The best to worst lists for 2010 have all appeared, but you will look in vain for any relating to breakthroughs, disasters, or trends in Canadian education. South of the border, the public schools were aflame with controversy, the hard-hitting feature film Waiting for Superman stirred up a frenzy, and The New York Times heralded the abysmal 2010 Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) results as a “Sputnik moment” or game-changing crisis.
Yet here in Canada critical issues in education continue to elicit something approaching a collective shrug. While education zealots bombard the blogs, most of the “live talk” about the state of education is confined to animated conversations in the school parking lot or chit-chat around the staff coffee machine.
Why does Canadian education get a free pass, drifting into the future without much of a national debate? Out of 70 participating countries in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), we are the only one without a federal presence in education. More regrettably, the recent gutting of the Canadian Council on Learning promises to render cross-national as well as international comparisons a problematic venture.
Undaunted by the challenges, here’s my personal list of the Best and Worst in education news, just to to incite a little discussion:
The Best of 2010
The most promising and potentially important events and developments were:
1. Pathways to Education
The dramatically successful Canadian stay-in-school initiative, launched in 2001 by Carolyn Acker in Toronto’s Regent Park, has now spread to 12 high dropout areas in three other provinces, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Manitoba. Students-at-risk are rewarded with $1,000 a year for four years towards PSE tuition for successfully completing the program.
2. The PISA Results Plateau
Alberta and Quebec 15-year olds set the pace ensuring that Canada held its own on the 2009 PISA international tests in mathematics, science and reading. Young Canadians finished 10th in math, 8th in science, and 6th in reading, while their American counterparts slid to 31st, 23rd, and 17th, respectively, in math, science, and reading.
3. Rising Graduation Rates
Provincial departments of education began to see some return on their concerted efforts to raise the high school “attainment rate.” In Ontario, the graduation rate rose from 68% in 2003 to 79% in 2009. Oddly enough, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and P.E.I. boast rates from 80 to 83% (10% above the national average)
4. High School Rankings Go Westward
Eight years after introducing the High School Report Card, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies teamed up with the Winnipeg-based Frontier Institute in early 2010 to produce the first comprehensive school-by-school rankings in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and B.C. The major breakthrough in public disclosure was only marred by the hostile reaction in the most resistant “dark ages” province, Manitoba.
5. Toronto’s School Choice Initiative
Toronto Education Director Dr. Chris Spence challenged the status quo in 2009-10 with his “Vision for Hope” to shore up the system against private school student losses. He proposed four new alternative schools, an all-boys school, an all-girls school, and a choir school for the musically talented, before encountering resistance from nervous trustees and a vocal minority of parents.
The Worst of 2010
The most widely discussed public disasters or major setbacks were:
1. The Ken Fells Fiasco
Principal Ken Fells’ forcible takedown of a 15-year old boy in a March 2010 disciplinary action was captured on security video for the world to see. The infamous “Dartmouth Handshake” split the Halifax School Board, prompted the Chief Superintendent’s husband to leak the tape, and finally forced a belated RCMP investigation. When Fells was restored, the HRSB boss suffered lost credibility and principals everywhere were left wondering what was now permissible.
2. Gutting of the Council on Learning
Federal funding for the respected national educational research institute, the Canadian Council on Learning founded in 2004 at $85 million for 5 years, was eliminated in January 2010 by Stephen Harper’s government. CCL head Dr. Paul Cappon, the architect of Canada’s strategy for raising international standards, cried foul, but the plea was dismissed by a cost-conscious cabinet looking to vacate provincial jurisdiction.
3. Ontario’s Early Learning Program Reversal
Ontario’s “Education Premier” Dalton McGuinty announced a December 15, 2010 “flip-flop” by abandoning plans to fully implement a seamless, wrap-around, year-long Early Learning Program, integrating full-day kindergarten with child care services. After creating inflated expectations, he backed-down amid intense local opposition and mounting concerns about run-away ELP costs.
4. Blackout on Waiting for Superman
The American feature film, Waiting for Superman, produced by An Inconvenient Truth’s Davis Guggenheim and praised by Barak Obama, was trashed in September 2010 by former OISE Dean Jane Gaskell as a “teacher-bashing” movie and then virtually blacked-out across Canada, with the exception of a few Toronto cinemas. Never underestimate the influence of our educational establishment.
5. School Closure Debacle
Community school advocates lost ground, often in small town and rural areas suffering severe declining enrolments. Small victories in Nova Scotia’s Antigonish and Colchester counties were offset by the relentless march of school closures elsewhere. The Ontario scene was marked by the forced closure of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s only high school and the fizzling of two Ontario citizen’s action groups, Save Our Schools, and the Middlesex-based Community Schools Alliance.
Over to You
Why are Canadians so averse to “telling it like it is” in our education system? What’s your reaction to my highly subjective list? Looking back over 2010, what has Educhatter missed? What do you think of his rankings? What value, if any, do you see in compiling such year-end-lists?