School boards give Alberta government failing grade

Lays out in detail how the PCs have cut per student funding since 2013

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EDMONTON, AB, Apr 2, 2015/ Troy Media/ – Alberta’s four largest school boards – Edmonton Public and Catholic and their counterparts in Calgary – wrote to all parents last week and laid bare the reality of the claims of the Prentice government that it was “protecting front line services” and the quality of education. They are doing no such thing.

With detailed information, the four Boards laid out how much the Progressive Conservatives have cut per student funding since 2013 – while at the same time, the work of schools has become more complex.

Alberta government failing students

These four Boards have the responsibility of managing some of the most complex and growingly large classes in the OECD. In particular, the growth of English language learners, First Nations, Metis and Inuit students and students with special needs as a proportion of the student population has been dramatic. Indeed, these students account for one third of the student body.

alberta government
The Alberta government is failing to protect the quality of education in the province

Imagine a classroom, overcrowded with a range of learners, each with different and demanding needs. Then imagine a teacher – and remember, teachers are not staying as long in the profession as they once did – with few supports seeking to both manage this class and also develop and enable learning. All the research shows that conditions of practice make a difference to individual learning. If the teacher does not feel supported, has few resources to call on (e.g. for students with special needs), then we are going to see an impact on learning.

Whatever the government says, these are the supports which teachers relied on which have been eliminated or reduced over the last few years:

  • Class size funding for grade 4 to 12 as agreed – Eliminated
  • Enhanced grant for English Language Learners to support additional supports – Eliminated
  • Small Schools by Necessity Grant – Eliminated
  • Alberta Initiative for School Improvement to encourage and enable innovation – Eliminated
  • English Language Learners Grant – Reduced from seven to five years
  • Allowable Administration Expense – Reduced by 10 per cent
  • Per Student Grant – Frozen at 2013–2014 rate (0 per cent increase)

The government’s claim that class size “shows no impact” is about as useful as a saying that Justin Bieber has no impact on the criminal justice system. What they are saying is that class size has no impact on standardized test scores: they essentially correct because such scores are influenced more by gender, wealth and social conditions than by investments in teaching in learning. Teachers do not change test scores significantly – they are too busy changing the lives and understanding of their students.

The government’s crowning achievement in education is to build schools, but without providing the teachers to staff them. This genius idea, akin to building swimming pools without water or growing forests without trees or manufacturing cars without engines, means that the 47 new schools which these Boards will be responsible for as they come on stream will each represent a further dilution of resources for the system as a whole.

All this could be have been avoided by a sensible, equitable approach to taxation and to education. Indeed, if equity was a policy driver, then the kinds of double-speak and empty policies exemplified by this government would look very different.

The Minister of Education argues that Boards face dramatic choices – they need to rethink how they provide education. This is what Boards actually do all the time and they were in the process of doing so in partnership with their teachers and the Government of Alberta until the latter changed course and went “off planet”.

Alberta government should be ashamed

Alberta has one of the few truly great education systems in the English-speaking world. We earned our position the hard way – through serious-minded sense-making by teachers, Principals, trustees and government working together. All of this work is based on trust. This trust has been broken by the actions of this government.

The Metro Board chairs are to be commended for calling-out the actions of government. The government should be ashamed for creating the situation in which they had to.

Stephen Murgatroyd is a consultant in innovative business and education practices with a PHd in psychology.

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