Friday, March 09, 2007

Liberal's Education Throne Speech Interpreted by Susan Semonick

Lets look at the Throne speech and interpret it in relation to education in this district. The provincial government introduced new education initiatives in the Throne Speech that it says will provide more choice and safety for students.


The Province will act to give teachers new recognition and financial incentives to reward improvements in student achievement and promote professional development, as laid out in the 2005 election platform.

This could be a detriment. I wonder how a reward system would be fairly implemented and what effect current practices at some schools will have on this. The following is an excerpt from the BCTF’s Public Education Advocates newsletter (Feb. 13, 2007) which highlights one particular concern that could affect how teachers are evaluated for these incentives.

Time for teaching and learning is taken away by school districts who encourage teachers to prepare students for the tests. It is not unheard of for schools to exclude certain students from writing the FSAs so that the school's overall score or ranking is better. This often means that ESL and students with special needs do not participate. Teachers know the validity of FSAs is questionable. More and more parents are withdrawing their students from writing the FSAs by writing a letter to the principal. Student participation is optional upon the written request of parents.

There is a new book out called Collateral Damage “How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America's Schools”
By Sharon L. Nichols and David Berliner. It addresses some of my concerns mentioned above.


The Throne speech included the following preamble about social innovation and improvement, as well as news about changes to school boards and additions to the mandates of SPCs.

“Today we live in a world redefined by enormous shifts in our demographic, economic, and environmental makeup.”
“This is a time for partnership not partisanship, for boldness not trepidation, for action not procrastination.”
“The powerful currents sweeping across our lives today call for long-term vision not short-term expedience, for selfless rather than selfish actions, for focused rather than fractured responses and for decision not delay. They demand we look to ourselves for change before asking it of others.”

  • Changes will be made to broaden the mandate of school boards, reflected in a new title: Boards of Education
  • Boards will be able to offer “special academies” with approval of school planning councils and consultation with parents.
  • Boards will be authorized to charge fees approved by school planning councils to defray non-instructional costs or additional costs incurred in offering special academies, trades programs, and band instruments
I see the groundwork being laid to dissolve the existing school boards (boards of education) within the next few years. Having a Provincial Superintendent will enable this transition become a reality as the Ministry likely works toward a plan that will allow the people at the grass roots level, the SPCs, to determine the needs of their respective school communities, with the School District Superintendent ensuring that the educational needs of the students are kept to the forefront. The Provincial Superintendent will be the stop check where accountability to the public is concerned. This will heighten the importance of teachers’ participation. The professionals will have the decision-making ability instead of a school board. We will finally have those educated about curriculum making the decisions to educate our children while parent representatives ensure respect of community values. This is a good thing even though I am sure many will not have the futuristic outlook to see it now.

If I am right that this is the plan; it will save millions of dollars that are used for the present elected politicos. The annual fee of $50,000.00 plus for BCSTA fees for each district alone will realize at least $3,000,000 annually. Add to this, another 8 to 10+ million in costs for school trustees across the province and it all adds up. These monies can be redirected straight to the students. There would no longer be the need for the money sucking venues of School District Business Companies or Foundations. In Langley, there would no longer be exorbitant raises of 34% for board members. More of the needs of students would be met.

As noted in an earlier report, the local school board is not comfortable with this apparent shift and has sent a letter to the Minister of Education voicing its concern about giving SPCs approval power rather than the right to consultation.

  • The ActNow BC program is making progress in fostering greater physical activity, healthier eating habits, and tobacco reduction.
  • The Action Schools! BC program is spreading into our classrooms across the province to promote healthy living among our students.
  • Your government is eliminating junk food in all public schools and in all vending machines in provincially owned buildings.
  • The School Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program is in 50 schools this year and will be available to every public school by 2010.
  • Legislation will be introduced this session to ban smoking on all school property.
The “make a fast buck campaign” has started already. All sorts of “activity programs” that have been pitched to the Ministry by a variety of so called community or specialist groups have been adopted and announced by the Minister over the past few months. I ask, how much is the Ministry spending that isn’t going directly to school districts? Do teachers really need these special programs to teach the PE and health curricula they have always taught – it hasn’t changed a great deal? The Actions Schools is a reasonable low cost program. However, I wonder why we have to pay for someone to promote what China and other countries have been doing for centuries.

As for the food in schools, what happened to the parents ensuring that these needs are met? Educate the source, the parent. Let’s consider breakfast and lunch services offered by community churches and other groups - widen the scope of involvement as some districts have already done. Whether the needs are met by the local coffee-clutch moms or community non-profit groups I still do not think this should be done within the school framework. Removing temptation does not address the issue of teaching students to make wise choices - it deprives them of this opportunity. Junk food is not bad in and of itself – moderation is key, and this is what we should be helping children to understand and exercise.

Our school board already has a policy on smoking. How it is enforced is at question. In other districts, what are the ramifications of not supplying the smoke pits on school property? At some sites, this is a serious consideration between ensuring physical safety and promoting health safety of the student as students often times will cross major highways to smoke off school property.


It will establish, for the first time in 20 years, a new transit corridor and open the way for transit improvements to the Fraser Valley connecting Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley, and Surrey to Coquitlam and Vancouver. Over the next year, new regional transit options will be established for our major urban areas in the Lower Mainland, the Fraser Valley, the Capital Regional District and the Okanagan.

Translink goodbye. Hooray! Now, hopefully a whole picture look will be taken to improve overall transportation needs.

The new BC Spirit Squares program will provide $20 million for communities to create or enhance outdoor public meeting places. Our communities should be places where children are cared for and are safe.

Township is doing this. City is doing nothing noteworthy that I am aware of.

A new process will be put in place to ensure that schools or school lands are used for their highest and best use for maximum public benefit.

With the revised policy the Board just passed, it will be interesting to see if Board proposals re property disposal will go against government’s direction.

“To improve quality, choice, and accountability in our two most important public services – education and health care.”

If there is expansion in the choice area, more than likely it will not be a positive change. Increased choice is paradoxically not freeing and brings with it some constraints as well. The challenge will be to increase achievement in all three areas at the same time.

Read the full Throne Speech here.

The news release is available on the government website.
(Susan Semonick is a previous DPAC President and a community activist working for the betterment of the Langley School District- EDITOR-LFP)

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