Back to the Math Basics in Ontario!

While Lilley says rote learning will be back, such as practising the time tables, I wonder about such basics as telling time.

While Lilley says rote learning will be back, such as practising the time tables, I wonder about such basics as telling time.

Check out Brian Lilley’s latest column which does indeed prove that elections have consequences!

According to Lilley, the Doug Ford Conservative Government in Ontario will soon introduce a new math curriculum for all public elementary and secondary grades. It will, allegedly, be curriculum guidelines that bring back the basics, while introducing up-to-date skills that will be needed by today’s students in the future.

This is certainly good news for those of us who have been demanding “bring back the basics” for over a decade now.

I am a curriculum development specialist and understand exactly what it is going to take to implement a change like this. It will involve a massive ideological and practical change that will certainly take the 4 years Lilley says the government will need to get everything in place.

Older teachers with a lot of experience will be fine because they used to teach the basics. Newer teachers, however, will need some retraining and mentoring. And, of course, teacher training institutions will need to find out why the “discovery math” research was so wrong.

In other words, this change will affect just about everyone in the public education system, including parents. Lilley says homework will be easier for parents. Time will tell about that.  Anyway, whatever the challenges ahead, I respect the Ford Government moving forward on this.

I should point out that not every teacher in the public system will be affected — because not every teacher teaches math.  For example, while classroom teachers in the primary and junior grades (1-6) usually teach their own students math. It is subject specialist teachers who teach math at the intermediate (7 and 8) level. Of course, subject specialists and lead teachers are involved in teaching math at the high school level, where there is still streaming.

While Lilley says rote learning will be back, such as practising the time tables, I wonder about such basics as telling time. It may come as a surprise to some, but kids in Grades 4 and 5 today only learn to tell the time digitally. I learned that first hand from a great-grandson who is in Grade 5. A very good student, I asked him one day what time it was. He said I don’t know because I don’t have my watch or tablet with me. I pointed out the clock on the hutch, near where he was standing, and he said something to the effect that I don’t know how to read a clock.

To say I was shocked would be an understatement but he explained that everything computerized was digital. Actually, no, not everything is digital. There are millions of clocks everywhere! Then, there is the 24 hour clock, which we need to know to travel. Anyway, using an analog clock will be one of the topics I will look for when the new curriculum comes out.

The crux of the matter is what the Ontario Government curriculum developers will include in the new curriculum. And, those developers will be made up of teams of curriculum specialists, from school boards to faculties of education, to make those decisions. Contrary to public opinion, politicians and bureaucrats do NOT do that.

In the meantime, let’s get a comment discussion going.

C/P at Jacksnewswatch.

Thousands of kids in UK removed from special needs list will avoid negative labels

Graeme Paton of the Telegraph is reporting that changes in the way special needs children are diagnosed in the U.K. is going to have hundreds of thousands of children and youth (estimates are in the 450,000 range) removed from the special needs “extra help in school” lists. (H/T # 10 at JNW)

As the video indicates, the concern of U.K. MP Sarah Teather, Minister for Children and Families, seems two-fold: (1) that there be a single diagnosis process encompassing education, health and social services; and (2) that children, who are simply behind in their school work a bit, or have a few behavioural problems, get help outside of special services.

Which, putting aside politics since I live in Canada, makes a lot of sense to me. When I went to school or taught in the elementary and secondary systems myself, we only referred kids to special services when they had profound learning problems. Everyone else we helped as best we could.

We re-taught or reviewed lessons when necessary. We sent extra work home. And, we worked with children and youth during recess, lunch hours and after school — although when children travelled by school bus, staying after school became impossible.

Which makes me wonder whether teachers’ unions have now forbidden teachers from using any of their break and lunch periods to work with kids.  Yes, teachers deserve breaks and time to eat lunch. But, arrangements can be made. If that is no longer possible, however, how very tragic.

Tragic because labels and negative expectations can have far reaching consequences. And, those consequences come about because of what is now referred to as the Pygmalion Principle or the self-fulfulling prophecy principle (something I wrote about back in July of 2008).

In 1968 Lenore Jacobson and Robert Rosenthal assigned teachers to two separate groups of students — one group with above average IQs and one group with below average IQs. However, they reversed the groups so that the teacher with the children with low IQs thought her students were the ones with the high IQs and vice versa. In other words, it became a study about teacher expectations based on labelling.

The result? By the end of the school year all the students thought to have high IQs (but, unknown to the teacher actually had been assessed as having low scores) excelled far beyond what their initial tests showed they were capable. Meaning, labels can change attitudes and beliefs about people, becoming self-fulfilling prophecies — either negative or positive!

So, given the role of expectations and the Pygmalion Principle, my guess is that most of the thousands of kids in the UK who will ultimately be taken off the special needs list, will do just fine in life, as long as their families and teachers provide them the extra help they need and, perhaps most importantly, they “believe” in them.

Ohio mother jailed for sending her kids to a better school

Just when you think Western society cannot get any stranger, you read that an Ohio mother was jailed for ten days and given three years probation because she chose to send her children to a better school than the one in her downtoan Akron neighbourhood — an area that was plagued by drugs and crime.

Obviously,  the local Akron authorities don’t understand the notion of freedom of movement and a parent’s right to try and provide her kids with a way out of the poverty trap.  And, trap it obviously is. What is especially shocking is that this didn’t happen in some Middle East or African dictatorship. It happened in the “land of the free” — in the United States of America where Barack Obama is President.  

Read the whole article. It makes us appreciate the notion of open boundaries and parent choice all that much more. Imagine! The downtown Akron Ohio school district actually hired a private eye to videotape Kelley Williams-Bolar “driving into the predominantly white district to deliver the children to school.”

So, who, I wonder, complained to the authorities and why are they trying to make an example out of this woman? For any Americans reading this post, I would recommend they send a complaint to their Congressman and Senator — no matter where they live. This is 2011 and that type of rigidity and lack of freedom should not be allowed anywhere in what is supposed to be the land of the free — particularly if  you are poor and black and can’t afford to move.

Special education Internet links for parents & teachers

Listed here are some special needs and special education web resources that would be very helpful for parents or teachers. Normally, this information is posted on my header bar. However, I thought I should publish it to get the post onto the various search engines. (See also the non-endorsement disclaimer below.)

Applied Behavioural Analysis or ABA Treatment — (Link) (Link)

Alberta Committee of Citizens with Disabilities — (Link)

Autism Society Canada — (Link)

Autism Treatment Centre of America — Autism development treatment program called “Son-Rise.” (Link)

Canadian Association for Community Living — Advocacy for individuals with intellectual/developmental disability (Link)

Canadian Association for Independent Living — Information, programs and services for individuals needing assistance with daily living (Link)

Gifted Canada — (Link)

L’arche — International movement of people with developmental disabilities (Link)

Learning Disabilities Association of Canada — (Link)

Learning & Reading Disabilities — a site about the importance of phonics and other techniques to improve and enhance reading (Link)

Our — Lists schools children that are focused on accommodating attention deficit disorder and/or learning disabilities (Link) (Link)

Son-Rise — Autism treatment program (Link)


Disclaimer: The Internet organizations and web links listed on this page are for information only. They are not affiliated with this weblog or its owner, nor are they endorsed in any way. As such, it is up to each and every visitor to determine whether to use them or to conduct further research or inquiries.

Politics & jobs: Why schools don’t want “parents as partners”

A few days ago, I read a column in the Toronto Sun by Moira MacDonald titled “Schools won’t let parents in” (H/T Catherine). It was about so-called “parent partnerships” and the frustrations many well-educated and experienced parents have when they are invited to be a parent-partner and then expected to do little more than peripheral activities. For example, in talking about parent Uzma Shakir’s experiences, MacDonald writes that even though she has several degrees, including one in English literature, her kids’ school only asked her to bake cookies.

So, why is that attitude so prevalent? For two reasons: politics and jobs based on the assumption that only graduates of teachers college can understand the learning needs of students, a belief that must be maintained if the teachers unions are to ensure parents do not take jobs that should go to teachers.

For example, read what MacDonald writes about Charles Ungerlieder, a former deputy minister of education in the B.C. government and currently Dean in the University of B.C. Teacher Education program. She quotes him as saying that the “parents as partners” is a silly slogan because parents aren’t partners at school and shouldn’t be.  Why not?  Because parents are not trained teachers, and therefore sometimes don’t know what their children’s needs or best interests are — something that should be up to”the professionals to decide.”

Now, how offensive is that? Let’s say your child is being taught by a new, or fairly new, teacher education graduate. They are in their mid twenties and have never had children of their own. Yet, they know what your child’s needs and best interests are? Hogwash! Parents like Shakir have far more education than most teachers and they know their own children better than anyone.I mean, prior to attending school, they somehow managed to teach them to sit up, to walk, to talk and to get along with others. They also likely taught them their numbers and part of the alphabet, if not the whole alphabet. And, once in school, it is they who help their children with their homework.

So, what exactly defines the difference between Shakir’s education and parenting experience against a newly trained teacher?  The difference is the equivalent of a single eight month teacher education program. Yes, I know, some provinces require three and four-year degrees, but when you separate out the courses specifically geared to teaching, it amounts to introductory and survey courses on teaching methods, basic curriculum planning and classroom management, plus ten – sixteen weeks in a classroom under the supervision of a practising teacher.

Now, why do I say “introductory” and “survey” courses?  Because, that is all it is. Everything I know about curriculum I did not learn in teacher’s college. All you learn there is basic unit and day planning. No, what I learned in order to teach pre-service students about curriculum required master’s and doctoral degrees.

So, could parents learn the basics? Absolutely, if the will was there. Why isn’t the will there? Well, imagine the following scenario — how politics influences all this.

New curriculum guidelines for Grade 12 English have just been released. What is the likelihood of a high school teacher going before a microphone to tell the public what they don’t like about the themes in the document? Not likely at all. Now, what might happen if a parent had access to the same document and he or she didn’t like the themes? They would likely have no problem going before a microphone to complain loud and clear. Meaning, that is the political reason the parent as partners is not made workable.

Then, as I also mentioned at the start of this article, there is the issue of teaching jobs. What do parents have to do with that? Well, paranoia aside, if Shakir is qualified to teach Shakespeare, chances are she could teach a whole course. Meaning that hypothetically, if the school board wanted to save money, they could use her to do so. Thus the reason the teachers’ unions will no longer allow that kind of parent partnership. And, that’s a shame because years ago, when I was still teaching at the elementary or secondary levels, parents with specialized skills would frequently spend time in our classrooms and share their knowledge and skills.

So, there you have it. Let’s call a spade a spade. Let’s stop fooling the general voting public into thinking that the governments or school boards really want to have parents as partners. They don’t. And, neither do the teachers’ unions. And, as far as that wall of professionalism separating teachers from parents goes, I have been on both sides of it and most certainly did not like being on the parent side.

Could that “we are the professionals” wall  be torn down? Yes, in a minute if there was the political will to do so. All it would take is providing parents with some seminars or courses on the same subjects pre-service students study.

Will some parent organization take on the role of fighting for real parent-school partnerships? I certainly hope so. Which is why I have risked the political fallout from former colleagues and those currently in my profession by writing this article. My bet, however, is that most teachers would agree with me, at least those who are parents themselves.

Ethical standards & legislation both guide & hinder teachers

I know there is not much sympathy in general society for elementary and secondary school teachers, but they really do get a bum rap from all sides of the educational divide.  First, let me state that having taught in both pre-service and graduate education programs, I can verify that this is a group of individuals who are by their very nature, societal leaders.  

Yet, once in their jobs, teachers find out fairly quickly that their notion of independence is no more than an illusion because they have to do exactly what their government, principal and union demands — and in that order. For example, here and here are comments Doug Little wrote on another thread about union involvement.  

In other words, teachers either learn to do what they are told or they have to quit and find a new career path. Most, because they like children, the salary, the benefits and the pension plan, adapt. And, truth be told, I was no different.  

Yes, there are ethical standards of practice. But, click on the link and you will quickly see how general they are. In fact, they are all motherhood concept words or statements — edu-babble as far as the general public is concerned — because they don’t say anything concrete.

I mean, when push comes to shove, how can a parent judge whether a teacher has a commitment to professional knowledge? And, even if parents did have access to that information, where does that leave their children when they disagree about something?

Let’s say, for example, that a parent complains about an evaluation technique whereby high school teachers have been told they cannot deduct marks for handing in assignments late. Let’s assume, for discussion purposes, that the parent’s child is one of those students who works very hard and does exactly what they are told to do. Yet, they see another student do very little for the same credit. Both the student and the parent feels the policy is wrong because there appears to be a lack of fairness and equity.

Now, who exactly are parents and students going to blame for such a policy? Do they blame the Premier or Education Minister? Not likely. Rather, they tend to blame the teachers because they are the front line workers. Which is likely why, Matt, a regular commenter here, writes in a comment on the same thread as Doug, that it was not fair for me to suggest that it is the teachers who are widening the divide between the no-fail policy and parents — when they don’t like the policy either.

The irony of the situation is that the “no-fail” policy was developed in the first place because of the public complaint that too many high school students were dropping out because school was not meaningful to them. In fact, Ontario’s current Premier, Dalton McGuinty, campaigned in both 2003 and 2007 that, if elected or re-elected, he would decrease the drop out rates and increase the graduate rates. And, guaranteed, come hell or high water, he will make sure he has improved statistics in time for the 2011 provincial election.   

In reality, then, what options do teachers have if they disagree with a policy they must implement when, under the Ontario Education Act (Part X, Sections 264-265), they MUST follow their principal’s direction? It is not just as Catherine suggested in the same thread as Doug and Matt, that teachers don’t speak out because of the politics of fear. It goes far beyond that. It is the law.

Well, it seems that the only option they have is to ask their unions to lobby on their behalf. True, I have been hard on the teachers’ unions over the nearly five years I have been blogging. But, I am finally beginning to see why the teacher-union rep relationship I remember as being somewhat distant, is now so close.

Yet, I can’t help thinking positively about the whole subject. I mean think about it. Each and every day in every province and territory of Canada, there are thousands, if not millions of positive teacher-parent contacts, in person, by e-mail or on the telephone. In other words, whether it is because of College of Teachers ethical standards or legislation, such as Ontario’s Education Act, teachers are usually able to communicate effectively with parents.

However, for those parents who want to go further, to advocate change, they need to consider starting or joining a parent advocacy group that speaks regularly with provincial politicians, not on individual cases, but in general areas that need attention or reform. And, no, I am not talking about parent groups that cow tow or accept money from school boards, the government being lobbied or unions that might have a conflict of interest. In other words, parents need to become political because that is where all education policy happens. I know, because after early retirement, I worked as an EA for an Ontario MPP from 1995 until 1999, a member of provincial parliament who also happened to be the Education Minister’s PA. And, that old adage that the squeaky wheel gets the grease? Well, it is bang on!

So, while provincial ethical standards and Education Acts may be in place to provide public accountability, they may also hinder the parent-teacher communication process.

Kids need exercise

One of the few topics related in some way to education that is not political is the need for kids to be healthy and active. So, what should schools and parents do to make sure children stay healthy? Do something, anything that is activity oriented — just don’t call it exercise.

For example, elementary schools should not do away with recess, even for students in the intermediate grades because it gives the older children time to run, throw a frisby or kick a soccer ball. And in high schools, there should be any number of possible athletic activities, from team sports or simply spare time to shoot hoops.

I mean, life expectancy rates have been continually rising over the last century.  However, there are concerns that the current trend towards a sedentary lifestyle could reverse that trend.  Why? Too much TV. Too many video games. Too much time on the computer. And, not enough cycling, running, throwing, jumping and climbing.

Anyway, the trend today is to organize outside fun activities that are healthy without calling them exercise. And, here are dozens of Google sources that will tell you how to do that.