Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important to children's future success than learning to read at a young age, a University of Toronto expert told Manitoba school trustees Friday.
"The Number 1 predictor of high school graduation is reading proficiency at age nine and 10," Julia O'Sullivan, dean of education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), told the Manitoba School Boards Association annual general meeting.
"Teaching reading is not rocket science -- it's harder," she said.
O'Sullivan said Canadian school systems spend too much time trying to catch up to Finland or China on international tests, too much time worrying about what brain research -- which she dismissed as neuro myths -- says about how different children learn in different ways and too much time moving from one idea about learning math to another and then to another.
When trustees set early years priorities, Sullivan said, "Please say 'reading' -- it's not a dirty word."
On average, O'Sullivan said, faculties of education spend 24 to 36 hours teaching future teachers to teach reading -- they need at least 180 hours, she said.
In other business:
-- School boards may be holding down taxes, but not their own fees -- which come out of education dollars.
They approved jacking up fees to a total of $1.85 million, which River East Transcona trustee Peter Kotyk said is close to 10 per cent for the second straight year. That's ironic and hypocritical, said Kotyk.
Frontier trustee Linda Ballantyne countered trustees get a lot more out of the MSBA than they put in financially; Louis Riel trustee Hugh Coburn pointed out MSBA has added very helpful new staff.
The increase passed overwhelmingly.
-- Trustee Floyd Martens of Dauphin-based Mountain View School Division was re-elected by acclamation as president for another year.
-- Trustees agree education students need to spend more time being taught how to teach reading and math, but couldn't figure out how much more time, so the organization will study the issue further.
-- Trustees want the province to create a new student category for students exceeding expectations on provincial assessments.
"Why are they excluding this category?" asked Red River Valley trustee Shelley Sirota.
The province now categorizes students "out of range, below, meeting expectations, approaching expectations, and needs ongoing help."
Seven Oaks trustee Claudia Sarbit spoke for the minority when she said the teacher knows who's exceeding expectations: "The more labels we have for students, the worse it is," she said.
-- There was a strong consensus the province needs to create an extensive list of criminal convictions that would disqualify people from running for, or holding a seat on, a school board.