Archive for May, 2012

May 21, 2012

Forced Transfer and the MTA Hunger Games

By Jim Wilson

A recent book and movie blockbuster is the “The Hunger Games”. Its theme was that a few individuals of the lower orders could be sacrificed in order to satisfy the whims of the ruling class. Maybe the Montreal Teachers Association [MTA] has been influenced by this idea.

This notion of sacrificing the few can be found in the recently signed agreement between the English Montreal School Board [EMSB] and the MTA. Unfortunately the new development seems to have flown under the rank and file teachers’ radar. This new clause, ‘offered’ by the EMSB, and accepted by the MTA, is that  a teacher can be compulsorily transferred to another school “at the discretion of the board”.  This transfer would supposedly “replace a serious disciplinary measure”; hitherto, disciplinary issues were issued through formal actions, such as letters of warning, reprimand or suspensions. If the matter were serious, why not handle it formally, and allow due process to proceed? If there is a problem in one school, why is a move to another the solution? Is it a way of sweeping a problem under the rug?

For those familiar with union/board relations south of the border, these developments should be ringing an alarm for teachers. In a recent case in Washington D.C., an experienced and respected teacher encountered some inappropriate school practices and revealed that ineligible students were being given diplomas. He sinned again by producing anti-cheating material by having the same test rearranged on different pages, but this produced a complaint from the administrator that the teacher was creating an “expectation that the students would cheat”. The teacher found himself ‘involuntarily transferred’ to another school on the other side of town, due to ‘educational philosophical differences’

There is a nagging suspicious that this new agreement provides the board with a tool to intimidate any teachers, who, like their American colleague, would consider  voicing  genuine concerns about the operation of a school, or, for that matter, the board itself. Normally, a disciplinary action  produces a grievance, left to be settled by an arbitrator, but in the EMSB/MTA agreement, the compulsory transfer replaces disciplinary action. How can the union dispute the right for board to act in this arbitrary manner? The union agreed to it.  Given the size of the board, a teacher’s travel obligations and costs could be seriously affected by a transfer to a new school. Compulsory transfers are, ostensibly, punishments, which do little for the teacher, the new staff or the students.

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May 18, 2012

Three Evidence Based Strategies to Improve Quebec’s Public Schools

By Robert Green

Although the next provincial election in Quebec may still be well over a year away, education is already emerging as one of its central issues. While the student protests for accessible education have directed much of society’s focus towards a number of issues at the post-secondary level, there are also many reasons for Quebecers to be concerned about what is being proposed at the elementary and secondary levels.

Both Francois Legault’s Coalition pour l’Avenir du Québec (CAQ) and the governing Liberals (PLQ) seem intent on importing to Quebec aspects of the American corporate education reform agenda at the heart of George Bush’s ‘No Child Left Behind’ policy. Legault wants to bring the American war on teachers unions north. If elected his party intends to remove the tenure process that provides teachers with professional autonomy and job security. Meanwhile the Liberals, through their Bill 88 passed last year, have been flirting with the notion of using performance indicators to determine school funding.

What all parties seem to agree on is that Quebec’s education system is in crisis and needs to be fixed.

This, however, is nothing new. For at least the last twenty years politicians have been wringing their hands over the Quebec education system’s poor performance and high drop-out rate. Their response has been one ill-fated policy-fix after another. Prior to this latest focus on performance-based incentives, it was curriculum reform that was supposed to serve as our miracle cure.

But the problem with miracle cures is that they tend not to be based on evidence.

Indeed evidence is what is missing most from the current debate about the future of Quebec’s education system. What is needed is a government willing to consider the numerous policy options that a wide body of research, both in Canada and abroad, has shown to be effective in improving educational outcomes.

Here are three such options:

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May 17, 2012

We owe it to the kids to stamp out homophobia and bullying in schools

By Hilary Rose. Published May 16, 2012 in the Montreal Gazette

Same-sex marriage has recently received support from perhaps its most significant champion to date: U.S President Barack Obama. Canadians can feel proud to have been among the first to take the lead on legalizing same-sex marriage seven years ago with the adoption of Bill C-38.

Obama’s personal support is a solid step toward ensuring the equal rights of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning) adults. But does it mean we are moving closer to ending homophobia? Sadly, no. It’s time to take the lead on another front: ensuring the equal rights of our LGBTQ youth.

My latest research, published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, highlights encouraging advances in Canada’s family policies that support equal rights for same-sex couples. But research has also uncovered a glaring omission: we are not doing enough to protect our LGBTQ youth.

May 17, 2012

Studies Suggest Economic Inequity Is Built Into, and Worsened by, School Systems

By Paul Thomas, Truthout. Posted Tuesday, 15 May 2012

“‘These studies demonstrate a simple, essential reality which corporate reformers ignore: that socioeconomics don’t somehow magically stop at classroom door,’ explained educator and scholar Adam Bessie. He added, “School reform and social reform are inseparable projects and that schools in economically and racially segregated communities are not crippled by ‘bad teachers’ nor ‘evil unions,’ but rather, by that very segregation itself.”

Bessie also suggested that these studies help challenge the call for “miracle” reform that presents schools as the singular institution to create social change, even though the dynamics of those schools tends to perpetuate the same inequity found in society. Social reform addressing over 20 percent of children living in poverty must accompany reforming school inequity, he maintained.”

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May 16, 2012

The worst eighth-grade math teacher in New York City

BY posted May 15, 2012 at A Sociological Eye on Education

“For 10 months, Carolyn Abbott waited for the other shoe to drop. In April 2011, Abbott, who teaches mathematics to seventh- and eighth-graders at the Anderson School, a citywide gifted-and-talented school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, received some startling news. Her score on the Teacher Data Report, the New York City Department of Education’s effort to isolate a teacher’s contribution to her students’ performance on New York State’s math and English Language Arts (ELA) tests in grades four through eight, said that 32 percent of seventh-grade math teachers and 0 percent of eighth-grade math teachers scored below her.

She was, according to this report, the worst eighth-grade math teacher in New York City, where she has taught since 2007.

“I was angry, upset, offended,” she said. Abbott sought out her principal, who reassured her that she was an excellent teacher and that the Teacher Data Reports bore no relation to her performance. But, the principal confided, she was worried; although she would enthusiastically recommend Abbott for tenure, the Teacher Data Report could count against her in the tenure process. With a new district superintendent reviewing the tenure recommendation, anything could happen.

Using a statistical technique called value-added modeling, the Teacher Data Reports compare how students are predicted to perform on the state ELA and math tests, based on their prior year’s performance, with their actual performance. Teachers whose students do better than predicted are said to have “added value”; those whose students do worse than predicted are “subtracting value.” By definition, about half of all teachers will add value, and the other half will not.”

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May 14, 2012

The fantasies driving school reform: A primer for education graduates

This is an excerpt from the commencement speech that Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, gave this past weekend at the Loyola University Chicago School of Education.

“Policymakers, with a preconception that schools must be failing because the public sector and its employees must be corrupt, are not interested in these facts. As a result, we’ve wasted 15 years avoiding incremental improvement, and instead trying to upend a reasonably successful school system.

Of course, not all teachers are competent; some have unacceptably low expectations, some should improve, and others shouldn’t be in the classroom at all. But the data show this is not the most serious problem we face.

Instead of searching for systemic failure where it does not exist, we should have been trying to figure out what we have been doing right, so we can do more of it. That will be one of your challenges, and you will have to do it with little support from elite opinion.

The biggest challenge now facing public education is our fiscal crisis. But it is hard to imagine how you, as educators, can urge the public to provide more money to schools if you fail to challenge, as vociferously as you can, the false charge that schools are failing. Why should the public increase support for a failing institution? If you believe public education deserves greater support, as I do, you will have to boast about your accomplishments, because voters are more likely to aid a successful institution than a collapsing one.

Because education has become so politicized, with policy made by those with preconceptions of failure and little understanding of the educational process, you are entering a field that has become obsessed with evaluating only results that are easy to measure, rather than those that are most important. But as Albert Einstein once said, not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.

Of course, teaching basic reading and math skills is important, but when policy holds you accountable only for student scores in these skills, it ignores what generations of Americans have known are less-easy-to-measure, but equally important educational goals — citizenship, character, appreciation of the arts and music, physical fitness and health, and knowledge of history, the sciences, and literature.

It should not have to be your responsibility to remind the public about the goals of education, but in this environment, it is another task you will have to take on.”

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May 10, 2012

Changing Education Paradigms – RSA Animate

May 3, 2012

Comparing Quebec’s Provincial Teachers Federations – Part Two

By Robert Green

Part one of this article looked at what Quebec’s three teachers federation – QPAT, FSE and FAE – are doing to keep their members informed of ongoing developments in the province affecting the interests of teachers. Specifically, it compared the website and newletter of each of the organizations. In both cases QPAT’s work did not compare well to either of the Francophone unions.

This article will compare the various public awareness campaigns organized by the three teachers federations and consider the question of union finances before offering some concluding remarks.

Ongoing campaigns?

For many teachers the importance of their labour federation is not only in the negotiation of the provincial contract, but also in the ability of these federations to launch ongoing public awareness campaigns to raise the profile of teachers and defend public education. Here again we see significant differences between the three federations.

Evidence of ongoing campaigns on the FSE’s website is relatively sparse. That said there are two examples. The FSE has a campaign on students with special needs and another less developed campaign on raising the profile of the teaching profession. Both of these, however, date back to 2010. There is also some information about the reform dating back to 2008.

The FAE’s site is filled with examples of ongoing campaigns. For example, on the issue of the integration of special needs students, it has founded “La Coalition pour une intégration réussie” involving an impressive number of organizations including the Quebec Association of Pediatricians. The FAE’s “Platforme pédagogique” features an extensive critique of Quebec’s pedagogical reform as well concrete suggestions for fixing the problems with Quebec’s curriculum. Its site also features campaign materials on such things as violence against teachers and problems with the new report cards. It even produced this youtube video on the new report cards:

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May 1, 2012

Fraser Institute flunks on grading high schools

By GARY MASON published May 1, 2012 in the  Globe and Mail

The teachers at Hazelton Secondary quit worrying about the Fraser Institute’s rankings of B.C. high schools a long time ago.

When the conservative think tank started publishing its report card on B.C. schools years ago, teachers there used to do a slow burn. The schools at the top were always private institutions or public ones on the west side of Vancouver that had a wealth of resources most other schools could only dream of having.

The schools at the bottom of the rankings were always ones like theirs, in mostly aboriginal communities.

Years later and little has changed with the ratings.

It’s easy to understand why the Fraser Institute’s grading system infuriates so many people. Comparing schools like Hazelton to a private college or a high school from any of the dozens and dozens of affluent neighbourhoods in the province that has none of their problems is absurd.

The top-ranked high school in B.C. for the second year in a row is York House, an all-girls academy on Vancouver’s west side. The Fraser Institute’s ratings are based on a range of indicators. For instance, according to the report, the percentage of students at York House who failed a provincial exam in 2010-11 was zero. The graduation rate at the school for the year measured was 100 per cent.

In recent years, the report added a new rating, one based on the average parental-employment income in each student’s family. A positive number, according to the report, suggests that the school is effective in enabling its students to succeed regardless of their family’s characteristics.

York House got a positive score of 2.0, based on an average family income of $118,000.

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