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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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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’m From

Now that I am getting more comfortable with the use of blogs (still haven’t tackled twitter yet), I feel it’s important to note where I’m coming from in terms of educational pedagogy.  For the most part, I have just been lurking around while trying to make sense of it all.  Throughout this process, there have been some overriding questions that I have been trying to answer: namely, what is the point of this course (ECI831)?  Now I don’t mean to sound rude when I say this.  I have just had a hard time making connections so far.  In terms of technology, there seems to be an underlying assumption that we all agree that technology use is the best way to go.  In terms of blog posts, there are some very different themes that have been emerging.  Sometimes I have difficulty finding common threads among the myriad of blogss that I read.  So instead of waiting for Alec to tell me, I made some decisions on my own.  First of all, I have decided that I am going to decide on the direction of this course all by myself.  Secondly, I’m going to share it with you (via blog posts). But before I can do this, I need to let you know where I’m coming from.

From an educational standpoint, ever since I completed my internship in a Metis town in northern Saskatchewan, I have had many questions about social justice and education equity.  I have also wondered if traditional teaching methods just create an ‘institution’ of learning, rather than a positive learning environment.  Just because students are quiet and sitting in rows, does it really mean that they are learning something?  I actually did this in my class once.  I sat at my desk and looked around at my quiet, studious kids ‘engaged’ in drill and practice.  I noticed that they looked bored to tears and were very quietly passing notes to each other.  Not exactly the engagement I was looking for.

Then I started my Master’s.  I have taken four classes outside of this course so far.  Each has used varied approaches and showed a variety of perspectives.  I’m going to include a brief synopsis of some of the classes I have taken, as well as include some relevant resources that will help guide you in my personal journey.  (Don’t worry, there is a point to all this – I’m just setting the stage).  As well, I can use some gratuitous links, videos, and tags in their descriptions.

My first class was EC&I 808 with Dr. Ken Montgomery.  In this class, we explored pedagogies of difference and the impact of colonialism on our education system.  This class gave me a better understanding of how racism and colonial power are perpetuated today.  Our first readings were about humility and the importance of bringing humility into the education profession.  See: Hole, S. (1998).  Teacher as Rain Dancer.  Harvard Educational Review, 68, 413 – 421.  The synopsis can be found here.  It also gave me a great starting point to begin to address this in my classroom.  I’m sure that anybody who has taught social studies in Saskatchewan has bravely tried to tackle treaties.  Perhaps you were better at it than me, but in my experience this unit has just provided students with an outlet for their racism.  After this class, I decided that I really needed to focus on social justice in my classroom.  It needed to be ingrained in every aspect of the curriculum.

Then I took EC&I 830 with Dr. Jo Szostak.  This course was a seminar critiquing technology use in schools.  In this course, I was introduced to Mike Wesch and his Vision of Students Today.

I really like this video because it starts with the reality of youth today and ends with issues of globalization and justice.  This video made me rethink my content delivery.

This class also made me question my use of technology and student achievement.  I discovered that there is very little research surrounding technology use and improved student outcomes (if you’re looking for a thesis idea…).  It also gave me a better understanding of the value of wikis and Web 2.0, particularly how their ideals and ideas can be transferred into a classroom.  As well, we explored George Siemens and his theory of connectivism.  I’m still not entirely sure if connectivism can be an entire educational theory (like constructivism, for example); but it was interesting to see comparisons of different learning theories.  No one ever talks about the disadvantages of constructivism.  If you’re interested in his blog, it can be found here.  After this class, I decided that I really needed to focus on technology in my classroom.  It needed to be ingrained into every aspect of the curriculum.

My most recent class was EC&I 804 with Dr. Janice Huber.  This class showed how narrative can be used to develop and understand curriculum.  In this class, I learned the power of discovering people’s stories.  Through the sharing of others, I was able to share my own story.  I think that this class tied very closely with Dr. Schwier’s concept of community.  We can’t really create community unless we understand the stories of others.  Otherwise it’s just a surface community of repeated rhetoric.  It’s like the 6:00 newscast that shows how everyone pitches in when someone is in need.  It doesn’t tell the story of others who have not been helped because their need does not fit in with the status quo.  After this class, I decided that I really needed to focus on narrative in my classroom.  It needed to be ingrained into every aspect of the curriculum.

So what does this all mean?  Outside of the fact that I obviously like to jump on the bandwagon.  It’s time to start putting this together in my practice.  That’s the point, isn’t it?  I need to take all of this knowledge and ideas and somehow implement it, effectively not ‘bandwagony’, in my classroom.  Which leads me to ‘Where I’m Going…’  Stay tuned as I try to sort this all out.  Feel free to contribute to the sorting.  It would be greatly appreciated.

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Exploring

So now I have spent some time exploring a few things: how to use this site, other blogs (based on my one comment – thanks for reading), twitter, and delicious.  I am somewhat intrigued, but mostly overwhelmed.  As an educator, I have always known that learning is not linear.  I have struggled with the age-old question of how to create linear, organized learning despite all the unknown variables.  Exploring social networking has allowed me to see not only how learning is not linear, but also how it could possibly work in an educational setting.  This has mostly created a lot of confusion for me.  So my question is, are students able to navigate through this confusion to learn something meaningful or do they just get overwhelmed as well and just scratch the surface of  the learning possibilities?

I have implemented some specific resources in my classroom.  We are presently doing an inquiry-based project in my grade 8 science class.  We are studying different aspects of the phenomenon of the feet that have been showing up off the coast of BC.  My students have created delicious accounts and are using them both for research and to share their findings with other members of the class.

However, I am still unsure of how to implement blogs and twitter into this type of inquiry.  Any suggestions?

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Hello EC&I 831 (and whoever else is interested)

So, I guess this would be my home page with a welcome and introduction.  Welcome.  As was stated in my info, I’m still not too sure about this whole blogging thing (although I do like the idea of getting all my educational bitches off my chest).  Frankly, I think my husband is tired of hearing it and I never was a ‘diary’ type.  So I may as well bite the bullet and tell the whole world.

So here’s my general issue with blogging, and twitter for that matter.  I never really felt that anyone would be that interested in hearing the idiosyncrasies of my life.  In our first eci831 session, the whole idea of ‘paying it forward’ and digital sharing was mentioned.  Although this does seem altruistic (and a possibility), I have never approached it from that point of view.  It seems rather self-centered to let people know what you’re thinking and where you are at all times.  Do others really care that much?  I generally don’t.

Okay fellow eci831ers, respond away.

NB – I made a link!

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