Posts tagged ‘Curriculum’

April 27, 2013

Political pressures are inflating students’ marks

By Robert Green

A slightly edited version of this Op-ed appeared in the April 25 edition of the Montreal Gazette

Should the grades students receive on their report cards be the product of the professional judgment of those trained in pedagogy and the evaluation of learning or the product of the public relations needs of schools, school boards and the education ministry (MELS)? While most Quebecers would surely prefer to leave the evaluation of learning to the trained professionals, the reality is that since the 2008 passing of Bill 88 report cards are increasingly subject to the corrupting influences of political interests.

grade-inflationThis is because Bill 88 makes success rates for schools and school boards all important. The bill obliges both schools and school boards to sign contracts committing them to make measured improvements in specific areas, such as math or literacy scores. The problem for principals and school board administrators is that they are being asked to achieve these goals in a context of ongoing budget cuts. Those with ambition must find creative ways to meet their goals.

The inevitable result is pressure being put on teachers to inflate their marks, or even worse, marks being changed by administrators without the teacher’s consent. The Federation Autonome de L’Enseignment, one of Quebec’s large teacher federations has recently reported this to be a growing problem amongst its members.

Changing the marks given by teachers also happens at the ministry level with secondary four and five courses through two processes ‘moderation’ and ‘conversion’. Ostensibly ‘moderation’ is to address discrepancies between class marks and marks on standardized provincial exams while ‘conversion’ is to address problems with exams deemed to be unfair or invalid in some way. However, the end result is that these two processes grant MELS the ability to fix success rates wherever it wishes, irrespective of the professional judgment of teachers.

In both cases, the perception of the vast majority of teachers is that all this is about lowering standards to meet goals rather than addressing the fundamental problems having to do with under-funding and a provincial curriculum that has never had the support of teachers.

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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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January 29, 2013

Quebec Curriculum Reform A ‘Slow Simmering Disaster’

Teachers Catharine Hogan and Robert Green discuss the underfunding of Quebec schools and the problems with Quebec’s curriculum reform with CJAD’s Tommy Shnurmacher:

Click here to listen

October 19, 2012

The Conflict in Context: A Québec high school teacher’s perspective on the movement for accessible education

By Robert Green

This article appeared in the Fall 2012 edition of ‘Our Schools / Our Selves’ edited by Erika Shaker and published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

I teach a secondary five level course called ‘The Contemporary World’ at a public English high school in Montreal. One of the messages I am constantly trying to pass on to my students is that in attempting to understand world events, we should always be wary of overly simplistic formulations. Events do not occur in a vacuum. The historical and political context in which an event occurs always matters.

In recent months, as the student strike in Québec has come to dominate the headlines, I have found myself repeating a very similar message in discussions with students, friends, neighbours and colleagues. The mainstream media has been very successful at framing this conflict in the narrowest of terms; as being strictly about students not wanting to pay a $1,625 tuition increase. With such a simplistic framing of the issue it has been very easy for people to agree with commentators who characterize Québec students as irrational and entitled because they already pay the lowest tuition in Canada.

The problem with this analysis is that if indeed this movement is merely about irrational, entitled students, how does one explain the series of historic demonstrations of between two and four-hundred-thousand people? How does one explain the fact that these demonstrations were filled not just with students, but with teachers such as myself, university and Cégep [college] professors, parents, senior citizens groups, union members, etc.? There’s something missing from the simplistic picture the media is offering us.

In examining the student strike within its broader historical and political context, I hope to offer a more complete picture of the issue. In so doing I also hope to articulate why, as a public school teacher and as a citizen of Québec, I find it important to actively support the movement for accessible education.

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October 14, 2012

Quebec study of post-reform students yields disappointing results

By Janet Bagnall | Published October 9, 2012 by The Montreal Gazette

MONTREAL — Several years into Quebec’s controversial education reform — under which students are to learn to think for themselves and not just memorize facts — the farthest one of the researchers evaluating it will venture is: “It’s too soon to tell.”

The researcher, Simon Larose, a professor at Université Laval’s education department, is in charge of a longitudinal study of francophone and anglophone students across the province as they make their way through high school. The study compares 2,000 students in a pre-reform cohort, from 2004-05, with two later groups of 2,000 students each, one from 2006-07, the other from 2007-08, who started high school under the reformed curriculum. (The reform was introduced in secondary school in 2005-06 and in elementary school in 2000-01.)

This week, researchers brought out two new studies: one that tested the pre-reform and reform groups’ knowledge of math; the other comparing the groups’ written French proficiency. Anyone hoping the reform was leading to improved results was in for a disappointment.

“For the moment, there is not much change (between pre-reform and reform results) and what there is isn’t positive,” Larose said.

Questions for the math test were taken from the international PISA study which evaluates education systems worldwide every three years, testing 15-year-olds’ skills in reading, mathematics and science.

“We found very, very small differences between the pre-reform and reform groups, but the differences we found reflected a poorer performance by the reform groups,” Larose said. Among the two reform cohorts there was an additional, worrying tendency: youngsters from deprived areas performed significantly worse on the test. Their results might be a consequence of resources being diverted from student support programs while the reform was being put in place, Larose said.

August 11, 2012

Education and the 2012 Quebec Election: Part Two – Where do the Parties Stand on Curriculum Reform?

By Robert Green

Part one of this series looked at where the parties stand on education financing. This article will focus on where the parties stand on the question of curriculum reform.

We often think of curriculum as something immutable; the three R’s. However, it is much more than that. It embodies the knowledge, values and skills a society wants to pass on to future generations. As such, public education curriculum should be an issue of interest to all of those concerned about the future of our society.

Over a decade ago the Parti Quebecois introduced a radical reform of Quebec’s curriculum centred around the concept of ‘competency-based evaluation’. Neither teachers nor parents had demanded such a reform. However, around the time this reform was proposed, the concept was being pushed aggressively by multinational corporations through international organizations such as the OECD. Apparently corporate leaders felt such reforms would provide them a more objective and standardized measure with which to rank employees in a globalized world. ‘Knowledge’, the traditional subject of evaluation, was seen as too abstract, subjective and rooted in the local.

Since this reform had the support of neither teachers nor families, the two central stakeholders in education, its implementation was met with controversy and resistance, much of which remains to this day. Divisions over this reform even lead to the split of Quebec’s largest teacher’s federation and the formation of a new federation, La Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE), which would take a more critical stand towards the reform.

What’s more, government attempts to tinker with the reform in response to public pressure have rendered it philosophically incoherent. For example, teachers in Quebec are now instructed to evaluate ‘competency’ using percentages. Is it even possible to be 65% competent in something?

Clearly Quebec needs another overhaul of its curriculum, but one that is done in consultation with teachers and the public. This requires a political party with vision.

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July 19, 2012

Hot Enough for You? Time to Teach Against Fossil Fuels

By Bill Bigelow. Published July 16, 2012 by rethinkingschoolsblog

“So McKibben does the arithmetic. To remain under the 2-degree threshold, we need to emit no more than 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide over the next 40 years. As he puts it, “It’s like saying if you want to keep your blood alcohol level legal for driving, you can’t drink more than eight beers in the next six hours.” But here is the problem. Analysts have calculated that all the claimed reserves from fossil fuel—coal, oil, and natural gas—companies add up to 2,795 gigatons, five times more than the maximum allowable, even in a scenario that itself is fraught with climate danger.

“Here’s another way of saying it: We need to leave at least 80 percent of that coal and gas and oil underground,” McKibben writes. “The problem is, extracting and burning that coal and oil and gas is already factored into the share prices of the companies involved—the value of that carbon is already counted as part of the economy.” This would be the equivalent of these companies writing off $20 trillion.

For those of us who take climate science seriously, I think that we’re left with an inescapable conclusion: It’s not enough to teach about fossil fuels, we have to teach against fossil fuels. Any curriculum discussion that fails to address the threat posed by fossil fuel consumption to humanity and the future of all life on earth is profoundly irresponsible.”

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October 31, 2011

Students Aren’t Being Taught Crucial Reading and Writing Skills

By Robert Green

A slightly edited version of this op-ed appeared in the Montreal Gazette April 14, 2011

The English Language Arts (ELA) program has long been considered a ‘core’ academic subject for students in Quebec’s English School Boards. This is for very good reason. Strong literacy skills are recognized as key to improving students’ future employment prospects as well their ability to engage with their world creatively and participate fully in our society’s democratic institutions. The lowering of standards in the ELA program therefore has grave implications not only for individual students but also for society as a whole.  Sadly after five years in the teaching profession, I am firmly of the opinion that such a lowering of standards is occurring in Quebec’s English schools and that the Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sports (MELS) is entirely to blame.

Initially the infamous ‘reform’ to Quebec’s curriculum was presented as a move away from the rote learning that had occurred in the past and a move towards a more constructivist methodology that recognizes that learning is a much more active and dynamic process than the simple memorization of facts. When I first heard this as a student at McGill, this was music to my ears; however, upon entering the profession I soon began to lose this enthusiasm.

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