Category Archives: Education Reform

More co-op programs in schools? Context is important

Some quick thoughts today from a guest: Doug Nesbitt. Doug is a PhD student in labour history at Queen’s University in Kingston and an editor of RankandFile.ca, a site dedicated to “Canadian labour news and analysis from a critical perspective.”

Doug posted the following as a Facebook comment on this story from the Hamilton Spectator. The story reports on a “panel of business and education experts” in Ontario which recommends that all P-12 students participate in co-op work programs in high school. Continue reading More co-op programs in schools? Context is important

Be wary of quick fixes for Nova Scotia’s education system

With recent standardized assessment scores from Nova Scotian schools causing alarm, and education minister Karen Casey about to release her action plan to reform the P-12 education system, there are a few things that are important to remember.

Youth in Whitney Pier, Cape Breton's Boys and Girls' Club. Photo: Grade 8 students from the Whitney Pier Youth Club
Youth in Whitney Pier, Cape Breton’s Boys and Girls’ Club. Photo: Grade 8 students from the Whitney Pier Youth Club

First, there has not been any serious analysis that attempts to explain why test scores are down. Some commentators have said or implied that modern teaching methods are to blame. The idea here is that we need to get “back to basics,” that schools these days are full of warm fuzzies but not reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. Drill the kids on their times tables, just like in old times, and all will be well.  Continue reading Be wary of quick fixes for Nova Scotia’s education system

What is, and isn’t, in the minister’s report on Nova Scotian education

The panel reviewing Nova Scotia’s education system has released its report. Disrupting the Status Quo: Nova Scotians Demand a Better Future for Every Student makes 30 recommendations for overhauling P-12 education, based on an extensive survey completed by 19,000 people.

Photo via flickr.
Photo via flickr.

When I first heard about the plan for an education review, I got my guard up. In the U.S., education “reform” led by wealthy interests has wreaked havoc on public education for decades now, overemphasizing standardized testing, narrowing the curriculum, funnelling public money to semi-private charter schools, and generally creating problems when it purported to fix them. The six-person panel hand-picked to conduct the review didn’t set my mind at ease.

The report released in Nova Scotia last week didn’t fully follow the U.S. formula, which is a good thing. It contains some very positive conclusions, such as the acknowledgement of how teacher workload issues affect student learning, and the need to focus on students’ physical and mental health.

Some of the report’s other conclusions, however, are more problematic, as are some elements that are left out. Continue reading What is, and isn’t, in the minister’s report on Nova Scotian education

Education debates are political, not just pedagogical

Back to basicsMy local paper recently published a series of articles lamenting Nova Scotian P-12 students’ performance on standardized math and literacy tests. At issue, reported author Frances Willick, is the use of modern teaching techniques such as “whole-language” learning for teaching reading and “discovery-based” learning for teaching math.

Willick’s sources, such as Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU) education professor Jamie Metsala, say these modern methods have failed kids. Teachers should focus more on traditional techniques like phonics for teaching reading, and repetitive drills for teaching basic math.

All of us should welcome robust public debates on pedagogical techniques, and most of us in the education world do. After all, we want to do the best job we can at educating our kids.

Unfortunately, “crisis” articles like these are not very helpful. First, they sensationalize what is actually happening in our classrooms; and second, they ignore the political context of what is happening in our education system.

Continue reading Education debates are political, not just pedagogical

Don’t narrow our curriculum

Also published at Behind the numbers,  rabble.ca and the Chronicle-Herald.

What is our public education system for? To judge by much of the talk coming from politicians and business leaders, education is purely a matter of preparing students to be workers in a vaguely defined “new economy.”

Educational authorities need to be cautious about narrowing the curriculum and excluding what are perceived as non-job-related subjects such as art, music and social studies.
Educational authorities need to be cautious about narrowing the curriculum and excluding what are perceived as non-job-related subjects such as art, music and social studies.

Certainly, students need to be able to survive economically in the world. But public education is about much more than narrow job-skills training: it’s about teaching our kids how to create and sustain a healthy, engaged society.

This isn’t always reflected in the way we prioritize certain subjects in school.  Continue reading Don’t narrow our curriculum

Forget test scores: fight poverty and keep education public

Two opinion pieces in a recent issue of the Chronicle-Herald, one an editorial and the other by Paul Bennett, spoke of the difficult learning conditions in some of Nova Scotia’s most impoverished neighbourhoods. Both are to be commended for highlighting the clear connections between poverty and school success (Be bold first in education, Radical intervention for faltering schools; both April 19).

But in the Ivany-report-inspired rush to “be bold,” we should be cautious about some of the solutions proposed.  Continue reading Forget test scores: fight poverty and keep education public

Union concerns are community concerns

Led by the Portland Student Union, about 400 people rallied at a Portland Public School Board meeting in support of their teachers in January. (photo: oregonlive.com - http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/01/portland_students_and_teachers.html)
Led by the Portland Student Union, about 400 people rallied at a Portland Public School Board meeting in support of their teachers in January. (photo: oregonlive.com – http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/01/portland_students_and_teachers.html)

The provincial budget was tabled in Nova Scotia earlier this month, with education funding being increased by $18.6 million.

I don’t have time to crunch the numbers here to analyze what they really mean. (e.g. to what extent do they compensate for cuts to the P-12 education budget in recent years? And what year would we use as a benchmark, anyway? 2010? 2001?)

For the moment, teachers seem pleased by the budget announcement (despite the fact that Liberal government had promised $65 million in additional funding for education in the first year of its mandate, not over four years as the budget announcement now says).

In any case, though, it’s hard to be too happy about education funding right now: the day before the budget was announced, the government rammed through Bill 37, the law which effectively removed the right to strike from nearly 40,000 public-sector workers in Nova Scotia.  Continue reading Union concerns are community concerns