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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 2, October 2006

Sensible school planning

by Sylvia Bishop

Delegates to the BCTF 2006 AGM voted overwhelmingly in favour of withdrawing from participating in school planning councils, the formulation of accountability contracts, and school-growth plans. Here are some of the reasons why:

Background

When school planning councils were first legislated in 2003, BCTF members raised several concerns. There was inequity in representation with three parents, one teacher, and the school principal serving on the school planning council. School support staff who work so closely with students, were not represented at all. Employees of school boards were not allowed to serve on SPCs, effectively discriminating against BCTF and school support staff union members with children in school. Concerns were also expressed about the role of the school planning council discussing allocation of staff and resources in the school. Also, teachers were concerned about the amount of time needed to participate. There was no provision in the legislation to fund meetings.

In spite of these concerns, in 2003, the BCTF AGM decided teachers were willing to try this new structure. They saw the opportunity to communicate their vision and goals to parents and to address the real needs schools face in order to provide the best learning experiences for students. The BCTF developed guidelines and support materials for teachers to use in their role as the SPC representative.

Current context

The promise of school planning councils developing school-growth plans that address the real needs of students, has not been realized. Instead, what we have seen in the last three years is a shift away from providing the best teaching and learning conditions possible to a bureaucratic focus on testing, ranking, and narrow achievement measures. Students have become a number reported on a test score rather than recognized for their unique gifts and accomplishments.

School-growth plans around the province commonly identify numeracy, literacy, and social responsibility as their three goals. This is part of the accountability contract school boards must sign with the ministry. Gone is the opportunity for individual schools to work their own goals as they have in the past. Local presidents, responding to a survey in 2005, reported the frustration felt by many schools in setting school-growth plans. For example, the opportunity to focus on other curricula is not deemed appropriate for a school-growth plan.

In order to show improvement from year to year, it is required to measure student achievement. This has driven school planning councils to use FSAs, standardized tests, and other inappropriate testing tools in an effort to report achievement. Valuable teaching time and learning experiences are replaced with prepping for tests, teaching to tests, and practicing for tests. Already scarce resources are used in this relentless pursuit of data collection and testing. The bureaucracy of testing and reporting takes away from valuable teaching time.

There is a better way

Teachers are not participating on school planning councils. This doesn’t mean we have stopped planning for student growth and school improvement. Nor does it mean we don’t want to include parents in the discussions. It does mean that we want to focus on what matters.

When you get together to talk with parents about student success and school improvement, consider some of the following points:

  1. Start with what you value. The tendency is often to start with data. Instead, talk about what you want for the school and then look at the data. The centre of the discussion is focused on doing the best we can do for students to achieve their full potential.
  2. Start with what you know. Teachers’ professionalism, education, and experience is a strong foundation to build on. Our students are not just another number, but real people with real potential. Our relationship with them as teachers fosters their growth.
  3. Teachers use a wide variety of assessment methods and tools to determine student achievement. These multiple sources of data are more reliable than a single test score. Observation, letter grades, and performance standards levels are three examples.
  4. Outside sources of data can be helpful. These do not need to be a standardized test.

How to get started

The school community offers many occasions during the school year for parents and teachers to meet formally and informally. Your staff might want to talk about how these occasions can be used to invite parents into a discussion about school planning. The staff might decide to host a meeting with parents to start the conversation. The uniqueness of each school will guide your decisions.

Information regarding the accountability scheme and school planning councils is available at bctf.ca. Check School Staff Alerts faxed to your school and BCTF News mailed to staffrooms for additional information. Support materials are available on line. Check with your local president or ask your staff rep to get copies.

Teachers have always set school goals supporting student learning long before school planning councils were introduced. Providing the best learning opportunities for students is at the heart of our profession.

Discussing student needs with parents provides an opportunity for teachers and parents to listen and learn from each other.

Sylvia Bishop is an assistant director in the BCTF’s Communications and Campaigns Division.


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