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Keep up to date on all the education news

Get People for Education’s “Views on the News”

I do try to remember to “blog” regularly, but sometimes there’s just not enough time in the day. BUT we do post news items about education on our website every day, complete with our views about them.  It’s like a little, easy-to-read mini-blog.

And if you want, you can subscribe to the “views on the news” RSS feed and you will get the news updates (magically) in your computer.  There will be no more than about three a day and they’re very short. But if you get them, then you too can know the latest on banning balls from playgrounds, the state of the new sex ed curriculum and the latest release from the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada.

To get the RSS feed, just click here. 


What an amazing two days!

There was a lot of talk aboutPasi Sahlberg success at People for Education’s 15th annual conference on November 5th and 6th. And there was a lot of talk about Finland.

Pasi is a teacher, a researcher and an advisor to many governments, the World Bank and the OECD. Among the “Finnish facts” he shared with us:

  • In Finland there is no word for accountability and there are no standardized tests.
  • By the time kids graduate from basic education (our grade 10) approximately half of them have had some kind of special education support – but the Finnish definition of special education includes any form of extra support.
  • Finnish students and teachers spend fewer hours in class than students in any other OECD country.
  • The Finnish government recommends that students spend 33% of their weekly lesson hours on Arts and Health & Physical Education, compared to 27% on Math and Science.
  • Finnish students outperform students from nearly every other OECD country in math, language and science

Other highlights of the conference included the “face-off” between former education Ministers Janet Ecker and Gerard Kennedy, and NDP researcher Michael Polanyi. Just click here to watch it online. They talked a lot about the College of Teachers – so maybe that should be one of our topics for next year’s conference.

In the plenary panel, Ben Levin explained to us that there weren’t magical attributes that made a “good teacher” – but there are definitely skills involved in “good teaching.” He said that the danger inherent in talking about “good teachers” was that it implied good teaching was more about a type of personality and less about teaching skills. He also shared some great insights about our misguided love of innovation.

Journalist Rick Salutin and Edmonton education specialist Jim Gibbons debated the merits of specialty schools. Rick thought they undermined public education; Jim thought they were an important answer to parents’ desire for choice.

The new Minister of Education Laurel Broten, in one of her first speeches,  talked about how her experiences as a parent looking for speech language support for her child had helped her understand how important it is that all of our systems work together. She said, rightly, that parents don’t care which arm of government is delivering the service – they just want to have access to it when it’s needed. She also outlined new plans for children and youth mental health that will bring nurses into schools and make it easier to find support.

One of my favourite parts of the conference every year is when everyone in the room introduces him or herself. This year, there were parents, school council and PIC members, trustees, teachers, principals, academics, government officials and community members from Terrace Bay, Timmins, and Toronto; Windsor, Wasaga Beach, and Wallaceburg; Nepean, Newcastle and North Bay, and everywhere in between. Along with guest speakers from New Brunswick, Alberta and Finland, it was a pretty impressive roll call. Even the new Minister was impressed.

There was a debate about fundraising and a facilitated discussion about the role of PICs; attendees learned to make their own e-newsletters, navigate the special education system and understand the role of school trustees.

There are lots of pictures of Day 1, both the speakers, and the people.  And we are posting notes from all the sessions, on our website, as they come in.

Day 2 of the conference started with an early morning (too early!) meeting of the People for Education Network. The Network now includes representatives from school councils and PICs from 50 of our 72 school boards and representatives from community agencies. That meeting focussed on developing recommendations about school councils, based in part on People for Education’s recent report on school councils, Beyond Fundraising.    

After the Network meeting on Sunday, attendees buckled down and got to work. The questions: If you were in charge of the education system, how would you define success? And how would you measure it? With facilitation from TVOParents, participants broke into groups to begin the amazing (and hard) process of coming up with new goals for education that go beyond targets for test scores. They did that, then they settled on a list of “indicators” (things that could be used as indications that either the kids or the system was meeting the goals) that could be used. All the notes from the session will be posted soon but suffice it to say groups came up with a range of responses – everything from goals for happy kids, to indicators that include lower crime rates.

Dan Shaw was a great addition to Day 2. He “animated” all the work, and soon you’ll be able to access the video of the day and of Dan’s work. For now, you can see the pictures by clicking here.

And someday, I’ll tell the story of what happened when one network member ran over another network member’s foot in the parking lot.

If you were running the education system, how would you define success?

How would you define success for our education system? And once you’ve defined it, what would you choose to keep track of as the  “indicators” of success?

Those are the two overarching questions of People for Education’s 15th Annual Conference.

And this isn’t going to be one of those conferences where the “experts” just talk at you all day. This conference is interactive. It’s about conversations, solving problems together and, collectively, figuring out what we think the goals for education should be.

There are parents and others coming from Thunder Bay, Windsor, Flesherton, Parry Sound, Morrisburg, Ottawa, Terrace Bay, Toronto and everywhere in between. And there are speakers coming from Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick, Boston and Finland!

Together we’re going to learn, come up with answers and share information.

Once again this year, we’re partnering with TVOParents to produce the conference – which means that more parents will have access to conference sessions, film clips and a live-streamed panel of experts who are going to help us figure out What Makes a Great Teacher. The teaching panel will be ably hosted by TVOParents’ Cheryl Jackson at 1:15 p.m. on Nov. 5th, and there will be a live Twitter feed! (#p4e2011)

Day 1 is going to start with the new Minister of Education, Laurel Broten. This is Ms. Broten’s very first speech as Minister of Education, but she brings with her lots of experience from her time as Minister of Children and Youth Services. It will be interesting to hear what her priorities are going to be in her new education file.

From Ontario, we’ll move to Finland. And we’ll have a conversation with Pasi Sahlberg, a very smart and very charming Finn who has spoken around the world on education. Pasi has a fascinating new book called Finnish Lessons – What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? (He’ll have books with him.) Pasi’s not going to make a speech. He’s going to talk with us instead – answering questions from me and from the audience. We’ll ask him what Ontario can learn from Finland and we’ll get him to give his answers to the overarching questions from the conference.

Day 2 is really an “unconference” and it  will be driven by the participants. Our goal by the end of the day is to have collectively answered the overarching questions. How we get there is up to the attendees.

There are a few things I love about the conference. I love it when everyone introduces themselves in the morning and we realize how far people have come and how many places are represented. I love the hands-on practical information that’s available and I love the philosophical conversations about education.

So I hope lots of you can come, and you can think about this: Our kids are doing pretty well in reading, writing and math, we have labour peace, the graduation rate is going up, and Ontario would come out close to the top if we were in an education competition with other provinces and territories. But is that enough?

See you on the 5th and 6th.

What can we learn from Finland?

Kids sitting at desks in classDiane Ravitch, an internationally recognized expert on education, has been expressing dismay about current education reforms in the United States. In this blog, she describes her trip to Finland and her amazement at how different Finnish educational goals are from American ones. Diane contrasts the guiding principles of the American education system: “competition, accountability, and choice,” with those of Finland: “equity, creativity, and prosperity.”

On November 5th at the People for Education Conference,  we’ll hear about Finland from the horse’s mouth (so to speak). Pasi Sahlberg will be at the conference to talk about why Finland is so different, and so successful. Pasi speaks around the world about education issues. He’s wonderfully articulate about what true success looks like, about the purpose of great education, and about how to lay the groundwork for good reform. He advises governments around the world (though it’s hard to believe right now that many are listening) and he’s currently helping the Alberta government “de-clutter” their K to 12 curriculum. We have a lot to learn from Finland, but we seem resistant.

Read Diane Ravitch’s blog. You can read Pasi Salhberg’s blog too. Come to the conference. Let’s see if we can change our collective thinking about education.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll probably want to check out my new space!            >> Our news and views
It’s shorter than a blog and updated several times a week.

Theme for our annual report: The measure of success – what really counts

Egerton Ryerson, the founder of Canada’s public education system, said that apple sectionseducation “is as necessary as the light; it should be as common as water, and as free as air.”

With that in mind, there are two worrying findings in this year’s annual report: First, we have narrowed our definition of success in education so that it’s focused almost exclusively on test results in literacy and math. And second, we’re not giving all students equal access to the educational supports they need, or to the enrichment that is a vital component of a well-rounded education.

This year, for the first time, we compared data from our surveys with data from the Ministry of Education’s School Information Finder. We found that in schools with a high proportion of students who live below the low income cut-off (approximately $30,000 for a family of four), students are more likely to be on special education waiting lists, less likely to be receiving appropriate special education supports and the schools raise, on average, less than half the fundraising amounts raised in schools with more well-off student populations.

Our schools have the potential to change children’s lives. But to do that, all students must have access to the right kinds of supports, a wide range of programs, including thriving school libraries, and all the enrichment in the arts, technology and athletics that schools now fundraise for.

If our definition of success in education goes beyond test scores, as it should, and instead includes a range of competencies that will prepare students to be successful, happy and contributing citizens, then it is time that we come up with a broader vision for education with bigger goals and a more concrete description of the kinds of programs, resources and supports that all students should have access to, no matter where they live, how rich or poor their families, or what their learning needs…

Something to think about as the provincial election approaches.

Have a great summer!

Click here to read the report.

To discuss issues in the annual report, click here.

We couldn’t do this work without help from all the principals and school councils who filled out our surveys this year. Thank you.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

Along with plans for less shortbread and more exercise, this New Year will include a provincial election. And it’s always worth looking at a variety of provincial policies during an election year.

Poverty and its effect on young people continues to be one of the hardest “nuts” to crack in our province and elsewhere. While recent international tests show that Canada and Ontario do better than most at narrowing the gap between high- and low-performing students based on socio-economic status, we still have a long way to go.

In Ontario, the Learning Opportunities Grant (LOG) was intended to support students whose socio-economic status puts them at risk of struggling in school, but the grant has a number of problems:

  • The grant was originally intended to cover the cost of programs proven to help kids at risk, including things like smaller class sizes; health, nutrition and recreation programs; mental health support; and more staff such as social workers, guidance counsellors and child and youth workers. But now the grant must cover the cost of a much wider range of programs, including general literacy and numeracy programs for all students.
  • The grant was cut by $130 million in 2005. While LOG funding has increased since then, it is still not enough to support the range of programs that would address the affects of poverty.
  • Boards can spend the funding wherever they choose, and many boards face funding pressures in other areas. As a result, it is not clear that all of the LOG money reaches the students for whom it is intended.

Maybe it’s time to think about a new grant that would be targeted specifically at programs proven to help students who are more likely to struggle in school because of their socio-economic status.  We could call it an Equity in Education Grant and it would help ensure that every student has a chance for success in education and in life.

Take 20 minutes, join a 14 year research project!

survey check box

Since 1997, People for Education has been tracking the programs and resources in Ontario’s elementary and secondary schools. This is the only
research project of its kind in Canada, and we want you to join us in this

The deadline to complete the elementary school survey (for principals) and the school council survey (one per school) is January 28th. The results will be published in June in our Annual Report. We also publish a detailed report for School Councils.

The surveys are posted online and available in English and French.

Thank you for taking part in this vital research!