THE Manitoba K-12 Education Review, which resulted in Bill 64 and the accompanying action plan, Better Education Starts Today (BEST), ignores the views of educators, promotes standardization and invites privatization.
The proposed reforms undermine public education and are reflective of similar efforts across Canada to break into, and break, public education while still seeking to prosper from it. Persistent defunding and political rhetoric are being employed to justify the erosion of a public good — a strong public education system.
While family and community engagement in schooling are undeniably important, the proposed legislation grants incredible powers to parents who are not required to have expertise in the field. Parent volunteers will be given the authority to assess the effectiveness of programming, analyze student achievement, determine areas of focused improvement, and evaluate and hire teachers.
Carl DeGurse (Expertise should guide school plan, March 20), a parent and columnist, rightly states, "It’s arrogant and ignorant to dictate to professionals about their field of expertise, whether it’s doctors about medicine or mechanics about vehicles." The persistent devaluing of teacher professionalism is not new. Historically, teaching has been viewed as "women’s work," due to the conflation of teaching and motherhood — that is, if teaching is "natural" to women, then it is not a profession.
In the current political context, provincial governments rely on this teacher-as-mother narrative in order to dismiss and devalue teacher professionalism, to silence criticism from teachers, and to justify educational reforms that contradict research. Teacher professional judgment should not be replaced by individual parent and corporate interests.
The Manitoba government is using results from standardized test scores to claim there is a "crisis" that needs to be addressed; this crisis rhetoric relies on flawed logic and faulty understandings. While we reject the use of standardized test scores to represent the complexities of student learning, the Manitoba School Boards Association (MSBA) and others have reported that Manitoba performs at or above the national average.
Out of the approximately 80 countries tested, Canada routinely scores around No. 10 in the world. The sky is not falling.
Regardless of the government’s skewed use of testing data, standardized test scores do not measure student learning. Standardized tests are often created by for-profit publishers who are distant from educational decision-making. Researchers of assessment emphasize that standardized tests cannot reflect the vast curriculum differences across countries; cannot measure complex understandings, critical thinking, or creativity; breed compliance; and value homogeneity (thereby devaluing diversity of students). Standardized testing values a standardized student.
Finally, as researcher Jim Silver pointed out (Bill 64 Earns a Failing Grade, March 29), the most significant indicator of educational success is socioeconomic status. The reliance on standardized test scores allows the government to distract the public from systemic issues that impact learning, and rationalizes spending on implementing more testing and developing more "monitoring systems."
All of this detracts from meaningful, in-classroom formative assessment (i.e., tools that teachers use to elicit understandings of students’ learning and then inform their practices). It will also reduce time and resources for meaningful curricular engagements, such as inquiry projects, arts productions and community activities. More testing does nothing to address poverty.
The BEST report and Bill 64 are riddled with the language of business: streamline, outcome, modernization, choice, efficiency — which places a market logic on all elements of education. Schools are not businesses, and students are not products. The persistent defunding of public education requires schools to focus on money-generation and therefore effectively corporatizes and privatizes public schools.
As the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has reported, this is manifesting in many forms across Canada, and includes advertising, public-private partnerships, corporate sponsorships, incentive programs, corporately produced curriculum, sales of services, user fees and reliance on fundraising. Canadian researchers Ee-Seul Yoon and Sue Winton have demonstrated that when schools increase their reliance on public-private partnerships, inequities are exacerbated and dependency on private funds is normalized.
Private corporations have private interests — and we have just witnessed the effects of this in the running of personal-care homes as private businesses. When public education is measured by economic interests rather societal ones, decisions about the purpose of education are informed by "efficiencies" and profits rather than by human, educational and public worth.
Bill 64 undermines teacher professionalism, increases standardization and normalizes the reliance on private funding. As Noam Chomsky has written, public education is the gem of strong democracies. Protecting our democracy relies on a public education system that values teacher professionalism, centres rich and meaningful curriculums, and is proudly and publicly funded.
Shannon D. M. Moore and Melanie D. Janzen are former teachers who currently serve as associate professors in the faculty of education at the University of Manitoba.