Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Brief hiatus

The blog will be on a hiatus until Sept. 7 or thereabouts.
Lots to blog about in these days leading up to the resumption of classes (EQAO release, "FDK" stuff, etc. etc. etc.) but if I spent the whole time blogging then I wouldn't be packing and cleaning in prep for the move, which I need to do.
There'll be a soft re-launch of sorts when I return next week.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The transition begins...

For the first time in a few months today (mostly because I had a deadline) I started looking at my course selection for my upcoming fellowship. Thought it might be apropos to post a few thoughts here about the upcoming transition.
The blog is going to live on-- I will change the title however (not the URL) to "The Education Reporter-- on fellowship." Or maybe "The Education Reporter-- at OISE." Haven't decided yet, as you can see.
I'll continue to do my regular media monitoring for education coverage, posting when something of interest crosses the inbox or the twitter feed. I'll also post about the life-- things in the courses I audit, general journalism fellowship life and the trips!
I have nine working days left until I start the experience of a lifetime... so as busy as I'll be I'm sure to take a moment here or there to get excited about it all.

Second TCDSB trustee felled from office

A Thursday ruling, not yet online, has removed Toronto Catholic District School Board chair Angela Kennedy from office because of a breach of the conflict-of-interest legislation. Saw this first via a Toronto Star tweet. From the article:
However Justice Lois Roberts did not prohibit Kennedy from running again this fall, in a nod to the trustee’s “long and distinguished service . . . and (the fact that) that situation appears to be the first and only time she breached the (Municipal Conflict of Interest) Act.”
At the time of the vote May 2008, Kennedy’s son Kevin worked as a supply education assistant a few days a week. Another son, Brian, had been accepted to the supply teacher pool, although he had not registered to begin work.
This is the continued fallout from Mike Baillargeon v. the world, a perhaps flippant reference to the Toronto resident who successfully unseated Oliver Carroll in a ruling that had trustees quaking in their boots (for a few months anyway). After I posted about when this case against Kennedy and fellow trustee Barbara Poplawski -- Poplawski's will be heard in September -- was launched, I got a brief deluge of e-mailed responses. Baillargeon himself e-mailed me all the various documents involved, which I read at the time back in November. Poplawski even called me at work and left a message that I absolutely had to call her (I didn't, as I wasn't going to post about the case again at the time and there was no way it would end up printed in my newspaper).
So, I guess the courts will continue to chop down trustees at the TCDSB involved in that controversial 2008 budget vote that could or would have cut staff positions in employee groups where trustees had family members working. Whatever. At this point in the game, with under three months left in the term and under two left until a new group of trustees is elected (returning the board to trustee control), who cares? Not that we shouldn't care about elected officials abusing their powers to preserve the employment of their own kin, but as I've stated here before, unless it's quite overt, in an organization with thousands of employees it's rare a trustee has that kind of direct influence on bottom-of-the-totem-pole employees. I just don't see this getting a lot of public traction, since the original Carroll case didn't.
While Carroll's case caused a flurry of consultation, legal opinions, etc. at boards across the province, the trustees I observe have simply returned to their old practices. While a fair number of trustees declared conflicts and absented themselves from voting on 2009-10 budgets and staffing matters, I didn't see one trustee do so for the 2010-11 budget.
We also still haven't seen any kind of response on the larger issue from the Ministries. Education's response at the time was that the conflict-of-interest legislation was Municipal Affairs' baby. Neither has signaled any intent to make any changes or provide any kind of direction or clarification on what it means when you are a corporate governor on a board that sets policy and budgets for thousands and have a family member toiling away as a cog in the big machine.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

No shuffle for education

Minister of Education Leona Dombrowsky wasn't shuffled out of the portfolio Wednesday during the premier's rearrangement of his cabinet.
This wasn't a huge surprise to me. Dombrowsky hasn't encountered any huge controversy in the post, and has staunchly continued to defend the Liberal government's path in education. Even with the wrinkles on implementing the full-day kindergarten program, the education world isn't really in a tizzy.
She was added to a new cabinet committee, the priorities and planning committee, which appears to replace a committee the education minister of the day sat on around the government's poverty reduction strategy. She also sits on the emergency management committee and the health, education and social committee. The Belleville Intelligencer, the main newspaper in her riding, was quick off the mark to post on her addition to the P&P committee.
I'm a little more curious to see whether the premier will also shuffle the parliamentary assistants (Ed's is currently Leeanna Pendergast). These positions tend to be shuffled more often than ministers since they're some times perqs for backbenchers to keep them in the fold. I don't think there's any question Pendergast will run again in her riding, so there may not be a need to shuffle.
I would expect to see no change in the direction over the next year— Education will continue to be a priority plank in the next campaign for the Liberals, who'll have another four years of school construction and renovations under their belt. They'll also be heading into the second year of full-day kindergarten and the final year of pouring millions into education to cover the provincial agreements signed with employee groups.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

ETFO hates EQAO? What a shocker.

Love the attention this is getting over the past 24 hours. As you've no doubt heard unless you've been under a rock, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario opened in 2010 convention in Toronto with a strong statement asking the Ministry of Education to suspend Education Quality and Accountability Office testing for two years.
The release is linked above, and ETFO also has a few YouTube videos, here and here, on its convention site.
The Federation says the standardized testing in its current form is a costly exercise that is failing students and forcing teachers to abandon key parts of a balanced education for too much of the school year.
“Something is very wrong when areas including science, history, social studies and the arts are getting sidelined in the race to get young students prepared for EQAO, which is focused solely on literacy and math,” said ETFO President Sam Hammond, adding that teachers are being buried by testing initiatives. Addressing over 500 delegates to the Federation’s Annual Meeting in Toronto today, Hammond unveiled new research and a video that documents significant teacher concerns regarding EQAO testing and its impact on education.
The Federation commissioned Environics Research Group to convene eight focus groups of ETFO teachers across the province to probe their experience with EQAO testing as well as other assessment tools and strategies they are using in the classroom.
“Teachers told us EQAO testing does little to improve learning. It was originally set up to test the system as a whole, but now it is driving what gets taught in the classroom,” added Hammond. “We’re asking for a moratorium and review of the testing regime and a reduction in the number of Ministry initiatives driven by the test so that teachers can have the time to get back to providing a balanced education for every student.”
ETFO has been getting pretty complimentary coverage on this over the past 24 hours. I can drive a truck through what has been said— to the point I was restraining myself from yelling back at Prof. Joel Westheimer as he was being interviewed on CBC Radio One today. Particularly tough to swallow was the use of politically loaded language in comparing EQAO testing to the U.S. "No Child Left Behind" program when there are dramatic differences.
After 14 years of testing ETFO decided last year to survey its members on the tests, then made it a focus of an issue of its members' magazine this past March. It was no surprise the federation pushed its dislike of the testing to the top. It has never spoken out in favour of standardized testing since it was introduced. The complaint of teaching to the test is also an old one that is wearing out its welcome— show me anyone who would say they disagree with teaching to a test that measures how well Grade 3 and 6 students know how to read, write and do math. If the test assesses skills that are important things, then what's wrong with teaching to the test?  ETFO doesn't go as far as to completely abandon a need to teach these skills, but it comes pretty close with this orchestrated campaign to make us all afraid of EQAO.
But here's the reality. Prior to the introduction of EQAO, there was no standardized data set available to educators and researchers on just how well students were doing in vital life skills such as literacy and numeracy. Teachers and administrators who measure how well students are doing in these areas are infinitely better prepared to know how every student is progressing and have learning prepared that is appropriate for that student. Without a solid set of data to back that up, it's like trying to play darts in the dark.
Even if you're not a fan of data-based decision making, there's ETFO's claim that other subject areas are being prejudiced by preparing for the EQAO test. Is it happening? Sure. Does it have to? Not at all.
I've personally witnessed schools where the literacy and numeracy work is so integrated through the rest of the curriculum (and vice-versa) that it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Students can spend time in a literacy block (as scheduled on paper) learning about amphibians — part of their science curriculum — where they both end up learning science and reinforcing the literacy skills they need to be successful on their EQAO. One school I was at had completely eliminated social science as a block on the schedule, because teachers integrated social science into their literacy blocks.
Integrating the "whole child" approach into how literacy skills are taught and practised is possible. It can be done, and those schools and teachers that aren't doing it should get the help to learn how to do it— though apparently not from ETFO itself, given its position.
This attempt by ETFO to kill the EQAO testing should just live out its days quietly in the corner, neglected by the rest of us until the federation finds some new evil its members detest to rail against. On that note, we're only a year or so away from the next round of contract negotiations, so it shouldn't be long.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Late to the party?

The attention over the past 24 hours to the changes to the physical and health education curriculum came as somewhat of a surprise to me. Though the Star ran the piece online Sunday, and it was picked up by other media throughout the day, this isn't new. It's old. I wrote about the rest of the curriculum coming into force back at the end of May, shortly after school boards received notice the remainder of the revised curriculum would still be implemented.
I can't find the memo online, but boards were notified in May, after originally being told in April that the entire revised curriculum would be axed as a result of the public backlash (which may have been aided and abetted by media who simply didn't understand what the entire curriculum document actually changed). That's why it came up at the board meeting I was at, which is what led to the article.
I'm not really surprised to see how when the Star pulls a Canadian Press-authored article on the coming changes -- which teachers were trained for back in April and May -- everyone jumps. I get it, it's the Star, the country's most widely read newspaper. One that wasn't in the room or wasn't paying attention when its local boards were talking about this back in the spring, or that wasn't appropriately tipped off by staffers at the ministry when the decision was made to implement the new curriculum, sans the sexual education component.
Of course, it does lead one to wonder whether this article ever would have been written had that particular component not drummed up the attention it did back in the spring. After all, how many media write about changes to the curriculum? A new junior science curriculum was released in the spring of 2008 and implemented in the 2008-09 year. Hear anything about it? Nope.