My Humble Opinion on the “educational governance review report”

While I feel that I wasn’t properly given a chance to review this report – it was released on December 21 (I can only assume this was a timely decision as it coincided with teachers’ winter holidays),  I did read it thoroughly because I was scared of what might be in it.  However, my fears were unfounded as I read the first page and realized that the ministry has the same goals as I do as an educator:

  • reducing the difference in graduation rates between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students by 50% by 2020; and
  • leading the country in Grade 12 graduation rates by 2020 (p. 3)

My goals are not quite as lofty as these but I do endeavour to instill a sense of belonging in all of my students – that is, I smile at them when they walk into my classroom; I ask how their day is going; and I teach from an social justice perspective.  If my students are not performing at grade level in literacy and numeracy, I work with them at their level in small groups trying to make small and large gains in gaps that I quite often have no control over.  This I do when they come to school.  If they are not coming to school, I question if it is something I can control (did I make them feel welcome?  Or is it beyond my control – like this report seems to be).

As I continued reading this report, I was disappointed because there seemed to be a lot of numbers that I had to wade through.  Students ceased to be mentioned after page 3.  But I am not a quitter.  So I persevered.  And here is what I found out.

The Educational Governance Review Report (EGRR) is all about changing the structure of our school boards.  And not just a tweak here and there – I’m talking dramatic change that will affect all stakeholders in education (even students).  Yet the paper itself admits “school boards form only one element of the context in which learning occurs and thus it is challenging to isolate the impact of school board governance on student achievement” (p. 9)  But gosh darn it we are going to try anyway.

Not to be a total Debbie-downer, the EGRR does highlight some positive changes.  It speaks highly of the Education Sector Strategic Plan (ESSP) and the Provincial Leadership Team (PLT).  One of the key priorities has been increasing the percentage of students reading at grade level in grade 3. Because we all know that students will end up in jail if they are not reading at grade level in grade 3.  If you don’t believe me, check out this article and decide for yourself. Saskatchewan Reads has been implemented for only 2 years and “students reading at grade level in Grade 3 has increased from 65% in 2013 to 74% in June 2016.” (p. 11)  Cancel the new prison contracts!  Sarcasm aside, this really is an amazing statistic and all stakeholders should be patting themselves on the back (even teachers).

Another implementation, Following their Voices is “an initiative designed to improve First Nations, Metis, and Inuit student outcomes has only “demonstrat[ed] small gains in…attendance, credit completion, on-time graduation, and final marks in English…and math” (p. 11).  However, I am confident that a giant school board governing the whole province will make these numbers soar.  I mean – who wouldn’t want to go to work with a CEO controlling everything?  Businesses give bonuses, don’t they?  I can hardly wait for my overtime pay and Christmas bonus (based on my students’ achievement of outcomes of course).  That’s okay.  I intend to get very good at ‘teaching to the test’.  Wow – that comment seemed to come out of left field – or did it?

Did anyone read page 12?  The ministry is not happy because they are giving school divisions all this money (60% of which goes to salaries – or is it 50% or 30-40%? Click here to be sure); yet they don’t get to “assess the extent to which outcomes are achieved and standards are met” (p. 12).  That’s like giving a kid an allowance and then dictating how they have to spend it – with a test at the end to make sure their money was spent wisely.  For those of you not proficient in teacher lingo, outcomes and standards are what we use to measure student learning.  Right now, we are (mostly) considered professional enough to figure this out ourselves.  This whole phrase smells like a stinky standardized testing rat to me.  If you’re on the fence about standardized testing, check out these articles to help clear your mind:

Why Standardized Tests Don’t Measure Educational Quality by W. James Popham

Just Say No to the Test

Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful? LynNell Hancock

Of course, everybody loves looking at the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results to determine how students are performing.  On the federal stage, Saskatchewan’s performance sucks.  On the PISA 2015, Saskatchewan ranked last among the provinces for science, math, and reading.  I’m not a huge fan of the PISA (one reason why can be found here), but for arguments’ sake, let’s go with it.  Well guess who sucked in 2012?  Prince Edward Island!  So what did they do to pull up their socks?  Exclude the dumb ones from the test.  Read it and weep.  Well we all know that everybody loves Finland because they’re so smart and all – but where’s the love for Canada?  Find the shocking reality of our overall performance  here and breath a little easier.  If you’re not so great with graphs, here’s how it breaks down: in math we placed 10th (Finland was 13th); in reading we placed 3rd (Finland was 4th); and in science we placed 7th (Finland was 5th).  Unsurprisingly the Asian countries were all near the top as well.  They also have a very different education system that produces high levels of stress and higher than normal suicide rates.  Maybe we are doing something right after all.

But I digress. Let’s get to the crux of the matter.  $$$$$ or lack thereof.  I probably don’t even need to include the links to all of the articles about this, but let’s have a giggle:

First let’s ask the question “where did the money go?”  Thankfully Murray Mandryk has been paying attention.  On Jan. 17, 2017 Mandryk, a political columnist for the Regina Leader Post wrote:

Moreover, it was the Wall government that decided to increase the current assembly  to 61 members from 58 MLAs — a partisan political ploy about preserving safe Sask. Party rural seats. Even before these MLAs were rehired on April 4, they were granted on April 1 their automatic cost-of-living increase (although Finance Minister Kevin Doherty has suggested a wage freeze — as opposed to rollbacks — is in play for this year).

Further, in Wall’s own executive council office, slight changes in job descriptions have allowed his personal staff to receive massive salary increases during the past nine years. This is hardly demonstrating leadership.  The full article can be found here.

So then, we found out about roll-backs and wage freezes.  Basically, no one is allowed to spend any extra money because we’re broke.  Wait, hold the presses.  There is a billion dollar deficit, yet the EGRR clearly states: there are costs associated with major restructuring in a system … before efficiencies or improvements are seen…Options will need to be assessed for the cost of implementation and the potential savings (p. 19)  Seriously.  Our school has used up the photocopying budget for the entire year because our funding model was based on 180 fewer students than we actually have in our school; yet the government is willing to invest large amounts of money on amalgamating school divisions into one large corporate-style conglomerate?  Don’t believe me.  Check out page 21 and read the buzz words like Education Quality Council.  What would their job be?  focusing on “measurement of education system performance including student outcomes”.  (See my previous rant regarding standardized testing).  Or how about a CEO to manage the education and business functions?

Pages 22-26 go on to expound on the benefits and challenges of these proposed changes.  Here is my summary.  So the government says that this plan is “likely to improve efficiency [but] difficult to prejudge” (p. 22).  In other words, we really don’t know but we think it will work.  A big plan is to share resources equitably between urban and rural schools (see equity, p. 25); yet it also acknowledges “demonstrating equity between urban and rural schools will be similar to the current state”(Ibid.).  Once again, we don’t really know and we won’t really be able to tell, but it should make a difference.  There will be a more direct link of school community councils to decision makers results from the flatter organization structure.  Can someone please translate that phrase for me?  I have no idea what it means.  There will be increased participation because school community councils will be more central. [Unfortunately] the board will be significantly removed from the community and school.  So more people will come to the meetings but they won’t really have access to the board anyway?  (All italicized quotes came from information on page 23 of the EGRR report).

Another major challenge is the fact that on-reserve education is federally funded so the provincial government really has nothing to do with it anyway.  Wait a minute – isn’t one of the major goals to increase First Nation graduation rates?  It was stated on the first page of the report.  Yet, an entire report is written that addresses only one aspect of education: governance.  Well, maybe two: money.  So this transformational change is really about saving money and controlling how our students are educated.  Yet it is admitted several times in the report that a lot of what they are proposing can not be measured anyway.  If the government wants to start measuring my teaching, shouldn’t they be held to the same standard?  If you really want to assess me, I extend an open invitation to any stakeholder in education.  Come into my classroom.  See what I’m dealing with.  See what my challenges are.  See how I’m addressing it.  Then write your damn report.

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Something is in Sight…Is it the end?

Although it may be the end of this class, it is not the end of the learning.  Here is my summary of what has struck me so far…  Watch, listen, enjoy, and feel free to comment.

Learning Summary for ECI831

Here is the youtube link as well.

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Putting It All Together

As I have been exploring a variety of different themes in eci831, I have been questioning how I can weave this altogether.  For my final digital project, I decided that the best way to do this would be to create a digital storytelling project with my students.  Enter Alan Levine and his fantastic session on digital storytelling last week.  See 50 ways to tell a digital story for your own great ideas.

For anyone  who hasn’t read my previous blogs, I have been looking at ideas around social justice, technology, and narrative education.  I have taken these courses separately for my Master’s degree and was wondering how I could use this course to create connections to what I have learned previously.  I want to embed all these ideas into the curriculum, not just touch on them as random lessons where I can fit them in.

With my students, I have spent the first part of the year discussing social injustice.  The students are very aware of how unfair the world can be.  I want them to expand on this idea and start questioning where they fit into this.  So far, the students seem a bit removed, thinking “this is too bad, but it doesn’t affect me; it’s not my fault; and there’s nothing I can do to make a difference.”

I am hoping that the digital storytelling project will help my students to expand on these ideas and start them thinking about their own personal responsibility for creating change.  In writing, we have been learning about narrative as a writing form.  So I created a google document outlining the elements of a narrative and added a few ideas around orientation and problem to start them thinking.  We also watched some digital stories such as Mike Wesch’s A Vision of Students Today and elder Mike Pinay speaking about the importance of hair in First Nation culture  (thanks to Racquel Biem for sharing this in her blog). The students started identifying labels that they have been given by teachers, parents, and other students.  We used this as a jumping off point to create our video.

I am looking forward to working out the digital aspect of this to create the final piece to share with both my students and this class.  Or I’m very afraid.  Not sure which.

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The Dance

Last week, our ECI831 class listened to a presentation by Stephen Downes that explored the changing role of the teacher.  He argued that these many roles would eventually be divvied up among educators who are experts at only one role.  To me this seemed too much like an assembly line business model of education that denies the fact that teaching is an art, rather than an acquired skill.  Certainly, teachers are continually honing their skills and working to improve education; yet it is not necessarily something that can be explicitly taught. There are many people who have acquired specific skill sets and know a lot about a particular concept or idea.  This does not always mean that they are good teachers.  Anyone who has sat through a 100 level university lecture can attest to this.  Although many profs are passionate about their subject area, they are not necessarily passionate about how students learn their subject matter.  An expert teacher focuses on teaching the whole child; this takes the whole teacher.  As educators, we are able to balance these many different roles and sort out which role needs to be given attention at any given time.  Teaching takes heart, body, and soul: these cannot be divided.  For more around this idea, I would direct you to the article, “Teacher as Rain Dancer” by Simon Hole (1998). In this article, the author explores the idea of how tension is created in the classroom when trying account for the needs of the student, the needs of the class, and the needs of the teacher.  He uses the metaphor of “teacher as rain dancer”.  Just as a rain dancer does not know when the steps are perfect and it will rain, a teacher does not know what steps will create perfection in teaching.

References

Hole, Simon. (1998).  Teacher as Rain Dancer.  Harvard Educational Review 68: 413 –421.

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What Now?

I have spent so much time exploring where I was coming from in this course (EC&I 831), that I am now finally feeling able to explore what this course has to offer me.  I am looking back at what has been discussed so far and trying to make sense of this.  Unfortunately, the course is already 2/3 done, so I guess I have to play catch up.  But at least I have a sound foundation from which to work from.   I also have the benefit of 0thers’ blogs to see how they are making sense of this course.

When Dr. Schwier first spoke about the idea of community in virtual learning environments, I started thinking about where I fit into this learning community.  I very much felt like an outsider.  I have no problem thinking about the concepts and even blogging, but I have had a very difficult time engaging in online conversations.  I very rarely comment on others’ blogs and my use of twitter is still mostly as a lurker.  I have very few tweets, but have spent a lot of time reading others’ and following useful links that have been posted.  Luckily for me, a community is hospitable (Connections: virtual learning communities, p. 19) and allows for forgiveness in this area.  But is it also authentic (Ibid, p. 21)?  I do not feel that I have developed meaningful interpersonal relationships.  Perhaps the most engagement has involved Leslie.  Although I haven’t met her, I am willing to bet that she has a very vibrant personality, resulting in a natural ability to make people feel as if they belong.  She is also very engaged, making it difficult not to notice her contributions.

It is clear to me that how I am thinking fits in very well with George Siemen‘s talk on sensemaking and wayfinding.  I spent the first part of this course (and my blogs) trying to make sense of where I was coming from and how this fit into this course.  I guess  I am now at the wayfinding stage of figuring out what I’m going to do with this information.  Not to be a term dropper, but all of this does fit in with Dave Cormier‘s theory of Rhizomatic learning.  The problem is, I hate it.  This kind of learning has been driving me crazy.  I have never before felt this behind in a course.  The final project is looming over my head and I still don’t feel like I have a handle on it.  I almost wish that I could have explored this course as a participant, rather than as a credit student.  As a credit student, we are expected to explore these new ways of learning within the old parameters of education (marks, assignments, and a finite end).  There seems to be a bit of a disconnect.

Interestingly enough, I found this flicker photo with the keyword ‘chaos’.  It is called “Weird and Lost” and underneath it was written,

Where do I come from? Where do I go?
What shall I do?
I lost my way…

Resources

Schwier, Richard. (2011).  Connections: virtual learning communities.  Copestone: Saskatoon, SK.  Free epub available  here

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Where I Went: the narrative piece

Through taking a class on narrative (EC&I 804), I discovered some great resources for the classroom: The Meaning of Respect and The Elders are Watching by David Bouchard and Shin Chi’s Canoe by Nicolla Campbell are some excellent resources that address stories from a First Nations perspective.  Of course, there are many books out there that can serve as wonderful educational resources.

The true power of narrative comes from personal stories, starting with your own and branching out into the stories of others.  I read an excellent article, “An Inescapable Network of Mutuality: building relationships of solidarity in a first grade classroom”, by Epstein and Oyler (2008).  Although on the surface it seemed like a pretty basic premise: a former child-labourer who is now a maid is invited into a classroom to speak about her experience.  Through her retelling, the children are inspired to write and perform a play to help raise money for child-labourers around the world.  For me, the most powerful part of this article was how someone who traditionally has not had much power (a minority member working as a maid in New York), was now given power through the telling of her story.

This became very prevalent to me this fall when I started teaching at a new school.  This school is in an area of high SES.   Having never taught at a school like this, I have spent a lot of time questioning what I bring to the table.  What do I have to offer these students?  It seemed like they had already read all the novels I had planned as doing as a novel study, already done similar art projects to the ones I had planned, and already knew the math that I was teaching them.

I was encouraged to access all of the wonderful community resources available.  Many of the  parents are university professors, teachers, and business owners.  However, I just felt that by only accessing these resources, the students would be hearing stories that they had heard many times before.  These are the stories of those in power who fit in with the mainstream.  I am working to access other resources through immigrant and First Nation interviews.  It is my hope that my students will begin to see a different perspective through this process.

Any thoughts?  How do you teach students to understand that: a) there are different realities out there, and b) those realities might have something to offer them?

Resources

Epstein, S. E. & Oyler, C. (2008).  “An Inescapable Network of Mutuality: building relationships of solidarity in a first grade classroom.”  Equity and Excellence in Education, 41 (4), 405 – 416.

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Where I Went: the technology piece

Mythinformation: the almost religious conviction that a widespread adoption of computers and communications systems along with easy access to electronic information will automatically produce a better world for human living. (Winner, 1986).

In my first few years teaching, I felt a very strong push for technology use at the board level.  However, I got my back up because I felt that we were just ‘told’ that we had to do it and not given the reasons why it was better.  Through taking EC&I 830, I was given an opportunity to learn about different technologies and how it could be used in the classroom.  But, even after taking this class: I was still not on twitter; I stopped using my delicious account; and I only used computers in my classroom as either a research tool or glorified typewriter.  This would be a clear example of a CMS.  However, is EC&I 831 a PLN (see here for more information)?  I know that it depends completely on me.  That being said, I am not sure how much I will continue to expand and change my PLN once this class is over and so many other things get in the way.  I have never wholeheartedly embraced technology.  I spend time with it because I have to and it does make my life easier.  But I still have no desire for a smart phone, a data plan, or even an updated cell phone.

Now when I plan projects, I look at what I want to teach and then try to use technology to support what I am doing.  Enter delicious accounts for research, google docs for student/teacher sharing, and student-blogging to ask questions, share ideas, and create conversations.  This is not without its problems though.

I am currently working on a social studies citizenship project with my students.  They are exploring Canadian history from three different perspectives: First Nation and Metis, Francophone and Quebecois, and immigrant.  Students need to have a timeline, a map of their culture, an interview with a relevant resource, a field trip related to their topic, and a presentation for the class.  I went to the library to gather print resources for each group.  One day, the students did not have the computer for the first half hour of class and had to use only print resources for research.  Many of the students seemed to go through major withdrawl while waiting for the computers to arrive.  Once they had access, their gaze resembled that of the girl in the photograph: engaged, mesmerized, hypnotized, entranced…  addicted?

“The proliferation of images of children gazing at computers with wide-eyed wonder has much to do with the creation of this aura of multimedia innocence.  So too does the frequent juxtaposition of …technology and happy children, typically within the context of blatantly utopian environments, unfettered worlds in which youngsters are encouraged to give free reign to their creativity, ideas, and imagination” (Rose, p. 47).

I am curious for insight on this.  We seem to continue these stories by bragging about how early our children are exposed to technology and by how quickly they pick it up.  Do these stories need critical evaluation?  Or is it just the accepted (and wanted) norm?

Resources

Rose, Ellen (2000).  Hypetexts: the language and culture of educational computing.  London: The Althouse Press.

Winner, Langdon (1986).  The Whale and the Reactor: a search for limits in an age of high technology.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

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