expected to cover areas on the outskirts of Okotoks. Much like a crosswalk, the lines separating Okotoks from M.D. do not stop cars, and those people are just as much Okotokians as on the other side of the road.
One outlier is an anomaly. Two raises an eyebrow. Three is a trend. The trend to break up communities is beginning to show. This is a trend toward shipping students out of a community, and away from the concept of schools as community hubs. It's a trend to put so much space between neighbours that they no longer need to talk to each other. So Minister Eggen needs to either agree with this trend the PCs set for him, or stamp it out. But if he stamped it out, where would this new school go?
Here comes the Okotoks Town Council to save the day!
Not only did they find a site, but they seem to be appealing to both Eggen’s portfolios. As Minister of Education, he should be thrilled there is now a site that would be basically inside town (remember, those town borders do not a blockade make). He should further be thrilled with the idea of a cultural space adjacent to it. It meets the philosophy of kids staying in the community they live in, and studying in a place that is a community hub.
So what’s the problem? One minor hurdle is that the M.D. needs to agree. That should be a minor issue, but there are some political issues at play that make it a slight challenge. Another is our Wildrose MLA; will he be more interested in the fact that money is being borrowed to build this school, something that is completely anti-Wildrose, or will he see the necessity of having kids go to school in town and give Eggen a thumbs-up? My feel of the current Wildrose opposition is it’s the same as the old one; opposition for opposition’s sake.
Those aren’t the deciding issues, though. Its whether or not Eggen has the political will to stop something he’s already funded. Its whether or not Eggen is just trying to tie up the PCs loose ends, or if he intends on righting the ship. Its whether or not Eggen is willing to stand for something. Its whether or not Eggen is willing to make a stand now, because the Foothills School Division cannot wait for a school for five years. They need it now.
I’d like to think he is. But the ball isn’t in my court, it’s in his.
Your Alberta Party representative in Highwood wants students to go to school in their communities, and not be bussed out. Your Alberta Party representative in Highwood wants schools to be community hubs. Your Alberta Party representative is giving the Okotoks Town Council a big fist pump.
So I call on the Alberta NDP Government, namely Minister Eggen, to endorse this shift to a school community hub, and to help Okotoks get the land to make it happen and quickly. After that, perhaps Minister Eggen should review all the school projects he just funded, and where construction or the tendering process hasn’t already commenced, review if they meet his philosophy of what schools should be. I’d suspect that he might find more than one that doesn’t meet his standards.
While he does, he should tell us how much we’re paying for it. Or rather, tell us how much the next generations will be paying for it. I won’t necessarily be opposing, but I want to hear the NDP plan for making it easier for the next generations to cover the tab. So far I haven’t heard it.
Oh, and I hope that while Eggen is talking about the need for this school that he also talks about why this issue came up in the first place, and help Okotoks get a commitment for the Water For Life program.
Kudos to the Okotoks Town Council for their progressive thinking. It’s time for everyone to get back to building community.
It perplexes me that a pumpkin in the place of popular Premier Prentice piques people. Perhaps the public has a pinhole perspective on political participation.
I worked on that all day.
So skip the alliteration - I really am baffled when people show indignation at the leader of the PC Party of Alberta not showing up to a forum. They have no good reason to show surprise and disappointment.
This is the norm for the Mr. Prentice. Voters should have seen it coming.
In August of 2014, he was invited to the Alberta Teachers' Association's Summer Conference. He didn't show, despite a carrot being offered to get him there. Thomas Lukaszuk got the stage, and Ric McIver at least made a token appearance. Granted, there was no pumpkin there that time.
Prentice's reward: the Premiership of Alberta.
What else could he have possibly learned? He certainly didn't learn that if you don't show up, you don't get elected. He learned that if he stayed away, he would get elected. So he did.
And a pumpkin took his place. I'll bet that pumpkin doesn't get elected.
Maybe he thought the pumpkin would represent him well at a forum sponsored by the Alberta Society for the Visually Impaired.
Prentice was given affirmation of that lesson learned during the PC leadership election itself. He was elected with less than half the votes cast in the 2011 leadership race, and less than one-sixth of the votes on the second ballot in 2006. Therefore he learned that if voters don't show up, he gets elected.
So what better way to get into office than to disappoint voters to the point of apathy?
He's counting on voters being thick. He might be right.
I can only guess that the indignation I see on social media suggests voters didn't see it coming, that they fully expected Prentice to show up.
Mind you, if voters really are thick, it's probably because they keep building up the callus from banging their heads against the wall.
I have hope that voters aren't that thick, though. After all, they were prepared enough for an absent Premier that they had a pumpkin ready to take his place.
So voters, if you aren't thick, then you shouldn't be surprised. And should he be elected, you shouldn't be surprised if he doesn't show up to Question Period and lets his Deputy Premier field the tough questions for him.
Sound familiar? The only thing missing from this prediction is the margarita in Palm Springs.
And, voters, if you aren't thick, then you'll understand why an absent Premier is not a good thing. And you'll vote for someone who shows up.
So who showed up ready to listen to the constituents at the Calgary Foothills forum?
I know who I'm partial to, but the point I'm trying to get across is that voters should not let themselves appear as thick; they should be well-informed, and make the best decision for themselves going forward. So check these candidates out.
I will push one bias though. I'd rather voters vote for a person, not a pumpkin.
Yesterday, the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta's leader, our unelected Premier, announced a plan to invest $2 billion in school construction projects over the next ten years.
If we ignore the fact that many of the projects announced were already announced once, in some cases twice, I mean thrice, and cancelled or postponed at least as many times, then this is good news.
If we don't ignore that fact, then it's still just wind on a brick wall. The PC's may huff and puff, but in the end, there wasn't a school to blow down.
But let's look positively at this announcement for a second. Finally, there is a plan to construct the space that we need for our growing population. Hopefully each school is going where 10-years-in-the-future Alberta needs it.
But there is something missing in the announcement; the explanation that the PCs are actually using binary math to calculate the real cost.
You see, $2 billion actually equals $10 billion.
(For those who don't understand binary, check my addendum at the bottom for an explanation)
Let me explain why $10 billion in particular, though.
You see, the $2 billion simply announces the construction of 230 empty buildings/modernizations. It costs a great deal more to actual turn those buildings into service centres of education. It takes lots of people (teachers and support staff), resources (textbooks, computers, etc.) and services (electricity, heating, internet, etc.) to operate them.
Alberta's operating budget for Education in 2014 is approximately $6.75 billion. If the province is building an additional 230 schools, that means they'll be adding approximately 10.5% of the current number of schools. Logic then dictates that it would require an additional 10.5% of the current operating budget to make these schools work. That would be an additional $710 million required in the operating budget.
Don't forget, the plan is to take place over the next ten years. That's $7.1 billion extra not currently included in the budget. Account for inflation, and suddenly that $2 billion promise ends up adding to over $10 billion.
Would the expected increase in population by 1 million help take care of that burden? Perhaps. Is the above example a little simplistic? Perhaps. However, it makes clear that simply building schools requires far more commitment than the PCs have undertaken.
You see, each Albertan would have to pay more taxes to cover that commitment. In order to fund healthcare and other social services to similar levels and similar growth while covering this commitment, the PCs would have to increase taxes by about 2%. That doesn't sound like much, until you hear that such an increase would be the difference between an average of about $10,000 being increased to $11,000. For those on a living wage, $1,000 is a lot of money.
Keep in mind, those simplistic calculations are only representative if every Albertan pays taxes. Don't forget, our kids don't really pay taxes, so the taxes have to be distributed over fewer Albertans.
But such an increase wasn't included in the announcement. Nor was discussion on changing how we collect royalty income from primary resources. Nor was there any announcement of some new magical income source for the province (mind you, we are in a by-election, and the PCs love announcements, it could come any day now).
So even if I am optimistic, and truly believe the schools would be built under a PC government, I have no clue how they plan on paying for the buildings and the stuff to go in them.
Thank goodness I'm optimistic about something else; an Alberta Government operated by someone other than the PCs.
Which leads me to the Wildrose Party, as they are the heavy favourites to form the next government. I am reminded of an announcement they made recently about Education. Actually, come to think of it, it was less than a week before the PC's announcement. It's value ... $2 billion dollars. Announced during a by-election.
Is there an echo in here?
As for the costing of this brilliant plan (I say brilliant, because it really is a good idea to inject that money into Education, regardless of who has the idea), again we are lacking in details. The timeline is more aggressive than the PC timeline, going for four years instead of ten. That means their $2 billion announcement becomes only a $5 billion commitment with the operating costs included.
But in four years, we aren't expected to have 1 million new Albertans. We're expected to have more around 400,000 new Albertans. That means more of a burden would be downloaded to Albertan taxpayers. Except that the Wildrose are adamant that taxes not be changed, so they have to find the money elsewhere. I'm not the first to realize this, Luke Fevin pointed it out clearly after the Wildrose release.
I think putting $2 billion into building schools is brilliant, regardless of who actually enacts it, and especially if they are placed in such a way as to encourage the development of communities. I think the commitment to operating these empty buildings should be expressed, and so far it hasn't.
So now I must express my optimistic frustration. I know a party who not only has a plan to fix the infrastructure crisis in Education, but has that plan costed, as well. However, that party hasn't had the opportunity to have that plan brought forth to their membership, and so hasn't been able to publicize it the way they want, which is hard for me as someone who has worked on it. So I have to rely on "just trust me, they have a plan, and it includes how to pay for it." Knowing that plan exists has me very optimistic, but knowing how hard it is for people to trust politicians, especially those who just say "just trust me", has me very frustrated.
So let me put it this way. You know what you'll get from the PCs. The Wildrose have explained their position as well, yet it still lacks the detail necessary to trust it.
You might not know Greg Clark or the Alberta Party yet. But at the very least, I hope you're optimistic.
BINARY EXPLANATION: By referencing binary, I probably just geeked myself out a bit. Computers, who work in binary, only work with OFFs or ONs, Trues or Falses, represented as zeros and ones. In order to represent something else, you have to combine zeros and ones, so binary systems use 10 to represent the number two)
I spoke to a former PC supporter recently who voted for the new Premier. I've also read a blog by a PC supporter as well. Both indicated that the new Premier has given them hope that the PC party can lead the province again. These responses, only two weeks into Jim Prentice's Premiership, lead me to ask the question;
Do you like fishing with knots and kinks in your line?
Me, I'd prefer to fish with a good straight line. I have a better chance of getting the job done without the line breaking ... again.
Make no mistake, anyone who believes in the PC party's ability to govern is fishing with knots in their line. And there are a lot of knots.
Prentice was silent in his first week as Premier. He spent that entire week loosening knots so that he could unravel them in public in his second week, as a way of saying "look, I'm fixing things!"
But a trust is broken. The line is kinked. That makes the line weak. And Alberta is a big fish.
Not only that, but he has ignored some fairly significant knots that remain, and have no glimmer of hope that they be untied.
The Disaster Recovery Program, or DRP (which in flood-affected communities is now a three-letter swear word) is not even on Prentice's radar. He mentioned nothing of it to Diana McQueen, who is now the fourth minister in 14 months to be in charge of the program. The program is in shambles, and hundreds of people still remain displaced from their homes.
It was one place former Premier Alison Redford tried to keep the line straight, by telling flood victims that they would be helped to full recovery. Then other ministers like Doug Griffiths, Ken Hughes, and lastly Greg Weadick tied it into the DRP knot. And this isn't just some shoe-tying knot, this is a Gordian knot, and Prentice is no Alexander the Great.
Another knot made bigger since the 2012 election was patronage appointments. Starting with Evan Berger, who was ousted in the last election but given a sweet management position in the Agriculture Ministry, this knot was made bigger by the appointments of Stephen Mandel in Health and Gordon Dirks in Education. Nothing suggests that Mandel and Dirks can't do a good job, it's just that no Albertan chose them. Prentice might be able to untie the patronage knot, but that kink will always be in the PC line, making voters wonder if they just can't see the trough for the pigs.
A kink sits where the government aircraft knot once sat. Just because government officials can't take advantage of planes anymore doesn't mean there aren't other ways. That kink can still knot up again, but it might not be airplanes doing it.
The entire Education portfolio is tied up in knot after knot. Former Education Minister Jeff Johnson started by bargaining in bad faith (knot 1), compromising teachers' private emails (knot 2), legislating instead of negotiating (knot 3), trumpeting an uninformed taskforce on teaching excellence (knot 4), usurping teacher conduct review unnecessarily (knot 5), and attempting to force Boards to provide information that had no chance of being compiled properly (knot 6).
Prentice had a chance to start loosening these knots back in August at a gathering of some of the most influential teachers in the province. He skipped it. Instead, he appointed someone nobody had the opportunity to speak to about Education. To teachers, that equates to appointing someone with no intention of listening. Teachers will say they hope that's not the case, but they have no proof. Not only that, but Jeff Johnson was given another portfolio, but rather than the defenceless youth, now he's in charge of the defenceless seniors.
Prentice also made an attempt at untying a knot when he announced the opening of four starter schools in Calgary. But have you ever tried to untie a knot using mittens? That is in effect what he's doing when he builds makeshift schools with no gyms, libraries, music rooms or other specialty spaces. Taxpayer dollars will be spent on sub-par temporary buildings that will direct resources away from the permanent facilities that are meant to replace them. That's like using 4-pound test line to fish for tuna ... after dark.
Am I taking the metaphor too far when I say schools of fish will never be caught with this tangled line?Albertans need a hook. Albertans need a straight line. And Albertans need a strong angler to reel us in.
The PCs have no hook. Their line is so kinked and knotted it looks like it's been braided by a four-year-old. And Prentice is no fisherman.
I learned my lesson.
In 2011, I was duped. I obtained (they were free) a membership in the Liberal Party of Alberta. I voted for who I thought would be a great leader.
But all the other free members voted for Raj.
It took me too long to figure out what I'd done wrong. I even purchased a membership in the PC party. I voted for who I thought would be a great leader, not once, but twice. It was at that point I finally figured it out.
51% of the PC members, including the temporary ones, voted for Alison on the third ballot.
This is why I refuse to get involved in this "elected Premier" campaign. I have no business voting for the leader of a party I don't believe in.
That would be like me voting for the Prime Minister of Australia. Tony Abbott would not be happy, and neither would the rest of his Liberal Party.
Yet the PCs seem quite happy to hand their entire future over to people who have no vested interest in their policies or beliefs, not once (as with Alison's election), but twice (with either Jim, Tom or Ric as their carrots for the disinterested masses).
Is it because they have no policies or beliefs, and therefore don't care who steps in?
They sell (unless you run into Jim) memberships with the promise that the new members get to pick the next Premier, and that it's their civic duty to do so. What a great lie! And it's an amazing fundraiser for the PCs - $10 times even 1000 new members equals a tour bus for the first week of a provincial election.
It is not your civic duty to vote for the leader of a party you don't believe in. It's your civic duty to vote in a general election for the person you want to represent you. That's what I did in 2012.
Granted, I still didn't get who I wanted, but the Alberta Party is making great strides to change that, and I believe they will even do it in the next by-election.
Certainly, I have no interest in funding even an air freshener in the next PC campaign bus. Febreeze won't be able to cover up their issues. They will not see a single red cent from me.
So if you don't hold a PC membership, don't worry about your civic duty. If you voted in the 2012 general election, you still retain your right to complain.
But if you happen to hold one of the PC memberships, think long and hard about the value of your vote, especially if you're a "soft" PC, or not even a PC supporter at all. Keep in mind that we do this all over again in as few as 16 months, but that time you actually get to vote for a party you believe in.
Then do what you believe in. It will tell me a lot about you.
Me, I believe in voting for someone who will represent me. The PCs stopped doing that a long time ago.
If you haven't read it, read my first blog on the topic for some back story.
Teachers are influential people. Just ask Ric McIver.
After an impromptu twitter campaign to blast Ric McIver and Jim Prentice for not showing up to the Alberta Teachers' Association Summer Conference for a PC Leadership Forum, McIver caved in. That's the best way I can describe it.
Prentice didn't. He held strong in his unspoken position that he doesn't value education. With Jeff Johnson in his court, the writing was already on the wall.
On the last possible day of the best opportunity to engage with teachers, McIver snuck out to have breakfast. Great timing, you know, because then teachers have their mouths full and can't berate him for not showing up.
Now context is important here. The forum on the Monday night was attended by every teacher at the Summer Conference. Every. Teacher. These are the most influential teachers in the profession, the hyper-engaged, the extremely well-informed, the movers and shakers.
The Friday morning breakfast was held in the on-campus restaurant. 8 people at a time, and only if they stayed on campus.
Unless of course you're ridiculously hyper-engaged like me, and even if you stay off campus and stay up enjoying life with teachers until 2 AM, you still come in to eat the $20 breakfast just to see what this McIver fellow has to offer.
I inserted myself into the first table McIver was at in the morning. McIver got to 4 tables.
For those of you who are good at the basics, 8 people per table, times 4 tables, less the seat taken by your staffer at each table ...
Yup, less than 10% of the teachers there who were ready to be engaged. 10% of the most influential of the most influential in Alberta Education. That's not even 1/1000th of the teachers in Alberta.
And he didn't even have a good showing. He didn't even offer platitudes. He made himself look like he was listening, using the Stephen Covey "seek to understand before being understood" approach, but he never approached depth of discussion. Not once.
A friend asked if I'd live-tweet the conversation. I tried, I really did, but in order to tweet effectively, one must have some substance, some form of content, to tweet.
And the iPad in one's hands as opposed to a fork and knife.
There was, however, a pretty telling moment in the conversation. Another new friend of mine who I sat with numerous times throughout the week asked a lovely question, "what is your take on curriculum changes in Alberta".
Ric McIver's response: "Well, I'll to you what, I'm not going to tell you how to teach, and that is what the taskforce got wrong ..."
Lost? So was I, although I could have been confused for having just taken a bite of particularly grissly sausage.
It was like he didn't know what talking points to use.
Mr. McIver, first of all, curriculum has nothing to do with how to teach. Read my blog on that.
Secondly, the Taskforce on Teaching Excellence had nothing to do with either item. To learn more about the taskforce, read my blog on that.
I know he won't read them. He admitted to us at the table that he doesn't read everything that he should with regards to education.
Again, the second largest, and arguably the most tumultuous, portfolio in the Alberta Government is the one he doesn't care about.
Education is not an afterthought. It is the cornerstone of our future.
And if Ric McIver thinks that coffee is going to cut it, he's dead wrong. As for not making promises one can't keep, that does not justify making no promises at all.
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.
But not for the reason Jeff Johnson is selling.
A public school teacher does something against the Alberta Teachers’ Association Professional Code of Conduct. It’s bad enough to earn that teacher disciplinary action; a recommendation to have their teacher’s certificate suspended, let’s say for six years. What does this mean for students in classrooms six years from now?
Not much, because that teacher will likely never be back in the classroom.
Jeff Johnson, the Education Minister of Alberta, would have you believe that he’s the reason why. This is far from the truth.
Let’s take the Education Minister out of the equation (which is not abnormal because that’s how professional discipline has been taking place for 78 years).
Let’s say that teacher, who after six years has not been teaching in public schools, wants to go back into the classroom. They’d have to apply to the ATA to get their certificate back. They’d have to prove that there is no chance, beyond a shadow of a doubt, they will relapse into their previous inappropriate behavior. He or she would have to convince a panel of professionals who are under constant public scrutiny that he/she has rehabilitated him/herself so much so that he/she is worthy of that very same public scrutiny.
I can count on my index finger the number of times that someone has actually been able to convince the ATA they are worthy of that scrutiny in the 78 years the ATA has been doing this. The ATA doesn’t want unprofessional individuals in their midst, because where the media is involved, one bad apple rots the whole bunch.
There are some caveats here; that teacher simply is suspended from teaching in public schools. That means the teacher, who still holds a valid teacher certificate, can be hired to teach in a private school or charter school in Alberta, because the ATA holds no jurisdiction there. They can also apply for a teaching certificate in any other province or territory because, again, the ATA holds no jurisdiction there.
But really, who would hire that potential bombshell? The ATA sends details of their disciplinary actions to all other professional bodies in the country, just as those other professional bodies send their disciplinary action details to the ATA. This makes that person virtually unhireable, but if a private school were to actually be insane enough to hire that person, they’d have to justify that decision to the people who pay tuition to that school – parents (oh, and the people of Alberta who fund those schools to 70% of student instructional grants).
This is the way professional conduct issues have been dealt with for decades. The people of Alberta must recognize that it works as well, as we have one of the most enviable Education systems in the world, and that other top-notch education systems, including Finland, Singapore, and another leader in Canada in Ontario, come to the Alberta Teachers’ Association for advice and input. The professional conduct issues are dealt with not only adequately, but in such a way that the profession in Alberta can self-advance to the top of the world.
Government interference would completely inhibit that self-advancement. It’s why government doesn’t get involved in issues of professional discipline in the medical field, engineering field, legal field and other professions, so that they can self-govern, ensure every member adheres to a certain code of conduct, and therefore have the ability to advance themselves as well. Further to that, the only people who can appropriately self-regulate are the ones with the expertise and knowledge in the profession. It would be a scary scenario if people with no expertise in accounting started regulating what products chartered accountants can suggest to their clients.
The desire to advance the profession to the betterment of the public trumps any desire to represent poor professionals. We call this “enlightened self-interest”, recognizing that serving the public good also serves our own interests. In a self-serving way we could say “why would we want to keep around the bad, they could easily just drag us down”. For teachers, that has been the reason we self-regulate, to get rid of the bad apples that would cast a pall over the whole bunch, such that we do indeed serve the public good, namely our students.
Insert Jeff Johnson. Or rather, Jeff Johnson, insert yourself.
Recently he overturned 4 recommendations of disciplinary action by the ATA, saying they weren’t harsh enough. Rather than a suspension, that as previously discussed would make the person unhireable, Johnson nominates himself judge and jury and gives these 4 a life sentence, suggesting the ATA is unwilling to do so themselves.
He never mentions the fact that the ATA has already recommended numerous other life sentences on its own. Something about these four very serious cases, with public hearings and legal counsel present, gave the ATA the impression that rehabilitation might be possible if the offenders so chose. History has reflected that the offenders would not choose to return to the profession, so it would be a non-issue, but in our society, even in the legal system, we allow the opportunity for rehabilitation. However, Johnson isn’t interested in opportunities to improve one’s behavior, nor is he interested in precedent. Just in opportunities for him to be judge and jury. So judge he does.
The offenders are never going to teach again. Johnson just used red ink instead of black ink on the death certificate of those individuals’ teaching careers.
The only other thing that Johnson’s decision has done is ensure the offenders can’t teach at private or charter schools in Alberta. As many who have decried the ATA’s “soft” approach suggest, this is probably a good thing. However there is another way of dealing with that.
Don’t have private or charter schools in Alberta.
Not only would you ensure that anyone who the ATA disciplines can’t get a job in Alberta, but every dollar of public education money would actually be spent on – get this – public education. This has been the position of the ATA for many moons.
So, as this seems to be the latest battle in a war Johnson has declared against the ATA, one must ask themselves the question “which is more likely, that a disciplinary process that has been in place for 78 years has been defunct that entire time and that the quality of our Education system is simply a 78-year-old fluke, or that the Education Minister has a particular agenda against the Alberta Teachers’ Association.” For the answer to this question, we must surveil the activities between the two thus far.
Johnson has gone out of his way to make the Alberta Teachers’ Association his adversary. Had he spent even an iota of this warring time on reducing child poverty, reducing student inequality, correcting infrastructure issues, enabling the professional development of teachers, improving classroom conditions, developing a balanced curriculum, or any other issue that actually exists in education as opposed to fabricating issues, we would be looking at a vastly improved Education system.
However, Johnson seems adamant about living up to the designation he earned as no longer having the confidence of the ATA. Here’s how to earn such a designation.
After reviewing all this, it becomes pretty obvious which is more likely. Johnson has a vendetta. No wonder the Alberta Teachers’ Association has lost confidence in him. While Johnson says "we have to stop pointing the fingers at individuals and start talking about the issues," he has shown no interest in discussing class sizes, classroom conditions, bullying or student inequality, which are true issues in Alberta Education, not a fabrication of a non-existent problem in teacher discipline.
Parents should be freaking out right about now. The people who interact with their children every day are having their profession attacked on a daily basis by someone in power who seems to have a vendetta. That profession is under threats of being dismantled, and the powers that be are not talking about the things that truly affect their children. Yup, parents should be freaking out right about now.
Recently, Minister of Municipal Affairs Ken Hughes announced that, despite former estimates, only 90% of DRP files would be closed at the end of March, 2014. Then he took another step back and said "no wait, not until the end of June, now", which basically means a full year of homelessness for those affected. Not that I'm surprised, he inherited a mess from his predecessor, Doug Griffiths.
However, in order to meet those targets, people who were already told they are going to be covered through the DRP are now being told "nevermind, no money for you."
The best example of this is the first completed DRP file in High River. That file refers to the basement of Richard Murray. On September 23, 2013 he was given approval to go forward with rebuilding his basement in writing. Throughout the next two months, he rebuilt, had inspected, adjusted, continued rebuilding, inspected, and completed his basement all with great collaboration with the DRP office. On November 23, 2013, all paperwork for his claim was considered complete, and he was given every indication that he would be given his funds. He followed all the rules, and worked very closely and collegially with the decision-makers.
On March 11, 2014, Murray got a brief phone call saying that his DRP claim was denied in full. When he asked why, the response was "we have no details for you."
The result is that he will no longer be an Albertan. He will be moving to British Columbia. What's even more telling about this is that he has dedicated decades of his volunteer service to High River, even running for the public service of Town Councillor in the last election. In the end, the Disaster Recovery Program has run this incredibly dedicated community advocate out of town.
Why on Earth, or in Alberta, would the DRP process choose to rip this man's spleen out through his throat like that?
DRP has been changed multiple times since the first files were created. Any file completed before the latest iteration of the DRP process will be referred to a "special review" process. To me, this smacks of duplication; files that were already well-handled are being held back to be looked over one more, two more, seven more times.
If DRP was broken the first time, all those first files will be wrong too, right?
That's not what was broken. The first files completed were the ones done well. Reviewing them added a significantly unnecessary bureaucratic layer. What was broken was the multitude of files that did not get addressed, did not have deadlines met from the government side, and did not get money in a timely fashion to the residents who desperately needed.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If it is broke, don't fix the pieces that work.
Hughes stepped back from his commitment to complete the DRP process to only complete 90%. Apparently, even that target is so hard to hit, that files that were stuck in the "special review" process were simply too much to handle.
So they called Richard Murray to say "no money for you", with no further details. The only logical conclusion is that they've done so because those details are "we just don't want to handle your file anymore." It's the only way they'll hit that target.
And considering the political turbidity surrounding the PC Party of Alberta right now, they can't afford to miss another target.
How many other High Riverites are going to get the exact same phone call? All the ones who did get their files started early theoretically have been living in relief. Those who did not are the ones who are most in needed of mental health support. Now that the ones who got their files started early are being told they are under "special review", the DRP program is now forcing even those early-starters into mental health disarray.
Just to meet a target, to save a party, to retain power.
If people can't rebuild their basements, homes and businesses, they can't move back. Therefore, they won't shop in High River. They won't open up shop in High River. They won't work in High River. They won't break bread with each other in High River. They won't play in High River. They certainly will have no vested interest in protecting it and rebuilding it for the future.
With this new revelation, I can confidently say High River is dying. And right now, the easiest and most valid scapegoat is the one thing preventing residents, workers, business owners, and community builders from moving back into town.
The Disaster Recovery Program.
So my call to Ken Hughes is to completely shift his position on the completion of the DRP. Not renewing a contract with LandLink is a good decision, but letting them keep the files they've already got is not going to solve the issue of their involvement. The current position is forcing active files to be rammed through, and if necessary cancelled, with little to no consideration for the people and communities they directly affect.
I am asking that Hughes commit to fully fund every Disaster Recovery Program claim as property owners have been promised. I am asking him to completely remove LandLink from the process with no exceptions. I am asking his office take over any remaining outstanding files where no statement of coverage has been offered to the property owner. I am also asking him to add the consideration of these two questions in the completion of those outstanding files;
Lastly, I’m asking that he resist every urge to shift a deadline or target date again. Flood victims need something stable to work with, and the regular shifting of deadlines and target dates leaves them with complete instability.
Or else I fear for the future of my town.
Good news does abound, and while it took a long time, Richard Murray now has received his DRP payments. However, he has some sage advice for all those who have dealt with DRP, and the advice does not end once you've received your cheque. I recommend reading the article here, as it can not be said better than by the man himself.