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.