Surette has baseless basis for complaints.

There are few things that one can count on in this life other than death and taxes. However, here in Nova Scotia, there are a number of things we can count on almost as surely. First, when summer comes, the price of gas will go up. Second, whenever Nova Scotia Power and EMERA approach the UARB for a price hike in power rates, they will get it. And finally, at least once per week, Nova Scotians will open the daily paper and get one completely uninformed article bashing the education system.

This week’s installment from The Chronicle Herald was penned by freelance journalist Ralph Surette, and was, as many such commentaries have been of late, based on hyperbole and supposition. Surette was trying, as many have recently, to argue that the school system in Nova Scotia is failing due to “poor results” in literacy and math scores, and that these results are not worth the price we are paying for them.

Hearkening back to what he seemingly saw as the glory days of education cuts under the NDP government, Surette accused the Liberals of going “full throttle” for promising  they will be  “pumping $65 million” into the system over four years.

Not satisfied with grandly calling $65 million over four years a “full throttle” approach to education funding, Surette spent three paragraphs re-hashing the recent hysteria about teacher upgrades. When talking about tight budgets he wrote “…let suspicion fall on things like teacher upgrades in which teachers take courses at public expense then get a salary top-up when it’s completed“.  He raised the now worn out issue of the Drake University upgrades, and then hinted that perhaps no teacher upgrades have ever been valid, questioning if we have an out of control “perk system”. After all, according to Surrette, one day, some indeterminate time ago, his wife, who was working somewhere in the HRM school system, heard about this one teacher, this one time, who was reportedly maybe six months from retirement who, rumour had it, had been sent off to a course in Florida.

And we can all sleep well tonight knowing that at least Surette has a solid basis for his opinions.

I could spend several more paragraphs explaining how many ways Surette’s views represented the same old tired tripe. I could point out that the last round of testing came on the heels of two years of cuts and turmoil in the system. Perhaps teachers dealing with students who had less mental health support, less guidance support and less resource support due to cutbacks may have had more important issues to focus on than preparing the students to take a standardized test. I could also perhaps point out that relying on the expertise of someone like Bill Black to examine the education system, as Surette did in his piece, may not be in the best interest of the debate. Yes, Black may be a number cruncher, but since graduating Dalhousie in 1970 or so, the closest he has come to a public school classroom has been acting as a member of the board of governors at Dal.  Finally, at the risk of being branded a union shill, I could make the point that although the NSTU does have serving the best interests of its members as a core tenet, it also has a complementary mandate to advance the cause of public education in Nova Scotia. To claim, as Surette does, that the Teacher’s Union does not consider students’ interest is to miss the fact that the union itself is made up of teachers.

Or does Surette simply mean to imply that no teachers in this province have the best interest of students at heart?

No, I won’t go over all the ways that Ralph Surette’s piece is baseless. He is entitled to his opinions, just like the rest of us. However, I grow weary of reading the same old tired arguments every week written with misguided confidence by people who believe a system they know nothing about should change.

I welcome a debate on education and on ways to improve a tightly stretched system. But let’s, at the very least, try to get some informed opinions sitting at the table.

Author’s note: This posting is part of what has become a bit of a series with me of late; educational change is being called for by those who simply do not understand the current system. In my next blog, I will be looking at that issue as a national trend, and be asking why it seems that the public is way more likely to listen to a banker than a teacher when it comes to educational change. 




Filed under Education Policy, Educational Change, Educational commentary, Public education, Quality education, Teacher certification, Teacher upgrades, Uncategorized

7 responses to “Surette has baseless basis for complaints.

  1. I thought the same thing when I read Surette’s column. Honest to Pete…is it open season on teachers? I wrote a post in a similar vein on my blog.
    I am so very tired of unsubstantiated articles and letters to the editor being published in our local paper. Thanks for helping set the record straight.
    Happy Summer!

    • Hi Princess!
      I loved that post, by the way. And yes, I believe it is open season on teachers. It is a national trend of paranoia fuelled by such institutions as The Fraser Institute and our very own AIMS. The problem is those of us who know better do not have deep enough pockets to mount any defence of the magnitude required. I am working on an idea however. Email me sometime for some details 🙂

  2. Thanks for another great post Mr Frost!
    I wonder if, in your next blog, when you look at the national trend of calling for change in education you’ll look at the changes that are called for. I’ve been reading and listening to these calls as well but I’ve noted that the changes that are being called for are not all the same. The “experts” (often self defined) often call for a variety of changes… some of which are at odds with each other. So… my question is this: Is there an expert who can tell us to which expert we should listen??
    One commonality I’ve noticed is the call for a return to some past way of doing things. It often seems that the “expert” feels some system of the past, that has been completely abandoned, was wonderful and produced extraordinary students. It’s usually hard to define exactly what system that was… was it a system in which teens who had completed grade 11 were able to get a “permissive” teaching licence to teach those younger than them? Was it a system where those students who were deemed to be “trainable” or “educable” were separated, put in cramped classrooms and held until they were old enough to be out of school? (That’s not to say that many of the teachers ofo TMH and EMH classes weren’t pretty much close to being saints!) Perhaps these folks would like to see schools where grades P-6 were together in one room, with no assistants and no circuit specialist teachers? I think not since they are often the ones who scream when a combined classroom (two grades in one room) comes into the formula. Oh… maybe we should bring back forced use of the right hand by those who are left-handed? Certainly enough cracks with a wooden ruler will fix those who are different.
    Perhaps it’s more a matter of teacher skills than system structure? Maybe we need more teachers who read (dictate) from a history text as students are required to transcribe into scribblers… effective teaching? Or one who opts to cut out the dictation and requires students to write down notes from pages and pages of overhead transparencies… day after day… for a whole year? Or a math teacher who was excellent for the students who were excellent in math… but could/would only explain things in one way. Are these the practices that folks want to see?
    Back in the days before “outcomes based education” – which is focused on what students learn, the system was focused on what teachers taught… so if a grade 11 math teacher “taught” the material and a student made poor marks in three tests in a row… the teacher could (and did in some cases) feel there was no cause for concern because he had done his job of teaching/delivering the material. Further, if some students had been successful in those tests he could argue that he had taught the material well.
    Yes, the good old days! How could we have left all that behind? It’s difficult to determine exactly which era of “good old days” people want to resurrect in the education system… but really… is that what is required to provide a solid education to today’s youth?
    Based on letters to the editor, editorial items, a variety of comments online and so on, it seems that many of the general public would be very happy if teachers graduated from university with their BEd, slid into a classroom and never again were heard from. Upgrading is seen as some sort of unnecessary extra, attendance at conferences is a “perk”, two or three days out of 195 to complete the huge task of preparing report cards is something that parents complain about because the “kids are at home”. Would these folks attend a surgeon who hasn’t learned anything since she walked out of med school? I hope not!
    So, what is it that all these experts want to see and that all the people in the education systems are apparently completely unable to create and deliver? Perhaps, all these folks who want to see the system changed, could gather together at a conference (at their own expense of course) and develop a completly new system… that they ALL agree upon and they would all stand behind.
    Until that occurs perhaps the experts-at-a-distance will allow the people who have the jobs in schools, school boards and departments of education do their job.
    Everyone needs to remember that the world is a different place than it was 20, 20, 40 and 50 years ago… so schools need to be different places as well.

    • Thanks for the response, Sandy.
      I wonder about the “longing for yersteryear” mentality as well. I have often pointed out that many adults make value judgements on education based on their own experiences. I am certainly not alone in that. But I also like to point out that those value judgements were made while folks were teenagers. I am not sure why the majority of adults seem able to reflect on other things from their youth (choice of friends, choice of clothes, decisions made) with a critical eye, but seem unwilling to apply the same thinking to their schooling.
      Anyhow, thoughtful as always. Thanks!

  3. Hal White

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.
    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
    The neo-cons will hack away at any and all evils they see. Or perceive, Usually without any objective analysis, only subjective anecdotal screed. Trade unions, civil servants, teachers are all inherently evil and a drain on society. Easy targets, fat cats who have it too easy. So Pastor Niemöllers poem is apt. They pick away and pick away at each group, one at a time until they are all gone.

    • Hello Hal,
      Interesting analogy. If I am not mistaken, there was a recent campaign on the health care front the had a slogan something like “First they came for health care…” I truly believe, as many do, that there is a concerted and concentrated attack being undertaken against organized labour in this country. If big business can break some large unions with government help, profits will reach epic proportions. Certainly the current struggle in BC is worth watching closely. Thanks again for the comments.

  4. Pingback: 2014 : A year of educational opining. | frostededucation

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