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Blood from a stone?

November 28, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 05:48 AM

The Ontario Elementary Teachers Federation is in the middle of a strike vote (more). In fact, all of the teachers' unions are rattling their sabres, as their contracts expired in August and they are trying to convince the cash-strapped Ontario government to give them more money (more) and increase the number of teachers (more). 

Since the Ontario teachers' unions helped get this government elected, in their eyes it's payback time. I'm glad I'm not a politician.

It’s Elementary, My Dear Watson

November 27, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 05:22 AM

As Vic Charlton remarked on sending me this link, "it's a source of wonderment to me that the question is still being asked: what can be done to break the cycle?" The article covers the extent of low literacy levels in England, but the author appears to conclude that the situation is pretty hopeless as everything is already being done that could possibly be done. 

Against this are entire schools, indeed entire school boards and even entire countries, where virtually every child is taught to be a fluent reader by the age of six or so. In every single case, the teaching method is systematic phonics.

I expect Sherlock Holmes would make short work of this one.

Funny Business as Usual

November 26, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:27 AM

The province has asked an outside "reviewer" to take a look at the Toronto District School Board's ongoing problems. more  There have been several investigations and audits of this nature in the past and they always find oodles of wrong-doing, but it's kind of like the weather - no one ever does anything about it. This one figures to be no different, but from the government's point of view it will buy them some time. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again - school boards are an expensive anachronism that waste money, hinder teachers, and reduce student learning. They need to go.

Pas Devant Les Enfants

November 25, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:03 AM

The Ontario government is pressing ahead with its plans to revamp the province's sex education curriculum, but details are scarce. Fortunately, Parents as First Educators is on top of the situation, providing links to almost-daily newspaper articles on this topic. If you oppose the proposed changes, you can sign their petition here (it has more than 20,000 signatories now).

Your Future in a Marshmallow

November 24, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 07:09 AM

Most people are familiar with the marshmallow experiments in which young children were given a choice between eating a marshmallow right away or exercising some self-control and getting two marshmallows if they were able to wait for several minutes. When the children were tracked, furthermore, it turned out that, on average, the children who had been able to delay their gratification went on to do much better in life. 

Until recently, the ability to delay gratification (and other related "executive functions") were viewed as inborn and immutable, but recent discoveries about the plasticity of the brain , along with clinical research, prove that self-control can be nurtured in children (and adults). The book outlines the principal strategies that people can use to resist temptation - (cool the "now", heat the "later"; use if-then implementation plans; make precommitment plans; use cognitive reappraisal; and self-distance). The book also outlines some helpful things that parents can do when their children are very young. 

Here is the final paragraph from the book. "When I am asked to summarize the fundamental message from research on self-control, I recall Descartes's famous dictum cogito, ergo sum - 'I think, therefore I am'. What has been discovered about mind, brain, and self-control lets us move from his proposition to 'I think, therefore I can change what I am'. Because by changing how we think, we can change what we feel, do, and become. If that leads to the question 'but can I really change?,' I reply with what George Kelly said to his therapy clients when they kept asking him if they could get control of their lives. He looked straight into their eyes and said, 'Would you like to?'"

Sunday at the Movies (Charter School Myths)

November 23, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 07:37 AM

The critics of charter schools generally justify their opposition by one of these five myths. Click here for the latest example of mythful opposition, this one by the chancellor of the New York school system.

Saturday at the Movies (Climate Change)

November 22, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 05:25 AM

As this clip demonstrates, there are two sides to the climate change debate - but only one side is being presented to most schoolchildren by their teachers.

White Elephant School Boards

November 21, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:05 AM

Sometimes things created for an earlier reality, for example cabooses, outlast their usefulness. School boards are a case in point. When they were created 150 years ago, there was only one school board per school, usually in a rural area, and it served as a democratic way to ensure that each school reflected the wishes of its community. But in the 150 years since then, the balance between rural urban schools has dramatically tipped in favour of urban schools, and a series of amalgamations have resulted in school boards that try to oversee up to 600 schools. This has proved to be mission impossible for school boards, and as a result bit by bit the province has stripped away the school boards' powers - to the point that virtually their only function is to get blamed by the provincial government when things (inevitably) go wrong.

These days, most school boards are non-democratic, powerless, and a waste of money. For a thorough treatment of this development, see this column by Konrad Yakabuski about school boards in general and the Toronto District School Board in particular. 

With modern telecommunication abilities, it would be quite feasible to abolish school boards and make every school in the province autonomous and governed by its own democratically-elected school board. 

Closing small rural communities

November 20, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:32 AM


The Ontario government is in deep financial trouble - after all, getting elected is expensive - and one of its proposed cost-saving measures is to close schools. more  

Closing small rural schools don't save much on paper. There is a small amount of building maintenance. Two or three fewer admin staff. Maybe a chance to consolidate classrooms and cut some teachers, but that's not a sure thing since you can't take two 15-student classes and make a 30-student class. Against that, transportation costs go up as you bus students around the region, and the combined school needs more administration

Students carry the brunt of the pain, sitting on a bus for hours each day. But eventually the community starts to close down. Young parents stop moving in and houses drop in value. We talked about that here.

But from the province's point of view, the savings are huge. Parents withdraw their kids and homeschool them. Or find private schools. Or maybe older kids simply drop out of school. And for each student who drops out, the province can hold back $12,000 from the school board each year. You can save money pretty quickly that way if you don't mind the unfairness....

A Competitive Advantage

November 19, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 05:38 AM

Yesterday we launched this study by Professor David Johnson of Wilfrid Laurier University.Dr. Johnson was interested in the question of why Edmonton students do significantly better on the provincial tests than do Calgary students. After adjusting for the students' backgrounds, Dr. Johnson confirmed that Edmonton students score much higher than Calgary students and, what's more, the gap increases the longer the students stay in school.

Dr. Johnson reports that the public school systems have a very different history in the two cities. For many years, Edmonton public schools have competed with one another for students. For many years, Edmonton public schools have been granted considerable leeway in deciding how they can best operate. As a result, the Edmonton school board has been willing to open specialized and charter-style programs as requested by parents.

These choices offered by Edmonton schools and the associated competition among schools have had some unexpected side effects. Not only do Edmonton students learn more, but also Edmonton parents are more satisfied with their children’s schools. Results in Edmonton are better at all types of schools, not just public schools. And – bonus – there is more diversity in Edmonton public schools!

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