Well, the sword of Damocles has fallen.
And it is going to leave a mark.
I am referring, of course, to Thursday’s unveiling of the Liberal government’s Education Action Plan for 2015. Now, I have questioned this entire process from the beginning, from the announcement of the make up of the panel, to the release of the survey questions to the report by the panel back to the minister. However, in the end, much like Christmas, the report has arrived, and boy, it’s a doozy.
There is enough in the report to have just about everyone in the province nodding their heads in agreement. Teachers will like the new commitment to improved discipline policies, promises of a new homework policy and a renewed commitment to technology integration. The public will cheer about a new commitment to math and improving tests scores. And business leaders will cheer the renewed promise of more skills training and co-operative learning opportunities. Heck there is even a promise of a new “Citizenship” course and a return to “Back to basics” education strategies with a focus on spelling and grammar which will have all the “In my day” folks smiling.
However, there are more than a few questions left to be answered.
For example, promises of strengthening discipline policies will be popular with teachers who are feeling more and more overwhelmed in the classroom. However, one wonders if the government will really have the political will to back those policies up when a student who is removed from school, for example, commits a high-profile crime. That policy may well be revoked faster than you can say “Archie Billard”.
Technology commitments are nice on paper, but technology costs, not just today, but every year. This year’s e-gadgets are next year’s trash. This government’s financial promises will need to be sustained, and history is not on their side on this one.
More math? Sure, sounds good, but I know that there are kids in our schools who can hardly get through the two math courses they have to take now, let alone a third. Plus, more math classes either means more money for more math teachers or fewer options outside of math. Goodbye art, dance and music? The class caps the government is promising in academic math 10 and 11 could also cause an overall negative impact in that other math classes may have to swell in number.
Finally, there are the dicey contractual issues. The suggestions of rescheduling teacher professional development days and removing principals from the NSTU stand to be some of the most contentious. And they are somewhat misplaced in the report. Neither does much to improve schools in the province, and are more about labour negotiations than education. This might leave the cynic wondering if this whole process was actually an attempt to improve learning conditions for our students or simply an attack on the teacher’s union.
It is also of some interest how forcefully the report seems to approach the idea of the teacher evaluation process. A letter of understanding has been in the Teacher’s Collective Agreement since 2012 to discuss that particular issue, and it strikes me as odd that the government seems to have focused so intently on an issue that teachers already wanted to talk about. It seems doubly strange that they wish to do so knowing full well that the responsibility for evaluating teachers lies primarily with the employer.
I guess that’s politics for you.
There is a great deal to this plan, and, as we all know, it will never be implemented in its entirety. To do so would cost too much money and take more time than this government has. As well, there will be issues with implementation that no one can currently predict; issues, that I am sure, I will find myself writing about over the next little while. However, let me leave you with this.
Regardless of how I feel about the report, I know one thing with absolute certainty. There are no easy fixes with education. Educators like myself are not unwilling to adopt change, but we must be permitted the time to do so. We must see the initiative, consider the implications for the students, and make sense of it for ourselves, our schools and our classrooms.
The last thing your children need when coming to school is for their teachers to be overwhelmed by yet another series of well intended, government initiated, poorly implemented changes that serve only a political agenda and take focus away from the kids.
There is only so much gas in anyone’s tank. Let’s make sure with this round of change, that when your child needs them, teachers aren’t running on empty.