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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 4, January/February 2008

Readers write

BCeSIS–a net loss

There may be benefits to a computerized provincial records system but many of us up here in schools in Kitimat, are yet to be convinced. We have just survived our first term under the new BCeSIS reporting system. We have done our first report cards online using our government-issued laptops. Warning! It sounds better than it is.

We have felt like guinea pigs in some kind of educational experiment. I don’t know who volunteered us but the only positive in the whole of it is that we survived. As for the experience, let’s just say it was expensive. For well over a month, BCeSIS hijacked our entire teaching agenda. Almost every extra available moment during the six weeks of preparation of the reports was spent mastering the system. We all felt overwhelmed and rather lost. We were using an elementary reporting system without a built-in spell checker, without a section for technology, and without even a work habits or general summary section. The form was simply flawed, and rather sub-standard. It certainly was not an improvement on what we had used in years past. Of course, being online it should have eliminated unnecessary paper—right? Wrong—we had to photocopy all reports and put them into the files ourselves.

The cost of using BCeSIS should not just be measured in the cost of laptops, technical people, and systems, but in the loss of creativity, lessons, and opportunities. In 32 years of teaching, I have never seen a teaching agenda so de-railed as what I observed in the lead-up to our first term report. There just was no energy or time left to go the extra distance in our lessons. Our lessons, and therefore our students, suffered. As for help with our various computers within the schools, forget it. Any computer technical people were completely dedicated to BCeSIS. There was just no time for other desperately needed solutions for computer problems.

Colleagues, beware of BCeSIS! Your turn is coming soon. BCeSIS needs a lot of refinements before you journey down the road we have just traveled. Good luck.

Walter Thorne, Kitimat

Thank you

I always enjoy my copy of the Teacher. Although I retired in 1986, I still feel the presence of teachers and the precious children when I read all the up-to-date news in the newsmagazine. Congratulations on doing an excellent job and keeping me happy!

I will keep reading–you keep sending!

Jean Little, Maple Ridge

Steelworkers’ solidarity

I am writing to thank the BCTF for the generous donation to our forest industry strike.

As you are aware, the majority of the strikers are now back at work, but there are still many members out of work because their employers have not called them back. In addition, our local unions’ supplemental strike funds were, in most cases, depleted over the course of the 3.5 month strike. These circumstances make the BCTF contribution both timely and very welcomed, notwithstanding the successful resolution of the dispute.

Please know that your union’s show of support will be remembered and you and your members will have the solidarity of the Steelworkers in Western Canada should the need arise.

Stephen Hunt, Director, United Steelworkers, Dist. 3 

The girls that schools don’t protect

Aqsa Parvez, the 16-year-old Mississauga, Ontario girl who was choked to death by her father December 10 for refusing to wear a head scarf (hijab), is one of countless schoolgirls in Canada who suffer physical abuse from parents for being unfaithful to their community.

The position of school authorities is that girls wearing the hijab or other repressive clothing do so as an expression of "religious freedom," much like the boys who wear turbans. Yet some of these children dread the way they dress and feel shackled by parental expectations. They are often far from free.

In Parvez’s case, her parents pushed her too far. She left home twice in the previous three months, the first time staying at a Toronto shelter. The executive director at the shelter, Wendy Horton, told the press that children like Parvez are caught between their immigrant parents’ desire to see their children respectful of their culture and the children’s own desire to be like their friends.

Schools are understandably reluctant to extend their influence into the parental home, and students who live in an abusive home are afraid to walk their problems out the front door. Yet what happens to these children in their homes should be everyone’s concern.

The BC Child, Family and Community Service Act (Part 1, s. 2) says "children are entitled to be protected from abuse, neglect, and harm or threat of harm," and schools are obliged to report physical abuse in the home. But what do we do about the children who do not come forward? There is no report in the media that Aqsa Parvez ever spoke to counsellors or teachers at her school.

Schools have to work harder to bring threatened and abused children into their hold. They must also begin asking the girls who are donning head scarves and veils whether they are doing so out of choice or fear.

Our public school system proudly honours the parental and religious rights of people from different lands. But these rights must be balanced against their children’s right to be who they want to be.

Jim McMurtry, Surrey

Response to articles on standardized testing

The Nov./Dec. 2007 issue of Teacher, which focussed on the disadvantages to students and public education of extensive, compulsory, standardized testing is outstanding. Above all, two articles caught my attention.

My ex-colleague, Jim Bowman, with his "A Standardized Test for the Standardized Testers" exuded irony, humour, and unfortunately, tragedy.

Opposite page, Thierry Ponchet’s article, "South Park: The little school that could," inspired a personal pride as I attended Grades 4 to 6 there from 1933 to 1936. I may be the oldest former student who has the privilege of reading the newsmagazine. Of all the schools in our province, isn’t it ironic and fortunate that the parents, teachers, and students of the school geographically located closest to the Ministry of Education have assumed a leading opposition role to standardized testing?

John Church, Vancouver

Support for Grade 12 exams

I read the article on the accountability agenda (Teacher, Nov./Dec. 2007) with some interest.

Let me begin by saying that I am against the bogus Grades 4, 7, 10, and 11 government exams. They are snapshot exams that bear little relation to information taught in the classroom.

However, I have always been a supporter of the Grade 12 exams. These are not mere snapshot exams, but tend to actually test information covered during the year. The exams were a standard to compare with the teacher’s school marks. Ask most teachers of Grade 12 government examinable courses and they grudgingly support them.

Recently, a number of private schools have sprung up in the province. In an environment of little or no regulation, their educational results have been startling. When comparing the school marks (all A’s) with the exam marks (mostly F’s), one can see the importance of an external standard. Without some form of government exam, the only marks reported would be those school marks.

Most universities have moved away from using government exams for admission; again, the only marks they will now be looking at will be the school marks.

I know most school marks are legit, but in a deregulated system, it will be easier for students to ‘buy’ marks.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education has relegated Grade 12 government exams such as Physics 12, History 12, Biology 12, etc., to an optional status. As a result, fewer students are writing the exams.

The upside is that the Fraser Institute has less ammunition to promote private schools. However, I’m saddened that a long tradition, supported by many dedicated teachers, is rapidly biting the dust.

Peter Hill, Vancouver

The nightmare before schools

Could it be any clearer that K to 12 students in this province have ceased to be valued as human beings and have become widgets? Not only do we subject them to quality control checks (standardized tests) in Grades 4, 7, 10, 11, and 12, but now we are finely measuring the per-unit cost of putting each one of them through the system. Education funding has stooped to a new low.

The education ministry’s announcement that it is clawing back funding for each secondary student not taking a full—meaning eight—course load is so unworkable as to be absurd. Only if students are treated as the sum of the courses they are taking could this possibly make sense.

Schools don’t do this. They count each student as one person. Maybe some students take a summer course to lighten the load in Grade 12 because they need to work part-time. Maybe some see summer school as a way to deal with a particularly difficult course. Whatever the reason, schools should not be penalized for students’ efforts to make the system work.

School planning is hard enough using whole people. It will be a nightmare using an unpredictable number of 6/8 and 7/8 people. Unless the government is trying to stop boards of education from offering summer school courses, this clawback must be stopped.

The minister of education has pledged to make BC the best-educated, most literate jurisdiction on the continent. This is so she can fulfil one of the government’s "five great goals for a golden decade." It will be interesting to see what measures she will use to chart her progress with graduation rates stalled and enrolment in neighbourhood public schools declining as exclusive private school enrolment increases.

In some other jurisdictions, governments have shown leadership by investing in education. What has BC done? It has announced that it is spending more than ever before on a per-pupil basis. This is not an investment. It barely allows boards to keep up with the rising cost of fuel and other fixed costs. Investing is something different. At a minimum it involves dealing with students as whole people with varying needs and abilities.

The minister of education can show some leadership by telling boards of education that they do not have to make mid-year cuts. Rather than ask boards to bear the cost, the minister should ask the treasury for funds to support the cost of students attending summer school. Relative to the budget surplus, paying for a small group of students willing to invest their summer holidays in school is a small cost. It might also go part way to respecting them as human beings.

Catherine Evans, Chair, British Columbia Society for Public Education


Active solutions

I was reading the current edition of the Teacher magazine issued by the BCTF and I just wanted to say thank you for the story on South Park School. There are tons of articles in this magazine and all over the place about the ill effects of standardized tests, and how they affect the students, and I felt this article differed in that it identified active solutions to the moronic actions of the ministry.

I am curious as to what the response has been from the ministry to the stance taken at South Park. Have they been hit with sanctions or any penalties at all?

I taught in Burnaby for the past four years and I am currently teaching in Prince George. I just wanted to write and say the article was great to see and that I really liked the part mentioning that the education of our youth is too important to be left in the hands of the unknowing–the ministry.

I think the public would be really interested to know the level of education, therefore hands-on knowledge and experience, that the "minister" has, or does not have? I am always blown away at the reactions of people when I tell them that the minister of education is not required to have any experience whatsoever. I wonder what kind of headline that would make? Thank you and keep advertising those who are supporting the education of the students and not focussing on the ranking systems for the government.

Josh Ogilvie, Prince George

Following principles of the Primary Program

Thank you for printing the articles and the letter on testing in the Nov./Dec. 2007 Teacher. It’s a topic that has kept me talking and writing during the more than 10 years since I retired and even earlier when the whole issue began to rear its ugly head. The article based on Dr. Ross’s speech is powerful, David Companion’s letter, and Jim Bowman’s test for testers, right on, and the description of South Park School, inspiring.

Out-of-school and out-and-about in the world, I find that people, not themselves trained in learning theory or practice, and who likely had no trouble learning, think that testing is a necessary and simple way to check on progress. On the other hand, I hear from anxious parents whose children are finding school difficult because of the tests and the preparation for them. The children who have difficulty concern me. I talk about what I see as the potential harm of the testing thrust upon children and their teachers with anyone who will listen.

From experience, I know how easy it is to feel bound to prepare children for tests. So, in order to help teachers find a different path, I wrote Honouring the Child: Changing Ways of Teaching (available through BCTF lesson aids). In my book, I tell about how I transformed from one who began by following a direct teach, test, grade, rank, and fail approach to one that was child-centred, open, and more humane. I wrote to inspire teachers but the book has also become a vehicle for talking about educational topics, such as testing, with the public as well.

I have seen that the more all of their senses are harnessed, the better the children learn and the happier they are. My approach became to allow children to choose and to engage their minds by studying topics of interest. I provided centres for creative activity and focussed on physical education. I was following what became the principles of the Primary Program that was developed in 1990.

Pamela Proctor, Gibsons

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