Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fraser Institute school rankings

The Toronto Sun has some stories about the Fraser Institute school rankings.  As a supply teacher who has taught at most of the elementary schools in my board, what can I interpret from the Fraser Institute rankings?  I know that schools in well-off neighbourhoods ranked high; schools in poorer neighbourhoods and communities ranked low.  Schools that have gifted programs also ranked high.

Based on my general observation, the quality and consistency of teaching is high in my board.  Many of the best teachers work in schools that ranked low on the Fraser Institute ranking.  Yet, these same teachers face the challenge of motivating their students to value the importance of education when many of the students' parents lack higher education.  Teachers work with students to create a sense of community so that the students can participate in extra curricular activities where they feel accepted by others.   Beyond the usual volleyball and basketball clubs, teachers and other staff create outdoor skating rinks in the wintertime.  Teachers get students to participate in African drumming.  Note: most of the students are white.  Schools provide low cost karate classes so that students can participate in activities that children in well-off neighbourhoods would do in the evenings in their communities.

One could transfer the teachers between the highest and lowest Fraser Institute ranked schools, and one would likely not see any differences in improvement.  In fact, the schools would likely display poorer Fraser Institute results because the transferred teachers would likely not understand the needs of their new students (at least not right away).

If one reads the Fraser Institute Report Card, one will receive little information about student success in learning.  The only information one can interpret is where the good neighbourhoods are located, plus where there might be programs for gifted students.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Harper thinks this election is unnecessary

The Liberals, Bloc, and NDP voted against the HarperGovermnent (TM) on a motion of non-confidence.
Duration between October 14, 2008 and May 2, 2011 elections: 930 days.

Harper called for an election that took place on October 14, 2008.
Duration between January 23, 2006 and October 14, 2008 elections: 995 days.

Harper's Conservatives voted against the Paul Martin Liberal government in December 2005 on a motion of non-confidence.
Duration between June 28, 2004 and January 23, 2006: 574 days.

According to Harper, it's not OK to have an election after 930 or 995 days.  However, He thought it was OK to have an election after 574 days after His party helped defeat the Paul Martin Liberal government.

I guess according to Harper, elections are unnecessary (and expensive) unless He thinks they are necessary.  To think, I almost supported Harper's Senate reform proposal, but I changed my mind because Canadians would be forced to have more unnecessary elections.  Actually, when I think about Harper's Senate reform proposal, I should have added a Bev Oda "NOT."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Star: Parents must witness their children's murder to receive compensation

I'm wondering if the young man who had been beheaded on a passenger bus in western Canada had been beheaded in Ontario, would his family not receive victim compensation because the family members had not actually seen the beheading?

The provincial agency that is supposed to compensate crime victims has denied “pain and suffering” payments to three grieving mothers because they did not witness the killing of their children.

Liz Hoage, whose 16-year-old son Joey was stabbed to death; Wendy Flanagan, whose daughter Alexandra's partial remains were found in two places; and Claudette Lalonde, whose bricklayer son Corey was killed while breaking up a fight, have all been told they do not meet the criteria for the compensation.
Toronto Star article

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fire those lazy teachers!

The governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, wishes to change teachers' working conditions in that teachers can be evaluated based on their students' standardized test results.  He wants to delay granting tenure to teachers until they have worked five years.  He also wants to teachers to lose their tenure status if their students perform poorly on the standardized tests.

One would need to assume that different kinds of teachers would need to have their students perform standardized tests.  Those students could come from all grades including kindergarten, Special Education, and ESL.  Subject specific teachers would need to have their students tested in Physical Education, Music, and another subject language such as Spanish or French.

Fire all those bad teachers!  That would be nice.  However, are those teachers supposedly poor teachers because their students performed poorly in standardized tests, or is it due to poor teaching and learning strategies?  One can be an excellent teacher, and still have students performing poorly on standardized tests.  Even if one takes into account socio-economic factors such as neighborhood average family income and levels of education, a teacher may work with a different group of students from one year to the next.  One group may be high achievers, while next year's group may have some extra behavioral needs.

Teachers do employ different teaching and learning strategies with their students.  However their administration (principals and vice-principals) set the tone and direction on what teachers should emphasize.  Administrators also set the weekly timetables.  I have seen administrators make teachers teach Language Arts to students in the afternoon.  Language Arts is probably the most serious subject which sets up the students for success on standardized tests.  It is very difficult to teach students literacy skills through Language Arts when students are tired in the afternoon.  Administrators who make their teachers teach Language Arts in the afternoon set up their teachers to have their students "fail" on standardized tests.  The teachers will get blamed for the poor student performance because the administration has made a poor scheduling decision on the timetable, or because teachers were told to emphasize different teaching & learning techniques or content areas.

Once teachers lose tenure protection, that means it will be extremely difficult for their unions to protect them.  Teachers who lose this protection will be the ones whose students perform poorly one year on standardized tests.  Who decides the aggregate success or failure on those tests?  The state or provincial governments?  Administration?  Through negotiation with the unions?  Teachers at most risk under new rules will not be the ones whose students perform poorly.  The teachers who are at risk will be the ones who challenge their administrations.  Those teachers are the ones who voice their concerns most expressively (even within professional parameters).  Administrations will not only be able to fire the so-called bad teachers; they will be able to fire the good teachers.  I know this is only a movie, but if one watches Lean on Me, there is one scene where Principal Clark fired a good music teacher for being insubordinate in his opinion.

In terms of tenure, one must note that tenure does not mean that a poorly performing teacher cannot be terminated.  It just means that administration must justify its reasoning for firing a teacher, and must prove that it had taken steps to ensure that the teacher had received up-to-date training so that the teacher could improve his or her teaching abilities.

Tennessee Governor Haslam's proposal to change teacher tenure based on standardized tests results and by delaying the right to tenure will mean that fewer qualified people will seek teaching as a profession.  Within five to ten years, there could be teacher shortages because people will not want to enter the teaching profession where teachers will not be valued both monetarily and socially by the government.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Doris (Stockwell) Day to quit politics

Will D.S. Day run for the leadership of the Conservative Party?

Montreal Gazette: Day to quit politics.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Foster's ad: please, don't look gay

What's next?  Don't wear pink T-shirts?

Pink News: Is the new Foster’s ad homophobic?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Parent Central: Is Dalton McGuinty afraid to talk about sex?

A Parent Central/Toronto Star article wonders if Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is afraid to change the Health curriculum that deals with sex education.  Conservative groups do not want sexual orientation to be discussed at primary and junior grades (kindergarten to grade-six).  Social conservatives and teachers must know that teachers already have the right to discuss sexual orientation at any grade in any subject because the Ontario Human Rights Code includes prevention of discrimination of services based on sexual orientation.


Perhaps social conservatives tolerate Black History Month, Chinese New Year, South Asian Month, Hanukkah, disability awareness activities, general multicultural activities, and boys and girls track and field.  They cringe when something so gay as sexual orientation is mentioned in the classroom.  However, the social conservative must know that because of the Ontario Human Rights Code, teachers do have the right to discuss topics that includes sexual orientation at any grade just like they can include discussions about race, gender, ethnicity, and religions.  Currently, most public school teachers do not exercise that right.

Teachers do act in loco parentis where teachers have the authority of a parent in a classroom.  Teachers decide in the best interests of their students as a parent would decide in the best interests of their children.  If teachers to wish to discuss sexual orientation with their students, it is extremely unlikely that they would discuss particular sexual activities between same-sex couples.  In the primary grades, class discussions may occur after a teacher reads a story about two daddy penguins, two moms, or a sissy duckling.  Discussions may include different kinds of families.  There may be a discussion about the use of the word "gay." as in "That's so gay!"  Primary students do use this phrase.

Concerned parents may wish to ask the teacher to inform them if discussions or a story being read about sexual orientation may take place so that they can withdraw their children from the classroom for the day or period.  As mentioned previously, a teacher acts as a "parent in the classroom" and he/she is a professional.  The teacher does not need to have parents vetting/censoring books and other materials in the classroom.  A good teacher may mention to the parents through a monthly class newsletter units of study that will take place.  However, the teacher does not need to list specific resources such as books about sexual orientation or other topics.

Social conservatives, teachers, and students must know that the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is not a half-right, but a full-right like the other rights under the Ontario Human Rights Code.  While parents, teachers, and students do need to have good relationships, everyone must know that public schools serve the public good.  They are microcosms of society.  If we do not discriminate based on sexual orientation outside our schools, then we must not discriminate based on sexual orientation within our schools.