Saturday, April 07, 2012

Alberta, Education and Politucs - Redford Loses the Plot

Easter is a time for reflection and in Alberta we need to start reflecting on the nature of our democracy, the role of government in each of our lives and the strategy we need our government to follow on our behalf with respect to our future.

The Progressive Conservative party`s educational policy appears to being developed on the fly. Tax credits for teachers, a $2.4 billion investment in capital infrastructure are interesting, but marginal developments in relation to what is critically important. The quality and professionalism of teachers, the focus for learning and curriculum, the nature of public assurance and accountability and the flexibility of schools to make meaning for their own students through personalizing the curriculum connecting to community and the flexible use of resources are far more critical issues. Also key will be the strategy and resources for the inclusion of those who need special support for their learning.

The PC party`s website “policy” section leaves a lot to be desired. It basically just says that the party intends to let parents have a stronger voice in education. It doesn’t say that they will seek a long term settlement with teachers which will enable the profession to become much more engaged, school to school and classroom to classroom, in the design and development of learning. It doesn’t say anything about rethinking accountability, provincial testing and teacher education. It says nothing about the relative role of Government, school boards and school leadership in decision making. It is vague beyond belief.

This is not surprising. The retail politician and hairdressers nightmare, our Minister of Education (Hon. Thomas Lukaszuk), doesn’t really have a strategy, other than seeking to satisfy his need to be on television, radio and in newspapers. He has a limited understanding of the opportunity which Alberta has to lead the developed world in innovative curriculum and assessment, to create the right conditions under which we can enhance the quality of teaching through an investment in professional development and time for preparation. His preoccupation with small things and avoidance of large things suggest a kind of strategic phobia.

Meantime, the Wild Rose, who could well form the next Government of Alberta, want to reduce the overly bloated Government Ministry (some 700+ people) and reallocate these resources to schools, strengthen the power of school boards to make decisions (nothing is said about the bloated bureaucracies in several school boards), encouraging competitive markets and the development of Charter schools and letting funding follow the child (a scheme that has yet to show any indication of improving performance of students or the school system). They also want to enable innovation through innovation experiments in outcome based learning (focusing on what the student can do rather than time or process), replace provincial achievement testing with assessment intended to support and enable learning but still using standardized tests (with widespread performance reporting) and ensure social inclusion.

The Wild Rose have a strategy which is clear and explicit. While I find some aspects of this puzzling – the competitive elements, the use of standardized tests as a basis for continuous assessment of learning – it has many elements many of have campaigned for. The PC party used to have a strategy to transform education in Alberta and to position Alberta as a world-leading jurisdiction for teaching and learning. Under Redford, they seem to have lost the plot.

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