Archive for February, 2013

February 23, 2013

Fish with Fur: Natural Selection of Teachers

Published February 11 by Mr Teachbad

About five years ago I read Tin­ker­ing Toward Utopia: A Cen­tury of Pub­lic School Reform by David Tyack and Larry Cuban (Har­vard, 1995). It’s a great his­tor­i­cal overview, writ­ten before the Dark Times, and I rec­om­mend it.

The thing that still sticks out most for me from that book is their argu­ment that edu­ca­tion reform, small– or large-scale, can­not be suc­cess­ful with­out a great degree of sup­port and com­pli­ance from teach­ers. Ulti­mately, we are the ones who run this place. We don’t get to decide where we’re going, but we’re fly­ing the plane. You need us.

We wanted to go to Las Vegas, but you’re mak­ing us go to your aunt’s wed­ding in Syra­cuse. Well, guess what, asshole…we’re not going to either. We’ll tell you we’re going to Syra­cuse. Oh, yeah…and you’ll believe us. But really we’re just going to fly this thing out of gas over the Andes and one of us is going to end up eat­ing the other one.

Tyack and Cuban were right. If reforms are to work and teach­ers are to do what the peo­ple who decide these things want them to do, teach­ers have to be on board. If they aren’t happy, they won’t go along and it sim­ply can’t hap­pen with­out their buy-in. But there is an impor­tant unstated assump­tion in this argu­ment. The assump­tion seems to be that teach­ers, for bet­ter or worse, will stick around long enough to be able to thwart any changes they don’t like.

What Tyack and Cuban didn’t count on is that teach­ers might leave or be removed from the pro­fes­sion en masse rather than go along. They hadn’t con­sid­ered the pos­si­bil­ity that any reform effort could pos­si­bly be so broad, unpleas­ant, well-funded or per­sis­tent as the one we are see­ing now.

The result is that the reforms are chang­ing the demog­ra­phy and char­ac­ter of teach­ing. The organ­ism of the teach­ing pro­fes­sion is adapt­ing in a nat­ural selection-y sort of way; chang­ing itself to sur­vive in the chang­ing cir­cum­stances of its envi­ron­ment. Teacher sat­is­fac­tion is sink­ing like a stone. Teacher turnover is greater and the pro­fes­sion is becom­ing younger.

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February 21, 2013

A Call to Review Standardized Testing in Canada


Real Accountability or an Illusion of Success?:
A Call to Review Standardized Testing in Canada

OTTAWA, ON (February 16, 2013) – The Action Canada Task Force on Standardized Testing has just released a report analyzing the place of standardized testing as an accountability measure in Canadian K-12 education systems, using Ontario as a case study focus. “A review of standardized testing in this province and others is not only timely – it’s urgently needed,” says Sébastien Després, a 2012-2013 Action Canada Fellow and co-author of the report. Després explains that when standardized testing was established in Ontario two decades ago, the Royal Commission which recommended the creation of the province’s Education Quality and Assessment Office (EQAO) and the adoption of standardized testing in the province had also recommended that a five-year review be undertaken. Almost twenty years later, this review has yet to be done. Després concludes, “As things stand, the current testing system may or may not be facilitating the achievement of the education system’s range of objectives. A review of this accountability measure should be a top priority.”

Teaching is often said to be “the second most private act in which adults engage” (Dufour 1991) since it tends to take place behind closed doors, away from the view of many stakeholders. In its essence, however, teaching is a public and political act, and is fundamental to the continuing development of a citizenry that drives Canada’s global competitiveness and social and economic prosperity. Recognizing the importance of education, many jurisdictions have turned to standardized testing as a means of ensuring accountability for results. In some circles, this measure has become controversial, as stakeholders – and the public as a whole – are polarized as to whether standardized testing is an appropriate way of evaluating students and the overall quality and effectiveness of education systems in light of their objectives and curricula.

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February 20, 2013

Video: Bob Peterson on teaching and social justice

Published 31 Jan 2013 by BCTFvids

February 19, 2013

Standardized Testing – An Idea Whose Time Has Come … and Gone?

By | Published February 18 2013 by Northern Plains Drifter
The Saskatchewan government recently announced that “by the end of 2016, every Saskatchewan student between grades 4 and 12 will take part in yearly provincial standardized assessments.”
Anybody concerned with our children’s schooling would be wise to ask, “Why?”
As the thoughtful editorial in Friday’s StarPhoenix suggested, the provincial government has to make a better case for why they want every student in grades 4 to 12 to undergo this type of anxiety-creating assessment every year.
For one thing, it seems like the standardized testing craze that arrived so late in Saskatchewan might soon be sent packing elsewhere. B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix, widely expected to soon become premier, has stated that he will change B.C.’s FSA tests for all students in grades 4, 7 and 10 to a random sample test. Even Alberta’s Premier Allison Redford has considered a similar random sampling approach.
Educational leaders across the United States are also expressing doubts about the usefulness of these tests. Over 600 schools in Texas passed resolutions in 2012 demanding a reduction in high-stakes testing because they were ineffective. Indeed, the Republican-dominated House of the Texas Legislature put forth a budget for 2014-15 that entirely eliminated all funding for standardized testing. Resistance among educational stakeholders is gaining traction in Pennsylvania, New York, Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio, Virginia and California.

Dr. Pasi Sahlberg is a leading educator in Finland and author of the popular book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? When Sahlberg was recently asked by Tom Shields of the University of Richmond (Virginia) what was the most important educational reform the U.S. could do to improve its school system, he quickly answered, “Eliminate high-stakes standardized testing.”

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February 18, 2013

Opinion: Incompetent teachers? What about administrators?

By Jim Wilson | Published February 17, 2013 by The Montreal Gazette


“When claiming that we must get rid of incompetent teachers, what do we propose, then, that administrators and school boards can do to help this happen? Very few school administrators seem to be comfortable evaluating their staff, so they avoid undertaking a process that could lead to potential dismissal. Given the amount of administrative work being handed down to them by the government and their school boards, they prefer to skirt the work involved, often by suggesting that collective agreements inhibit their ability to issue warnings, or reprimands, that could lead to arbitration.

Yet the agreement is clear and concise regarding the disciplinary process — although, in fairness, it can be time-consuming, too. It is far from easy being a school administrator, but then neither is it easy to be a teacher. Note how very few administrators ever request a return to the classroom.

If we are going to take the position that we have incompetent teachers, are we prepared to accept that one reason why is that we have incompetent administrators, too? Inevitably in education, teachers are the focus of attention in ways that principals never are.

In my decades of work in the classroom and as a union leader, I can only recall one instance of a principal being removed. There had been difficulties in three schools where she was the principal — and so she was given a job with the school board.

A teacher should be so fortunate.”

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February 16, 2013

Coalition seeks $1B to rid CSDM schools of mould

Published 13, 2013 by The CBC

A coalition of parents, teachers and support workers from the Quebec’s largest school board is demanding the government act to eradicate mould from the province’s schools.

The group said the Commission Scolaire de Montréal (CSDM), a French-language school board on Montreal island, does not have enough money to rid schools of mould.

In a news release, the Coalition for Healthy Schools at the CSDM said it is seeking $100 million annually over ten years from the provincial government to renovate or rebuild schools with a mould problem.

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February 12, 2013

Pearson Teachers Union Files Grievance on Class Size. Why Has the MTA Not Followed Suit?

By Robert Green | Published February 10, 2013

In an interview on CJAD this week Pearson Teachers Union (PTU) President John Donnelly announced that his union had filed a grievance contesting the oversized classes in his board. In explaining his reason for filing this grievance Donnelly explained that “over and above that [compensation paid to teachers] the collective agreement says you still can’t have oversized classes unless you have one of four reasons and none of these reasons apply to the Lester B. Pearson Board”. Donnelly goes on to mention that he expects a final decision on the grievance by March.

Donnelly is referring here to clause 8-4.01-c which states:

The board may exceed the maximums indicated only for one of the following specific reasons: the lack of premises in the school, the limited number of groups in the school, a shortage of qualified available personnel or the geographic location of the school.

The PTU is right to challenge the existence of oversized classes in its schools as the conditions allowing oversized classes clearly do not apply to large urban schools. The PTU is also right to be filing this grievance now. Protecting class size maximums is a particularly pressing matter for two reasons. The first is that the new collective agreement commits to significant reductions to the size of most classes in Quebec. By the end of its implementation in 2013/14 the planned reductions would see most class size maximums reduced by 3 or 4. Classes in economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods would be reduced by as many as 9 students. The second reason this is a particularly urgent issue is that at a time when the English public system is losing students to the French system and the private sector, class-size reductions are one of the best ways to protect and improve the quality of education in Quebec’s English public schools. If we do not protect the quality of education in our schools, we will continue to lose students.

Given the importance of this issue for the working conditions of teachers, the learning conditions of students and the overall health of the English public system, members of the Montreal Teachers Association (MTA) should be wondering why their union has not followed suit and launched a similar grievance. Particularly since doing so would strengthen the case of our fellow teachers in the Pearson board. As a member of the QPAT executive committee, one wonders how MTA President Ruth Rosenfield would not have been informed of the details of this grievance, filed by another QPAT member-local way back in June. Being aware of the details, she would then presumably know that if the collective agreement prohibited oversized classes in the Pearson board, then for the very same reasons, it should do so for schools in the EMSB.

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February 12, 2013

A REAL paradigm shift in education

By Marion Brady | Published February 11, 2013 by Answer Sheet Blog

I envy Thomas Paine’s way with language. I’ve been searching for years for words that would have the impact of those he penned in his 1776 pamphlet, “The Crisis.”

Admittedly, “These are the times that try men’s souls,” and the words that followed, weren’t a howling success. Only about a third of the colonists agreed with Paine’s call for revolution. Another third wanted to stick with England. The remaining third were neutral or apathetic.

What Paine was able to do that I can’t do is sell an idea to at least enough people to make something happen. I need to convince not a third of readers but, say, a tenth, to call their legislators and tell them to dismantle the education “reform” machine assembled in Washington by business leaders and politicians.

Long before corporate America began its assault on public schooling, American education was in trouble. Educators were, however, increasingly aware of the problems and were working on them. When Bill Gates, Jeb Bush, Mike Bloomberg, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and other big name non-educators took over, that worked stopped.

What I want people to understand is that the backbone of education — the familiar math-science-language arts-social studies “core curriculum” — is deeply, fundamentally flawed. No matter the reform initiative, there won’t be significant improvement in American education until curricular problems are understood, admitted, addressed, and solved.

Few want to hear that. Reformers are sure America’s schools would be fine if teachers just worked harder and smarter, and reformers are sure the teachers would do that if merit pay programs made them compete for cash. They seem incapable of understanding that classroom teachers are doing something so complicated and difficult that even the best of them are hanging on by their fingernails. If they knew how to do better, they’d be doing it. Would surgeons operate differently if they were paid more? Would commercial airline pilots make softer landings if they made more money? Would editorial writers write better editorials if their salaries were raised?

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February 11, 2013

The Inconvenient Truth Of Education “Reform”

By | Published February 2, 2013 by Campaign for America’s Future Blog

Events in the past week showed how market-driven education policies, deceivingly labeled as “reform,” are revealing their truly destructive effects on the streets and in the corridors of government.

From the streets, we heard from civil rights and social justice activists from urban communities that school turnaround policies mandated by the Obama administration’s education agenda are having disastrous results in the communities they were originally intended to serve.

From the corridors of government, we were presented with irrefutable evidence that leaders driving the reform agenda are influencing public officials to write education laws in a way that benefits corporate interests rather than the interests of students, parents and schools.

These events, in tandem, reveal an inconvenient truth of education reform that should make anyone who promotes these policies question, “Whose interests are being served here?”

The Message From The Street

This week, over 200 activists, community organizers, parents, and students from 18 cities across the U.S. gathered in Washington, D.C., to confront Secretary of Education Arne Duncan over widespread public school closures prompted by the Obama administration’s policies.

As reported by Huffington Post’s education reporter Joy Resmovits, “Members of the group, a patchwork of community organizations called the Journey for Justice Movement, have filed several Title VI civil rights complaints with the Education Department Office of Civil Rights, claiming that school districts that shut schools are hurting minority students.”

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February 9, 2013

Research Calls Data-Driven Education Reforms Into Question

By | Published  by the Huffington Post

Two new reports on standards-based accountability and incentive systems should end the current thrust of U.S. education policy.

The first, by the National Academies’ National Research Council, investigated the impact of high stakes tests, the basis for current accountability measures. The second, by the National Center on Education and the Economy, studied U.S. reform strategies compared to schooling in higher performing countries. Both organizations are respected for their high quality, comprehensive, and non-ideological research. Together, they reach the undeniable conclusion that today’s array of testing and choice fails to meet the instructional needs of American students and the national goal of broadly-based high academic achievement.

The NRC study, “Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education,” was produced by its Committee on Incentives and Test-Based Accountability, representing scholars and activists from a broad swath of policy perspectives. Yet, broad as the committee’s background was in studying a comprehensive, decade-long research base, its first of two conclusions is stark:

Test-based incentive programs, as designed and implemented in the programs that have been carefully studied, have not increased student achievement enough to bring the United States close to the levels of the highest achieving countries.[bold in original, quoted in part]

Perhaps even more alarming is its second conclusion:

The evidence we have reviewed suggests that high school exit exam programs, as currently implemented in the United States, decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement.[bold in original, quoted in part]

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February 8, 2013

Redford government floats risky scheme to impose contract on teachers

By David J. Climenhaga | Published February 6, 2013 by
Trapped in a no-deficit, no-tax-increase cage of its own devising, with few ideas and a budget looming on March 7, the government of Premier Alison Redford has floated the idea of using legislation to impose a salary cap on Alberta’s teachers.Education Minister Jeff Johnson has been shopping this brainstorm around to the province’s school boards to see who salutes and who heaves rotten tomatoes.

Needless to say, the Alberta Teachers Association was not impressed. ATA President Carol Henderson expressed shock and dismay at what Johnson’s been saying, warning that even running the idea up the flagpole puts the government’s relationship with the province’s teachers at risk.

The same kind of thing has been tried in both British Columbia and Ontario, she noted, and the results have hardly been auspicious.

In this, Henderson got it right. A certain amount of disdain for the collective bargaining process is normal nowadays among unionized professionals like teachers. But getting between them and a raise they both expect and believe they deserve is an entirely different matter.

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February 7, 2013

Quebec teachers’ jobs increasingly stressful

By Patricia Melnyk | Published February 6, 2013 by The Montreal Gazette


Although I believe that the teaching profession is still widely respected in the community, many people are not aware of just how stressful a typical workday can be, especially if a teacher has difficult classes such as those aforementioned. Sadly, these difficult situations are increasingly becoming the reality.

There are people who think that teachers have a “cushy” job because they have two months off in the summer. But these same people might not realize two things: first, that a teacher’s annual salary is pro-rated over a period of 12 months, and second, many teachers spend part of their summer preparing to teach a new subject in the fall, or planning their course material.

The media make frequent mention of the high student dropout rate in Quebec. However, as Mr. Bradley asserts, we also need to start confronting the existence of a similarly high teacher dropout rate (40 per cent dropping out after five years on the job), and talk about what can be done to curtail this parallel crisis.

Interviewing departing teachers more purposefully would help us get a better understanding of why teachers are leaving the field in such high numbers. If we truly want to retain our teachers, we will need to offer not only higher salaries and other perks, but also improved working conditions.

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February 6, 2013

Canada’s greatest child abuse problem: Poverty

By Michael Laxer | Published February 5, 2013 by
“The impact of poverty on children, who are entirely innocent of any “responsibility” for it, and are simply born into it by fate, is life-long and effects health, education, and, frankly, happiness. (Let alone obviously increasing the likelihood of the child either being a victim of crime or being drawn into committing crime). Everyone, even when doing nothing about it, knows this is true and no one really disputes it, other than a few delusional religious types who actually believe poor kids deserve their fate as some type of moral purgatory.The problem is not that anyone debates that there is a problem. The problem is, simply, that there is no political will to do anything about it.

And it is not just Rob Nicholson and the federal Tories. No political parties, the Liberals, NDP and Greens included, have any meaningful programme to confront and eliminate this appalling moral scourge that draws so many into its maelstrom of injustice, hunger and day-to-day brutality.

And make no mistake, this is what child poverty is; a daily crime inflicted on children by a wealthy society that has the means to eliminate it, but that has decided not to. We are all complicit in this crime, no one more so than the politicians that could actually effect change, but remain idle instead.”

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February 3, 2013

Democracy Now – Seattle’s Teacher Uprising: High School Faculty Faces Censure for Boycotting Standardized MAP Tests

Published on 29 Jan 2013 by

February 2, 2013

Too many teachers are quitting, experts warn

By Janet Bagnall | Published February 1 by The Montreal Gazette

False allegations of misconduct are one element in a toxic brew of problems driving an extraordinary number of teachers out of the education field, say educational experts.

“Across North America, nearly half of all new teachers leave the field within five years,” said Jon G. Bradley, associate professor of education at McGill University. In Alberta, one of the few provinces to collect data, the figure is 40 per cent within five years. Figures for Quebec were not available, but believed to be similar to the North American average.

The education field is in crisis, said Bradley. “It’s almost as though we’re doing everything in our power to discourage these fully trained, committed people from making teaching a career,” he said. But if the growing incidence of false allegations is the “elephant in the room” that no one wants to talk about, it’s not the only problem. Other frustrations for teachers include low social status, relatively low salary levels, the lack of merit pay and a sense of failure, he said.

“Any other profession that had that kind of turnover would look at working conditions, would look at salaries and other things surrounding the teaching environment,” said Joel Westheimer, university research chair and professor at the University of Ottawa’s faculty of education. “Instead, in education, we bring up talk about testing teachers and linking their pay to the students’ performance. I mean, can you imagine Microsoft suffering a crisis because there were not enough programmers going into the profession and leaving after the first five years? Would (the company’s) response be to increase salaries, recruit better people, change working conditions so that they could work in different places, have free soda and free lunches? Or would it test them?”