Thousands of teachers and union supporters rally in front of the B.C. legislature before the 2005 election. The union battles the government constantly on class size and other issues

B.C. goes backwards on education

VICTORIA – Guess who said this last week: “We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones.”

No, it wasn’t B.C. Liberal leadership hopeful Kevin Falcon, who has gone quiet on education since he caused a stir with his proposal for merit pay for public school teachers.

And it wasn’t the Fraser Institute, which is about to release its latest rankings based on foundation skills assessment (FSA) tests in B.C. schools.

It was U.S. President Barack Obama, in his state of the union address. He was talking about Race to the Top, a federal bonus program he called “the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.”

“To all 50 states, we said, ‘If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money.’”

B.C., meanwhile, is going backwards. After years of B.C. Teachers’ Federation sabotage of skills testing, the essential mechanism for any improvement in education techniques, the B.C. Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association abruptly surrendered a couple of weeks ago.

The tests aren’t flawed, association president Jameel Aziz admitted, but they have been “successfully undermined” by the BCTF.

Aziz listed three reasons for abandoning FSA tests. Two of them are factually wrong.

He claimed that after years of BCTF disruption tactics, participation has fallen below 50 per cent in some districts.

Ministry records show the lowest participation was 62 per cent, last year in the Vancouver school district. The provincial average was 83 per cent, despite letters sent home by teacher union locals telling parents the tests are bad and suggesting they find some excuse for their kids to skip them.

Aziz also blamed the Fraser Institute for its “misuse” of FSA data that “does not reflect the many unique challenges faced by individual schools, nor does it credit the many unique successes of individual schools.”

Wrong again, says Peter Cowley, the Fraser Institute’s director of school performance studies. He notes that the rankings track local factors such as parental income and the proportion of English as a second language or special needs.

“We’re hunting for schools that have shown that they are actually improving,” as well as those that are slipping, Cowley said.

Critics like to set up a straw man by comparing schools in rich urban areas with poor, remote schools. That’s “misuse,” designed to discredit the rankings and the tests.

Parents should start by looking at the performance of their own school over five years. Is it getting better or worse? Rural parents can look at similar regions of B.C. and see if comparable schools are doing better. All parents can ask what extra help their children are getting to improve their individual areas of weakness.

Aziz claimed that “some in government” have suggested FSA tests be replaced. Well, rookie cabinet minister Moira Stilwell has. For a more informed view, here’s Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid in an open letter to parents:

“The push by the BCTF to end the FSAs is political. It’s about hiding information you, as parents, have a right to know about your child’s education and future.”

Leadership candidate George Abbott made vague noises about supplementing FSA tests. Here is one change he could consider.

The tests measure reading, writing and arithmetic skills at Grades 4 and 7. They track the individual student’s performance, as well as that of the team of teachers he or she has had to that point.

Additional measurements could give a clearer picture of the performance of each individual teacher. Then Falcon’s merit pay idea could be implemented.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com. tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Just Posted

West Kootenay RCMP charge man with impaired driving in school zone

Sgt. Chad Badry reports on impaired drivers and other high risk offences

Company granted leave to appeal Lemon Creek charges

Executive Flight Centre won a decision in the BC Court of Appeal

Extensive smoke, heat damage to Castlegar home after fire on Friday

One occupant suffered burns after fleeing house with pet

Cyclist struck in Castlegar

Morning mishap at gas station on Columbia

Kaslo bus fueled by vegetable oil to begin service next month

Mountain Man Mike’s will run routes to Vancouver and eventually Edmonton

Killer of Calgary mother, daughter gets no parole for 50 years

A jury found Edward Downey guilty last year in the deaths of Sara Baillie, 34, and five-year-old Taliyah Marsman

Toddler seriously injured after falling from Okanagan balcony

RCMP are investigating after a two-year-old boy fell from the balcony of an apartment in Kelowna

Cost jumps 35% for Trans-Canada Highway widening in B.C.

Revelstoke-area stretch first awarded under new union deal

Is vegan food a human right? Ontario firefighter battling B.C. blaze argues it is

Adam Knauff says he had to go hungry some days because there was no vegan food

Winds helping in battle against fire threatening northern Alberta town

Nearly 5,000 people have cleared out of High Level and nearby First Nation

B.C. sends 267 firefighters to help battle Alberta wildfires

Out of control fires have forced evacuations in the province

Calgary Police looking for missing man who may be heading to B.C.

A man last seen on May 15 in Calgary may be heading to the Kootenay region, according to police

LETTER: Fletcher ‘blurs reality’ on B.C. union public construction

Bridge, highway projects awarded to companies, not unions

Most Read