A Final Word on Paul Bennett

About two years ago, in May of 2012, I sat down and penned what turned out to be the inaugural article for Frostededucation.com. The piece, which I had originally entitled “Paul Bennett: The Worm in the Apple” had been born out of the frustration of hearing Bennett comment upon education, seemingly every time I turned on the radio. In the piece, I called into question Mr. Bennett’s understanding of the issues, and called on Nova Scotians to consider his actual motivation for being so critical of public education, and of teachers in general. If you are interested, you may read the piece here.

I had not started out to write a blog. I had, instead, written a letter and sent it off to The Chronicle Herald. Low and behold, they actually published it as an Op-ed piece, much to my surprise. What else caught me by surprise was the massive response the piece generated. I received handshakes and “Thank yous” from teachers to whom I had barely spoken. In fact, I found out the piece was actually in the paper the morning it was published by receiving an appreciative 7:30-in-the-morning phone call from a teacher who lived in New Glasgow. It was this outpouring of support that encouraged me to start this page, and indicated that, when it came to having little use for Mr. Bennett’s views on education, I was not alone.

Over the next two years, I would write about many issues, often calling Bennett to task for questionable conclusions and a decidedly “anti-teacher” stance. Yet, despite my constant rebuttals, it seemed that Bennett never lost steam. He continued to be featured on local talk shows and in the paper, touted and feted as an “education expert”. I often pointed out that, seeing as how he had never set foot in a public school classroom in Nova Scotia, and had not taught in any public school in quite some time, he could not possibly be considered an expert in Nova Scotia education. But, that didn’t appear to matter to the media. Bennett seemed to know what he was talking about and he was decidedly anti-teacher and anti-union. Both these played well in local media markets, and, for whatever reason, few editors seemed concerned about  the validity of his claims or the accuracy of his research.

The last time I wrote about Bennett was in June of 2013. In that month, Bennett penned a review paper for AIMS on the SchoolsPlus program. In his report and ensuing newspaper articles and on-air interviews, Bennett was quite critical of the program. However,  when I read his review, I realized the report was full of errors and omissions, and several claims that, well, were simply not true. Bennett had published the piece anyway, and despite the fact that he used what appeared to me to be unsubstantiated claims and questionable research techniques, his piece was still taken as gospel by the local media.

I took some time to speak to several folks involved in SchoolsPlus initiative, and then wrote a rebuttal, to which Bennett replied. Calling me, at one point “The NSTU’s faithful spinner”, Bennett attempted to, paragraph by paragraph, show that it was I, not he, who did not know what I was talking about. Even when I published a letter from Kay Crinean, the independent consultant who had reviewed SchoolsPlus, supporting my views, Bennett remained unmoved. He insisted that he was right, despite the evidence to the contrary.

So, I gave up on debunking Bennett for awhile. He was obviously going to say and print what he wanted, ethics be damned, and the local media was going to continue to lap up every word, either not bothering to or not caring about checking his facts.

So that is why, when a friend of mine sent me Bennett’s latest report for AIMS, this one on standards in the teaching profession released last week, I almost didn’t read it. I didn’t need someone who I felt had such obviously low professional standards lecturing me on mine. But, of course, I am now glad I did.

The report, as we have all heard by now, is again  full of errors and omissions, and several claims that, well, are, again, simply not true. And this time, these errors are so fundamental, so glaringly obvious, that even Bennett will have little room for spin.

For example, in the report, in an attempt to undermine teachers, Bennett states “Professional development of teachers in Nova Scotia remains the exclusive  preserve of the NSTU”, which is, of course, not true. Most of that responsibility lies with the school boards. Elsewhere in the report, in a cry for higher standards for teachers, Bennett calls for the introduction of regular teacher assessments every five to seven years. Again, a fairly glaring mistake, as teachers here in HRSB, at least, are assessed every three years. Most obvious of all, he calls for the re-assigning of the responsibility for teacher discipline from the NSTU to the DOE, apparently unaware that the responsibility for teacher discipline lies with schools boards, not the NSTU. Even the Minister of Education had to weigh in on that one.

Now, in typical Bennett fashion, when confronted with his own ignorance of the system, he told The Chronicle Herald:

“There’s confusion about who does what. At every level, there’s confusion…We couldn’t get a straight answer from anybody…”

Well, someone’s confused, I’ll give you that.

You know, of further interest in all of this is that AIMS, the organization who bankrolled this report, has at least three University Presidents on their various boards and councils. I wonder how they are feeling right now, knowing that the organization they support proudly is fronted in the public by someone who can’t figure out that it is probably not a great idea to publish a policy paper on a topic about which you can find no “straight” answers.

Even more interesting is how the parents of the kids who attend those Universities are feeling about the whole thing. If this is the type of work that is endorsed by the University President, parents may do well to consider what else is allowed to pass under the name of Academic Research.

Bennett has shown himself to be remarkably slick at deflecting criticism, and his career, both as a professor and a commentator may actually survive this. One way or the other, however, I am done with him. I suspect that the NSTU is as well. Although not sitting particularly well with some teachers, the NSTU has remained silent, refusing to comment on the issue. And, really, it’s hard to find fault with that stance. I mean, why would the NSTU reply to a report that, for the most part, the author seems to have simply made up?

Yes, Bennett may survive, but I will tell you this much. I certainly will pay him no more heed. If he appears on a radio show, I will turn it off. If his commentary appears in a paper, I will put it down. And I would encourage others to take a similar approach.

Because, seriously, any media outlet that considers someone who authors a piece like this deserving of the title “expert in education”  is not worth my attention.

As far as education in Nova Scotia is concerned, it is time for Paul Bennett to take his final bow.

(I will be speaking at this year’s Emergent2014 on the topic of teacher autonomy. If you would like to join me, you can register here.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 Comments

Filed under Educational Change, Public education, Quality education, Standards, Uncategorized

7 responses to “A Final Word on Paul Bennett

  1. bbowers

    Bow Bennett, close the curtain and get off the stage.

  2. Brian Wong

    Well said. I appreciate and enjoy your view of Paul Benett’s work. It is obvious that he has no idea of what is really going on in the NS public education system. Thank you for making it real and for being the true voice of education in NS.

  3. Bravo Mr Frost! I recently wrote a note to CBC asking why they turn to Mr Bennett every time they need any input on education related items. No reply. I suggested that CBC and the Chronicle Herald needed to break ties with this man. More recently I read a column by Mr Bennett which included his herald.ca email address… disappointingly indicating to me that he is now even more closely aligned with that publication. Mr Bennett lists himself as a Director of Schoolhouse Consulting. A quick review of the Registry of Joint Stock Companies of NS reveals that he is in fact Director, President, Secretary and Recognized Agent. I suspect he may also be the janitor – that position isn’t reported though. His newspaper items carry the additional distinction of Adjunct Professor of Education at Saint Mary’s University. This should ring some alarms with anyone in the area of Education in NS since we all know Saint Mary’s doesn’t have an Education program and hasn’t for many years. I recently looked into that more closely and learned that while SMU has no education program they do have an Education Department – of one person and one course. I also learned what “adjunct” means… An adjunct professorship carries with it some advantages like being able to access the institution’s library and maybe supervising students, it does NOT indicate that the individual instructs in a course, though it does allow the individual to apply for funding/grants which may flow through the institution. So… claiming adjunct professorship at a university which has no Education Program and ALMOST no Education Department… well, it just doesn’t seem to be much of a claim to me.
    So, I’m also wondering when the media will set aside Mr Bennett as a lead consultant and move on to people who have facts and experience in our system for input.

    • You know, I always thought the “Founding Director” thing a bit odd myself. The address on the website seems to be a house in the South End that is not zoned for a business, so it seems to be just him in his basement. I guess, by those parameters, I am “The Founding Director” of Frostededucation.com. I wonder if I can get my wife to refer to me as “Director Frost”?
      Great input, as always, Mr. MacDougall. Thanks for reading!

  4. Albert Johnson

    very well said Grant . I get upset whenever I see the drivel he is able to have circulated in the Chronicle Herald , Thank you again Grant for showing one and all how untrue his pronouncements on education really are – now if only the CH would get rid of him and his foolishness ! A Retied Teacher S Albert Johnson

  5. Mark Griffiths

    I found the CBC program, The Current, airing on Sept. 6th was most interesting. It brought up very salient points pro and con “Homework”. Much of what Paul Bennett said had value but the fact that he did not mention teachers, dedicated creative educators, as being the most important factor in this equation, spoke volumes to me!
    I am a former teacher who taught at LCC from 1978 until 2005. Dr. Bennett was my last Headmaster, and the one that caused Lower Canada College teaching staff great angst. Paul Bennett may have had a brilliant mind, and have been an accomplished author but…..his interpersonal skills and esteem for teachers were sadly lacking.
    The tensions and demoralizing conditions created under his watch were instrumental in my taking early retirement in 2005. What had been a very meaningful and rewarding career had diametrically changed. LCC is still among the top private schools in Montreal. It has recovered from the impersonal, dehumanizing policies under Dr. Bennett.
    What was most provocative about the CBC program was that I agreed with most of what Paul Bennett said. Our school hired him in 2001 believing we would be well lead. He did not value our wonderful staff as the fine teachers and devoted professionals we were.
    As soon as his first 4 year contract ended, he was no longer appreciated and moved to the Halifax area.

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