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BENNETT: All muddled on education front in 2014
2015-01-01 01:26:20点击:

Stephen McNeils Liberal government swept into power in October 2013 promising to make education a priority, conduct a “curriculum review,” and reverse the so-called “$65 million in education cuts.”

What we got in 2014 was a pledge to cap elementary class sizes, a broader Education Review, and a bold declaration that “the time for tinkering was over.”

We are still marking time to see if the recent reform rhetoric translates into action.

The Best – Hopeful Signs

•Blooming of education reform rhetoric.

Myra Freemans long-anticipated October 2014 report, entitled Disrupting the Status Quo, reported that, since half of the population was “dissatisfied with the public school system,” changes were in order, stunning most of the systems “insiders.” Many of the recommended changes, based upon 19,000 survey responses, point to the critical need for a shakeup in teaching the basic skills, special education, teacher evaluation/certification and public accountability

•Small victories for parent activism.

Parent activism showed remarkable resilience. With a hiatus in school closures, the Halifax regional school board senior staff resorted to boundary reviews and set their sights on lopping off the senior grades at Park West School in Clayton Park.

When active parents from eight district schools cried foul, the plan was foiled.

Over at Harbourview Elementary, parents Allana Loh and Roseanna Cleveland of the North Dartmouth Take Action Society, demanded that their neighbourhood be declared an “education reconstruction zone,” then extracted program concessions from the HRSB administration.

•“Big Teacher” shifts its stance.

Following the demolition of the Darrell Dexter-Graham Steele “Back to Balance” agenda, the Nova Scotia Teachers Union finally had what it wanted — a “spend more with few questions asked” government.

Current president Shelley Morse embraced the “I Love Education” message and launched a new ad blitz proclaiming that “Teachers Make a Difference.” Honey-coated TV ads attract more dollars than those laced with vinegar.

•Implementation of hub school model.

A provincial school review committee, headed by Bob Fowler, heard in school community after school community about the former “ adversarial, flawed and destructive” school closure rules.

Education Minister Karen Casey accepted Fowlers recommendations for broader school-centred community planning, amended the Education Act and introduced regulations aimed at facilitating the transition of emptying schools into shared-use community hubs.

•Surfacing of e-learning days

News reached Nova Scotia in early 2014 that school snow days might soon fall victim to Internet-based education. Virtual and blended learning, bandied about in Nova Scotia staff rooms, was now being implemented in over 24 U.S. states. Stories appeared in the local media praising American Midwest “snow belt” states for replacing snow days with “e-learning days” to recoup lost learning time and to reinforce the focus on student achievement.

The Worst – Troubling Signs

•Paucity of educational innovation.

Social enterprise is beginning to flourish in Nova Scotia, driven by successful local initiatives like Rankin MacSweens Sydney-based New Dawn Enterprises. Even though Ray Ivanys February 2014 Now or Never report flagged the need for promoting “a culture of entrepreneurship,” it came up short. The proposed “paradigm shift in public education” will require more than new entrepreneurship courses taught in high schools and community colleges.

•Drake “bird course” salary upgrades.

Dozens of Nova Scotia teachers were revealed in February 2014 to have been boosting their salaries by thousands of dollars a year, acquiring additional credentials by taking “bird courses” offered through Drake Universitys online distance learning program.

NSTU president Morse immediately spoke up, defending the teachers who took the easy route to secure hefty salary increases. Even after the education minister stopped the practice, the NSTU remained undeterred, calling it an “unprovoked attack” on teachers.

•Early learning paralysis.

With only four Early Childhood Learning sites provincewide, Nova Scotia continues to lag behind in providing universal early learning. The first set of EDI survey results show that 26.8 per cent of pupils entering primary school face learning challenges.

Readiness to learn in Grade 1 poses significant hurdles for kids in three of the provinces eight school boards, Tri-County, South Shore, and the Strait.

•School board incompetence.

Auditor General Michael Pickups damning November 2014 report on the Tri-County regional school board blew a giant hole through local education governance. He concluded that the Yarmouth-based board was simply not fulfilling its core mandate of “educating students,” school management was lax in overseeing “school improvement,” and the elected board was not exercising “proper oversight.” Its a major wake-up call for all eight of Nova Scotias boards.

•Hub school regulatory trap.

The July 2014 provincial hub school model regulations went over like a lead balloon with small-school advocates. Developed by a team of school administrators, it requires hub school proposals to produce break-even “business plans” and sets up an “obstacle course” of new approval rules.

Local hub school groups in Maitland and River John have run into an educational authority in Truro still resistant to public engagement and extraordinarily protective of its prerogatives.

“Disrupting the status quo” is much easier said than done. Time will tell whether McNeil and Casey have the intestinal fortitude to tackle those deeply ingrained structural and cultural impediments to change.

Paul W. Bennett is director of Schoolhouse Consulting, Halifax, and adjunct professor of education at Saint Marys University.

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