Archive for November, 2013

November 30, 2013

Education charter chill

By Catherine Solyom | Published November 29, 2013 by The Montreal Gazette


As the school boards became secular in 1998 — under Marois’s leadership as education minister — and with immigration on the rise, there was a concerted effort to open the doors of the schools to students and teachers of different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

A School for the Future: Policy Statement on Educational Integration and Intercultural Education, signed by Marois in 1998, promotes ZERO EXCLUSION (their emphasis) and the recognition that diversity in terms of family background, religious or cultural identity is “itself one of our shared values.”

It also highlights the need for — and the challenge of — increasing diversity in the teaching profession:

“The credibility of pretensions to openness and ethno-cultural and religious diversity relies heavily on the visibility of this diversity within the school staff,” the policy statement reads. “But, in many school boards and most educational institutions, the staff remains ethno-culturally homogeneous … it seems appropriate to ask school boards and colleges to make sure that their hiring system includes no rules or practices that could have a discriminatory effect. …”

Fast-forward to 2013 and another PQ government — with Marois as premier — is leading the charge to ban religious headgear and other accessories, this time for teachers.

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Video report: Values Charter – Does Bill 60 “hurt” students?

November 29, 2013

EMSB says no to Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values

Second Montreal institution to defy Bill 60’s ban on the wearing of religious symbols by public-sector workers

By Michelle Lalonde | Published November 28, 2013 by The Montreal Gazette

MONTREAL – The English Montreal School Board became the second major institution to signal it will stand against the Parti Québécois’ proposed charter of values when it passed a motion Wednesday stating it has no intention of implementing a ban on the wearing of religious symbols by public-sector workers.

Following the lead of the Jewish General Hospital, which announced its intention to ignore that part of the charter two weeks ago, the EMSB passed a motion to defy certain provisions of the charter at a regular board meeting Wednesday night.

“The English Montreal School Board wishes to make it clear that it cannot accept the provisions of Bill 60 which relate to the wearing of objects such as headgear, clothing, jewelry or other adornments which, by their conspicuous nature, overly indicate a religious affiliation, and shall not implement any of the religious elements of Bill 60, should it be passed by the National Assembly,” reads the resolution, which passed with one abstention and no opposing votes.

EMSB commissioner Syd Wise, who moved the motion Wednesday, told other board members that the prospect of a government asking the board members for lists of employees whose garb contravenes the charter makes him shudder.

“The EMSB is one of the more important English institutions in Quebec. We are in the business of education. Our teachers teach tolerance to others and respect of individual rights, which includes freedom to adhere to one’s religious convictions. The essence of Bill 60 runs contrary to what this board stands for and what we teach our kids.”

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November 28, 2013

The Opt-Outers

What happens if enough New York parents say they don’t want their kids to take tests?

By Robert Kolker | Published Nov 24, 2013 by New York Magazine

More than a year before 7-year-old Oscar Mata was scheduled to take his first major standardized test, his parents received word from his school that he was failing. The Department of Education calls it a Promotion in Doubt letter—a well-intentioned, if blunt, method used to get families to take notice of gaps in a student’s skills.

The letter arrived in 2011, around the time of Oscar’s second-grade winter break. Before then, he had been happy at the Twenty-First Century Academy for Community Leadership in West ­Harlem. His parents, Andrea and Juan, had been drawn to the dual-language school, where English and Spanish learners took field trips together for innovative social-­studies projects. They say that Oscar is great at math and loved science, music, and art. He loved reading, too, until he started to get tested on it.

“There was this transformation of the whole culture—and curriculum,” Andrea says. “I could see it mostly through the homework. It really looked like test prep. There were even ­bubble sheets.” Oscar had more than a year before the third-grade test, when students start taking the New York State ­English ­Language Arts (ELA) and math tests—but the thinking goes that the sooner they learn how to take big standardized tests and the sooner any skill shortfalls can be dealt with, the better they’ll do in the long run. Oscar, however, had a paradoxical reaction. “His interest in school,” says Andrea, “took this immediate plummet.”

She felt as if her son had been caught in a vortex: The school starts teaching Oscar differently, he loses whatever spark of curiosity inspired him to want to learn, and the school punishes him for it. He made it to third grade, but by then, test prep had come to dominate his classroom. Grand plans for science experiments and hands-on interactive projects, Andrea says, “would just kind of fizzle out and disappear because there wasn’t time to do them.”

One underlying problem, she learned, was that his school had received a grade of C from the DOE’s school-evaluation system, and student test scores accounted for 85 percent of that grade. The principal was under extreme pressure to raise the school’s performance level, because a low grade could persuade families to pull students out of that school. By spring, with the third-grade state tests imminent, Andrea started to think seriously about having Oscar opt out of the ELA entirely. The potential ramifications were a mystery to her, but in a way, she thought, the worst had already happened. Her son just didn’t like school anymore.

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November 23, 2013

Charter Schools and the Future of Public Education

By Stan Karp | Published in Volume 28 No.1 – Fall 2013 of Rethinking Schools


It has become impossible to separate the rapid expansion of charter networks from efforts to privatize public education. Those who believe that business models and market reforms hold the key to solving educational problems have made great strides in attaching their agenda to the urgent need of communities who have too often been poorly served by the current system. But left to its own bottom line logic, the market will do for education what it has done for housing, health care, and employment: create fabulous profits and opportunities for a few, and unequal access and outcomes for the many.

Our country has already had more than enough experience with separate and unequal school systems. The counterfeit claim that charter privatization is part of a new “civil rights movement,” addressing the deep and historic inequality that surrounds our schools, is belied by the real impact of rapid charter growth in cities across the country. At the level of state and federal education policy, charters are providing a reform cover for eroding the public school system and an investment opportunity for those who see education as a business rather than a fundamental institution of democratic civic life. It’s time to put the brakes on charter expansion and refocus public policy on providing excellent public schools for all.

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November 20, 2013

QPAT, Pay Gaps and the Scent of Bovine Excrement

An open letter to QPAT President Richard Goldfinch by Jim Wilson

Mr. President,

Quebec’s teachers are the lowest paid in Canada –oh, and the highest taxed too.

You sometimes state that QPAT goes back to 1864—that was PAPT, but just go back to the PAPT in the 1980’s  and compare it with today’s QPAT.

At that time, PAPT had a membership of about 8,000, as does QPAT today, but there were some staffing differences: there was a president, and 4 executive assistants. Today, QPAT has a president, an executive director and 5 executive assistants; a 50% increase in the hired help. The only person, who remains from that time, is the present executive director, Alan Lombard, who has been in charge of the staff. Has he been so incompetent that he needs more staff for an organization that is the same size as in past?  Maybe he operates like a school board –as student numbers decline, hire more board staff.

Over the same period, the demand on teachers has increased, but salaries have lagged. Not that Lombard would have ever noticed; he was too busy looking after Lombard.  Although he was a teacher on syndical leave, he carefully avoided paying any union dues during his decades of working for the union—[how is that for irony]. He changed his pension from the teacher plan to that of an administrator; how did that happen? His ‘loyalty’ to the union cause was best exemplified with an ultimatum that he would  leave almost immediately for an unnamed job, unless he was user204100_pic55146_1275029014allowed to retire, collect his pension and keep his job. He could have retired and taken the mystery job. Why not? Could it be that he had conjured this unnamed job offer as a ploy to double dip? Maybe I am just a skeptic, but his story had a whiff of bovine excrement. Why  can’t he clear the air about the job offer, is it a state secret?   However, some of executive members’ olfactory senses worked differently to mine; concerned about the prospect of his impoverishment they added a RRSP [why is that now removed from a line item on the budget?] His income is more than triple that of an average teacher. Mike Duffy would be jealous.

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November 19, 2013

Local fundraising at schools not just about selling chocolates anymore

By Stacey Escott | Published Nov 17, 2013 by The
But it’s not all fun and games. There is a lot of fundraising going on in Hamilton schools and parents are encouraged to either contribute their time or open their wallets.

“The worrying thing is parents feeling the pressure of the assumption that they must raise money to kind of augment the system,” Kidder said.

A little fundraising is a great way to build a sense of community in schools. But Kidder says another worry about ongoing fundraising is that the top ten per cent of schools, in terms of the amount they fundraise, raises the same amount as the bottom 80 per cent put together. That creates very big disparities.

“The danger is that it creates a lot of have and have not schools when parents are fundraising for things like art enrichment or a lot of technology — now you can fundraise for upgrades in the school building.”

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November 18, 2013

First Grade Math Tests in Finnish and American Classrooms

By Tim Walker | Published Nov 16, 2013 by Taught by Finland blog

In October, Carol Burris, a principal in New York, was approached by a colleague who was shaken-up by her child’s first grade math test. She documented her experience here. 

With the parent’s permission, she linked the controversial math test here. Take a look..

Burris was bothered by many aspects of the test. The percentage grade. The multiple-choice questions. The complexity of the math exercises.

Earlier this week, I sat down with a Finnish first grade teacher at my school and we studied this math test together. My colleague’s reactions to the test were illuminating.

The Demands of Reading

The Finnish first grade teacher was immediately shocked by the sheer amount of text on the test, wondering how her young students would fare. In the fall, first graders all across Finland are just getting their feet wet as readers.

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November 17, 2013

Educational fads may be harmful to students

Idea of teaching to learning styles has enjoyed widespread adoption in North American schools but there is little evidence to support it.

By | Published Sun Nov 17 2013 By The Toronto Star


But now Gardner has decided to set the record straight. Writing recently in the Washington Post, Gardner states that not only does his theory of multiple intelligences have nothing to do with learning styles, but “there is not persuasive evidence that the learning style analysis produces more effective outcomes than a ‘one size fits all’ approach.” He then goes on to say, “If people want to talk about ‘an impulsive style’ or ‘a visual learner,’ that’s their prerogative. But they should recognize that these labels may be unhelpful, at best, and ill-conceived at worst.”

Why should all of this concern the public? Because far from helping, educational fads like learning styles may actually be harming our students. As an example, Ontario’s elementary math scores have been falling for five years in a row. And while Education Minster Liz Sandals blamed teachers’ lack of math skills, there is no evidence that teacher demographics have changed over this period. What has changed is that we have adopted more trendy ways of teaching math, such as “discovery learning” that encourages students to use their own learning styles and be more creative.

This has essentially led to the creation of a two-tiered system whereby parents who can afford it are sending their children to places like Kumon for private math tutoring, while those children from less affluent families are stuck not knowing how to do math. This is something we simply cannot afford. Indeed, a recent study by the OECD found that the math skills of Canadians are already below average.

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November 16, 2013

QPAT Convention 2013: Coping Strategies When What Teachers Need is Change

Should conventions held by teachers unions include workshops aimed at politicizing and empowering its membership or should they merely offer tips and techniques to use in the classroom? How one answers this question reveals a great deal about how one sees the nature of teachers unions themselves.

Following a historic victory of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) last year, union President Karen Lewis explained this victory as the product of a change in union leadership that brought with it a change in the philosophy of how the union should be run. She described this philosophical shift as moving from a “service model” to an “organizing model”. This involved making structural changes to the union itself so that it could be more effective at educating and empowering members:

…we purposely tried to change the culture of union so that the union is about education, is about empowering teachers … And as a result, the union officers took pay cuts, significant pay cuts, so that we can have an organizing department, so that we can have a research department, so that we didn’t do the union the way the old union was done, because those days are over…

The unity achieved by the CTU educating and empowering its grassroots members transformed the CTU from an organization incapable of fending off the various attacks against the working conditions of its members into a fighting organization capable of not only defending their members but actually making gains on their behalf.

While paying lip service to the historic victory of Chicago teachers in a recent issue of QPAT’s newsletter Liaison, QPAT itself could not be further from the organizing model that was responsible for this victory: their democratic structures could not be more opaque or inaccessible to the grassroots members; their approach to negotiation seems more intent on telling members what to think and how to vote than on empowering members and encouraging real debate; they see no problem paying their president and certain members of their permanent staff salaries and perks that far exceed those received by the highest paid teachers. 

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November 14, 2013

Turn On, Tune In, Opt Out

By Owen Davis and StudentNation | Published November 5, 2013 by The Nation


But while Seattle attracted the lion’s share of national media attention, schools throughout the country saw increasing numbers of students refuse standardized tests. Denver, Chicago, Portland, Providence and elsewhere witnessed opt-outs large and small.

Parent groups in Texas succeeded in halving the number of standardized tests given there. Students donned fake gore for “zombie crawls” in two cities, highlighting the deadening effects of test-mania. Little ones participated in a “play-in” at district offices in Chicago, living the motto that tots “should be blowing bubbles, not filling them in.”

This activism comes as a reaction to the growth of a testing apparatus unmatched in US history. Bipartisan No Child Left Behind legislation in 2002 laid the groundwork, requiring states to develop assessments for all students in grades 3-8, and threatening schools that fall short of yearly benchmarks. The Obama Administration’s Race to the Top heightened the stakes, encouraging states to develop test-based teacher evaluations and adopt Common Core standards.

Together they aim to capture all the complexities of a student’s learning in a few digits that sometimes add up to schools closed and teachers fired. Meanwhile three-quarters of districts facing NCLB sanctions have reported cutting the time allotted to non-tested subjects like science and music. And since Race to the Top’s passage in 2009, about two-thirds of states have ramped up their teacher evaluation systems, with thirty-eight now explicitly requiring evaluations to include test scores.

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November 12, 2013

CJAD Gang of Four Discusses Charter of Quebec Values

Robert Green, Anne Lagacé-Dowson and Trudie Mason discuss the Charter of Quebec Values with Tommy Shnurmacher. Click here for the podcast.

November 9, 2013

Charter backlash continues at Montreal high school

By | Published Nov 7, 2013 by Global News

Furheen Ahmed feels like a second class citizen. The 29-year-old was born and bred in Montreal even graduated from the same school she teaches at today.

WHS-Against-Charter “To be told you’re not good enough the way you are, this is somehow making you less professional, which I don’t believe it is at all. To hear that or feel that doesn’t feel good, it’s disheartening,” said the Westmount High School teacher who wears a hijab.

Students and staff have been standing up against the proposed Charter by protesting outside the school every Friday since the beginning of September. The teacher spearheading the campaign against the controversial bill calls it a sad day for Quebec.

“We’re absolutely outraged that anyone would dare suggest that Miss Ahmed is anything less than an outstanding teacher simply because of wears on her head” said Robert Green.

And while both teachers don’t believe the bill will ever become the law, the mere fact that it has made it this far comes as a surprise.

But Ahmed isn’t going anywhere. She’s determined to fight for right to wear a religious symbol on the job.

Read more & watch the video report:

November 8, 2013

We need a war on poverty, not teachers

The right loves to demonize unions, but economic factors are much more important to success in the classroom

By | Published Nov 7, 2013 by


Similarly, we know that many of the high-performing public schools in America’s wealthy locales are unionized. We also know that one of the best school systems in the world — Finland’s — is fully unionized. These facts prove that teachers unions are not the root cause of the education problem, either. After all, if unions were the problem, then unionized public schools in wealthy areas and Finland would be failing.

So what is the problem? That brings us to the new study from the Southern Education Foundation. Cross-referencing education data, researchers found that a majority of all public school students in one-third of America’s states now come from low-income families.

How much does this have to do with educational outcomes? A lot. Social science research over the last few decades has shown that two-thirds of student achievement is a product of out-of-school factors — and among the most powerful of those is economic status. That’s hardly shocking: Kids who experience destitution and all the problems that come with it have enough trouble just surviving, much less succeeding in school.

All of this leads to an obvious conclusion: If America were serious about fixing the troubled parts of its education system, then we would be having a fundamentally different conversation.

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November 6, 2013

Corporate school deform vs. education justice

By Dana Blanchard | Published November 6, 2013 by The Socialist Worker

FROM RESISTANCE to high-stakes testing to a more assertive voice from teachers’ unions, big-money corporate education “reformers” are encountering significant new resistance. Now is the time for teachers to step up our defense of public education, both by highlighting the destructive impact of the so-called reforms and by building on the emerging alliance between our unions and the communities we serve.

This article attempts to summarize some of these important shifts and highlight places where our side can organize and push back, starting right now. The prospects for teachers unions in the struggle ahead will be the subject of the second part of this article.

It’s difficult to exaggerate the damage done by the education reformers. I’ve been a public school teacher in California for 12 years–a time that coincides with implementation of the federal government’s misnamed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.

NCLB unleashed the current wave of corporate school reform: the use of standardized testing to punish failing schools and evaluate every teacher’s effectiveness; the increase in privately run charter schools claiming to be an “option” for students in “failing” public schools; and a massive growth in for-profit textbook and testing enterprises that feast on funds from school district trying desperately to make yearly progress targets–goals that move further and further out of reach each year.

At the same time, I’ve seen a whole generation of new teachers who burned out early from the prospect of teaching under the gun of standardization and the lack of job security from perpetual cycles of budgets cuts in public education. Meanwhile, teacher farms like Teach for America place more and more young people in the front lines of education without adequate preparation, only for them to leave the profession for better jobs with less collateral damage.

But recent cracks in the corporate education reform monolith have given rise to new hope. New studies validate what teachers have known all along–top-down, punishment-based reforms don’t work. They don’t work for creating a profession that people want to dedicate their lives to, and they don’t work for the students who are most underserved by public education.

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