Monday, May 5, 2014

9 ways Jeff Johnson and his task force have failed Albertans

Dear Jim Prentice,

As you may know, there is a rumour going about that you may be interested in the leadership of Alberta's Progressive Conservatives.

While I'm sure there are a gazillion reasons why you should not pursue political suicide, here are 9 more that are specific to Jeff Johnson and his task force on teaching.

Johnson is reckless

Too often, Johnson tries to make change by imposing his will on those who have less power. First, he threw around the idea of merit pay (the bad idea that won't die).

He threatened to remove teachers' collective bargaining rights with legislation. Using the teachers' registrar certification contact list, he sent an e-mail to 30,000 teachers, and now is being investigated by the privacy commissioner.

He orchestrated an agreement with Alberta Teachers without including School Boards.

And now Johnson thinks that he can improve Alberta schools with his Orwellian Task Force that looks to take over punishing teachers. The Alberta Teachers' Association is raising serious concerns about direct ministerial interference in the work of the task force and have requested a FOIP request on Johnson's Task Force.

Johnson ignores teachers

The best decisions for the child are made by the child in collaboration with a safe and caring adult who actually spends time with them. Those adults are not bureaucrats or politicians -- they are the classroom teachers. Jeff Johnson continues to openly ignore teachers and their Alberta Teachers' Association. 

To create a task force on teacher excellence without actively collaborating with teachers is contrary to common sense, collaboration and transparency. 

There is a big difference between keeping teachers passively informed and encouraging them to actively participate in improving Alberta's schools.

Johnson confuses innovation with privatization

When asked about for-profit, online charter schools, Johnson says he's open to all options that create excellence and opportunities -- despite the evidence that for-profit, online charters offer children neither excellence or opportunities. 

Being open-minded is one thing but Johnson's response is growing old and tired. Every time someone asks him about a potential idea in education, regardless of its quality, he fires back with this hollow political boilerplate.

Albertans should be immensely proud of our world-class public education system -- simultaneously, Albertans should be appalled when our elected officials consider for-profit, private schools as a way of improving our education system. I've written a post here about why Cyber Charter schools are such a bad idea. 

It's one thing to suggest that students should be encouraged to become entrepreneurial but it is quite another to unleash entrepreneurs to profit off of children and public education. To be clear, this is not about pedagogy -- it's about privatizing public education which is ultimately wrong.

Johnson is entitled

After Alison Redford's gross misuse of taxpayer's dollars, The Alberta Party brought to light Jeff Johnson's entitlement: "Education minister Jeff Johnson’s expenses reveal double-billing, lost receipts, taxpayers billed for optional extras like seat selection and hotel movies, and include a backdated claim for an expensive hotel room during the Calgary Stampede."

Johnson votes against Gay-Straight Alliances that put children first

Johnson will wear a pink shirt on anti-bullying day, but he won't vote for legislation to help kids. 

This is yet another example where Johnson's walk lies in stark contrast to his talk of putting children first. 

Johnson says class size doesn't matter

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.

A great teacher with 15-25 students in the classroom may be a mediocre or even poor teacher with 30+ students. When the government doesn't do their job of properly funding and supporting teachers, it makes it harder for teachers to do their job.

Ultimately, great teachers make great schools, but great teachers can’t do it alone – they require the support of an equitable society.

Johnson and Big Oil

Suncor, Syncrude, Cenovus and other big oil corporations are enlisted by Johnson as partners in the current curriculum development. Other tech companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Pearson and SMART have also been signed up. 

Johnson wants to punish teachers

Are there some bad teachers in Alberta?

You bet there are, but there are also bad accountants, doctors, mechanics, columnists and politicians.

There are incompetent professionals in all professions.

The most successful education nations don't test and punish their teachers -- they diagnose and support them. The best education systems in the world worry less about firing bad teachers, and more about creating and supporting great teachers.

We don't have a teacher quality problem -- we treat them so badly, they leave.

The Alberta Teachers' Association's Research tells us that one of the major causes of early-career teacher attrition is inadequate pre-service preparation (which traditionally has been a greater concern in the US than in Canada) and difficult working conditions (particularly in under resourced schools) and professional isolation.

Alberta doesn't have a teacher quality problem -- we have a teacher leakage problem. Because of systemic problems, anywhere between 25-50% of teachers leave inside of before five years on the job.

Johnson's Orwellian Teacher Task Force will kill Inspiring Education

Jeff Johnson needs to stop borrowing America's
failed Education Reforms.
Johnson's Inspiring Education is about control and compliance via mistrust, manipulation and competition. Johnson sees himself as the change agent that will disrupt the system. Rather than work with teachers, he merely does things to them.

He uses Inspiring Education and his Excellence in Teaching Task Force to create the impression that he is collaborating while he pursues his political agenda.

Rather than address the growing inequities students are experiencing as a result of his government's broken promises (poverty reduction, full day kindergarten) he trots out the Task Force for Teaching Excellence and continues to distract public attention away from classrooms that are growing in size and complexity by cherry-picking data from international studies, claiming that class size does not matter and chasing American-style market based reforms such as merit pay.


As you know, Mr. Prentice, the PCs in 2014 have no shortage of enemies, and adding teachers to the list makes as much sense as running for the leadership.


  1. Nice work.
    Keep hammering away, Joe. I'm glad you're staying on top of this for me and I look forward to your interpretations on a regular basis.


    1. Hey Big Irv!

      Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. Good Times!

  2. Good job! After reading this, I sure hope he does not remain our eduction minister! I worry for our kids futures