A look ahead to 2018

As an educational blogger, I usually dedicate a few hours over the holidays to writing a retrospective on the year that was, and this year was no exception. However, 2017 was such a monster of a year in regards to education that even leaving some stories out of the mix, the piece rapidly became a bit unwieldy for print anywhere other than my own blog site.

So, I thought that for this year, I might take a stab at something more predictive. Thus, I pulled my crystal ball out of the attic, lit some incense, and sat down to peer into the future that will be 2018.

Here then, in no particular order, are my picks for the top 5 stories that will make educational headlines this year.

1) The Glaze Report.

This one is a fairly safe bet to be the first big edu-story of 2018. A few months ago, following up on an election promise, the Nova Scotia Liberals hired international educational consultant Dr. Avis Glaze to conduct a review of our education system. The review is focussed specifically on the administrative side of things, and although Dr. Glaze indicated she had no preconceived notions around changes to our system, it is doubtful that she as come here to not enact something significant. The report should be released within the next few days, and could very well set the tone for the remainder of the year.

2) Continued teacher shortages.

Towards the end of 2017, it was announced that the Halifax Regional School Board would be looking to hire non-certified people to work as substitute teachers. This is not unprecedented, certainly. Other boards have been forced to turn to non-qualified personnel to fill in when no qualified substitutes were available, particularly in some of our more rural areas. This decision, however, is notable by a matter of magnitude. HRSB has approximately 140 schools, and employs somewhere in the vicinity of 40% of the teachers in the province. The inability of this body to find enough, well, bodies, should have us all sitting up and paying attention, and could become a major concern.

3) The legalization of marijuana.

This one makes my list with a little less certainty, but is one that has some pretty serious implications. That students smoke pot in school is hardly a revelation, to be sure, but I have to turn my mind to how legalization will impact our education system overall. Will increased accessibility and acceptance lead to more students coming to school high, or will it have the opposite effect? I can count on the fingers of one hand how many students I have encountered over the years that have come to school under the influence of alcohol, but I would not even be able to hazard a guess as to how many times I have had to deal with students who were high. When it comes to the conversation around legalization, this is one area where dialogue has been sorely lacking. It is one thing to look at how prepared our law enforcement agencies are for the first of July, but I am concerned that we have not yet turned our minds to how prepared our schools are for the first of September.

4) The Commission on Inclusive Education.

The Commission on Inclusive Education was set up as a result of the teachers’ strike of 2017, and is, for my money at least, one bright light to come out of a fairly dismal situation. The commission had a fairly ambitious mandate to develop a strategic plan for improving the current model of inclusion in Nova Scotia, and to prepare a final report on the topic by March 20th. Whether the changes are positive or not will, of course, be a matter of opinion, and the report will undoubtedly generate a great deal of discussion around the topic of inclusion.

5) And then there are the lawyers.

Although I may be being a bit premature, there are a number of legal cases that are in front of the courts which may make for some major headlines in 2018. Certainly, with all the precedent that has been set nationwide, we may see a decision on the Bill 148 challenge sooner rather than later. Although I may not quite be ready to hold my breath for a resolution by year’s end, we should at least have an update on the proceedings at some point. If, by some strange twist, a decision is reached, then this stands to be the biggest story of the year.

Another legal decision that will bear watching will be that of the Drake University debacle. Although an arbitrator has determined that the government  was wrong to rescind the pre-approval for license upgrades from teachers who had been taking courses from Drake, the remedy still remains a matter of question. Although this will undoubtedly pale in comparison to any decision on Bill 148, it will be interesting to see if this story-that-will-not-die will again make headlines.

As with any major milestone, the return to classes after the holiday break has always held a promise of hope. Teachers and students alike are often refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to buckle down through the winter months and get some serious learning done. However, although certainly not positioned to be anything like 2017, 2018 does begin on a rather foreboding note.

If nothing else, I feel pretty confident in predicting that it will be anything but boring.

Even without my crystal ball.

Originally published, with edits, in The Chronicle Herald, January 3rd, 2018.

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