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Posts Tagged ‘British Columbia’

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As I read the media reports of the 2015 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results I could almost feel the media’s disappointment.  Of the 72 countries and jurisdictions around the world participating, students in British Columbia were the highest performing in reading, 2nd highest in science and 6th in math.  The results are outstanding.  And this is no small test – over 500,000 15-year-old students participated around the world including more than 20,000 in Canada.  Of course, good news just doesn’t make “news” like bad news.  There are far more people who seem to enjoy a “Students Struggle with Reading” headline, rather than a “Local Students Top Readers in the World” headline. (See full Canadian results here).

I dedicate dozens of posts each year on this blog to talking about the need to do things differently.  And results like those from PISA do not change the need or urgency.  They do remind us in British Columbia (and all across Canada) we are improving from a place of strength.  We have an exemplary education system that is not satisfied with the status quo and we want to be sure that as the world continues to change, our curriculum, assessment and programs continue to adapt to ensure our relevance.

I have written about PISA two times before (when both the 2009 and 2012 results were released – and I still hold to these commentaries).  Beyond the high-level numbers the power of PISA is that there is a lot of data that helps tell a more complete story.  I find the most useful information are deeper in the report below the silly “who won” conversation.  From first look, one sees that there is a very small gender gap in science in Canada, for example, and overall the level of equity (the difference between the highest and lowest scores) is better (more equitable) in Canada than elsewhere.  As I said in my comments three years ago, when asked about PISA – “It is what it is”.  It is one part of the education story, but when governments invest billions of dollars into education, it is a powerful tool to help see we are doing some things right.

I am also left thinking about Finland today.  Like many others, I have visited Finland to learn about what they have done to develop such a strong education system.  And just what first attracted me to Finland?  Well, it was their PISA scores.  The same PISA scores that today indicate the world has a lot to learn from Canada and British Columbia. The same PISA scores that remind me that we can learn a lot in British Columbia from colleagues in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and truly across the country.  The same PISA scores that remind me as Superintendent in West Vancouver, there is a lot we can learn from Surrey, Victoria and Bulkley Valley.

Of course we have many areas in British Columbia we can improve – it is forever the nature of education.  We need to continue to work to improve our Aboriginal graduation rates, and support all learners in our classrooms.  There is a danger that a report like this can suggest we tick the education box in our society and stop investing – we need to do the opposite and continue to invest in public education in British Columbia so we grow from this position of strength.  And yes, PISA is just one measure – we know there are so many factors beyond tests like these that we need to track to ensure our students are strong academic performers and capable citizens (and yes, there are many thoughtful critics of PISA).

But let’s leave the other conversations for another day – today is a day to recognize the system we have – and it is damn good!  All of us who have children in BC’s schools, and all of us who work in BC schools should be very proud.

OK, that is more self-congratulating than most of us Canadians are used to – let’s get back to work!

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I recently had the opportunity to attend and present at U.S. National Conference on Education hosted by the American School Superintendent’s Association (AASA).  The presentation I shared was  similar to the presentations given in BC: Social Media – How District Leaders Can Build Community. My focus here was on how important it is for leaders to not just talk about digital learning, but to model it in their own work and learning.

If the conference’s Twitter feed was any indication, I get the sense there are far fewer US school and district leaders engaged on the social media front than we are seeing in BC and across Canada. While Canadians probably made up less than five per cent in attendance, you wouldn’t have thought that from who was engaging digitally.

Of course, there is far more to connect about than social media. I was interested to connect with my American superintendent colleagues and compare the work we do north and south of the border. I found we have a lot in common in sharing the important role of working with elected Boards, a focus on 21st century learning, and we are always searching for the balance in our work and personal lives. What made the event most interesting was to realize where our jobs, and how our conversations differed:

Football

Okay, not just football, but school sports in general. For many, this is very connected to the identity of the school district, something we don’t see with the same passion in Canada. I spoke with several superintendents who described several situations—including pressure from their Boards—to have high achieving sports teams and who should make the team and play in the games. Some situations from the playing field regularly came forward to the superintendent level for comment. While attending a session on legal issues affecting school districts, there was an interesting discussion on whether school sports were a right or a privilege. It was a very different opinion than the Canadian one where sports are seen largely as extracurricular and coaches are volunteers.

High Test Results

In BC and Canada more generally, we are spending less and less time focussing (or obsessing) on test scores. I often say we are moving to a post-standardized world. We have no high stakes tests and, while we use data, it is often teacher-generated data. In contrast, it was interesting to learn that superintendents use test results around teacher evaluations and test results also drive some funding allotments.

Safety

Yes, we talk safety, but not with the same intensity as it is currently being discussed in the United States. For example, many superintendents acknowledge the importance of school security guards.  It is something not really discussed in British Columbia. At a district board meeting this past month I reconfirmed (under advice from local police) our practice will be to continue to keep all school exterior doors unlocked. Many of my American colleagues were making different decisions.

Turnover

We have some turnover in superintendents in Canada, but job terminations are very rare. In contrast, there was a much greater sense from my US colleagues that being a superintendent was much like being a professional sports coach—often on two- or three-year contracts and ready to be free agents if “things just didn’t work out.” It does make me wonder how one can move an agenda forward with such regular turnover. It did seem some districts really valued stability over change, but that did not seem to be the norm, particularly in larger urban centres.

Money

Yes, we all talk money, but funding is provincial not local; a formula in BC is used to fund all 60 districts. In speaking with many of my colleagues, there can be wide gaps in funding in neighbouring committees, a particular challenge BC does not have to deal with. And, despite my best efforts to fully understand the US school funding model, I actually still don’t.  There is also federal money that flows through to districts (again something we don’t have in Canada); there is also local monies based on taxation, and often a lot of grant monies (something far less common in Canada). Of course, the larger topic of adequate and stable funding is universal, and the conversations around inadequate funding and its effect on public education are the same conversations we are having in British Columbia.

However, one concern is common across both the Canadian and US perspective — great value on a strong and vibrant public education system. It was interesting to see below the headlines where our stories matched and where they differed. My thanks to all those who welcomed me and made me feel so connected.

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Why make the case for change in a system with an outstanding track record of education outcomes? Because there are potential pitfalls and challenges ahead:

  • A skills shortage
  • Difficulty integrating 21st century skills into curriculum
  • Too strong a content orientation
  • Inadequate and ineffective use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) in Education
  • A growth of differing and conflicting learning outcomes
  • Low satisfaction levels in schools

And there are more on the list.  Now, before you begin typing your response that I have unfairly vilified our outstanding education system in British Columbia, I am not describing British Columbia, but rather Finland. And these are not my thoughts, but those of Timo Lankinen, Director General at the Finnish National Board of Education, as recently expressed in his presentation, Making a case for change in a successful system (Finnish basic education).  The list is from a more complete slide in his presentation:

Finland has been setting the world benchmark, so many of us are chasing.  However, while they are widely seen as the strongest in the world, they have embarked on a change agenda.

These are the questions being asked (from Lankinen’s presentation):

  • Are we picking up on the warning signals about the growing differences between schools and learning outcomes, and provision of education?
  • Do we highlight higher-order skills, citizen skills needed for future lives in a systematic way?
  • Do we enable teachers and students to flourish? Do we notice and care about non-conforming students?
  • And what about . . .
  • Individual aspirations?
  • Engaging students (book learning versus experiential learning)?
  • Technology use?
  • Integration of the Arts and PE?
What does their agenda look like for change?
  • More individual freedom to choose between subjects
  • Multidisciplinary subject groups
  • Increase of minimum instruction time
  • A more diversified language program
  • Increase of the Arts and PE
  • Highlight 21st century skills – citizen skills
  • Educational use of ICT
There is more depth to their work than what can be summarized in a post, but the Finns are asking, “Can we effectively lead a systemic change for better learning in the future?”
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It was quite a remarkable presentation, because the content was familiar; it is very similar to the conversations we are having in British Columbia, another one of the very highest performing education systems in the world.  It is also a narrative I hadn’t previously heard, as so many have told the Finnish story.  There are differences in direction and our systems, but the overarching themes envisioned for both of these systems are quite similar.
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So, it is not only the under-performing systems that are looking to innovate, but the very best in the world as well.  I have said several times in West Vancouver, and borrowing a line from a former colleague in Coquitlam, “you don’t have to be sick to get better.”

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The title comes from a mantra we often hear with produce and other food products.  Wikipedia describes it:

Local purchasing is a preference to buy locally produced goods and services over those produced more distantly. It is very often abbreviated as a positive goal ‘buy local’ to parallel the phrase think globally, act locally, common in green politics.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately in the context of our work in the digital world.  I wrote recently (here) that while I continue to be influenced by many thinkers outside of British Columbia and Canada, more and more I am connecting with local voices.

While I love the learning that is free of borders, I feel it is very important to support B.C. educators who are beginning to put themselves out there in digital space. There seems to have been an edu-blogging boom this fall in British Columbia.  I have created a rule for myself that I will try to comment on at least five blog posts for every post I write, and comment more on B.C. educators’ writing.

I am not quite sure why we have a huge increase in local educators writing on the web, but it is great for education in B.C.  We are using social media to connect around ideas, at a point in time, when there is so much discussion about learning and schooling and how a high-performing system like ours should move forward.

I listed four local bloggers in a previous post — but I want to list all the local bloggers who are adding to the conversations.  I am sure I will miss some (particularly, in the teachers’ category), so please add comments to point me toward others, and I will update the post.

The parameters of my list — blogs by active educators in the K-12 sector in British Columbia who have posted in the last 30 days.  I know many teachers have class blogs, but this list is not intended for blogs used with a class of students, or as a news site, but rather to share ideas with other educators and the larger community.

District Staff

Scott Benwell, Assistant Superintendent, Fraser-Cascade

Larry Espe, Superintendent, Peace River North

Rick Fabbro, Assistant Superintendent, Surrey

Tom Grant, Superintendent, Coquitlam

Chris Kennedy, Deputy Superintendent, West Vancouver

Brian Kuhn, Director of IT, Coquitlam

Doug Sheppard, Assistant Superintendent, Delta

Jan Unwin, Superintendent, Maple-Ridge / Pitt Meadows

Principals and Vice-Principals

Terry Ainge, Principal, Delta Secondary, Delta

Aaron Akune, Vice-Principal, Delta Secondary, Delta

Cale Birk, Principal, South Kamloops Secondary, Kamloops

Gino Bondi, Principal, John Oliver Secondary, Vancouver

Joe Campbell, Vice-Principal, Seycove Secondary, North Vancouver (ADDED)

Remi Collins, Principal, Kilmer Elementary, Port Coquitlam

Dean Eichorn, Vice-Princpal, Burnsview Secondary, Delta (ADDED)

Grant Frend, Vice-Princpal, Garibaldi Secondary, Maple Ridge (ADDED)

Cindy Gauthier, Principal, Vancouver Learning Network, Vancouver

Mark Heidebrecht, Principal, Gibsons Elementary, Gibsons (ADDED)

Gary Kern, District Principal, West Vancouver

Chris Wejr – Principal, Kent Elementary, Agassiz

Teachers

Paul Aiken, Coquitlam

Jaki Braidwood, Comox Valley

Jeremy Brown, Port Coquitlam

Moira Ekdahl, Vancouver (ADDED)

Errin Gregory, Lillooet

Starleigh Grass, Lytton (ADDED)

James Gill, Coquitlam

Bryan Jackson, Coquitlam

Phil Macoun, Nanaimo

Jacob Martens, Vancouver

James McConville, Coquitlam

Gordon Powell,  Richmond

Al Smith, Kelowna (ADDED)

Zhi Su,  Vancouver

David Wees,Vancouver

Jen Whiffin, Coquitlam (ADDED)


Others (ADDED)

I feel like I need to add another category for several blogs related to education in B.C. that are not written by currently active B.C. educators

Christina Campbell, Education Reporter, Vancouver Observer

Lesley Edwards, Retired Teacher-Librarian, North Vancouver

Heidi Hass Gable, DPAC President, Coquitlam

Janet Steffenhagen, Education Reporter, Vancouver Sun

David Truss, Princpal, Currently in China on leave from Coquitlam


Finally, a shameless plug. The Culture of Yes has been nominated for the Best New Edublog 2010.  You can click here to vote.  This site is also a great place to find other interesting blogs to follow. Thanks for all the ongoing conversations.

 

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