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:
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.