Schools Plus gets an “F”? I’m glad Paul Bennett isn’t teaching my kid.

In his latest series of rantings, which  have included blog posts, AIMS reports, newspaper articles and radio interviews, self-proclaimed researcher Paul Bennett has seen fit to attack the SchoolsPlus initiative with his usual misguided fervor. For those of you who have not been following, SchoolsPlus is a relatively new initiative from the DOE which is starting to make inroads into helping struggling kids and their families access the services they need from a variety of agencies. The theory is that the  various schools boards around the province have chosen  a group of schools to start as the SchoolsPlus development model.  These schools get a SchoolsPlus facilitator and SchoolsPlus outreach workers who set up programming that is tailor-made to each community. Together, they work with community agencies in an attempt to better connect resources with those in need, particularly in the area of mental health. In early June, Bennett penned what he referred to as a “comprehensive” and “fair” report about the progress of the program for The Atlantic Institute of Market Studies, and then proceeded by any and all means to promote it.
His report was, it turns out, neither comprehensive nor fair. It was, in fact and on many points, downright wrong. 
Let’s begin with the piece he wrote for The Chronicle Herald on June 21 which relied heavily on his own report. In it, he criticized the SchoolsPlus program for “… limiting public access (to public school facilities) to regular school hours.”  Accepting that access to buildings is not even in their control, a quick look over the SchoolsPlus web site shows numerous activities that actually are taking place in schools across the province, both during school hours and after. 
So strike one for Paul.
In the same piece  he suggested that SchoolsPlus should engage “… with new, less familiar community development partners, like Pathways to Education.” Had he bothered to check, he would have discovered that there is already a partnership there. In fact the Chebucto Pathways to Education partnered up with Schools Plus just this past May to host a two-day workshop on mentoring boys and young men.
Strike two.
Finally, he concludes that expanding the program without assessing its success “does not bode well for the entire venture.”  Wrong again. The Schools Plus Program has been evaluated for success every year since its inception, using input from a wide variety of sources including parents, students, a steering committee, and three independent external evaluators.
Strike three.
There are other errors, in his article, in his report and in some of his on-air commentary. Most notable of these is his continuing reference to what he calls “a failing grade”  given by the external review team to the larger “transformative” goals of SchoolsPlus. Those goals are not actually even supposed to be anywhere near achieved until at least five years from now, and the program, to its credit, has made positive inroads in one of those areas already.  But what gets me the most is not the poor content. It is the target of his attack that is so irksome.
The SchoolsPlus program has received rave reviews from many sectors, and the “common consent form” that they have developed is actually being considered for adoption by other jurisdictions. In the past, those seeking services would need consent from a wide variety of service providers, such as mental health, probation, community services etc. This was exceedingly difficult for those most in need of service, and there have been attempts in the past to get this goal accomplished. None has succeeded before SchoolsPlus.
As one can imagine, seemingly “small from the outside” achievements such as these have made a tremendous difference in individual lives, and even within the short-term of its existence the individual stories of success are many. Bennett, in his report, scoffs at this individualized approach. Citing what he calls “private mutterings” he writes:
Giving hungry children lunch money, paying for their summer camps or driving parents to the local food bank do meet those immediate crying needs, but they also do little to help break the cycle of poverty and social service dependency.” Bennett, 2013
SchoolsPlus is also, by its very nature, a program that helps those most at risk, and those most likely to be turned off a hopeful program by negative press that sounds knowledgeable, but is, for the most part, tripe. It would not be quite as bad if Bennett were not constantly using the tragedy of Rehtaeh Parson’s suicide as a means of pushing his views.  In an interview with a local radio station on June 26th, Bennett managed to allude to her death as evidence that the program was not working. Again, if he had bothered to check, he would have realized that the program was actually not in place in any of the schools Rahtaeh attended. Indeed, one of the main points of the program is to try to prevent such senseless loss from happening again.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to me what kind of researcher Paul Bennett is, or that he seems to be wrong about some basic facts, or even that he apparently can’t read a report card. I’m not signing his paycheque, nor is he teaching my child. However, the SchoolsPlus program is working. I just hope that in his latest grasp for glory, Bennett hasn’t caused some of those in need to turn away from a very promising helping hand. 
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7 Comments

Filed under Bullying, Educational Change, Public education, Quality education, Troubled youth

7 responses to “Schools Plus gets an “F”? I’m glad Paul Bennett isn’t teaching my kid.

  1. Bravo Grant! Excellent points and very well said!

  2. Thanks AE. Bennet really was off the rails on this one. Can’t imagine why local media outlets continue to consider him as a reliable source.

    • debbie

      Wonderful response Grant…unfortunate that Bennett isn’t as thorough a researcher and as open and honest with the facts!

  3. It’s sometimes hard for them to get real experts so they need to lean on self-professed experts. Similar to the military “expert” they use all the time and have for years. Anyone with enough confidence can call themselves an expert.

  4. N. Comeau

    It boggles the mind that news organisations continue to use this man as their “expert”. Perhaps it is time to ask how credible these people are. Great job as usual Grant.

  5. What bothers me more than the lack of credibility from these experts is the lack of any other voice in the local media. Thanks for positive response, N.

  6. Kay Crinean

    Thanks for your intelligent comments. My letter to the Chronicle Herald in response to the Bennett opinion piece was not published. Here it is:
    To: The Editor
    The Chronicle Herald
    23 June, 2013

    Re. Mr Paul Bennett’s opinion piece on SchoolsPlus in Saturday’s Chronicle Herald

    As the principal evaluator of SchoolsPlus over its first three years of existence (2009-2012), I was interested to read Mr Bennett’s opinions about it. I am pleased to see that he acknowledges that it is “a worthwhile provincial initiative” and that “over the past three years, inter-departmental service co-operation has increased, particularly in established SchoolsPlus hub sites.” We concur with that conclusion. Our findings also included the following:
    • Access to services and programs has increased and more youth are being reached
    • Families feel better supported— SchoolsPlus provides a bridge between schools and families
    • Increased emphasis on preventative and supportive programming is changing school cultures
    • Schools welcome improved links with services and increased supports for students
    • Service-providers state that SchoolsPlus has helped them a lot in their ability to serve the needs of children, youth and families, and that it helps to provide access to schools and youth, provides support for youth and families “falling through the cracks”, and increases preventative interventions.
    • School administrators report that students participating in programs or services coordinated and organized by SchoolsPlus are doing better, and students report that school has become more important in their lives.

    These findings were based upon large amounts of data gathered each year. For example in the third year alone we surveyed 63 school administrators, 83 service providers (public and community-based) and 1200 students; we interviewed 35 individuals (including students, parents, school administrators, and senior level government officials); conducted 9 focus groups with community partners and local service-providers, and three focus groups with students. We visited each SchoolsPlus site twice and attended many regional and province-wide progress meetings and reviewed monthly reports from all SchoolsPlus sites, and samples of case notes from all sites. We gathered data about student progress from a variety of reports. Parents and caregivers made many positive comments, such as these examples taken from our final report (Mr Bennett was provided with all three of our reports).

    “SchoolsPlus is providing programming for my girl and also helping me to find a job so that I can be more independent and can take care of my kids better.”(Parent, 2012)

    “Without SchoolsPlus we would not have gotten through this school year. Last year SchoolsPlus was not available and it was a hard year for us. There was no extra help. This year is above and beyond—much better” (Parent, 2012).

    “Before I was doing everything alone and now I have a team. It has changed everything and I feel a lot of relief” (Caregiver, 2011).

    Mr Bennett expressed concern that SchoolsPlus was not involving community-based and grass-roots organizations. This is not the case: SchoolsPlus, whose purpose is to coordinate and facilitate the provision of integrated services and programming to all children and youth (not only the 5-10-% who are at serious risk) works with a wide variety of local community organizations including Big Brothers/ Big Sisters and Pathways to Education. The community partners involved vary from site to site, as one would expect from an approach designed to respond to local conditions.

    Mr Bennett also expressed concern about “limiting public access to regular school hours”. While this is the case in some schools, it is not the case in many others across the province, and our findings show that extended hours and summer programming have increased considerably in many sites across the province as a result of Schools Plus.

    We state in our report that SchoolsPlus, while it has accomplished a great deal, still has a way to go before true integration of services, schools and communities is achieved: this is a long term goal requiring a culture change for everyone from families to schools to community organizations, services and government, and progress is being made towards it. We do not agree with Mr Bennett’s suggestion that expansion of SchoolsPlus should be halted or delayed. We have seen evidence that the change in culture among schools and service-providers towards a more truly “wrap-around” approach to children, youth and families is accelerated as it is expanded. By making this the norm across whole regions, school boards and the province, instead of only being available in selected areas, the pace of change will quicken.

    Kay Crinean

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