Monday, May 05, 2014

Jeff Johnson and the Temple of Doom

What is the problem that Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson is trying to solve with the report of the Task Force for Teacher Excellence?

The task force - which did not involve the profession or the professional body established in law to be responsible for the profession – reported today at a showcase event stage managed by the Minister, who also spent the week-end briefing the media (but not the profession). The suggestion is that this task force is “arms length” from government is about as serious as the suggestion that Mayor Rob Ford is an arms length from a few drinks or crack cocaine.

There are around 35,000 teachers in Alberta and Alberta is amongst the highest performing education systems in the world. Recently, our Minister was celebrating teacher excellence. So what is the problem?

The fiction is that, with 35,000 teachers we must have some “dud” teachers – yet no teacher has been dismissed for poor performance in the last decade. Therefore we must have a problem and that education in Alberta could be improved if we changed how we assess and reward teachers. Jeff Johnson, a Xerox salesman, has been floating this thinking for years.

The problem, this mystical thinking goes, is that those who supervise teachers – Principals – are members of the same organization as the teachers themselves. Worse. Once certified, teachers do not have to be recertified as teachers and are not paid by merit but by length of service. Therefore, if you are following this line of thought, teachers should be evaluated frequently (every 3-5 years) by Principals and to do this, Principals should not be part of the same professional body as teachers. What is more, merit should be recognized by merit pay. These two things will improve education in Alberta – already among one of the best systems in the world. Since the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) will likely oppose these changes, the thinking goes, we will need to change the ATA.

These major changes to the profession require considerable thought, so thirty days should do for feedback.

Where to start? First, who gave this Minister a mandate to so misunderstand what teachers do and how they do it that he feels able to undertake this work without truly engaging the profession in this conversation? Imagine a task force on medical competence and effectiveness in which doctors were not engaged or a task force on policing efficiency and effectiveness in which active officers were not engaged? Difficult to imagine isn’t it. Yet that happened in this case.

Second, what is the evidential base on which these recommendations are being made? Where is the evidence of the need for this enhanced bureaucracy – which is where this will lead – so as to deal with a problem we don’t really have? Principals currently do supervise and assess, teachers are highly engaged in professional development, the system performance is strong. The ATA doesn’t have to deal with performance issues – they are dealt with locally.

Third, what evidence was reviewed about the impact of merit pay on professional workers? There are no compelling examples of merit pay for teachers having an impact on pupil performance. Worse, there is evidence that such schemes generally distort the work of teachers and distract school systems from their work.

Fourth, what is the Government of Alberta in the year if three Premiers doing alienating in the most deliberate way one of the largest professional bodies in the Province? Is it systematically trying to lose the next election and make it impossible for the major changes in education, which Premier Hancock championed as Minister of Education and on which all involved in the system were aligned, to take place? Minister Johnson has, during his tenure, ensured that this critical work is now on life support. The Government were given opportunities to meet with the ATA and side-step these issues, but the response of the government was silence.

Finally, the major curriculum changes now underway are now most unlikely to receive the support of teachers if teachers are in such fundamental opposition to the work of the Minister. This is unfortunate. There is a great deal of support for change and for the direction of these changes, though there are also concerns at the speed at which these changes could occur. The Minister is not the ministry and a genuine and honest attempt is being made to ensure that Alberta’s emerging curriculum meets the need of the Alberta the world needs to see. It would be unfortunate for this important work to be impossible to progress, but this is now likely to be the case.

It is a sad day for innovative spirits, committed teachers and professionals in Alberta. A smart Premier would act to stop the nonsense.


Diana Stinn, Phoenix Foundation said...

Here are my points about your article:

(1) 3000 stakeholders participated in the task force. This included parents, teachers, principals, associations and more. The ATA was given equal opportunity to participate. ONE chance for input same as the rest of us. And please don't go on that the ATA should have more, after all they represent thousands of teachers accross the province . . . Each of those teachers had a chance too!

(2) There are ~40,000 teachers in the province and in ten years no one has lost their certification . . . This is strong evidence that the current method of evaluation is not working! The statistical odds that there isn't one in over ten years is impossible!

(3) Yes, we have "dud" teachers. Seriously, please go and talk to parents, other teachers . . . They all know who is a good teacher and who is not!

(4) I agree . . . There is a need to change the ATA. And yes, it is a conflict to have principals belong to the same organization if they are supervising and disciplining teachers.

(5) Mandate - This government was given a very clear, strong and loud mandate from the people of Alberta through INSPIRING EDUCATION to make change to the education system. And as one of thousands of Albertans who have many hours to this initiative, stop insulting us! The government is doing what we told them - go back and look at the thousands of comments.

(6) teachers work for us! And Albertans have spoken about the poor quality of some Alberta Teachers.

(7) you demand evidence of the government . . . And yet no where in your article do you supply any.

(8) yes, Premier Handcock was the Education Minister of Inspiring Education NAND Jeff Jognson was his co-chair. I am glad that Dave is in this position. It helps ensure that the work will carry on as Albertans indicated.

(9) the curriculum changes will and do have the support of teachers. They are actively engaged in creating that curriculum.

(10) This is not a sad day - hard working teachers and educational professionals will be happy to improve standards and get rid of slackers who drag the profession down!

Submitted from my iPad! Please forgive auto correct!

ladylorac said...

I totally agree with your comments regarding the changes in education. I have sent your blog onto Mr. Hancock and Mr. Johnson as I truly feel they need to read it. It expresses what I believe to be true much better than I could write. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Ms Stinn - are you aware of the process of helping teachers be better teachers? We are a collaborative profession and work to help each other. Yes, there are some teachers who need more help, but ripping apart one of the best systems of education in the world is not going to help these people. You are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Why is there such a hatred of teachers when they work hard, spend their own money on supplies, and love the kids they teach. Principals are part of the collaboration of the ATA and I do not agree that making them bosses will make better teachers.

Anonymous said...

Diana Stinn is a homeschooling blogger . ?????

billrankin said...

Ms Stinn is a home schooling advocate associated with a foundation based in Arizona, where schools that teach creationism as though it were a legitimate academic subject are publicly funded. I happen to get this link this morning. Of course it overstates the case; it's from the Onion, but ask yourself if the jokes don't point to an anti-public school mentality implicit in the minister's initiative.,35947/?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=SocialMarketing&utm_campaign=Default:1:Default

V. Hanson said...

Diana Stinn said:

There is a need to change the ATA. And yes, it is a conflict to have principals belong to the same organization if they are supervising and disciplining teachers.

I am an administrator and a member of the ATA. I do not see or feel the conflict. I do my job and if a teacher needs to be disciplined, I do it (several times with guidance from the ATA). I am insulted that you would suggest I would do otherwise.

Anonymous said...

You can turn off autocorrect. And even if teachers support curriculum redesign, for how long?

Anonymous said...

I would very much like to know where you get your facts from. I have been an educator in this province for almost 20 years and I have seen teachers let go and removed from their positions. So do you research before you start spouting off about these important matters.

And no, teachers were not given input on this so called task force. We sit by and watch MLA after MLA reward themselves with high pay cheques that have little to do with merit while we are told that we will not get a raise for 5 years. All I am after is to be able to keep up with the cost of living...I am NOT looking to renovate my entire home for myself and my teenage daughter...oh wait, that was our last premier. God forbid we say anything about it either, because then the media paints us as selfish instead of loving children. It's called trying to pay our bills while we do what we love. I have yet to be invited to part of this task force.

The trouble with so many of your comments are that you do not seem to be informed. There are many research papers and current leaders, who I might add who are NOT in education, who have looked closely into merit pay. The research indicates quite clearly that it does not create better teachers. What will happen to schools in low income communities when merit pay comes into effect? We will become like the American system where schools in lower economic communities will continue to suffer because why would anyone want to teach there? Their results will not show their merit even if their students do score well!! Is that the kind of education system we want to become, when we currently rank quite well?

It's so sad that you choose to focus on the so-called slackers in the systems. There are so many fabulous teachers in this province but many community members still paint us all with the same brush. They think that schools are run just like when we were there 30 years ago. There are so many great innovations and savvy teachers that are doing great things. Why can't that ever be in the media? Go to your schools and see what is happening!! I can assure you that good things are happening that we are held to high standards. Please do your research.

Anonymous said...

P.S. Why in the heck do you even have an opinion on this anyway??? You are a home school supporter who lives in Phoenix??! Just saying...or does that say it all?