Jun 122014
 

iStock_000010622696SmallWhenever there is a labour conflict between Teachers and Government all the mythology that surrounds the teaching profession begins to swirl about

Every myth ever conjured about teachers by child or adult is suddenly used to twist together a bizarre caricature. The image of teacher is transformed into that of an immoral, greedy, freakish demon which needs to be put in its place for the good of the children. To that end, the Government is inevitably called upon to exorcise the beast and the demon teacher is legislated back to work.

I have managed to survive two rounds of demonization and legislated exorcism in my career and I figure I am destined to survive another but In the meantime, lets take a look at some of the myths society uses to shape their concept of ‘teacher’ in both good times and bad.

Myth #1: Teachers never leave the school.

I think everyone at some point in their young grade school lives, figured their teachers never left the school. I still remember standing dumbfounded when I saw my grade 1 teacher out and about in the community one Saturday. I still remember asking   “Mom! Why is Mrs. MacDonald out of the school?

Myth #2: Those who can’t do, teach

I would say this is the most famous and perhaps most resilient myth out there about teachers but ultimately it is a falsehood.

In my 18 years a teacher I have worked with a former olympic athlete, a CFL lineman, a world-class marathoner, lawyers, a fire fighter, a former military officer, a professional dancer, a touring musician, authors and a myriad of other talented and wonderful people who have come to teaching for any number of reasons.

What is perhaps more inspirational are those who went straight into teaching because THAT is what they wanted to do more than anything else in this world. It is these teachers that are the foundation of our school system and to speak ill of them is tantamount to speaking ill of Gandhi, God or Gershwin.

Myth #3: Teachers are not as well-educated as people in other professions.

Let me just start with this. What a load of stinky horse manure.

90% of the teachers I work with have Masters degrees. Of that 90% most have 3 degrees. A number of teachers I have worked with over the years have had PhD’s and one of my colleagues is finishing up a PhD from Oxford. So if you think this myth to be true… You might want to reassess your definition of education.

Myth #4: Teachers don’t have children of their own.

Even as a Sr. High School teacher I get looks of amazement or an audible “Ew gross!”, when students learn I have children of my own. It is as if there is this belief that teachers take and oath of celibacy or are surgically sterilized as part of some ritualistic initiation into the teaching profession.

Honest, many of us have children and we know what it is like on both sides of the playground fence.

See #Thisismystrikepay for further evidence that we procreate.

Myth #5: Teachers don’t care about kids!

Lets just stop and think about that for a second… Yah you are right. That one is just an outright stupid myth.

Myth #6: Teachers don’t understand how difficult job action is on families

Refer to myth #4

Myth #7: A good teacher can be effective regardless of circumstance.

This myth is a favourite amongst those who are looking to ‘reform’ the education and justify cutting teacher wages, taking away teacher benefits or changing conditions of employment. They say things like “If we had better teachers, our school system wouldn’t be in decline” or “The reason Finland has such a GREAT education system is that they have better teachers”

On the surface it is easy to get on board with this myth and say “YAH! If only we had better teachers!” and as flattering as it is to have people thinking that teachers are capable of overcoming massive class sizes, lack of resources, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues, family discord, eating disorders, physical abuse, hunger, medical conditions, bad parenting, learning disabilities… All without any help. It isn’t going to happen.

As fantastic of a teacher as I think I am, there are just some kids I cannot help within the confines of a classroom without the proper supports in place outside of the classroom.

Myth #8: Teachers are not as good as they use to be.

Let’s be honest. Teaching back in the day was a piece of cake. There was nowhere near the complexities in the classrooms of the past that we see in our classrooms today.

If you grew up in Canada and are over 40, your school experience was more than likely very WASP’Y. There was no diversity of any kind when I was a kid. There was no such thing as ESL and if there was, it wasn’t in my school. Learning disabled kids went to a “special school” or they dropped out. Bad kids were eventually kicked out.  The curriculum was simple and straight forward. There was no special adaptations or deadline extensions.  All anyone needed to do in order to pass was to be present, polite and have a pulse. Life and teaching was simple back in the day, today not so much.

Myth #9: Teachers don’t care about taxpayers!

Lets see… Last I recall, I get a whack of money taken off my pay cheque just like everyone else in this world and it is called income tax. I guess that makes me a tax payer just like everyone else.

Of course we care about the tax payer because you and I are getting hammered to death with rising fees and rates to compensate for the corporate tax cuts the Government handed out when they came to power. This whole mess we have before us today is because of taxes and the lack or misappropriation of said taxes.

Myth #10: Teachers get paid through the summer.

One of the very first conversations I ever had about the teaching profession after I graduated was based on this myth. No I do not get paid during summer. I get paid over 10 months, September through June. Some teachers choose to have their pay distributed over a 12 month period so they have some income over summer but we get paid for a 10 month period.

Myth #11: Teachers can collect unemployment benefits over the summer.

There was a time way back before I was a teacher that this nice little perk was true (in some jurisdictions). Today however, if you have a job to return to in September (Continuing Contract), you cannot collect UI.

If you have a Temporary Contact and do not have a job to return to in September you can collect Unemployment benefits and the tax payer is funding your summer. The irony here is that the Province would like to be able to run the education system as if all teachers were temporary teachers. This would end up costing Tax Payers far more than what the current system does because the Province would be on the hook for paying 40,000 teachers during the school year and paying unemployment benefits for 40,000 teachers over the summer months as well.

Myth #12: Teachers qualify for a full pension after five years. 

This fallacy comes from the way a teacher’s pension is calculated. Even my family seems to think this is a truth. “Boy must be nice to qualify for a full pension already!”  Is the usual summer time backyard barbecue refrain.

Teachers qualify for a full pension after reaching a factor of 90. (Years of Teaching + Age = 90). This qualifies you for a full pension and your income is based on the income of your best five years.

Myth #13: The teachers pension pays you 100% of working income and all their health benefits for as long as they live.

Don’t I wish! If a teacher reaches factor 90 they can collect 70% of their working income during their retirement years. Health benefits are not paid once the teacher reaches 65.

Myth #14: As a tax payer, I am paying for every last cent of a teacher’s retirement.

I could see how people would be annoyed by a teacher’s retirement package if this were true but the teachers’ pension is 80% fully funded. This means that 12 billion dollars worth of investments, managed through a joint trusteeship between the BCTF and the Provincial Government generate enough revenue to cover 80% of the payouts to retired teachers.

The remaining 20% is funded jointly between tax payers and teachers but the ultimate goal is to make the teachers pension entirely self funding so absolutely nothing comes out of the tax payers pocket. In fact it would be in the taxpayers best interest to ensure this pension fund does become self funding rather than seeing it dismantled.

Myth #15: Teachers can’t be fired.

Well I hate to break it to you but since I have been teaching, I have seen a number of teachers dismissed and it didn’t really seem all that difficult to send them packing. If the union was standing in the way, it acted as more of a door mat than an obstacle

What people don’t seem to understand is that there is a process for dismissing teachers and this process is there to protect everyone involved. Contrary to popular belief, to have a system that allows teachers to be fired on a whim is neither ethical or practical and can result in more harm being done than good.

 

There you go. 15 common myths about teachers that are just a bunch of bunk. So next time you are talking to the demon in your child’s classroom, remember their horns and devilish red skin are probably made up of myths.

Jun 022014
 

The slow grading economic attrition of the working class in BC is closing in on a breaking point. When the BC Liberals came into power in 2001 they promised sunshine and roses for everyone through tax cuts and bountiful work. Their campaign slogan may as well have been “Vote for us and you will be oozing money in no time!” but alas that promise never came to fruition and now the arrival date of our sunshine and roses has been pushed to some unspecified date beyond 2017.

Since the BC Liberal landslide over the BC NDP – 13 years 17 days ago (and counting), I can honestly say I do not know a single working class family that is better off today than they were on that momentous day. In fact most are worse off and falling deeper down a rabbit hole of debt and despair. The promises made in the 2001 haven’t come close to their billing and the working class families I run with, are having to cope with a stark decline in their standard of living.

How people are dealing with the economic abyss the BC Liberals have created varies. Some people I know have left or are leaving the province, others have downsized living spaces but most of the changes people face fall into the grin, bear and cut costs category. The one car family is coming back into vogue (not necessarily a bad thing); Families are dialling back on extra curricular activities for their children; Vacations are spent close to home; dining out is not as frequent… Essentially the middle class lifestyle in British Columbia is drying up.

So why is this a big deal you may ask? People cutting back on the consumerism of the past 30 years is a good thing and I agree! The problem here is that all this fiscal restraint isn’t part of any kind of back to basics, common sense economic movement. It is the direct result of BC Liberal’s piss poor economic policy which is actively eroding the spending power of BC’s working class.

You would think that someone who has been gainfully employed since 2001,  shouldn’t have to cut back on their child’s extra curricular activities or worse, leave the province because they simply can’t afford to fork out any more after tax income but this is what is happening.

Clark has always been a bit of a miser, especially when it comes to the Public Service but recently she has spoken repeatedly about the need to keep wages low for other British Columbians as well. Clark doesn’t seem to understand that in order to have a healthy economy and a healthy community, people need to have money to spend on things other than their mortgage, utility bills and groceries.

“Clark said she’s concerned raising the minimum wage from its current $10.25 an hour could hurt job creation, even though Sinclair has said it isn’t enough for people to make ends meet.” - Vancouver Province, March 2014

“The premier is predicting B.C.’s liquefied natural gas industry will soon be competing for labour with Alberta’s oil patch and Saskatchewan’s potash industry, and says she’s concerned about rising wages.” - Canada.com, March 2014

“We can’t build an industry in our province or in this country if we see wages, if we see huge wage inflation.” - Vancouver Province, March 2014

To prop up her rhetoric, Christy Clark ensured she would be able to utilize Temporary Foreign Workers in an effort to keep wages low as she moves ahead with her LNG plans in Northern British Columbia.

OTTAWA — B.C.’s natural resources sector, including the budding liquefied natural gas industry, was declared to be in Canada’s strategic interests Monday as part of a non-binding federal-provincial deal that includes a commitment to encourage the active use of the Temporary Foreign Worker program. - Vancouver Sun, March 2014

Now I am not saying run away wages are a necessarily a good thing but the reality is, British Columbians need to be able to make a wage that reflects the cost of living in this Province. If wages are going to continue be actively suppressed by government, the only people that will remain in this province will be the wealthy and legions of temporary foreign workers

Downloading of costs

The other element of the income attrition workers in BC are experiencing is the downloading of costs onto the public. When the BC Liberals were voted in back in 2001 they promised the lowest personal tax rates in Canada and to the delight of many British Columbians they delivered. What the BC Liberals replaced taxation with however, is the never-ending increase of fees that tap the remaining after tax income from workers wallets.

Education

From the outset, Christy Clark has been systematically dismantling BC’s public education system and downloading cost of educating our children to the parents.

As much as people love to side with the government and malign teachers, what seems to be forgotten is that the public education system is the education system of the working class. For most, it is the only means by which to affordably educate our children. Because of chronic underfunding over the past 13 years, School Districts have been forced to cut back on funding for programs and services for children of working class families.

What school districts then have to do is download the cost of what is no longer funded, directly to parents. Course fees, supply fees, band fees, lab fees, sports fees… Even the cost of critically important services such as psycho educational testing has been downloaded to parents. If you want your child tested in a timely manner, you have to fork out the money for a private assessment because these services have been cut to the point where kids are on waiting lists for a year or more before they are seen by an educational psychologist.

The BC Liberals will tell parents that there is plenty of money to go around. “it is just a matter of schools being more efficient, accountable and innovative to make their funding go further” but the reality is that the BC Liberals have intentionally downloaded the cost of educating working class children, directly onto their working class parents.

Fee & Rate Increases 

Since 2001 there have been a slew of other costs that working British Columbians have had to bare and all of them together more than make up for any tax break the BC Liberals have handed out since their election

BC Hydro - 36% rate increase since 2001 – 2013 and an additional 26% increase through 2016

MSP Premiums - 85% increase since 2001 costing the average family an additional $736 a year for the average working class family

BC Ferries - 70% increase on major routes and 80% increase on minor routes since 2001

ICBC - 27.6% increase in basic vehicle insurance since 2001 ranking BC as the 2nd highest in Canada for Automobile Insurance

University Tuition - 100% increase in tuition to British Columbia’s post secondary institutions since 2001.

Cost of Running the BC Legislature - 94% increase to keep our MLA’s plump and satisfied while screwing over the BC public

How long the BC Liberals figure they can keep up this pattern of holding down wages while downloading costs to the good people of BC is anyone’s guess. Perhaps my biggest concern is that there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. Christy doesn’t seem to have any plan to improve the standard of living for the workers of BC beyond her new pet project, Liquid Natural Gas. Even if all of Christy’s LNG plans do go through I am not sure we can afford another 13 years and 17 days (and counting) of BC Liberal Rule.

May 232014
 

So I got called greedy today.

I was driving to work, turned on the radio and lo and behold! The melodic sound of Christy Clark’s voice filled the passenger cabin. Apparently she is on another Sound Bytes Over Facts media tour and I was lucky enough to flip her off… I mean flip her on, just as she was calling teachers “GREEDY!”

After getting a hold of myself and resisting the urge to drive into oncoming traffic, I began to wonder. How much does a MLA cost as compared to a teacher?

We are constantly hearing how much teachers want and how much teachers cost but who costs more? Who gives the biggest bang for the tax payers buck?

Now my approach to this calculation is going to be crude, I am not going to itemize facility costs, support staff cost, supply costs. I am just going to take the total cost to run the Legislature and the total cost to run the School System and break it down on a per MLA and per Teacher basis, as if MLA’s and Teachers pocket the whole budget. So here goes nothing.

Since BC Liberals took power total MLA compensation and Legislature operational costs rose from $36 Million to $70 Million. That is a whopping 94% increase to do business in just 11 years. To add insult to injury, in 2013 MLA’s sat for only 36 days.

Tyee Spending Costs Explode
CBC No Fall Legislative Session
Globe & Mail BC Legislature Sits 36 of 572 Days
Globe & Mail Liberals, NDP Back Speaker

Compare this the operational costs of BC Schools, which went from 3.6 Billion to 4.7 billion in the same period of time. That is a 30% increase to run and organization that is 352 times bigger than the Legislature.

2001/02 funding 
2012/13 funding 

Greedy Tax Suckers
Cost To Do Business
Increase Since 2001
Number of Greedy
Days
In Session
Daily Greed Index
MLA's$70,000,00094%8536$22,000 : 1
Teachers$4,700,000,00030%30,000186$842 : 1

Although there is a segment of the population who will read this and immediately jump to the tired old refrain of “Quit your whining and get to work”. My hope that my readers who are remotely rational, will see the absurdity of a someone like Christy Clark saying “Teachers cost too much, teachers are greedy”, when she is sucking off the tax payer’s teat harder than anyone.

So this is my message to Ms. Clark.

Before you go pointing a finger at someone and calling them greedy, perhaps you should check your narcissism at the door and realize there are three other fingers on your hand pointing directly back at you.

It is people like Christy who give politicians a bad name

Note: These numbers are based on a simple Internet search. If someone has more accurate numbers, please share.

May 132014
 

Wait!!! Before you click away, I know what you are asking. “Why in gods name are you comparing British Columbia and Finnish education system? That is a tired 1-string banjo you are playing and no one wants to hear it.“ and I completely agree with you BUT this is different… I promise.

This post was born from a Twitter conversation with one of British Columbia’s finest politicians @MaryForBC. The gist of which was, I complained about the @bcliberals and their education funding policies and @MaryForBC countered with pleasant 140 character “Golly gee Keith, things aren’t that bad!” (I paraphrase)

During the discussion someone threw Finland into the mix as a foil to highlight all #BCED shortcomings. Then, @MaryForBC countered with a predictable insult, suggesting the main reason the Finnish system is so good is that they choose their teachers from the top third of students whereas BC Teachers are chosen from the bottom third… and so it went.

@MaryForBC did however; open the door for a broader conversation about the differences between Finland and BC. Tweeting that: “I think it is all worth looking at” So just for fun I collected some data.Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 11.56.17 AM

Please understand that I do not intend this to be the final word on the subject, just a conversation starter. I realize I am trying to compare a Nation to a Province but even so, I feel the comparison is still compelling. In compiling the information shared in the table, I had to look here there and everywhere so it is a bit of a hodgepodge but I am confident that all the data is accurate. I will update should I find better information.

In the comparison, I do not look at just school related items. I take a look at the bigger picture, specifically the economies of each. The similarities between Finland and British Columbia are really quite surprising. Population, exports, income levels are all relatively similar. When you are looking at the side-by-side comparison in the table that follows, try to consider how the similarities and the differences play out in the respective school systems.

What I found most surprising in all these numbers was the unemployment rates of these two jurisdictions. Finland has a higher rate of unemployment than British Columbia yet it’s rate of childhood poverty is just slightly over half of what BC’s is. When it comes to children in classrooms poverty is an extraordinarily important measure. There is no amount of teaching skill that can overcome the immediate effects of poverty and Finland seems to realize this.

Another difference I found interesting was actually in a similarity. The difference came in how teachers’ unions are viewed in each jurisdiction. In British Columbia the teachers’ union is viewed as the spawn of Satan, whereas in Finland the teachers’ union is seen as a partner in education with which government has a cooperative relationship.

Beyond the aforementioned, what this comparison illustrates to me is that Finland seems to see value in supporting all their citizens and their education system is only a small part of a social and economic system that works toward this end. To simply credit the success of Finland’s education system on the way they train their teachers, as @MaryForBC did, is astoundingly myopic.

I would hope that this comparison instead, illustrates that the current state of BC’s education system is not a simple matter of teachers not doing their job or being greedy but instead is the result of choices our government(s) has made. Choices that do not put all citizens on an equal footing. Choices that do not even come close to showing the kind of egalitarianism that Finland shows toward its citizens.

 
British Columbia
Finland
Education Comparison
Teaching CredentialsBachelorsMasters
University Tuition5 - 6K per yearNO COST
Professional DevelopmentTeacher directed & out of pocketTeacher directed - State funded
Professional AutonomyUnder AttackVery High
Teacher OrganizationUnionizedUnionized
Teacher EvaluationContract drivenContract driven
School Governance60 School DistrictsManaged by Municipalities
# of Public school Students549,836600,000
# Private Schools347 (2012)NO for profit private schools
Req Classroom Hours850 – 950592
Instructional Days186180
Class Size AveragesGrade dependentNo greater than 20
School Start5 - 6 Years6 - 7 Years
General Comparison
Population4.4 Million5.5 Million
Dependant Population50% (Approximate)53%
GDP220 Billion247 Billion
GDP per capita $43,473 (CAD)$38,658 (USD)
Income gap Top:Bottom10.8 Times5.6 Times
Population Below Poverty Line15.511.9 (2012 - Updated)
Child poverty rates18.6%9.4% (Updated - 2012)
Unemployment rate6%8%
Youth Unemployment13.2%20.5%
Number of Billionaires 51
Personal tax rate 70K/yr29.7%40%
Corporate Tax Rate11.5%20.0%
Exports$74 Billion (2012) $78.23 billion (2012)
Jan 232014
 

iStock_000033215132SmallWelcome to this weeks instalment of Questions to Ponder for Learning Design #EDCI 335

This weeks question is:  Are our current schools / teachers / curriculum preparing students for the 21st century?

I am going to start off by saying that the problem with this question is that it is a tad misleading. It would suggest that the role of grade school is to prepare our children for the world but it isn’t. Grade school is designed to prepare kids for further education once they graduate from high school. Preparing kids for the real world is no longer part of our mandate.

Personally I think kids should be able to walk out of high school and become gainfully employed right out of the gate. When I say gainfully employed, I am not talking having a 100K a year job, driving a Porsche and living like a Gangsta. I am talking a good job that provides a living wage and an opportunity to improve their lot in life with hard work and further education. If this was the case then asking: Are our current schools/teachers/curriculum preparing students for the 21st century? My answer would be an emphatic NO!

Unfortunately, over the past 30+ years, under the guise of the tired old mantra, “You need a good education to get a good job”. Society has chosen to warehouse young adults in post secondary institutions, rather than employ them. So ingrained is this “Must go to school” mentality, post secondary education has become a multi billion dollar industry unto itself. At times it would seem that the primary purpose of education is to extract money from parents back accounts, rather than create employees of the future.

In reality kids graduating from high school today don’t need to be ready for the 21st Century, they need to be prepared to spend another 4+ years in a post secondary institution doing exactly what they were doing in high school. So if this is the inevitable plight of our children, my answer to this weeks question is YES! The existing school system does exactly what is required to prepare our children for their continued academic incarceration in the 21st Century.

Unrealistically, I would like to not lecture at all; not as the result of being shown the door by my employer, as will happen soon enough, but because lectures are a terrible way to teach. Since I am scheduled to give them, and can’t see how to provide one-on-one instruction to the nearly 200 students enrolled on the course, I know that I shall in fact stand up and talk for 50 minutes twice a week for 12 weeks – Alan Ryan, 2014.

The problem is that grade school is designed to keep kids from engaging with the real world, not to go out and be embraced by it. Even if we did make kids work ready by the time graduation rolls around, the only thing waiting for them is starvation wages and poverty. The reality is that what we have here is an 21st Century employment problem, not a 21st Century school problem.

I work with kids on a daily basis that are bright, capable and phenomenally talented and need nothing more than to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They could be and should be in the work world making themselves useful to society. Instead they are trapped in a system that insists on “educating them” indefinitely before deeming them worthy of a living wage.

The thought I frequently bandy about in my mind is this.  What if the solution is not to look for a 21st century solution but backwards to the 19th century. Instead of marginalizing our youth in a world of never-ending academia, why don’t we turn them loose to participate in the adult world sooner? The role of school / teachers / curriculum would be to provide “in progress” academic support for kids who are engaged with the real world. We already do this to a small degree with Apprenticeships and Co-ops but why are these programs not the norm rather than the exception?

The question posed is far bigger than any single school, teacher or curriculum. It is a question that needs to be answered by students, parents, teachers, business people and politicians. 

  • If you want work ready kids by grade the end of grade 12, the business world needs to provide living wages for them when they get out.
  • If you want to change what schools / teachers / curriculum teach, then you have to change what qualifies for graduation.
  • If you want to change what constitutes high school graduation, you need post secondary to institutions to change entry requirements.
  • If you want grade school teachers to support each child’s specific interests or “passion”, then provide the resources and the time to make it happen.
  • If you want us to change our teaching practice, then provide us with the time, resources and professional development to do it.
  • If critical thinking, innovation, resilience, adaptability and effort are what is most important in school, then stop placing so much emphasis on grades and value what really counts.

Our schools and teachers are more than capable of delivering a 21st Century education, it is the outside world that needs to do a better job in helping the new age of learning to come to fruition.

Some facts and figures

Registered apprenticeship completions, Canada, 1995 to 2007

Post Secondary Enrolment Trends to 2031

Unemployment Dynamics of Canada’s  Youth

University Tuition Rising to Record Levels in Canada

Jul 152013
 

schoolreformThis mid summer blogpost comes to you courtesy of a tweet I sent a few weeks back. It got a retweet or two and I had a wee bit of a discussion about what it all meant with my twitter friend @HGG, which eventually brought up an obvious question. If parenting is more important to a child’s academic achievement than school, why doesn’t the education reform movement focus their vitriol on the living room rather than the classroom?

Ultimately, I think we all know why reformers don’t point fingers at parents, it’s just bad politics and teachers are ripe for the whipping. The other problem is that there is a laundry list of things beyond the classroom that can derail a child’s academic progress, something I call “Academic Disruptors”. Some of these disruptors are related to parenting but much of it is simply a reflection of the twisted society we live in. The unpopular reality is that failure to thrive in school, is a MUCH larger issue than just a lack of rigorous academic standards or teacher accountability measures but reformers don’t want to hear that, they just want someone to blame other than taking a look at a socioeconomic system that has come to ruin.

Screen Shot 2013-07-05 at 8.33.36 AM

Out of curiosity I asked a few people (teachers and civilians) to give me three things they feel get in the way of a child’s success in school. Obviously the teachers looked beyond the classroom but curiously, I did not get a single response from a non teacher who pointed to the classroom. The list of “academic disrupters” I compiled are essentially all forces beyond the hallowed halls of your local school.

The list has some fairly obvious items but there are some not so obvious ones in there too. Many are interrelated but I mention them separately because they can stand on their own as an academic disruptor. What follows are the items from that list, juxtaposed with the two pillars of education reform as we see it being sold by reformers.

  1. Tougher academic standards
  2. Greater teacher accountability

As you read through, you may ask yourself “Yes well… how many of kids does this list really represent?”

My response is that any single item may not represent all that many kids but collectively, I would say that it represents a significant percentage of any school population. The other thing to remember is that this list is far from complete and could potentially be endless.

I hope as you read through, it becomes clear just how ludicrous the education reform movement in North America has become. The simplistic bifocal solution of tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability cannot fix the education system, simply because it does not address the real academic disruptors in our schools.

Poverty – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will immediately address the daily effects of poverty on a child’s ability to be academically successful.

Hunger – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will provide a child the daily nourishment they need to be ready to actively engaged with the curriculum.

Divorce – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will mitigate the emotional turmoil that can be created by divorce and ensure that students experience academic success.

Mental Health – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will negate any mental health issue that could impede a child’s cognition or ability to build positive relationships with their peers, allowing them to be academically successful.

Addiction – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will address the root causes of addiction and substance abuse in our society and pave the way for academic success for our children.

Fitness & Health – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will address the epidemic of poor health and fitness issues faced by North American society and empower children to become more academically successful.

Body Image Disorders – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will protect our adolescents from the biological, psychological and environmental factors that are believed to cause body dysmorphic disorders and allow all children to be academically successful.

Digital Distraction – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will keep children from spending inordinate amounts of time outside of school on passive non academic activities such as gaming, surfing the web and playing on their smart phone.

Nutrition – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will prevent children from starting their day with a bag of chips and a can of coke. This will ensure that all children eat nutritious meals before during and after school, enabling them to be ready for their academic day.

Enabling – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will stop parents from enabling their children to engage in behaviours that negatively affect their academic performance and ensure academic success.

Pregnancy – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability, will prevent teens from having sex and conceiving children, allowing children to stay in school and be academically successful.

Employment – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that academically successful students will be gainfully employed once they have completed school.

Death – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will shelter children from the detrimental emotional effects of death in the family or amongst their friends, allowing them to be academically successful.

Developmental disabilities – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that children with developmental disabilities will no longer need psycho educational assessments or classroom assistance and they will still be academically successful.

Bullying – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will eliminate all bullying regardless of where or when it takes place, allowing for all children to feel included in the school community and become academically successful.

Relationships - Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that students do not get themselves involved in distracting or harmful relationships with their peers, allowing them to be academically successful.

Now if anyone tries to tell you schools can be fixed within the walls of a classroom, you can call BS with confidence that it can’t.

If you come up with anything else, feel free to add to the list. I would love to hear more.

**NOTE** This post is intended to be a critique of the school reform movement in the USA, not a critique of the Canadian education reform movement. It can however, be seen as a “Don’t go there” warning to Canadian education reformers.

Latest attacks on education

North Carolina axes masters degree pay bump

Mar 272013
 

earth_stopWell I called it. My powers of EdTech prognostication have once again hit the mark. Way back in December 23, 2011, I did a post called Digital Learning in 2012 – My Predictions. In this post, I predicted a push back from parents and other concerned individuals and groups about WiFi in schools.

Although I was a tad off the mark in my prediction, In 2013 the anti WiFi movement began to get some legs in British Columbia when the representatives at the 2013 British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) AGM tabled a four resolutions which addressed the membership’s concerns over WiFi in schools.

In the middle of the four resolution Anti WiFi package is Resolution 138, which backs up parents in BC and supports the BCCPAC’s May 2012 AGM resolution, calling for WiFi free education choices at both elementary and secondary levels in Province of British Columbia.

Resolution 137: The BCTF recognizes the World Health Organization’s classification of Radio-frequency Electromagnetic fields emitted by wireless devices as a 2B possible cancer risk to humans; that the BCTF ensures all teachers have the right to work in a safe environment, including the right to work in a Wi-Fi/ wireless-free environment.

Resolution 138: The BCTF supports the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Council’s May 2012 resolution, which calls on each Board of Education to allocate one public school at each educational level (elementary, middle, secondary) to be free of wireless technology such as Wi-Fi, cordless phones and cell phones.

Resolution 139: The BCTF supports the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils’ May 2012 resolution calling Boards of Education to cease to install Wi-Fi and other wireless networks in schools where other networking technology is feasible.

Resolution 140: The BCTF supports members who are suffering from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity by ensuring that their medical needs are accommodated in the workplace.

Further to these resolutions, some School Districts in both Canada and the USA have already moved to ban WiFi outright and some WiFi wary administrators are making executive decisions and pulling the plug here there and everywhere.

The push back is here and it is looking like things are about to get heated but I do have some questions about people’s understanding and motivations behind the WiFi bans. Sure I get it, we want our kids to be safe from what MIGHT be harmful but look around, everything is deemed as “possibly harmful” these days. Whats more, it is hard to take people seriously when they are rallying against WiFi with clenched fists in the air and inside that fist is their beloved cell phone.

I am not sure if people really understand that EMF’s or Electro Magnetic Fields are everywhere and emitted from things as mundane as your clock radio, hairdryer, kitchen appliances and baby monitors. EMF’s are even emitted from every wall socket in your home and yet WiFi is singled out as the lone crocodile in the reeds.

If this is an issue we are going to choose to fight in our schools we need to look beyond just WiFi. We should ban cell phones in schools (Good luck with that), get rid of computer labs, microwaves in cooking classes; welders, band saws, table saws and all other electric-powered tools in our shop programs… While we are at it, I am not sure if I should put my students in work experience placements where EMF’s are abundant or supporting their career choices where they might be at risk of EMF exposure. IF we are going to make this an issue in our schools, we are opening the door to liability issues way beyond the walls of the padded cells we call our classrooms and I am not sure I want to expose myself to that.

Whether you like it or not, Lightning the horse has been let out of the barn long ago and unless we can pinpoint examples of people dropping dead from the EMF’s emitted from WiFi, she ain’t gunna come back in any time soon.

Perhaps our time might be better spent trying to educate kids (and parents) about appropriate use of personal digital devices. Not unlike they way we do with sex and relationships, alcohol and drug abuse, poor diet and fitness and a litany of other 21 Century lifestyle pitfalls. Planting a scarlet letter on WiFi and calling for a good ole fashion public linchin solves nothing and eliminates any positive outcome WiFi might be able to deliver to our children’s learning environment.

JMHO…

Jan 052013
 

2012 was once again an interesting year for Public Education. From Delaware to Chicago to British Columbia and back to Ontario, pundits and the politicians sold the story that all the struggles our youth encounter can be laid squarely on the shoulders of every teacher that has ever walked this earth. Just short of being the spawn of satan himself, teachers are source of all that is wrong in this world, especially as it pertains to today’s youth. unemployment, failure to launch, mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems… you name it, it is the education systems fault.

I however, would beg to differ. Yes I know, as one of satan’s classroom cronies, my objection is predictable but read on, I might actually make some sense by the end of this post.

I see education as being waaaaay down on the list of roadblocks the youth of today face. From the bedroom in which our kids are conceived, to the boardroom in which they are received, our children have more stacked against them than just what people perceive as an inadequate public education system. In fact, I would say there is simply one roadblock our youth face and that is, we have stolen their adulthood or at least postponed it indefinitely.

The obvious question then becomes, who is an adult? and I found a satisfactory answer in a Psychology Today article entitled Who is an “adult?” The path from adolescence into adulthood. March 3, 2010 by Jennifer L. Tanner, Ph.D.

…it became apparent that becoming adult was about, well, becoming. Across cultures, Arnett’s findings have been replicated. Accordingly, an adult is someone who-accepts responsibility, makes independent decisions, and becomes financially independent.

The article goes on to discuss the precise thing I am talking about here and what I refer to as the Abyss of Suspended Adulthood

The funny thing is, the evidence is all there right in front of us. Most of it already identified, researched and publicized. Anyone who isn’t seeking election or is remotely sober, should be able to see that education isn’t the biggest problem our youth face but alas society is myopic. Scapegoats are easier to understand then our own miserable misdeeds.

Although the central issue here is the deadultation (new word) of our youth, the process has three parts working in concert to sideline anyone under the age of 30.

  1. Post Secondary or Starve
  2. An Economy of dependence
  3. The Engineered Child

 

Mar 132012
 

As the Teacher dispute in British Columbia starts to get ugly with plenty of mudslinging from both sides of the political spectrum. It would seem things are starting to come to a head simply by the pinch which only the withdrawal of Volunteer services can bring.

Teachers in school districts throughout the Province are now being told to ONLY do their job as outlined by contract and to work bell to bell. What this means is that any “extra time” a teacher volunteers to their school in the way of coaching, clubs, study sessions… etc, will be withdrawn. The strange thing is, it seems that the public feels that this action is more reprehensible than the legislation which got teachers to this point in the first place.

Like the kids, for many teachers the extra curricular stuff is the best part of their school day. Teachers do not volunteer out of obligation, they volunteer out of a love for the activity they are supporting. Despite the old adage, “those who can do, those who can’t, teach” Schools are packed with incredible people who have achieved great things in their lives. All of them want nothing more than to impart their wisdom, their skills and their experience on their students and extra curricular activities gives them this opportunity. With this said, the withdrawal of volunteer services is not taken lightly and there will be some instances where teachers will continue giving their time, regardless of professional or personal consequence.

So where does this leave us? Well for the short-term, things will be messy and both kids and teachers will be deprived of the opportunity to do what it is they love to do. How long will this last? It could be months, it could be years but one thing is for certain, this has been many years in the making.

Teachers giving their time, is not as simple and straight forward as one might think and before the general public goes straight to taking on a “HOW DARE YOU” position, one needs to understand that there is more to it than a simple temper-tantrum.

Teachers can no longer afford to “donate time”.

As I wrote in a previous post Teachers simply can no longer afford to give away their time. In cities like Vancouver, many teachers (usually the <40 crowd) need to work at least one additional job just to pay the bills. If a teacher is racing off to go to another job after school, they won’t be spending time with your child after school for free.

Should it come to the point where participation in extra curricular activities becomes part of a teachers job description, it would become a significant problem for many, as people’s livelihood would be at stake.

Liability issues are scaring teachers away from giving their time.

We are a litigious bunch nowadays and because of this, many teachers refuse to take on the responsibility of any activity that requires 24/7 supervision. Where common sense and personal responsibility use to be the code by which most extracurricular programs were run, today this expectation is not enough.

We no longer look at our youth as sentient beings, capable of making mistakes of their own doing. Instead if a kid screws up, we immediately start looking for an adult to blame. It is because of this, I will not take any group of kids anywhere that requires me to be “responsible” for them over night.

I have heard stories of coaches taking shifts, standing watch in hotel hallways all night long, to ensure kids are not sneaking out at night. I have been on watch myself until 1 am on occasion because kids could not behave themselves. I have even heard of programs resorting to requiring parents to accompany their child on road trips in an effort to mitigate liability issues for the coaching staff.

Our desire to blame an adult rather than expect our children to behave responsibly, is quickly destroying extracurricular activities all on its own. If a coach cannot have a reasonable expectation that kids are willing and able to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner, then you cannot expect teachers to take on that responsibility.

Pay for participation programs are poaching kids from school activities.

Kids have so many opportunities outside of school, that many simply do not have time for in school activities. We over schedule our children in an effort to enrich their lives but in doing so the “free” programs like those in schools, tend to suffer.

In Canada, many of the best athletes in a school are playing hockey. Depending on the level they are playing, some may try to do both school sports and club hockey but usually school sports are secondary. A kid can only attend one practice or game at a time and it is the free one that will get forsaken.

In the larger centers there are also a myriad of fine arts programs that draw kids away from in school programs and then of course there is the constant drive for academic excellence that send kids to extra studies outside of the school hours.

As a coach this is frequently a HUGE headache as teams may start a season with a full roster but kids will fall away as the season progresses until the team is no longer viable. The result is that, there is not much motivation for a teacher to give up their time for a fruitless cause.

Sometimes thank you just isn’t enough

I have a colleague who takes 6 – 8 kids every year on a hardcore wilderness experience over 10 days, during which he is on 24/7. In addition to this, the responsibility he takes on when he is in the middle of the bush is extraordinary as there is no support. No principal, no parents, no ambulance service, no nothing. He is literally on his own in the wilderness. Of the 240 hours he spends with these kids, only 64 of that might be considered “billable time” but he gets no additional pay, no days in lieu… absolutely nothing other than a thank you

Now that sort of thing would be unheard of in private industry, lets see a lawyer do that for free! I am thinking it would be an absolute “NO!” and the public would accept that but if a teacher says “NO!Ain’t gonna happen”, all hell breaks loose. Teachers are instantly labeled as selfish, greedy, uncaring and money-grubbing. If a teacher even thinks about saying “NO” they are instantly vilified. It just doesn’t add up.

Just like the BC Liberals have said, we need change in our school system and it looks as though the changes the @BClibs want to make will be at expense of the teaching profession and if that is they way they want to go, so be it. If they want to go to a free market system, where teachers are nothing more than a commodity, then teachers will more than likely start treating their time as such. You can’t have it both ways, where teachers are freewheeling with their time all the while the employer is trying their best to short change them at every corner.

Like it or not, the Good old days are gone and we are all going to pay for it in the end.

Side Note

Here is a great Video on what motivates us in the work we do. At about the 4:40 point in the video, pay close attention to what is most important in getting the most out of an employee.

Jan 102012
 

Blog posts are funny things. The thesis usually comes to you at peculiar moments throughout the day. In the middle of class, in the shower, driving home from work…. Or In the case of this post, while writhing in pain on the living room floor @ 3am, with a nasty case of kidney stones. If I were to truly share all the thoughts I had in the wee hours of that night, this post would be rated PG13, littered with F bombs and other expletives but in between the colourful language, a blog post was sketched out.

For some bazaar reason, during my two hour battle with a 4×6 mm stone that was raking its way through my kidney, I was thinking about the school system. Don’t ask me why, you would think I would be trying to picture sandy beaches and baby bunnies but that was not the case. Instead, five questions bounced between the F bombs. Each contrary to everything we have come to accept as a society about the value of education and its place in this world.

I know what you are saying, “why can’t you be agreeable about anything?” But when you are born a contrarian, you just got to go with it. Besides it is waaaaaaaaaay more fun then being agreeable.

What follows is what I like to callThe Kidney Stone 5 – Thoughts of a delirious pedagogue, or the other working title. Questions worthy of consideration, as our policy makers sketch out what the Twenty First Century learner is going to look like…

Here goes nothin! I make no apologies.

Why does someone have to have a degree to make a living wage?

It would seem to me that sometime in the past 30 – 40 years, someone / somewhere decided that the only people who deserve to make a living wage are those who have some type of post secondary education. Simply putting in an honest days work for a living wage, just isn’t good enough any longer. In fact it is virtually unheard in the Western World. Of course there is a long list of reasons why this is the case but really, why can’t someone who doesn’t want to go to school for 4 or more years, make a living?

I can’t help but think about members of my family, who graduated from High School in the 70′s, never went to post secondary school but worked hard and made a great life for themselves. Now at the age of 55 – 60 they are looking at retirement with their house paid off, money in the bank and everything is rosy. Try that today and more than likely you will be living in subsidized housing and visiting the food bank on a regular basis?

At what point in the past 40 years did hard work become unworthy of a living income?

Why do we work so hard at warehousing young adults in the name of education?

Is education really all it is cracked up to be? Sure it has its place but why can’t people work and learn at the same time? Back in the day that was how it was done but somewhere along the line book lernin became king and real learning was out. We all know that warehousing youth in the name of education was done by design, it kept young people out of the workforce and left the jobs to the older people but does this really have a purpose any longer?

With the Baby Boomers starting to retire, perhaps we can stop warehousing our youth well into adulthood and start employing them. Perhaps going back the way things were before factory schools were established, teaching people along the way in real world situations rather than artificial learning environments that have little application.

A Good Read: The Coming Melt Down of Higher Education

Is keeping twenty somethings dependant and unproductive really good for our society?

By the time many young adults graduate from post secondary, they are in their late 20′s / early 30′s, carry immense debt and have yet to begin their productive adult lives. Many can’t even conceive having a life like their parents did. Buying a home is impossible and starting a family is laughable. They have been effectively shut out of the “real world” for a third of their lives all in the name of education. Historically this was a persons most productive years both from an economic and biological standpoint.

It begs the question, is this really good for our society, our economy and our youth to actively prevent them from actively contributing to their community?

A Good Read: The Higher Education Bubble

Perhaps every kid doesn’t need to be inspired, perhaps some just want their independence?

Anyone who reads this blog, probably graduated from high school back in the day, when grade 12 was the end of the line for many if not most. Do you remember the excitement you felt at the prospect of being FREE of school and independent of your parents. The prospect of starting your life, becoming an adult and being responsible for yourself. Now that was motivating, that was exciting.

In the past 40 years, under the mantra of education creates opportunity and choice, we have created a system of dependence and uncertainty and taken away perhaps the single most important choice of all. The choice to be an adult and get on with one’s life.

What is interesting about this thought is that things are not all that different today. I have kids on both ends of the academic spectrum who would like nothing more than to just get out of the system. On one end, I have kids who run their own businesses, are actively contributing their community and just want to get on with their well laid plans. On the other end, I have kids who just want a job, a pick-up truck and the opportunity to make a comfortable living.

Quite frankly, I struggle finding issue with either scenario.

Perhaps it isn’t our school system that is failing our youth. Maybe its the world outside the system, that sets them up for failure?

It is undeniable that the world has changed immeasurably in the past 40 years. It is also pretty hard to argue against making some changes to an education system, created for a world that no longer exists but there is a problem. Those who are calling for change refuse to recognize that the struggles our youth face in today’s world are not only caused by the education system. It would certainly be nice it were that simple but in reality, the problem has two sides.

Yes, we need to change things in our schools so kids can be better prepared for the Twenty First Century but our youth struggle in the real world because they are walking into a world that the education system can’t possibly prepare them for.

  • It is a world rejects the presence of youth in the work world.
  • It is a world where simply working hard isn’t good enough to make a living.
  • It is a world where I make more than 3 times what my father did but my home cost me 27 times more than the one he bought when he was starting out.
  • It is a world where academic inflation forces bright, skilled young people out of the workforce and into an academic warehouse, where they spend a decade of their lives preparing for work that might not pay the bills.

Sure it is convenient to point at the schools and say, “it’s their fault!” but in reality, some of the biggest problems facing our youth, have nothing to do with the school system they are a product of. Our education system may need some updating but I would say the world it delivers our kids into, is in dire need of repair.

So what does this all mean?

Well, I would hope that at some point, someone realizes that the difficulties our youth face involve more than just the education they receive. I hope that someone comes to understand that marginalizing youth in educational warehouses is not the most productive use of their time or ability. I hope that we rediscover that person’s worth can be measured by something other than the education that they have.

Finally, I hope that the move towards the Twenty First Century Learning model is more than just a new and improved way to warehouse our youth. If we are going to change the school system, lets take a big step backward and allow our youth to be contributing members of our society. Unfortunately this will require policy makers to stop pointing fingers and start to address the other reasons our youth fail to thrive in today’s world. Unlike the passage of my kidney stone, our children’s road to freedom shouldn’t be a one way street.