Quebec’s ongoing education-policy disaster

By Robert Green | Published February 16, 2015 by The Montreal Gazette

Earlier this month, an extensive study commissioned by Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport confirmed what Quebec’s teachers have known for over a decade: The famous “pedagogical reform” that was supposed to revolutionize the way students are taught in Quebec is a failure.

The study, which followed nearly 4,000 students, compared two cohorts of post-reform students with one that entered high school in 2004 just before the reform was implemented.

The results paint a portrait of an ongoing policy disaster.

Despite having added 50 hours of instruction in Mathematics and 150 hours of first-language instruction, results in both core subjects are significantly down.

Pascal / Montreal GazetteFeb. 7, 2015

Pascal / Montreal Gazette Feb. 7, 2015

Despite the fact that the reform was intended to raise the dismally low graduation rates of boys and at-risk students, these rates have instead seen significant declines for both groups.

Perhaps most worrisome for Quebec’s anglophone community is the fact that students in Quebec’s English school system were also identified by the study as one of the groups that saw a significant decline in graduation rates.

In other words, the millions of dollars spent developing and implementing this reform have been an utter waste of public funds.

As appalling as these results are, they are not the least bit surprising to Quebec’s teachers. Since the beginning of the reform’s implementation, teachers have been complaining about a significant decline in the basic literacy and numeracy skills of students.

Nor is it surprising that vulnerable, at-risk students are among the groups most negatively affected by the reform. The central unresolved issue of the 2005 contract negotiations, over which teachers voted to strike and were subsequently legislated back to work, was support for students with special needs.

Perhaps least surprising for teachers in Quebec’s English school system is the fact that results for anglophone students have declined. For the first several years, teachers were asked to implement this reform without textbooks; they had yet to be translated. Yes, this was the impossible situation teachers in Quebec’s English schools had to endure for nearly five years. To this day, there are numerous materials available to teachers in Quebec’s French system that have never been made available to teachers in the English system.

This study should serve as a wake-up call for the government. It confirms not only what teachers have been saying for years, but also what education-policy experts have documented: reforms that succeed in improving student achievement almost always involve extensive consultation of teachers and parents. The failure of this reform, which never had the support of either teachers or parents, was entirely predictable.

This is an extremely important point, because right now, in the context of negotiations with the province’s teachers, the Quebec government is in the process of imposing another set of far-reaching changes to the education system that has teachers, parents and educational experts ringing the alarm once again. One would be hard-pressed to find a single teacher or parent who would support removing limits on class size or supports for students with special needs, yet this is exactly what the government is proposing.

When asked to comment on the results of this extensive study commissioned by his own ministry, Education Minster Yves Bolduc buried his head firmly in the sand stating that the reform was “not a failure” and that it was “too early” to judge the merits of this reform first implemented way back in 2000.

By ignoring the concerns of teachers, parents and even the ministry’s own researchers, Bolduc is repeating the approach that got us into this problem in the first place. This will only ensure that a whole new generation of students will have to pay the price for government’s refusal to listen to those with the expertise to understand how proposed policies might actually affect students and their ability to succeed.

3 Responses to “Quebec’s ongoing education-policy disaster”

  1. “By ignoring the concerns of teachers, parents and even the ministry’s own researchers, Bolduc is repeating the approach that got us into this problem in the first place. ”
    Absolutely. I remember siting on my school’s governing board a long time ago and the ministry sent us a survey to get our impressions on the convoluted report card format that was eventually imposed on us. It was unanimous: not a single parent teacher or administrator thought it was a good idea. Were our opinions an anomaly? I really doubt it. But they bulldozed it over us, regardless of what we thought.


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