Thursday, September 12, 2013

3 potential problems with Alberta's new Task Force on Teacher Excellence

Alberta's Education Minister Jeff Johnson has announced the establishment of a Task Force for Teacher Excellence. The task force has a broad mandate to review provincial guidelines, conduct public consultations and report to the minister by January 31, 2014, on future directions for legislation related to teaching and other education professions.

Let me be crystal clear:

I believe Alberta's already excellent teachers need to continue to innovate and improve.

As a teacher, I am always looking for ways to improve my teaching, and as a parent, I want my children to have better teachers than I had. I feel very strongly about this.

Creating a Task Force on Teacher Excellence might be a great idea, and I hope that it leads to evidence-based conversations that lead to improving teacher quality in Alberta. And yet,  I have three potential problems with this new task force:

  • If I was Jeff Johnson and the Alberta Government, I may want to distract the public from funding cuts in public education by creating a task force that focuses on teacher quality. For this school year, the Alberta Government cut school board budgets by $14.5 million even though 11,000 new students entered Alberta's schools. This will lead to all sorts of problems for teachers' working conditions including larger class sizes. While it's true that reducing class sizes is not a sufficient move to improve an education system, it most certainly is necessary. Alberta Teachers' Association President Mark Ramsankar describes the problem aptly when he said, "a Ferrari still can't perform on a gravel road." Check out this video on the inequities in Calgary's schools. Ultimately, great teachers make great schools, but great teachers can’t do it alone – they require the support of an equitable society.
  • Why didn't Jeff Johnson and Alberta Education work with the Alberta Teachers' Association to have teacher representation on the Teacher Excellence Task Force? Why was the only active teacher on the task force unilaterally assigned by Johnson? Before the Alberta Government legislated a settlement last spring, teachers were pleased to see the creation of an advisory committee where half of the members are certified teachers recommended for appointment by the Alberta Teachers' Association. This was all outlined by Alison Redford's comfort letter addressed to teachers. To create a task force on teacher excellence without actively collaborating with teachers seems contrary to the promises Redford made last year. There is a big difference between keeping teachers passively informed and encouraging them to actively participate in improving Alberta's schools.
This task force might be an opportunity for us to make Alberta's great teachers even better -- but it might be a distraction from properly funding and supporting public education. 

How will this turn out?

To have your say, I suggest you consider registering your intent to participate in this task force by signing up here.  I did.

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