Archive for March, 2013

March 31, 2013

Quebec Ignores Warnings About Data-Driven Education Reform

By Robert Green

The last week has seen some alarming developments with respect to the myopic focus on success rates and standardized test results that has been at the heart of US education reform since the introduction of George Bush’s No Child Left Behind law.

This is a testThe first development is the indictment of 35 Atlanta educators for their participation in a massive fraud scandal involving teachers and administrators colluding to change answers on standardized tests. The district superintendant Beverly Hill has been charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. She could face up to 45 years in prison. The New York Times quoted teacher and whistle-blower Jackie Parks as stating that “the cheating had been going on so long, we considered it part of our jobs.”

The second development was the release of a survey by The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) indicating that the situation in Atlanta was far from unique. The survey found evidence of score manipulation in at least 37 states. “Across the U.S., strategies that boost scores without improving learning — including outright cheating, narrow teaching to the test and pushing out low-scoring students — are widespread,” said FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer. “These corrupt practices are inevitable consequences of the politically mandated overuse and misuse of high-stakes exams.”

In its analysis FairTest identifies over 50 ways that schools ‘cheat’ in order to manipulate results on high stakes standardized tests. These include:

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March 30, 2013

Video: Over 100 Arrested Protesting Mass School Closings In Chicago

Published March 28, 2013 by The Real News

March 24, 2013

Sixty percent of adults who took standardized test bombed

By Valerie Strauss | Published March 19, 2013 by The Answer Sheet

The bottom line: Sixty percent bombed the test. Translation: Of the 50 accomplished adults who took an exam made up of questions from the New England Common Assessment Program, 60 percent received a score that would — if translated to Rhode Island’s new diploma policy — put a student in jeopardy of graduating from high school.

Those were the results released Tuesday of the scores earned by  the state legislators, council members, scientists, engineers, reporters, professors and others who took the test. The exercise was staged by the Providence Student Union, a high school student advocacy group, as a protest against a new state requirement that high school seniors must reach a certain level of proficiency on the exam to graduate.

This year, Rhode Island is implementing a new policy that uses the New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP, as a high-stakes testing graduation requirement. Students — beginning with this year’s juniors – must earn a score of at least “partially proficient” on the NECAP to graduate from high school. The NECAP was not, however, designed for this purpose. It wasn’t even designed to assess individual students.

Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/03/19/sixty-percent-of-adults-who-took-standardized-test-bombed/

March 20, 2013

You Wouldn’t Work Extra Hours for No Pay, Why Should Teachers?

By | Published March 19, 2013 by The Huffington Post

Excerpt:

In the rants written about extra-curriculars, I haven’t read any acknowledgements of what running clubs, supervising events, and coaching sports actually entails. There’s an overemphasis on what families are losing. Teachers also have families, and when the family income is decimated in the short- and long-term by a new law, the desire to escort a basketball team on a bus in the winter or spend an entire Saturday judging a debating tournament, and to do all the associated paperwork, goes down.

Another thing that’s missing from the discussion of extra-curricular activities is an acknowledgement of teachers’ rights to set, in the only place possible, what they deem to be reasonable limits. Never mind volunteering for a moment. Are you willing to do the same amount of work for 10 per cent less pay? If so, are you willing to do it for 15 per cent less? How about 20 per cent less, 25 per cent less, 35, 50? When would your dignity and self-respect kick in and make you say “just hang on a minute. I’m a trained professional, and I don’t work for free.”

Bill 115 has already required teachers to do at least the same amount of work for significantly less and denied our democratic right to collectively bargain, so many of us feel that the only way we have left to show our displeasure is to withhold the work that we normally do for free. This is not an easy choice for most teachers. Teachers sympathize with students over the loss of teams and clubs, and students know it.

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/misha-abarbanel/ontario-teachers-extracurriculars_b_2888026.html

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March 18, 2013

An Open Letter to QPAT President Richard Goldfinch

Although retired, I maintain a keen interest in education and more particularly teachers’ unions; after reading your LIAISON ‘message’ it is difficult to know whether to laugh or cry at your ignorance/naiveté. Maybe, it may be of value to you and your members if you could consider responses to the following questions.

1. QPAT is not 150 yrs old and it is not the same as Provincial Association of Protestant Teachers (PAPT). It came into being only after the abolition of CONFESSIONAL boards, about 14 yrs ago. The Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT) is a LINGUISTIC association formed by a subsequent MERGER of two associations, PAPT and PACT (representing Catholic teachers), which were based on religion not language, hence the name change. You are presuming no difference between QPAT and a defunct Protestant organization [PAPT], which was for most of its history run by administrators. It is no more  logical in considering QPAT as though it was a continuation of  PACT  either.

Question:

Will you admit your error and cease promoting the fiction of QPAT’s history?

2. I recall with utter disgust when QPAT Executive Director Alan Lombard informed the executive when, he claimed, he had been offered another job (Did Lombard tell you who wanted to hire him –or is that a secret that can never be revealed?), and threatened to leave unless he was allowed to ‘retire’, start collecting his pension and continue in his QPAT job. Despite certain protests, the board granted him his wish. Your predecessor, Serge Laurendeau, on principle, resigned from the executive. Following a demand by MTA President and QPAT executive member Ruth Rosenfield, QPAT gave him a RRSP in addition to his salary and his pension. The entire episode speaks oceans suggesting Lombard’s lack of commitment to serve teachers and the union movement. He always avoided paying any union dues whenever he could. Despite income which includes a six figure salary, his pension, a RRSP, free dental and health plans plus potential overtime pay, last year he still received a $7,000 pay increase. His income is about triple that of an average teacher.

Questions:

[a] Why did you support his salary increase last year?  Is this your idea of serving teachers, or are you more concerned with the QPAT staff?

[b] Were you aware of Lombard’s past actions?  Do you think those actions smacked of a disloyal and selfish employee, who should have been asked to leave?

[c] Would you have supported Ms. Rosenfield’s demand to give him a RRSP?

[d] Given his significant salary increase, will you ask that his  RRSP benefit be reconsidered?

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March 17, 2013

Attack on Ontario teachers is part of a trend: Walkom

The post-war bargain between labour and capital is unravelling. Teachers are the test case.

By: | Published on Fri Mar 15 2013 by The Toronto Star

The festering Ontario teachers’ dispute is not about wages and extracurricular activities, although these are the current flashpoints.

It is not about whether teachers should be forced by law to coach soccer in their off hours as Tim Hudak’s Conservatives demand.

Nor is it about eliminating the province’s deficit as Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne suggests.

It is not much about teachers at all.

At its heart, this fight is about work. It is about the implicit deal struck between governments, employers and employees more than 50 years ago to make the workplace a fairer place.

It is about the unravelling of that deal.

When the teachers’ unions say this dispute is about collective bargaining rights, that’s what they mean.

Yet the anodyne phrase “collective bargaining rights” does no justice to a complex system born literally out of bloody strikes and cracked heads — a system devised to adjudicate disputes between labour and capital that, until recently, worked tolerably well.

Read more: http://www.thestar.com/news/queenspark/2013/03/15/attack_on_ontario_teachers_is_part_of_a_trend_walkom.html

March 15, 2013

5 Reasons for EMSB Teachers to Vote for Change in the Montreal Teachers Association

  1. No plan to ensure that the new reduced maximums on class size are respected. The last collective agreement included significant reductions to class size. The Pearson Teachers Union has recently filed a grievance challenging the Pearson board’s continued practice of over-sizing classes. MTA members should be wondering why their union has not followed suit. With the grievance expected to be resolved by March MTA members should also be wondering how the PTU is able to resolve such a major grievance in less than a year when the MTA can’t seem to have its grievances resolved within five years! Further reading: “Pearson Teachers Union Files Grievance on Class Size. Why Has the MTA Not Followed Suit?” and “Where are the reductions in class sizes that we were promised?
  2. Failed to inform members about the system for absences that tracks teachers by the minute. Not only did the current leadership recommend that the members vote for an agreement containing this egregious insult to our professional dignity, they did so without even informing us that it was in the agreement! We need a union leadership that takes seriously its responsibility to inform the members before asking them to vote. We also need a union leadership that will vigorously defend our professional integrity. Further reading: “Surprise! The Collective Agreement We Voted On Is Not the One We Got
  3. No financial transparency. In the last year the current leadership has denied members access to a detailed breakdown of MTA finances, including some unusually large VISA bills. All members should have the right to scrutinize their own union’s finances in as much detail as they wish. After all, it is our money! Further reading: “Keeping the Members in the Dark: On the MTA’s Growing Culture of Secrecy
  4. No commitment to making the seniority/recall process more fair and transparent.  Leading up to the last round of local negotiations a motion was presented demanding that the school board account for the many teaching positions it “discovers” over the summer. Astonishingly this motion was vigorously opposed by the current leadership. Ms Rosenfield stated that she worried the school board might think we were “accusing them of something”. Apparently hurting the feelings of our employer is of greater concern than insuring our system of seniority is respected. Further readings: “Keeping the Members in the Dark: On the MTA’s Growing Culture of Secrecy
  5. Trading away our fundamental rights. In the last round of local negotiations the current leadership agreed to a clause granting the school board the ability to discipline teachers through forced transfer to another school. This vaguely worded clause grants our employer a new and arbitrary tool with which to attack individual teachers. While we all enjoy the ability to use our 2nd personal day on days that we teach (previously we could only use it on a ped day), such gains should never be made in ways that expose our members to arbitrary forms of discipline. Further reading: “Forced Transfer and the MTA Hunger Games
March 12, 2013

Grade fixing in Quebec schools rampant, say teachers

Published March 11, 2013 by CBC news

Excerpt:

“This isn’t a new phenomenon,” he said.

A secondary school science teacher of 25 years before becoming president of the FAE, St-Germain recounted being pressured to changing grades in his early days of teaching.

But, he said, it’s become much more pronounced in the past four years.

Bill 88 to blame?

In 2008, Quebec’s National Assembly passed Bill 88 to amend the province’s Education Act.

The bill places a greater emphasis on graduation rates and success agreements.

St-Germain said this pressure has touched off a chain reaction of events.

“The minister puts pressure on the school boards to improve their success rates; the school boards put pressure on the school administrations so that in their schools, the success rate is higher,” he said.

“And [as a result], the school administration puts pressure on the teachers,” he added.

Both Catherine and St-Germain said it’s demotivating for teachers and undermines their professional autonomy.

Read the entire article: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2013/03/10/montreal-grade-fixing-schools-success-rates.html

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March 11, 2013

Letter in Support of Op-ed on Class Size

Reduce class sizes and students will benefit

By Patricia Melnyk | Published March 8 by The Montreal Gazette in response to the March 4th Op-ed, “Where are the reductions in class sizes that we were promised?

In his opinion piece, Robert Green raises many excellent points on reducing class sizes. His question on whether or not funding has been made available to school boards for this purpose – and if so, where that money has gone – is a critical one.

As a former employee of a school board, I have seen the poor allocation of funds and thought that this money could be put to much better use in the public school system rather than wasted on bureaucracy. Accountability is a key issue that must be addressed. Working as a teacher at a French high school in Pointe Claire, I have noticed that schools have very tight budgets and could benefit from class-size reductions – particularly in classes that contain special-needs students and those with behavioural challenges.

Mr. Green also indicates that these class-size reductions are only being extended up to the second year of high school. I believe they should continue right up to the graduating year. This is a crucial time in these students’ lives to develop and reinforce skills that they will desperately need in CEGEP and university.

Another point Mr. Green makes is that “English school boards have been losing students to their French counterparts” and this may have resulted in increased class sizes in French schools. One of my classes this year has 38 students. Count me as one of those many teachers Mr. Green refers to who would gladly give up being compensated for teaching oversized classes. Having fewer students in a classroom would enable me to forge a genuine connection with my students.

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March 10, 2013

Video: Stand Up – The Day the Teachers Said No

March 9, 2013

Teachers Make Handy Scapegoats, But Spiraling Inequality Is Really What Ails Our Education System

Stanford University scholar Linda Darling-Hammond explains the connection.

By Joshua Holland, Linda Darling-Hammond | Published March 7, 2013 by Alternet

No shortage of ink had been put to paper pondering what it is that ails America’s education system. We know that, on average, our kids’ educational outcomes lag behind those of other wealthy countries, but why is that? But one of the core problems, if not the core problem, is only rarely discussed: the staggering, and increasing inequality that marks the American economy today.

That’s the conclusion Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University, has drawn from her research. AlterNet recently spoke with Darling-Hammond — below is a lightly edited transcript of the discussion.

Joshua Holland: You’ve done research on the connection between poverty and educational outcomes. We hear a lot about how poorly American students do compared to those in other wealthy countries, in terms of math or reading scores, but you found that American kids in wealthier schools do quite well. Tell us a little bit about that.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Well, there are a couple of things to know before we talk about the scores. First of all, the United States has more children living in poverty, by a long shot, than any other industrialized nation. Right now about one in four children are living in poverty. In most other industrialized nations we’re talking about well under 10 percent, because there’s so many more supports for housing, healthcare, employment, and so on.

With that very high poverty rate, our average scores on international tests look a little above the average in reading, about at the average in science and somewhat below the average in math, and a lot has been made out of that in the United States. But in fact, students in American schools where fewer than 10 percent of the students live in poverty actually are number one in the world in reading. Students in schools with up to 25 percent of kids living in poverty would rank number three in the world in reading, and even schools with as many as 50 percent of kids in poverty scored well above the averages in the OECD nations – which is mostly the European and some Asian nations. Our teachers are doing something very right in terms of educating kids to high levels in much more challenging circumstances than children face in other countries.

The place where we really see the negative affects are in the growing number of schools with concentrated poverty, where more than 75 percent of children are poor. And there — the children in those schools score at levels that are near those of developing countries, with all the challenges that they face.

Read more: http://www.alternet.org/education/teachers-make-handy-scapegoats-spiraling-inequality-really-what-ails-our-education-system?paging=off

March 6, 2013

Follow Montreal Teachers 4 Change on Twitter

Montreal Teachers 4 Change is now on Twitter. Click below to follow:

 

March 5, 2013

Where are the reductions in class sizes that we were promised?

By Robert Green

A slightly edited version of this Op-ed appeared in the March 4 edition of the Montreal Gazette

When the Quebec government makes a commitment to reduce class size, should school boards have the ability to subvert such commitments in order to protect their bottom line? This question is at the heart of a grievance filed recently by the Pearson Teachers Union (PTU) against the Lester B Pearson school board.

In the context of its last round of negotiations with the province’s teachers, the government of Quebec offered to make significant reductions to the maximum size of most classes in Quebec’s public schools.

Although the reductions focused mainly on the elementary level, they did extend up to the second year of high school. Schools in economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods would see even greater reductions than those applied system-wide. By the end of its implementation in 2013/14 the plan 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.

This offer by government came as a welcome surprise to teachers and their unions. Most teachers have experienced the difference between a class of 26 and one of 30 and know the enormous impact a few additional students can have. Smaller groups allow teachers to make connections with each of their students and keep them all on track. Conversely, in larger groups students feel more anonymous and are hence more likely to act out or withdraw. In other words, larger groups force teachers to focus more on behaviour and discipline, while smaller groups allow us to focus on what we love, teaching.

But reducing class size is not merely about improving the working conditions of teachers; more importantly it is about improving the quality of public education. Indeed the body of evidence documenting the benefits of class-size reductions is enormous, particularly with regard to reductions at the elementary level. Reducing class size has been shown to have lasting positive effects on academic achievement, absenteeism and drop-out rates. It has also been found to be one of the only factors capable of closing achievement gaps based on socio-economic status. In small classes, poor kids do just as well as rich kids. Class-size reductions have even been found to have long-term public health benefits.

With so many potential benefits, it is not only teachers that should be concerned that classes in Quebec’s large English school boards do not seem to be getting any smaller. This is particularly true in a context where English school boards have been losing numbers to their French counterparts and the private sector. Ensuring that class size reductions are properly implemented ensures that the quality of education in English public schools is not merely protected, but improved.

School boards are able to avoid implementing class-size reductions by exploiting a clause in the teachers’ collective agreement which they claim allows them to pay teachers a tiny amount of compensation for oversized classes. It is this interpretation that is being challenged by the PTU, which contends that the collective agreement only permits oversized classes in very specific circumstances, none of which apply to large urban schools.

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