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Give up the gimmicks

Sub-par results in international education comparisons are very likely to continue until Manitoba and other Canadian jurisdictions abandon the cart-before-the-horse procedure in adopting new methodologies (Manitoba's bottom of the class, Dec. 4).

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Instead of first demanding clear-cut evidence that these have been properly tested and result in better student achievement, education departments and school divisions fall over themselves to implement them, only to find they either make no difference or actually have detrimental effects in the classroom.

Those in charge at provincial and local levels should have the training and experience to know that these theories and gimmicks are products of the education-innovation industry, which is made up of researchers, underemployed academics and publishers who push their wares through a combination of glib sales pitches and wishful thinking rather than empirical evidence. These products have had a notoriously poor track record for decades.

Parents who pressured administrators, trustees and the education department to retract a faulty math curriculum deserve a great deal of praise for recognizing a waste of tax dollars and adverse effects on their kids. Hopefully their future vigilance will force proper accountability on education officials.




Rather than jumping to conclusions about Manitoba schools, everyone would be well advised to reflect more carefully about the numerous factors that influence school performance and standardized tests like the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

The full PISA report is quite good in this regard because it presents evidence that performance is poorer for countries that are economically disadvantaged. Analyses in the U.S. similarly reveal poorer performance in school districts with higher percentages of children receiving meal vouchers, an indicator of economic need.

Other results show that national performance on PISA math is correlated with the percentage of students who said that they skipped classes or school. Not surprisingly, countries with higher percentages of kids who skip school did more poorly.


University of Winnipeg


If your example of a skill-testing math question is indicative of the tests, then it seems to me that the problems of low scores in math and reading are intertwined.

That example is not just a math question. It requires reading comprehension. Without proper reading comprehension, you can't answer the question accurately, even if you're good at maths.

So here's an idea. Forget all the fancy ideas and go back to the basics of teaching reading, writing and maths from Grade 1 on. Fail kids who don't pass. The woeful scores in the province are partly the result of not failing kids who clearly shouldn't have passed and partly the fault of the philosophy of "why teach them that? They'll never use it."




Perhaps we need to look back at the way we used to teach in our schools: separate, smaller classes for gifted and challenged, extracurricular work for those falling behind, standardized tests we all had to study and be ready for. And that special place just outside the principal's office for those students who, well, just didn't want to be there.




Considering all the tax money we send to the school system, it is sad when a young person can't even read his or her Grade 12 diploma.



Shelter would be symbolic

Human rights ought to promote justice and compassion for all people. Hence the best symbol for human rights on Parcel 4 at The Forks ought to be a shelter for homeless people in Winnipeg.

The shelter could contain a food bank outlet and a clothing depot where the homeless could access socks, shoes and other clothes they desperately need all through the year.

If the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is to have some real meaning for the future, it needs an active component like a homeless shelter near by. It might also signal to the rest of Canada that Winnipeg is serious about balancing income levels for the presently unemployed or disabled people in our midst.

Perhaps one of the greatest oversights of human rights is that some people consume beyond their needs while others suffer hunger and homelessness. A true symbol of understanding human rights is to move toward a more equitable distribution of shelter.

Don't waste Parcel 4 on more commercial space. Rather, let it show human rights for the future.



Selling society short

In discussing bullying in the context of First Nations youth (What we don't know about bullying, Nov. 22), Don Marks is disheartened by "the revelation that success in the white world is viewed negatively by young First Nations people."

Viewing the real world as "white" is characterizing it negatively so it isn't surprising that dissociation from that world would be valued above participation. Marks sells our cosmopolitan society short and inadvertently, it seems, justifies the racial antipathy underlying bullying on reserves.

The generalized hostility towards assimilation results in an intellectual zugzwang of choosing fatalistic or radical options. What is unique for First Nations kids is being forced to deal with a projected identity of being First Nations kids.



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 6, 2013 A12

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