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Not political, Rita? Seriously?

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The Winnipeg School Division’s teachers’ union makes the extraordinary claim that students are a year behind in math and language arts by the time they finish Grade 6, and school board chair Rita Hildahl won’t talk about it because it’s not a political issue?!?!?!


That’s the kind of political miscalculation that is worthy of being ripped on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. Maybe it’ll even get another one of my stories on As It Happens.

You can read the story here.

Keeping in mind the continuing furore over Manitoba’s kids finishing second-last in a national math test, you might want to read the December newsletter from Winnipeg Teachers Association president Dave Najduch.

Teachers are telling their union that the comprehensive assessment program, in which teachers meet one-on-one with their students in September and October to assess their literacy and math skills, takes so much time away from teaching that by the end of Grade 6 the kids have lost a cumulative year’s worth of instructional time in math and language arts.

That’s the kind of claim that should have trustees and bureaucrats alike dropping everything they’re doing to find out if it’s true.

WSD feels pretty protective of CAP. Back in 2003, when the teachers planned to go public about their concerns with CAP, the division threatened to fire Najduch and the other 15 members of the WTA executive.

The union won a resounding victory in the subsequent Manitoba Labour Board hearing, which confirmed the union’s right to freedom of speech.

I understand the rationale behind CAP. The Manitoba Teachers’ Society repeatedly tells us that no one knows the individual student better than the classroom teacher, and the provincial teachers’ union and the Selinger government are committed to diagnostic assessment rather than testing.

But here are the WSD teachers themselves saying that the program is flawed and is costing the kids a year’s worth of learning.

I’ve never understood — accepting that the teacher obviously knows her students best — why the classroom teacher doesn’t provide a written assessment of each student’s math and literacy skills at the end of June, after she’s taught them for 10 months, rather than spending two months the next school year having the new teacher start assessing the children from scratch.

And meanwhile, how can the province’s most political school board not recognize that when its employees attack one of the employer’s most cherished policies and say that it is harmful to the quality of children’s education, a policy approved by the trustees, that it’s a political issue which they must deal with immediately?

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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