Levelling the Playing Field

In the fall of 2016 we launched the first annual Support Our Students Alberta Survey of Alberta Schools. A survey was sent to every school in the province that receives public funds and today we are pleased to present our report, Levelling the Playing Field: A Comprehensive Resource Audit of Alberta Schools, full report available to download below.

Special thanks goes to all the school administrators who took the time to complete the survey, we look forward to working with you again on this year’s survey! Sharing the voice of your school enhances our ability to advocate for Alberta students.

Three main themes emerged from our findings, specifically around health, specialization and fundraising. Some examples of our findings are:

Health:

  • 58% of respondents reported a nurse as “not available” for their school
  • 36% of urban respondents reported a nurse as “not available” for their school
  • 71% of rural respondents reported a nurse as “not available” for their school

Specialization:

  • 70% of respondents reported NO Teacher Librarian in their schools
  • 45% of respondents reported NO Physical Education Teachers in their schools
  • 95% of respondents reported NO Health Teachers in their schools
  • 52% of respondents reported NO Special Education Teachers in their schools

Fundraising:

  • 13% of urban respondents indicated raising more than $50,000
  • 4% of rural respondents indicated raising more than $50,000

“More kids are coming to school with ADHD, diagnosed and not yet diagnosed, anxiety disorders, psychological effects from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, trauma, and other family issues. Kids are exposed to, and are even doing, drugs at an alarming rate. Kids are suicidal and self-harming. We have a FSLC come 1 a week. Easily half the kids that need to be seen are not because of time restraints. We could easily employ a counselor 2-3 days per week. Yet, Educational Assistants are being cut back more and more; FSLC time is being cut back – FSLC’s are burning out because of the pressure they feel of not having enough time to help all these kids; kids are falling through the cracks; teachers are expected to do more and more all the time. No longer do they simply teach, they are EA’s, behavior specialists, learning support/resource teachers, counselors, psychologists, and life coaches. Often this is not only for the kids, but their parents as well. And we are surprised (well really we aren’t) when kids are unable to engage enough to learn. It is impossible to care about reading and math if a child just saw his mom get high before he left for school; or maybe she didn’t have any dinner or breakfast, and has nothing packed for lunch; or maybe he was punched by his step-dad walking out the door. I have parents coming to me in tears not sure how they are going to feed their kids, or clothe them for winter, let alone put a present under the tree for them at Christmas. I vent, but kids are dealing with more and more, but are receiving less and less help.”  -Principal (International Border Region)

Why I Support Fully Funded Public Schools and Not Vouchers

One of our supporters has kindly shared with us her thoughts about school choice and we are happy to share it with everyone here. We welcome all participation and if you have any thoughts about education issues you would like share with us we would love to share your voice too.

I’ve been advocating for a more equitable education system for a couple years now. Although I do the best that I can with what I have at the moment, I’m not ashamed to say that most of the advocating I do is as a keyboard warrior. The debate rages online between those who believe in complete and robust funding of public schools and those who would see us use a voucher (money follows the student) system. I firmly disagree with the voucher system and I’d like to explain why.

Contrary to what many might expect my objection is not grounded in its fiscal wastefulness. There are others who do object on that basis and they’ve done a marvelous job of articulating why. If you are a fiscal conservative, which I am not, I imagine you’d find these arguments somewhat compelling and I would urge you to explore them starting with the always expressive Luke Fevin: https://twitter.com/according2luke?lang=en https://www.facebook.com/according2luke/

My support of fully funding public schools comes from two major places: 1) the observation that public education has made more strides towards alleviating poverty than perhaps any other initiative in the history of human existence, and 2) the fact that public funds belong to the public. I’m not going to take the time to explore the first assertion here other than to direct those who object to the myriad of research on the subject:

Today, I’m taking the time to defend the second statement. Public funds belong to the public.

“My tax dollars……….” Insert whatever follow up you’d like there.  We’ve all heard it; it’s not an unfair turn of phrase. Every citizen is entitled to transparency and accountability from the public servants charged with allocating the money they’ve contributed to the public purse. But “my tax dollars” does not equal “my portion of public money” and unfortunately, too many people believe that it does.

The entire purpose of collecting taxes is that when people act as a collective, services are cheaper and more accessible to everyone. If everyone who is entitled to those services were to start demanding “their portion” of the monies that fund those services, everyone would lose the advantages of lower cost and access. And the withdrawal of those funds would be detrimental to those who lack the resources to compensate an underfunded system. Let’s think of this in terms of public libraries.

It’s been years since I checked a book out of a public library. Why? It’s just more convenient for me to buy them. There’s no time limit on reading them. I don’t have to wait in case my local library has to borrow it, and in the end, I get to keep my copy forever. I read a lot and I don’t use my local public library. But my tax dollars do fund my local library. Is this an injustice? Shouldn’t the tax dollars that I contribute follow the user and instead of funding a resource I don’t use, fund my own personal library instead? Of course not! First of all, I doubt that the tax dollars I contribute towards public libraries would even cover the cost of the next Song of Ice and Fire novel, even if it does take George RR Martin ten years to write it (har har, I’m so passive aggressive, but seriously dude, hurry up already). But even if they did, losing the tax dollar contributions of every tax payer who doesn’t use the public library would result in the closure of every public library. The entire purpose of coming together as a collective would be defeated and the only people with access to literature would be those who could afford to buy books. The same goes for the education system.

Here in Alberta, money is generally distributed to schools based on enrollment, but we do it that way because it’s a convenient and generally accurate way of determining need, not because those funds actually belong to the individual students. So when the parents’ choice crowd and other people who advocate a voucher system talk about “their child’s portion”, they’re talking about money that doesn’t actually exist. It’s not their child’s portion. It’s not my child’s portion. It’s public money that is supposed to be funding a public system that is accessible to the public. People are free to withdrawal from that system, just like I’m free to not use my public library, but they don’t get to take public money with them when they leave. It’s not theirs to take.

There are all kinds of reasons that parents may choose to not make use of the public system, but it is always available to them. Those who would look elsewhere need to take responsibility for their choice and fund it out of their own pocket, not from the public purse. And no, you don’t then get to exempt yourself from funding the public purse either. We all reap the benefits of public education merely by being surrounded by a knowledgeable population. That benefit is our collective responsibility to pay for, whether or not you attended a public school and whether or not you have children attending a public school.

Public education has been one of humanity’s greatest inventions. The positive impact of it is immeasurable and cannot be overstated. If we want to continue our upward trajectory out of poverty, illiteracy, and ignorance, we cannot allow individuals to chip away at this magnificent edifice, no matter how well intentioned they may be. Public money belongs to the public, not to individuals, which is why I do not support the voucher system.

M.

 

Women’s Rights Are Children’s Rights – Barbara Silva talks to the Calgary Herald about International Women’s Day

Our Communication Director, Barbara Silva was honoured to be included with three other amazing Calgary women , Mary Valentich, Hadiqa Jabeen and Sue Tomney all speaking about what International Women’s Day means to them in 2017. Amazing group of women.
Silva says children’s rights go hand in hand with women’s rights.
We recognize that when we impede women, we inevitably impede children. Our inability to confront or improve women’s standing in poverty means we are also disproportionately affecting children in poverty, and that’s something we need to address.

What does International Women's Day mean?

As the world recognizes International Women’s Day on Wednesday, we asked notable Calgarians what that means to them in 2017: Mary Valentich Professor emerita, U of C faculty of social work, women’s-rights activist “International Women’s Day gives all of us a chance to consider how we can make the world a better place, a more…

 

Bill 1 – An Act to Reduce School Fees

 

SOS Alberta’s response to Bill 1 Announcement

Support Our Students Alberta has long advocated for the complete elimination of all schools fees for children across the province.  It is in fact, the third point of our  Ten Strategies to Achieve Equitable Public Education

It reads:  Eliminate ALL barriers including all school-related fees (including, but not limited to, instructional materials, bussing, lunch supervision) and application procedures.

SOS Alberta feels strongly that fees and all barriers exacerbate inequalities in the system and in the wider society.  There exists a wide range and variety of fees around this province, with each school board implementing fees around bussing, noon supervision, instructional supplies and materials fees to name a few.  These fees can add up and become a real financial stress and burden on families.  As a result, Bill 1 will bring very real relief for many families, in particular, low income families who do not qualify for exemptions and who are struggling through difficult economic times.

We are very pleased to have been part of discussions surrounding the need and impact of eliminating and reducing school fees for children in Alberta. SOS Alberta has discussed the need to address this very significant barrier at every possible opportunity and appreciate this government listening to our concerns and suggestions.

Bill 1 is an important initiative showing a renewed commitment to public education, equity and most importantly to Alberta’s children.  We applaud the spirit of Bill 1, and recognize it is an important step towards eliminating all schools fees.  We look forward to continuing to be a part of that discussion, and advocating on behalf of Alberta children.

 

Public Funds For Public Schools

Today we joined with 13 organizations to call for the reduction of public funding to private schools in Alberta. We believe that those funds could be reallocated to address the needs we hear most often from students, parents and teachers such as school fees, large class sizes and lack of classroom and mental health supports. http://www.pialberta.org/release_publicfundsforpublicschools

Women’s Rights are Children’s Rights

Our Op-ed from the January 27, 2017 edition of the Calgary Herald

Silva and Blasetti: There’s Good Reason Albertans marched in the streets last weekend

Last Saturday, an estimated 120,000 people across Canada marched in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington.

Approximately 10,000 of those participants were in Alberta.

It is safe to say Albertans marched in opposition to the outcome of the recent American election. It’s safe to say we are concerned about women’s rights in the U.S.

It is also safe to say something deeper motivated 120,000 Canadians to spend their Saturday marching in the streets. Albertans marched in solidarity with the Women’s March in Washington to demonstrate that we too are dedicated to protecting women’s rights in Canada.

Since the march, Albertans are discussing how to turn this event into a movement — how to capitalize on this awakening and find new resolve to protect and uphold equity in Alberta.

We know that when women are marginalized, so too are children. Ninety-three per cent of Alberta children are educated through the public school system. Perhaps the best place to address inequity faced by Albertans is through public education. Addressing the policies that highlight inequities is an excellent starting point.

School fees across Alberta are on the rise. For many Albertans, September is more financially stressful than December, and can be crippling for families existing around the poverty line.

Albertans marched because women are overrepresented in poverty.

We marched because one in six Alberta children live in poverty, a statistic largely unchanged in 25 years.

We marched because the wage gap and cost of child care contribute to inequities that make school fees disproportionately difficult for women.

We marched because access to education is a human right.

We call upon our government to eliminate school fees across the province.

Food insecurity is a reality for many low-income families and is highest among households led by single mothers.

Albertans marched because 41 per cent of Calgary Food Bank clients are children for whom hunger can be a barrier to learning.

We marched because overcrowded schools have led to space and time crunches that promote unhealthy eating habits.

We call for a provincewide nutrition program that gives all children the adequate space, time and nutrition necessary to fuel their bodies and minds.

Albertans marched because sexual assault against girls and women is the only violent crime in Canada that is not declining. Since 1999, rates of sexual assault have remained largely unchanged.

We marched because only one in three Canadians understand what consent means.

We marched because 39 per cent of Canadian adult women reported having had at least one experience of sexual assault since the age of 16.

We call for a properly updated sexual health curriculum in Alberta. We must insist on addressing body autonomy, body agency and consent. We can no longer ignore that women and girls are disproportionately affected by sexual violence.

Albertans marched because we are concerned about the mental health and well-being of fellow Albertans and believe supports are a basic human right.

We marched because women’s mental health is undermined by social isolation, restricted decision-making, devalued role expectations, poverty, violence and sexual abuse.

We marched because we know severity and duration of mental health problems are reduced through early identification and intervention.

We marched because not all parents have the resources to access supports for their children.

We call for every school in Alberta to be provided with proper expertise to address growing concerns for the mental health of our children.

We marched last Saturday because there is growing concern over the continued injustices faced by women across the world. It’s time to mobilize around issues such as public education, which influence the lives of the majority of Alberta families.

Albertans can take action by joining women-led organizations such as Support Our Students Alberta and supporting school board, municipal, provincial and federal political candidates who truly understand how empowering women and supporting public education can improve the lives of Alberta children.

Silva and Blasetti: There's good reason Albertans marched in the streets last weekend

By Barbara Silva and Carolyn Blasetti Last Saturday, an estimated 120,000 people across Canada marched in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington. Approximately 10,000 of those participants were in Alberta. It is safe to say Albertans marched in opposition to the outcome of the recent American election.

 

 

2015 PISA Results – Working Together with Thought and Purpose

fullsizerender-3

The 2015 PISA scores were released December 6. The focus of the test was science and Alberta results were strong in all areas as has been the case in the past. The topic that will be hotly debated will be the math results that have shown a small decline over several years. However we encourage all those interested in education to work together in a thoughtful purposeful way on areas such as math literacy and avoid sensationalizing these results. Alberta Education has taken action on addressing concerns with math education through the Math Curriculum Review Working Group.

Today’s results highlight the success of both Alberta teachers and students who continue to make a strong showing nationally and internationally.

As a public education advocacy group we strongly support an education system that develops well educated and engaged citizens. We are keenly aware that a large portion of our population, including parents and government, measure success with quantitative measures such as the PISA international test.

We understand the need to measure progress of students and the importance of using international criteria to assess the effectiveness of education methodologies and systems. However, as a child centred advocacy group we would like to emphasize the dangers of high stakes standardized tests on students and on how placing a high value on international test results can negatively influence education policy.  

The role of tests like PISA on the education system must be clearly defined along with recognizing the purpose for such measurements.  PISA tests are ONE measurement completed at ONE time during the school year.  In much the same way your dashboard has multiple gauges to determine the efficiency of your vehicle, the PISA score is simply one gauge of the vehicle in this case the education system.

Discussions around the 2015 PISA scores for Alberta, only serve to underscore the strategies advocated for by Support Our Students Alberta(SOSAB).  Prior to the PISA results, it was apparent, through reports from teachers, parents, and previous results both provincially and internationally, that more needs to be done to improve the numeracy of Alberta’s students. Some solutions SOSAB advocates for include:

  1. Stronger balance between rote memorization and inquiry based learning.  In the same way we have found a balance between phonics and decoding, a combination of both pedagogies must be achieved to attain the highest possible understanding of numeracy.
  2. Return to an emphasis on teachers obtaining subject specialization for all subject areas. This means teachers are trained at the university level for subject specialization so that proficiency, in this case, mathematics is required to teach in the system. Having teachers who are expert and have a love for the subject they are teaching improves the quality of instruction and student outcomes.

Quebec consistently outperforms other provinces on math scores: Researchers say Quebec’s strong performance is a result of intensive teacher training and a curriculum that balances basic math drills with problem-solving approaches. In Quebec, for example, elementary-school math teachers must take as many as 225 hours of university courses in math education. In other Canadian provinces, that number can be as low as 39. (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/tests-show-provincial-differences-in-math-reading-science-education/article20955151/ )

SOS AB encourages Alberta to implement a similar strategy.

  1. Move to meet the class size recommendations as set out by the

Alberta Learning Commission Report  of 2003. Facilitating learning is more effective in class sizes that maximize individual attention.

As a child focused advocacy group, we believe high stakes, high stress testing is not in the best interest of students.  We do however, acknowledge and support the need for a variety tools to measure both students and the system.  But it is imperative to have a balance between what is most useful for student success and the emphasis placed on standardized tests.  Let’s not forget assessment in Alberta classrooms is ongoing using a variety of methods, everyday.   

It is also important to recognize the inherent biases associated with achievement tests such as the PISA.  In May 2014, 80 academics from across the globe wrote an Open Letter to Andreas Schleicher, Director of PISA, expressing some such concerns.  

Finally, it is evident Alberta needs to continue working towards much needed reform that improves the quality and equity of our public education system. Prior to the 2015 PISA results, parents, teachers and employers had already observed falling levels of numeracy among students. We urge citizens, students, and government at all levels, to consider advocating for and implementing the strategies SOSAB recommends in order to improve areas such as math literacy in Alberta. Not because attaining high international rankings is an end goal for the education system, but because our students deserve a richer, more balanced and inclusive approach to their education.

https://www.oecd.org/pisa/test/PISA%202012%20items%20for%20release_ENGLISH.pdf

School Fees Are Putting an Unfair Burden on Alberta Families

We spoke to CTV Calgary about the impact school fees have on Alberta students.

Group pushing Alberta government to do something about school fees

The Calgary Board of Education says that millions of dollars in school fees are being waived for parents who just can’t cover the costs in the difficult economy, but one group says the government needs to do more.