I am guessing most people reading this post have been inspired by Barb and Carolyn’s work. Before they arrived on the scene over 5 years ago, the conversation around public education mostly involved anxiety around government budgets and school closings. While there were activists and parent councils doing their best to defend their individual schools, what was missing was a bigger vision for what public education was and could be. And I believe this is what Barb and Carolyn gave us. They have been unwavering in their commitment to advocating for safe, accessible public education. Their clear, authentic message gave a voice to thousands of parents and teachers who may have felt distracted by politics or divided by special interests. Barb and Carolyn reminded us that public education is critical to a strong democracy and that our Alberta public schools should be defended vigorously, passionately, and loudly. They have been champions for vulnerable families who need access to equitable education more than anyone.
And what is most amazing about these women is the amount of sheer labour and time they committed to their work. They answered calls and emails any time of day, worked late into the night to prepare releases for early mornings, and travelled all over the province to share their research and experience. They built a grassroots infrastructure through unglamourous and tireless work that I know was not always easy for them or their families.
And so we want to say thank you- thank you for the phone calls, workshops, interviews, and writing. Because of your work, advocates like us have a path to continue down. We will strive to meet the high bar you set to push our government and political parties to be better, to be fearless in our belief in public education, and to be inclusive and passionate to everyone we interact with.
Good luck with what is next for you - you will be missed.
SOS Alberta is as concerned with HOW Alberta re-opens schools as it is with WHEN.
We believe strongly that a unique opportunity exists right now to ask for learning conditions that are consistent with our 10 Point Strategy To Achieve Equitable Public Education.
We have always advocated for smaller class sizes, for children to have proper spaces to each lunch (not gym or hallway floors), for schools that have proper care & maintenance (CBE schools are $1.3 billion dollars behind in much needed updates), in proper staffing, and a return to funding full time school nurses.
These are all resources that under COVID-19 become critical supports to reopening schools safely for all its occupants, teachers, caretakers, educational assistants and students alike.
Now is the time for Albertans to communicate our expectations for a school re-opening. To this end, SOS Alberta is providing a letter template. Please use this letter to email the Premier Jason Kenney and the Minister of Education, Adriana LaGrange your expectations for a return to schools. Feel free to copy and paste the letter as is, or add/subtract points you deem relevant. We also recommend sharing this letter and contacting your MLA to let them know your thoughts on the reentry to school, you can find your MLA here.
Please cc SOS at email@example.com!
Your voice is critical.
Every letter is valuable.
We believe public education advocacy belongs to all Albertans.
This letter is not just for parents, but ALL Albertans who understand the value of a strong public education system.
We’d also like to add that the Alberta School Councils’ Association is also circulating a survey for parents on school councils. We are unclear what the process is if you are a parent of a child (ie under 5) who wants to participate, or if your school council is not a member of ASCA. Our understanding is that ASCA can only represent its membership and it is uncertain who or how the data will be analyzed. Nonetheless, the survey is an important and valuable way to participate in feedback, complimented by writing a letter directly to Premier Kenney, Minister LaGrange and your MLA. Hopefully, in this ever evolving process more transparency and clarity will be shared with the public.
We hope every Albertan takes the time to communicate their position on a return to school, and hope our template assists you in that endeavour.
After retweeting an important and articulate thread, SOS Alberta reached out to Marie Perry to see if she would string those thoughts together for a guest blog. We are honoured she obliged; these are her valuable thoughts as a teacher in Alberta during this COVID-19 crisis.
I started writing because I’ve been reading the expectations that some school boards, teachers, parents and members of the public have about what students should be doing for the rest of the school year. In particular, discussions about how students need to be completing the same course requirements on-line as they were in the classroom, and if they can’t, they should fail, or have to repeat the year.
I work in a high school, part-time as a teacher and part-time with the Inclusive Learning team. This means that I’m in the classroom as well as help set up accommodations for students who need them. What I’m thinking about is: how are we supporting students right now? Schools provide way more than instruction and assessment and even in those areas, such a wide range of programming for a wide range of learners.
So far, what I’ve seen from governments and school boards (all over Canada and the US) has revolved around moving classroom teaching online, with some modification, so that students can still get a grade at the end of the year. The first thing I should say is that I believe students are more than their grades. The second thing is, I am not objecting to the efforts to move instruction and assessment online. There are many students who benefit from structure, tasks and goals. For some, this will create something familiar in a time that is anything but. For some students and caregivers this will be a comforting and manageable end to the school year. However, I’m not writing this for those students and families.
I’m writing about the other students. I’m thinking of the students that can only access the internet while sitting in public places, that live in group homes, that live in homes with domestic violence, that may use shelters or be street involved. I’m thinking of all the students who are recent immigrants, or refugees, or who don’t speak English; those that are neurodivergent or have coded or uncoded learning disabilities, or mood and personality disorders. And this is not a small minority, this is a lot of students. What is the plan for the students who, for a lot of different reasons, will not be successful at this sudden transition to online learning?
Some specific things that I have been thinking about:
A) Students without access to technology: As many people have already been discussing, there are students that don’t have computers at home, or internet; no data plan, no wifi. Some have phones, but they are old or broken or don’t have space to download apps. Some don’t even have phones. How will these students access the work that teachers are putting online? How will they stay socially connected and more importantly, safe?
B) Executive Functioning: Work that is online is often in one or more platforms--Google Classroom, YouTube, Flipgrid, Screencastify, Zoom, etc. Students who have problems with executive functioning may find these difficult to navigate. Are there multiple steps to access? Are the steps clear? Are there other things they can do on those pages that are distracting? Do they have to remember steps? Or go back and forth between programs to access information and complete tasks?
C) Parental support: This is not always there. Some parents, at all income levels, still have to work. Some parents did not complete high school themselves. Some parents will try, but are struggling themselves. Some are simply not able to help because the last time they did Grade 6 science was when they were in Grade 6--which might have also been in another country, in another language.
D) Assistive Technology: There are students that require material to be adapted for visual or hearing impairments or learning differences or processing problems. Does text need to be Brailled? Do slides and videos need closed captioning? Does audio need to be moved into text or vise versa? Do students need coloured paper or large print books or special technology that is available at the school but not at home?
E) EAs and Routine: Some students require predictable routines and visual stories which they may not have access to at home. Some students get a lot of social interaction and nurturing from EAs who also help regulate them. At home, without that social interaction and missing their EAs, with different routines and stimulation, students can become disregulated and act out. And because some students are adult-sized people, this can put them, and others, at risk of harm.
F) Food: There are students whose reliable access to food is through the school. How do they get food? Instead of providing food for only the student, what is the responsibility to provide for the whole family? How is this delivered? For how long?
G) Mental Health: School counsellors build therapeutic relationships with students, community counsellors and services meet students at school, teachers provide mentorship. For some, this is their only access to personal counselling or emotional support. Suddenly not having access to this can impact the mental health of many students and especially those who are neurodivergent or have diagnosed or undiagnosed mood or personality disorders.
H) Home Expectations: Some students will be required to take care of younger siblings or family members that are elderly or sick. Some will be responsible for household errands and chores. Some students will be working to save money for school or to help support their families during a tough economic time.
The reality is that many students are faced with not just one of these things, but multiple, and in some cases--maybe all of them.
Of course, there are people already thinking about these things and working on this because they know and care about students. As governments and school boards are working to create something that is familiar and resembles traditional school, I’m hoping they are also working in the best interest of all students--there needs to be a plan for students that are unable to successfully make the sudden transition to online learning. Parents and members of the public, please be aware of the challenges that some students face and the need for us to support all students. Teachers and support staff making this transition, how can we be accommodating and advocating for our students? What can we all be doing to make sure that all our kids are okay and that we aren’t leaving anyone behind.
On Tuesday February 18, 2020, Minister Adriana LaGrange announced a new K-12 funding model.
The new model made two significant changes: consolidating multiple, targeted grants into fewer, more generalized grants; and changing how and when student enrollment is calculated and how school board budgets subsequently finalized.
In a news conference notably devoid of specifics, LaGrange was nonetheless undeterred in making three bold claims about this new model:
Claim #1: New Funding Model will drive more funds towards school boards
Current Funding Model: In the current model, school boards are required to submit their upcoming budget yearly by June 30. As funding is calculated per student, board budgets must estimate student enrollment, with actual enrollment numbers not known until September 30. Of course, actual enrollment inevitably varies from the estimate, and thus, funding is adjusted in the fall to match actual enrollment. Ultimately, each student was both accounted for and funded. Variances were handled through board reserve funds, which each board independently managed.
New Funding Model (Weighted Moving Average Model)
In the new funding model, rather than fund boards based on actual enrollment numbers as measured in the fall, a LaGrange introduced a new “Weighted Moving Average” (WMA) formula to determine enrollment when budgets are submitted in the spring. The budgets are not subsequently adjusted with actual enrollment numbers. This WMA formula, calculates the number of funded students to be the sum of:
To see how this formula underfunds a growing school board, let’s assume a 3% year over year population growth for a sample calculation:
Funding = 0.2a + 0.3b + 0.5c
a = 2018 enrollment
b = 2019 enrollment
c = 2020 forecasted enrolment
Assuming enrollment increases ( 3% growth year over year)
2020 enrollment = 1.03 (2019 enrollment)
2019 enrollment = 1.03 (2018 enrollment)
Using the variables above this means:
c = 1.03b
b = 1.03a
then c = 1.03(1.03) a
OR a = c/(1.03)2
This now allows us to use the MWA Funding Formula to simplify terms:
FF = 0.2a + 0.3b +0.5c
FF= 0.2a +0.3(1.03)a +0.5(1.03)2a
FF = 0.2a + 0.309a+0.53a
But a represents the first year, we want c the current year.
Recall c=1.032a so then a=c1.032
FF = 0.98 c
This means, if the student population increases at 3%, the weighted average funding model will provide funding for only 98% of the enrollment.
The claim that this new funding formula will allow for MORE dollars will somehow make it to classrooms for any division that sees an increase in population is FALSE.
Claim #2: This model provides school boards with predictable funding
The truth is, this model prioritizes predictability of funding, over adequate funding. LaGrange insists that knowing a firm budget in March is more valuable than funding every single student enrolled and accounted for at the end of September. The new model is predictable, in that for growing boards, the model will predictably underfund students.
The reality of education funding is that the exact school population (# of students) is always variable and unknown until the year starts, and nothing can make this uncertainty go away.
Claim #3: Reduction of Red Tape & Greater Autonomy for School Boards
Red Tape Reduction:
While LaGrange introduced a reduction in grants (from 36 -15), as evidence of a reduction in red tape, she also indicated there will be a mechanism for boards to appeal and negotiate budgets if their enrolment forecasts are different than actual numbers.
This is akin to creating a new grant, but with no defined parameters, criteria, or process transparency, and puts the onus on school boards to approach the ministry for adequate funding.
Greater Autonomy for School Boards
This claim is a stretch as the new formula actually centralizes the budget process, which used to lie in the hands of school boards. For example, with the existing model:
The three main claims made by this government are demonstrably false.
Click here to On January 29, 2020, SOS Directors huddled around a laptop to watch Education Minister Adriana LaGrange’s press conference announcing the recommendations of the Curriculum Advisory Panel review.
When it was over, we hurried to put our first impressions together. We wanted to communicate quickly and efficiently that this review did not centre on students, nor education as a developmental journey. We were troubled to see the repeated focus on work related skills, and references to the “end student”. Most concerning was to see the introduction of formative assessment (standardized tests) for Alberta children in grades 1-5.
We released our initial thoughts on our blog and did a number of media interviews and consulted with other educators and curriculum experts. We couldn’t find anyone who wasn’t seeing huge red flags with the whole process and the recommendations.
We’ve had some time to properly reflect on what was presented by the Minister and panelist Glenn Feltham, and how it was presented. We stand by our original assertion that it wasn't pretty.
We named our initial blog on the review “ Welcome End Students to Alberta Education Corp.” as a tongue in cheek way to illustrate how unwelcoming this assembly line approach will be for students. The focus on the “final product” and “Starting with the end in mind” through repeated formative assessment and workforce ready focus describes a joyless, uninspiring education.
But we would like to expand on our initial analysis.
The press conference revealed both Minister LaGrange and Glenn Feltham were ill prepared and poorly informed about the content of the report.
The recommendations are unfocused, disjointed and often contradicts its own findings, much like the MacKinnon Report before it.
The report repeatedly exceeds the boundaries of curriculum review and wades into pedagogy and assessment. (Timely reminder here that curriculum is WHAT is taught to students, and not HOW things are taught, that’s called pedagogy. This is a very important distinction.)
The Press Conference
We urge you to watch the press conference:
It’s important to see first hand the level of preparedness the Minister and panelist have when it comes to our education system, particularly when pressed with questions by the media.
16:28 (Unknown journalist) - Yes, I have a question for the Minister, I read carefully through the recommendations today, and I'm curious what exactly is new here, in terms of what the former government was already doing, and what already exists in the curriculum…. I'm wondering if you can specifically state what has changed or what is different moving forward (
Adriana LaGrange was unable to specifically detail any real, substantive changes, and struggled to answer this question. As did Glenn Feltham. It's important to see the level of difficulty in answering a question about the basic premise of this ‘new vision’ for education.
22:08 (Unknown Journalist) - You stated you want to get politics out of the classroom. What do you mean by that specifically, are you going to stop talking about facism or something like that?”
Adriana LaGrange: “... we would very strongly recommend that a teacher brings in a balanced view when they are presented with certain issues that are of concern to everyone. If you are looking in terms of do we believe there is climate change? absolutely. Climate change is real, but we do want that presented to our children in a balanced way.”
Is this the purpose of a curriculum review? Really? How telling is it for LaGrange to speak about presenting climate change in a balanced way, only to have Feltham follow that up with how important it is for students to understand Alberta’s economy?
24:10 (unknown Journalist) “Minister just a question for you, having a hard time understanding what is meant by the prescription of pedagogical approaches like discovery math, removing that from the curriculum, can you please explain what that means…. Forgive me, but what is “discovery math”?
The Minister immediately referred to Glenn Feltham on this saying “ I will turn it over to someone who knows this inside and out!”
Glenn Feltham: “First of all with respect to the panel, we were very clear that we were looking at curriculum, rather than…so we were looking at the what and not the how. So on the discovery math side, the how was a method for teaching mathematics that had children develop building blocks that uh uh uh through the process of activities they could build the foundations for math ….. We basically in our report said that we thought it was important that we look at a multiple method type approach.”
He was unable to articulate what discovery math is, and in all likelihood that's because discovery math is not a thing but rather a manufactured crisis to undermine public education.
Secondly, why would this panel feel the need to recommend multiple pedagogical approaches if that was not part of their purview? He himself indicates that they were commissioned to look at curriculum, which as he states, is about the what and not the how.
When pressed on what the reports means specifically, Minister LaGrange answers with:
These are just recommendations”.
We could point to any number of instances where the responses by both LaGrange and Feltham result in less clarity or contradict their own findings.
The level of unpreparedness when presenting this report is not just shocking, but insulting to Albertans.
It becomes apparent that the findings were predetermined and all the recommendations were made to fit a forgone conclusion. This is why it seems difficult to answer questions about the report, LaGrange and Feltham performance here makes this evident.
Please watch the video. It’s 46 minutes long, with media questions starting at 16:00. It is very telling to see who is in charge of education in Alberta. There are no current Alberta teachers, no current curriculum experts to be found anywhere. Watch this press conference - it will tell you more than we ever could in a blog. See it for yourself.
When it comes to the document, the report lacks substance, focus, is disjointed and often contradicts its own findings, much like the MacKinnon Report before it.
How it contradicts its own points:
Specifically Recommendation 3 and Recommendation 9.1
3. Recommendation: Explore options for single-stream course offerings at the high school level by examining the practices of high-performing jurisdictions around the world and the impact of such policies on student success and graduation rates.
9.1 Undertake an examination of curriculum that can be delivered in a dual structure, similar to the Germanic Model, exploring the definition of skilled trades and how students acquire these skills.
Except the Germanic model absolutely streams students, that’s the point:
“The German Educational Class System"
Although most Germans claim to be against elitism and favoring any social class, their entire educational system is basically a three-class system that divides students into three different tracks: (1) Gymnasium for bright students headed for college, (2) Realschule for the next step down, kids headed for average or better white-collar positions, and (3) Hauptschule for the bottom tier, generally aimed at the trades and blue-collar jobs. By the age of 10 most pupils in Germany have been put on one of these three educational tracks. But it has become easier to switch tracks, and this is now more common in Germany than it used to be.” (The German Way & More)
4. Recommendation: Update the Guiding Framework for the Design and Development of Kindergarten to Grade 12 Provincial Curriculum (Programs of Study) to reflect the impact of any recommendations that are implemented as outlined in this report.
The Guiding Framework, as a design document for curriculum, should not reflect pedagogical perspectives.
20. Recommendation: Ensure curriculum is free from the prescription of pedagogical approaches, such as discovery math.
This does not square with the statements made during the press conference about “Discovery Math”, where both Adriana LaGrange and Glenn Feltham spoke about how curriculum can and should be delivered. There is also absolutely no reference in the existing curriculum to “discovery math”.
The recommendations have a hyper focus on the workforce, and on Alberta’s resource based economy. Six of the 26 recommendations make these mentions.
8. Recommendation: Integrate awareness and exploration of careers into the curriculum to increase the relevance of career opportunities and development of workplace skills.
9. Recommendation: Provide students with opportunities to learn outside the classroom, including experiences with elements of the workforce and community involvement.
10. Recommendation: Enhance student’s learning of life skills throughout the K-12 curriculum by addressing areas of financial literacy, work readiness, wellness, and goalsetting.
11. Recommendation: Create opportunities to bring the needs of Alberta’s employers into the curriculum-development process.
25. Recommendation: Ensure social studies curriculum reflects a balance of perspectives with respect to the importance of Alberta’s resource-rich economic base in relation to the impact on the economy, families, services, and government.
25.1 Ensure content includes additional foundational knowledge-building opportunities with respect to Alberta’s economic system, entrepreneurship, the world of work, and the roles and jobs of members of the community
The report refers to work force, employment and the economy in six recommendations, but only once addresses inclusivity;
13. Recommendation: Ensure curriculum reflects the diversity of Alberta’s students. Curriculum should provide opportunities and maintain flexibility within learning outcomes to enable all students to explore their unique perspectives and life experiences in their learning.
That’s it. No mention of curriculum that reflects children with disabilities, LGBTQ2+ students, newcomer, students living in poverty, or racialized children. Six recommendations on employability, and one “all students matter” mention.
The review exceeds its boundaries of curriculum review;
16. Recommendation: Examine teacher certification, teacher education programs, and educator professional learning to support continued quality delivery of curriculum.
Recommendations around increased standardized testing for students as young as grade1:
17. Recommendation: Ensure a rigorous assessment system that builds public confidence, enhances accountability, and provides parents, Albertans, and the Minister with reliable information with respect to student achievement and system performance.
17.2 Implement a systematic approach that uses standardized formative assessment tools in the evaluation of literacy and numeracy, in grades 1 through grade 5.
There is no high quality research that supports standardized test for children of this age. For an extensive list of this research, Alberta teacher Dan Scratch has created an excellent resource: A Collection of Research on Standardized Testing
Similarly: “In an article for Education Week, Alfie Kohn, an independent lecturer and author of "The Case Against Standardized Testing," Called children the victims of standardized testing and asserts that virtually no experts in early childhood education believe tests should be administered to children younger than 8 or 9 years old. Kohn also argues that standardized tests promote teaching children superficial thinking, rather than pursuing deeper learning.” The Classroom.com
Of course, our favourite random but standout recommendation is 26. Where they saved the best for last:
26. Recommendation: Examine the efficacy of cursive writing for student learning.
What kind of curriculum review, 30 years overdue, would it be, if cursive writing didn’t get its own mic drop mention? Nothing says “ 21st century work ready” like cursive writing!
This review and its subsequent recommendations does almost everything but address curriculum.
It rarely refers to curriculum outcomes, and makes vague recommendations about “enhancing learning”.
It does not address the needs of LGBTQ2+, racialized, newcomer, or students in poverty or with disabilities.
It fails to address the need for students to see themselves reflected in their curriculum and how curriculum can and should be used to forge relationships with people in their schools, like other students, like teachers and educational assistants.
It does not address the developmental journey of children. Children, students seem like static actors in this review, there’s no role for their needs or voice.
Zero consideration is given to the effects that standardized tests and academic streaming have on children, while recommending both practices begin at earlier ages than currently exist.
It makes absolutely no mention about curriculum being an important tool to engage students.
The primary factors for student success are not about understanding Alberta's resource rich economy, nor making contact with potential employers, but feeling heard, building confidence and feeling relevant, and valued.
This panel jumped all over the place covering issues of economy, employment, standardize testing, cursive writing and even creating an “end student”. The assembly line tone of this report runs absolutely contrary to everything public education is meant to be and meant to achieve.
Children are not “end products”.
Students should not spend 12 years interviewing for jobs.
This curriculum review panel is a real time example of Goodhart’s Law: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.
We should be very concerned that this document in any way will guide our government in creating curriculum for our children. Have your voices heard. Write your MLA, write the Minister Adriana LaGrange, organize in your community, start conversations at school council about advocacy in lieu of fundraising, attend an SOS info session if possible. Start contemplating actions you can take in your communities that show your support for public education, students, and teachers. If you have a child in grades 6 or 9, consider opting out of standardized tests this year.
We are currently working on an Advocate’s Toolkit with information on how to get active in your community that we hope to have available shortly. In the meantime, keep the conversations going, let’s reclaim public education.
Support Our Students Alberta Foundation, as a public education advocacy organization, and a citizens action group has several concerns regarding the Ministry of Education Curriculum Panel Review as released January 29, 2020.
Minister Adriana LaGrange indicated that the Ministry has listened to Alberta parents.
Provide students with opportunities to learn outside the classroom, including experiences with elements of the workforce and community involvement. There is value in exposing students to experiences outside the classroom that can build awareness and opportunities on the variety of career paths and choices available to them. Learning is strengthened when students learn in the context of real-world experience and work. Curriculum can be delivered in many ways beyond the classroom context, including in workplaces and employment settings. Curriculum should be flexible to deal with alternative skills models outside the classroom.
9.1 Undertake an examination of curriculum that can be delivered in a dual structure, similar to the Germanic Model, exploring the definition of skilled trades and how students acquire these skills
9.2 Expose students to practical work and learning outside the classroom, including participating in volunteer activities that engage students and benefit local communities.
17.2 Implement a systematic approach that uses standardized formative assessment tools in the evaluation of literacy and numeracy, in grades 1 through grade 5. These can identify where students may require additional support and enable the use of appropriate interventions at the earliest possible stages”
17.5 Explore other ways that standardized testing can be used to ensure public confidence.
We urge Minister Lagrange to hold open consultation with Alberta citizens in ways that are more open and transparent than online surveys. As an organization we have already FOIP’d the Choice in Education Survey which is proving a large barrier to public information.
Dear Hon. Adriana Lagrange, Minister of Education,
Recently you have made public comments, including on the Danielle Smith Show (December 17, 2019), that Support Our Students Alberta has not sought a meeting with you like other groups have. Presumably, you hope to undermine the concerns of Albertans by suggesting that their concerns are illegitimate without a closed-door meeting.
Our answer is simple: we are public education advocates who advocate in public; we have nothing further to present in secret, closed door meetings. Our position is transparent to all Albertans in the “10 Strategies for Equitable Public Education” which is available on our website. We have included it again here for your convenience.
It is true that we have not requested a meeting with you, nor have we requested a meeting with a sitting Minister of Education for the previous three years. We would like to clarify that Support Our Students Alberta is not a lobby group, we are a citizens action group. Our goal is to inform, organize and equip Albertans so that if and when they decide to meet with you, their MLA, their trustee or their school staff, they are well informed on what universal, equitable and accessible public education means for Albertans.
If you do feel your policy position could be influenced from hearing the voices of concerned Albertans directly, we urge you to listen to the over 5,600 Albertans who have written letters to you through our letter-writing campaign. The vast majority have not heard a response from you or their MLA’s. Many have requested meetings to no avail; those few who have met with MLA’s have been met with indifference. We yield to them, Minister.
10 Strategies to Achieve Equitable Public Education
If you require further information please do not hesitate to reach out to us.
In the meantime, we will continue our work equipping Albertans and advocating for public education.
Team SOS Alberta
On Thursday December 12, the Ministry of Education hosted an invite only roundtable in Calgary about the upcoming Choice in Education Act. In attendance was the Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange, MLA Rajan Sawhney, ministry staff and the invited public. One of the attendees sent us their insight into the event and we are pleased to post their thoughts here.
I'm the parent of a Grade 7 and Grade 10 student in the Calgary public system. I was invited to attend a session with the Minister of Education to discuss "Choice in Education." I thought it was a curious engagement to be having at this time in Alberta when I've never once heard a parent say they wished they had more choices in Calgary. I've heard people with concerns over class sizes, and now that my children are in the latter half of their schooling, I've heard many concerns about space and capital planning. Choice is not something on anyone's mind when we can already access everything from a girl's school, science school, arts school, language schools, a ballet school and even a hockey school - the list of choices seems endless.
I was nervous about attending the engagement because I had talked myself into thinking my views were unique. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that not one person in the room (except for the politicos) wanted to discuss choice. Everyone had the same concerns as my own. The parents in the room all understood the value of a good public education and were not happy with a direction that seems more about breaking public education than supporting it. The teachers and support staff talked about multiple needs in the classroom that were not being met by the current budget. They also talked about living in fear of teaching the mandated curriculum when a parent doesn't agree with the subject matter. Listening to that broke my heart. No one should have to go to work feeling like they are under threat for doing their job.
I have always felt my children are getting a good education in the public system. They have teachers who go out of their way constantly to provide experiences that enrich and shape who they are as people. I worry what happens when we've minimized the attractiveness of teaching so much by either reducing respect for the profession or not keeping up with the cost of living that no one wants to go into it. I understand that receiving a public service costs money; I also know that we can do a lot collectively by pooling small amounts from each citizen through taxes.
I have so many more questions from the engagement session than answers. The Minister told us that the province is spending the same amount on education as before ($8.7 billion). When we asked how does that take into account increased enrolment, she said that per student funding remains the same. But if you are not increasing your budget (or rather, decreasing it), how can those two things be true? Math seems hard for the UCP. We also asked about the need for an audit of the CBE when one was done two years ago. She said the first one wasn't done in-depth enough. But why wouldn't you use the same company (KPMG) to dive deeper since they already have the foundation? How can a new company adequately audit a $1.2 billion operating budget from scratch in just one month?
I'm glad that parents showed up for the engagement session, but there seemed to be only four not connected to teaching. We need to remember that the government listens to parents; they can brush off people connected to the school system too easily. We need more people to speak up so that government knows we're watching. Send an email, attend an event, share information on social media. Our actions have an effect, and we must never forget that other people around the world don't have the opportunity to be a free as we can in expressing our dissatisfaction. Stand up for what you believe in, and take five minutes to write an email to your MLA. Be a role model for your children, and exercise your democratic rights!
A Concerned Calgary Parent
My name is Barbara Silva and I am with Support Our Students Alberta, a public education advocacy organization! We are a citizen’s action group committed to fighting for a universal, accessible and well funded public education system.
Something this government is not interested in.
The other day, in an interview a journalist asked me if we are mad at this government - I'm here today to say that we are not mad.
We are furious.
We are furious on behalf of the child who wakes up sick every morning - worried about navigating a school where lack of support makes them feel unseen, and unheard.
We are enraged for parents who depend on transportation, hour long bus rides in lieu of costly before/after school care, whose costs have just doubled.
We are shocked that families are expected to fundraise for basic resources, like books, furniture, technology, playgrounds.
We are outraged that music teachers, phys ed teachers, art teachers, language teachers are now considered educational luxuries.
We are fuming, that part way through the school year, children who have built trusting relationships with their teachers will have those relationships broken in January due to cruel cuts.
We are furious that in the last 4 years, over 1 billion taxpayer dollars have left the public system to subsidize the private one, and that this party, right now, is debating that that funding should actually increase.
These are immoral decisions made by this government -
This is now a question of educational justice.
So don't ask us to compromise with Jason Kenney.
Don't ask us to negotiate at the expense of Alberta’s children
We see his plan
We know where he is taking public education.
We know Kenney wants to break unions, weaken public service and divide communities.
We know that while they debate a 100% voucher right now, we already have a 70% voucher system in Alberta.
We know he wants you to think about teacher's two months off, instead of the 10 months of dedicated, committed work they put in year over year.
Kenney thinks teaching is a vocation.
We know it is a calling.
Kenney wants you to see education as an individual commodity.
We know it is a common public good.
He wants to attack public education at every opportunity.
We will meet him there every time, to defend it.
We are here to say we are public education proud.
We are community builders, not breakers.
We support students,
We support teachers.
We support public education and we will not stand by and let this government sell it to the highest bidder.
This is the moral issue of our generation - how we stand up for children’s right to public education.
Today is just the beginning, join us.
Choose public education.
SOS Champions! We have had a very busy and productive week thanks to all your engagement. We can feel the momentum building. At time of writing over 3500 Albertans have sent their elected officials their thoughts on the budget and the Choice In Education survey. This means, collectively, over 11,000 letters have been sent across the province. This is why this initiative is important, it allows us to measure the movement, and better still, to grow it.
The question we are asked most is, “What now?”
We cannot stop taking action. This is what oppressive, austerity driven governments fear the most. That the people, citizens, will take collective action.
So here are a few ways YOU can take ACTION in your community. And PLEASE include us in your action - so we can document all the ways Albertans are engaging in their democracy and standing up for public education. This means tagging us in tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagram posts. Email us to let us know what you are working on or if you have questions or ideas - individual action is great, collective action is effective!
ACTION 1: This week is Constituency Week! That means your MLA's will be in their local offices for the week! What a great time to engage in democracy!
We urge you to visit your MLA and do any/all of the following:
If you are feeling sassy, tell them SOS Alberta sent you 😉
Here is a link to your MLA's constituency offices!
If you haven't sent a letter to your MLA, Minister of Education ADriana Lagrange and Premier Kenney yet, expressing your disappointment about the 2019 Budget, please use our online tool to do so!
If you haven't filled out the Choice In Education Survey, please use our online tool to do so. The online response is a protest response to a seriously flawed and biased survey produced by the government. Our protest response includes I Choose Public Education as the main response to each question. The submission can be previews on the website before submitting!
ACTION 4: Organize a watch party. Sometimes, maybe even most times, the greatest movements build from conversations in living rooms, coffee shops and community halls. Hosting a viewing of Backpack Full of Cash is an excellent way to keep this momentum going. This documentary is eerie in its foreshadowing of what privatizing public education looks like. It is the clearest cautionary tale we have.
We currently have three bookings for the month of November, please contact us if you are interested!
ACTION 5: Send us the correspondence you receive from your school regarding budget cuts and fundraising. We need to be able to talk about the actual ways schools and students will experience these cuts.
ACTION 6: Get involved with your school council or other parent groups - better still, send us the contact information for your school council so we can build capacity via that network. This is very difficult and labour intensive work for us to track down every school council contact information (email). If everyone can send us theirs, then many hands make light work.
ACTION 7: For those of you who have contacted us about connecting with SOS AB in Edmonton, please email Yeginfo@supportourstudents.ca and our Edmonton organizer will reach out to you shortly!
ACTION 8: Communicate with us. SOS is a network, and we need to hear from you as much as you from us. We are small, and run on passion and donations - but we are more effective when communication flows.
The greatest strength we have is knowing we are not alone in our support of Public Education. And we ARE NOT ALONE, 94% of Alberta students are in public schools. Let’s not let them down.