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Posts Tagged ‘Canadian Education Association’

The recognized dean of Canadian education reporters, Louise Brown of The Toronto Star, has just stepped down and will leave a gigantic hole in the field.  Why that is so is worthy of a commentary on the state of the Education Beat in Canada as well as the United States.

EducationBeatLouiseBrownFor over thirty years, Louise not only “covered” education and family life, but produced numerous in-depth pieces demonstrating her formidable enterprise reporting skills and commitment to media accuracy. In her recent August 6, 2016 farewell piece, she identified the abandonment of Ontario Grade 13 as “the biggest mistake” of the past 30 years. It demonstrated, once again, the critical importance of “institutional memory” in education reporting.

Reading Louise’s retrospective piece prompted me to start investigating the state of Education Beat journalism and to look for research on recent trends over the past decade.  A May 2016 report, State of the Education Beat 2016, produced by the Education Writers Association, revealed how different the situation is on the other side of the continental line.

Based upon a survey of 400  American “education journalists,” the average reporter is a woman, 36 years old with 11 years experience and almost four of five (79 %) of the respondents are “very or fairly satisfied with their jobs.”  Optimism oozed from the report and the EWA made a bold declaration: “Education journalism is a field with a future.”

The EWA was, of course, attempting to dispel the myth abroad in the land of journalism that covering education is a “beginner beat” where novice reporters are broken-in and mark time waiting for more prestigious assignments to materialize at the newspaper or local television station.  Surveying local education reporters over the past forty years, most have looked (to me) either totally bored covering school board meetings or so completely out-to-sea as to be easy prey for board communications officers. 

EducationBeatEWACover2016Digging more deeply into the EWA 2016 report, a different, more familiar pattern begins to emerge. Most education journalists (60 per cent) work for newspapers, reporting in print and online. Very few are employed in television (4 %) and today’s education journalists are surprisingly critical of the token, superficial coverage provided on local television. The fastest growing segment, education-focused news outlets, like Ed Surge, Education Next or Chalkbeat, employ 22 per cent of American reporters, a field largely absent in Canada.

When it comes to nagging professional challenges, there is remarkable convergence across the border. Based upon my ongoing conversations with beat reporters, over forty years, the critical issues remain remarkably consistent: 1) being spread far too thin covering K-12 and PSE education or periodically reassigned to general reporting duties; 2) shortage of expertise, particularly among senior editors and regular reporters; 3) the spread of data analytics, skewing coverage to “click bait” topics or reactive reporting.

Two-thirds of American education reporters report having little or no difficulty getting in-person access to schools and campuses. The vast majority of them ( 88 per cent) still report getting their information primarily from school system insiders, via teachers (89%), news releases (89%), local education leaders (82%), or education departments (80%). Most “story leads” (70 %) are “planted” by school district communications officers, and only 41% are generated by academic research and 37% by education think tanks. Only 20 per cent of U.S. reporters admit that they find themselves covering topics they “don’t really understand.”

One-third of American education journalists find it difficult to penetrate the school or university system. Getting in-person access to schools or campuses is difficult for them and almost one-out-of four (23 %) of reporters find educational leaders either “uncooperative or hostile” toward them, effectively denying access. It would be interesting to know why this happens and whether, as one might assume, it is retribution for writing critical pieces on education.

Education reporting in Canada, based upon my experience, is in considerably worse shape. Few of our beat reporters make a career of covering education and those that do achieve legendary status. Over the past thirty years, only a handful have either registered as major players or stayed long enough to make a real impact. The Toronto Star’s Louise Brown belongs in that company, but so does Janet Steffenhagen of the Vancouver Sun, who, for fifteen years broke many stories in British Columbia education, most notably the crisis that tore apart the former BC College of Teachers. Promising education reporters such as Hugo Rodrigues of the Sun News chain and Frances Willick of The Chronicle Herald are more typical — making their mark and then moving on in journalism.

OverdueAssignmentCoverCanada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, has employed an Education Reporter for years, but none better than Jennifer Lewington in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  She is also, to my knowledge, the only one ever to write a book about the state of education. Her 1993 book, co-authored with Graham Orpwood, Overdue Assignment, still offers the most thorough, insightful analysis of the “fortress-like,” self-absorbed school system.  It’s safe to say that educational leaders who dared to take her calls had done their homework.

One Canadian education news outlet that does exert influence inside the school system is the Canadian Education Association. Official education news has found a reliable outlet in the CEA, particularly through the pages of the CEA magazine, Education Canada, and, more recently, the CEA Blog. Provincial education ministries and faculty of education professors find Education Canada most useful in trumpeting new initiatives or disseminating research supporting those initiatives.  Under the guidance of Max Cooke, the CEA Blog has become more interactive, publishing many thoughtful pieces by former teacher Stephen Hurley, the curator of  VoiceED Canada, a truly unique open-ended online venture in a field too often characterized by echo chamber conversations.

Education commentators tend to fill the void in Canadian public education. Of all Canadian daily columnists, Margaret Wente, is — by far – the most influential and the most feared, judging by the rather foolish attempts of a University of Toronto OISE “Facts in Education” truth squad to discredit her opinions.  Manitoba social studies teacher Michael Zwaagstra, a tireless newspaper column writer, and Edmonton Journal online writer-editor, David Staples, regularly bang the drum for higher standards, improved math instruction, and proper teaching of reading.

Over the past month, two feisty and incredibly determined Canadian education reformers, Malkin Dare and Doretta Wilson, have taken a step back from the education battleground.  For over thirty years, “Aunt Malkin” of Waterloo, Ontario, the founder of the Society for Quality Education, churned out hundreds and hundreds of short research summaries and columns championing not only phonics and systematic reading instruction, but school choice and charter schools. As Executive Administrator of SQE, Doretta was the public face of the movement, appearing regularly on Ontario radio and television shows.

Education reform tends to get short-shrift in the Canadian popular press but not so in the United States. A May 2016 American Enterprise Institute (AEI) paper, How the Press Covers Charter Schools, reveals just how vibrant the public discourse is in American newspapers, magazines, and the electronic media. Based upon 2015 coverage in seven major news outlets, Rick Hess and his AEI team found a relatively balanced division of opinion, perhaps reflecting that country’s deeper right-left divisions.

One fascinating finding was the influence of gatekeepers such as Valerie Strauss, Editor of The Answer Sheet, a widely-read  regular feature in The Washington Post.  Of 36 Washington Post stories coded and analyzed, some 17 were from The Answer Sheet and, of those, nine were critical or “negative” on charter schools, eight were neutral, and none judged supportive or “positive” toward the reform.  Her presence, AEI noted, skewed Post coverage against school reform.

Carrying the torch for so-called “progressive education” in Strauss’s fashion would not even raise an eyebrow in Canadian educational circles. That’s why no one even asks why Toronto’s perennial education commentator Annie Kidder, founder of education funding lobby group People for Education, is quoted in a surprising number of  news stories generated by Toronto news media outlets. News biases are invisible in the mainstream Canadian educational echo chamber.

What’s happened to the education beat in Canada and the United States?  Why do so many education reporters simply recycle school district media releases or content themselves reacting to official policy pronouncements? Is there cause for the optimism reflected in the 2016 EWA report on the state of the field?  Who is going to fill the void in Canada left by the departures of veteran reporters like Louise Brown, Janet Steffenhagen, and Jennifer Lewington?

 

 

 

 

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“What’s Standing in the Way of Educational Change?” is a fundamental question that deserves an answer.  On October 21, 2013, it was also the theme of a Canadian Education Association (CEA) Symposium held in Calgary and attended by some 300 educators, including delegates from seven ministries of education, 12 faculties of education, and chief superintendents from 15 different cities.  After all the edu-chatter, a clear, unqualified answer still eludes us.

CEAStandininWayofChangeHolding that Symposium was still one of the year’s bright spots.  The Canadian student results on the Big Test, the 2012 Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) mathematics supremacy test,  proved to be the biggest downer.  Surveying Canada’s provincial K-12 education systems brings into sharper relief the most notable ups and downs on the learning curve.

The Best – Hopeful Signs
. Teen Mental Health Initiative
With the Rehtaeh Parsons case capturing the headlines, a Mental Health Pathway to Care program championed by Dalhousie University psychiatrist Dr. Stan Kutcher was implemented in Nova Scotia and other provinces without much fanfare. Adopting an integrated model, training teachers and focusing on Grade 9 students will pay longer-term social dividends. Most of the credit belongs to two Nova Scotia regional school boards, the South Shore and Halifax, for taking it on before “Rehtaeh” became a household word across North America.
•    Adoption of Cyberbullying Laws
The continuing controversy swirling around Rehtaeh Parsons teen suicide finally bore fruit in the form of a series of new statutes known as Cyberbullying Acts. In the wake of Rehtaeh’s death, Nova Scotia moved quickly to pass a Cyber-Safety Act, establishing a Cyber Scan police unit to clamp down on cyberbullies. In November 2013, federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay followed-up with legislation aimed at cyberbullying, including a prohibition of the non-consensual distribution of intimate images. Distributing “cyber-porn” was now deemed a criminal offense in Canada.
•    Resurgence of C21 School Reform
The resurrection of former New Brunswick deputy education minister John D. Kershaw as CEO of C21 Canada signaled a resurgence in the technology-driven “21st Century Schools” movement. Inspired by American Tony Wagner’s “creativity and innovation” crusade, Kershaw and his hi-tech partner William Kierstead held a February 2013 “Shifting Minds” Summit Conference and then developed an expanding ITC partnership with the Canadian Council of Ministers of Education (CMEC).  A well-publicized 2013 research report, entitled Future Tense and produced by the Action Canada program scholars, helped to advance a closely related assault on provincial student testing.
•    Community Hub School Revival
A February 2013 policy proposal, presented by the Nova Scotia Small Schools Initiative and based upon Toronto educator Dr. David Clandfield’s international research, succeeded in changing the adversarial, divisive public dialogue around school closures in Maritime rural communities.  Community hub school ‘talk’  became de rigeur and then even Nova Scotia Education Minister Ramona Jennex began voicing her support. When the N.S. School Review Process was suspended, in early April 2013, small school advocates celebrated the temporary halt of school consolidation.
•    Quebec Math Student Prowess
In the wake of the 2012 PISA student results, Canadian education policy analysts were stunned, once again, by the stellar performance of Quebec students in mathematics. With Quebec ranking first in Canada, among the world’s top ten and far ahead of the English-speaking provinces, experts were at a loss to explain why.  Setting higher standards, provincial testing, and more rigorous math curricula are the most plausible explanation, but not what the dominant ‘progressive education’ thinkers like to hear.
The Worst – Troubling Signs
•    The 2012 PISA Results Slide
On December 3, 2013, the 2012 Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) student rankings hit Canada with the force of an Asian tsunami.  Our 15-year-old students, competing against those of 64 other OECD countries, slid down to 13th place, dropping out of the top ten, and falling further behind students from Shanghai/China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Macau, and Japan. Canada’s former educational leader, Alberta, continued to slide, as did all provinces following the Western and Northern Canada Protocol (WNCP) ‘discovery math’ curriculum. For Prince Edward Island, the dismal PISA student results continued to be nothing short of an educational disaster.
•    Tarnishing of the TDSB’s Reputation
The Director of the Toronto District School Board, Chris Spence, abruptly resigned on January 10, 2013, amid a cascade of plagiarism allegations. Parts of Dr. Spence’s dissertation, submitted in 1996 for his Ph.D. from OISE were also copied from unattributed sources. That thesis on “Black Male Student Athletes in Toronto High Schools” had also formed the basis for his black student leadership programs. A year later an Ontario audit of TDSB books during his administration turned up financial irregularities, including evidence that senior administration collected hefty increases during a staff salary freeze.
•    Fumbling of the “Rehtaeh File”
With the eyes of the world on Nova Scotia, the Government hired Torontonians Penny Milton and Debra Pepler to conduct a limited, ‘no fault’ review of the Halifax RSB’s policy and procedures in relation to the handling of the case. When Parsons’ mother Leah dismissed the slim 25-page June 2013 report as “fluffy,” the credibility of the exercise was completely shot.  Two more external reviews later, the essential questions remain unanswered.
•    Bungled Student Testing Initiative
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall’s government attempted to introduce provincial student testing in an effort to improve that province’s student performance levels. The Saskatchewan standardized testing initiative was rushed and ran into fierce opposition mounted by Dr. Marc Spooner and his supporters at the University of Regina.  In August 2013, the province announced a tactical delay in the implementation of testing and a month later Education Minister Russ Marchuk was replaced in the cabinet by a more conciliatory figure, Don Morgan.
•    Lightening Up of Standards
British Columbia’s 21st Century Learning project, promoting a student-centred focus and known as “Personalized Learning,” was cruising along until it hit a significant knot in the educational road – the 2012 PISA results. That province’s steady improvement in mathematics (under its old, test-driven curriculum) left many wondering why a “revolutionary change in learning” was being implemented. The Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson joined the chorus urging British Columbians to “pitchfork” the lightweight “21st century schools” education reform.

Predictions can be risky in the world of K-12 Canadian education. A prophecy made by Canadian international standards expert Dr. Paul Cappon in December 2010 was actually borne out over the past year.  Compared to the world’s leading education states, Canada was “sliding down the learning curve.”

What kind of year was 2013 in the world of Canadian P-12 education? Did we get an answer to the CEA Conference question – What’s Standing in the Way of Educational Change?  Is it possible to answer that question given that Canadian educators continue to inhabit 10 little educational silos?

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