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Posts Tagged ‘Ontario’

Interest in the education system in British Columbia and Canada generally seems to be at an all time high. Likely, in part driven by high PISA (International testing) results, edu-tourism is flourishing and the world is very curious about what is going on in Canada.  This week I am giving a talk to an audience of largely American Superintendents, which has forced me to try to crystallize exactly what it is in our part of the world that is so interesting.

When we look at structures, our Canadian system has a lot in common with our US counterparts.  We have locally elected Boards of Education throughout most of the country, we have local accountability, a mix of involvement of different levels of government, generally high community engagement in education and strong teacher associations.  We lack the Federal involvement in education present in the United States and seemingly most places in the world, and generally don’t have the ability to raise any funding locally for the school system.   Throughout North America you can find quite a bit in common with how we organize education.

Our system seems to strive for this highly sought after combination of strong equity and high quality.  We seem to have dismissed the idea that one needs to either have one or the other and instead we have committed ourselves to both.  And we also seem to have this unwavering belief that no matter how “good” our system is, we need to continue to change, grow and get better.  There is a sense that we can always improve.   Trying to tightly describe the BC or Canadian uniqueness is a challenge, but I see these as some of the areas that stand out:

We Are Doing What We Always Say We Should Do

The entire BC curriculum has been redesigned.  The prescriptive nature of the curriculum has been reduced with a greater focus on big ideas and the allowance of flexibility and choice in learning for teachers and students.  Interdisciplinary learning has been embraced allowing the teacher a greater opportunity to be creative and innovative in the design of their learning experiences.  Core competencies are the foundation of the curriculum with a focus on communication, thinking and personal and social competency.  Now these areas that we have always said are important, but often in the background have been pushed to the foreground.  And finally, the curriculum has been Indiginized and a focus on the First Peoples Principles of Learning has been emphasized throughout the province.

A former Superintendent colleague of mine, Mike McKay, would often say, “Will What We Know Change What We Do?” – with our system we are trying to make the answer now.

Curriculum

The shift in curriculum is as much about the how as the what.  The move to big ideas, has seen a move to more inquiry based learning.  The curriculum is seen as relevent and ever-changing.  Rather than being static as it has been in the past, it is seen now as nimble, being able to shift as the world shifts.

Assessment

BC does not have high stakes assessment.  Students in British Columbia write Foundation Skills Assessments in grades 4 and 7 in reading, writing and numeracy and then a literacy and numeracy assessment in grades 10-12.  These results are shared with students and families and inform practice but they do not appear on report cards, nor are they part of any school marks.  Teacher judgement is highly valued and they along with schools and districts design a range of assessments (more than just traditional tests) to support students. Increasingly passion projects, portfolios and capstone assignments are a large part of a student’s program

We Have Learned From Others

When I look at our system in BC now, I would describe it as a “mash-up” of what we are seeing around the world.   One can see elements of Finland, Singapore and New Zealand in our system.  International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement have also clearly been influential.  Teachers have looked locally – to schools in their district and our province, to Alberta and Ontario, to High Tech High in San Diego, and many other places and they have all influenced what we do.  BC has always prided itself on being a highly networked province and this extends around the globe, and our system reflects this.  We have taken good ideas and made them ours for our context

No Franchises

BC has this delicate balance of having a lot common with others but not sameness.  Schools and districts share some tenants but are not trying “scale” work to all be the same.  It is this idea of networks.  We are trying to connect and build networks, focusing on diffusion, not replication.

It is hard to pull the BC or Canadian story together.  I don’t think anyone can listen to someone speak about our system or visit our schools and say, we should be like them.  Just as we haven’t done that as we looked to evolve our system.  We are immensely proud of our school system, and it is wonderful to be somewhere that recognizes the world is rapidly changing, so as proud as we are of our past and present, our future needs to change to ensure we continue to have this pride.

Below are the slides I am using for this presentation this week.  It is a work in progress, so any thoughts to help make these ideas more clear are always appreciated (if you are viewing this via email you may need to go to the website to see the slides).

 

 

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Today marks the release of the PISA 2009 assessment results.  And just what is PISA:

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an internationally standardised assessment that was jointly developed by participating economies and administered to 15-year-olds in schools.

Tests are typically administered to between 4,500 and 10,000 students in each country.

And just what does PISA look at?

PISA assesses how far students near the end of compulsory education have acquired some of the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in society. In all cycles, the domains of reading, mathematical and scientific literacy are covered not merely in terms of mastery of the school curriculum, but in terms of important knowledge and skills needed in adult life.

PISA, has absolutely become the World Cup of education excellence.  Over the last three years I have spoken to, hosted, and toured groups from around the world who specifically came to British Columbia to understand our high results.  Of course, the interest in Finland can also be traced directly to these assessments.  Finland has become education’s equivalent of soccer’s Brazil.

On the previously released results, Canada, and in particular Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, have performed among the very top performing jurisdictions in the world alongside Finland, Hong Kong and Korea (here is a summary of 2006 results).  Since education is under provincial jurisdiction in Canada, our results are further  broken out by province, while other jurisdictions are typically by country.  The PISA results are the often used antidote against those who question the quality of education in British Columbia and Canada.  We have a system looking to improve, but we are improving from a place of strength, and envy from around the world.

Today is announcement day.  There is a lot to dig into beyond the headlines, but my quick read indicates:

  • Korea and Finland are the top performing OECD countries, but Shanghai-China (a first time participant) outperforms them by a significant margin
  • Girls outperform boys in reading in every participating country
  • Canadian students continue to be near the top of OECD countries
  • British Columbia students perform above Canadian averages
  • Since 2000, British Columbia results have improved in science and declined in math and reading

From the OECD Press Release this morning, here are a few more key items they highlight:

• The best school systems were the most equitable — students do well regardless of their socio-economic background. However, schools that select students based on ability, show the greatest differences in performance by socio-economic background.
• High-performing school systems tend to prioritize teacher pay over smaller class sizes.
• Countries where students repeat grades more often tend to have worse results overall, with the widest gaps between children from poor and better-off families. Making students repeat years is most common in Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain.
• High-performing systems allow schools to design curricula and establish assessment policies, but don’t necessarily allow competition for students.
• Schools with good discipline and better student-teacher relations, achieve better reading results.
• Public and private schools achieve similar results, after taking account of their home backgrounds.
• Combining local autonomy and effective accountability seems to produce the best results.
• The percentage of students who said they read for pleasure dropped from 69% in 2000, to 64% in 2009.

There is much more to dissect, and there is a lot of excellent data produced going deeper into the rankings, which will garner much of the attention.  PISA 2009 results are available here and the Executive Summary (a very good read) is available here.  Ontario has also released a summary of its results including a series of tables listing all Canadian provinces available here.

As the results are further examined, there is a lot to consider when looking at jurisdictions that have undergone major reform initiatives, and how this has translated into results.  A quick read indicates Ontario will likely be getting a lot of attention for its efforts in coming days.

Update: This link (here) is a summary of the results from Stats Canada.

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If you want to open up a contentious conversation with any group of teachers, or the public at large, engage people in the topic of whether late work, or plagiarized work should factor into a high school student’s mark.

Since the start of the school year both Ontario and Saskatchewan have waded into this debate.  Earlier this week the focus was on Saskatoon:

Saskatoon’s public high school students will no longer be penalized for plagiarism or for turning in assignments late under a new evaluation method for report cards.

Last month, the focus was on Ontario, which had been seen on the leading-edge of separating assessment from work habits, and made the following adjustment:

New guidelines from the Ontario Ministry of Education will allow secondary school teachers to give students a grade of zero if they fail to hand in assignments on time — something teachers have been discouraged from doing in the past.

Regardless of which direction jurisdictions follow in the debate, the discussion is very entrenched.  On the one side, there are those who point to the need to separate students performance related to a set of outcomes from their behaviours (including whether assignments are in on time or whether they copied some of the work).  On the other side, are those looking for students to be real-world ready, where there are deadlines and consequences.

We do often equate the information we use to determine grades as being synonymous for what we value.  If we don’t include behaviours like participation, timeliness of work, or academic honesty, how do we show they are important?

There are a number of leaders in this field.   Ken O’Connor is a regular presenter in many British Columbia districts and says:

I continue to support the idea of not giving zeros, late penalty mark exclusion, and failing to provide extra credit opportunities that count for grades because they are educationally undesirable practices.

O’Connor, along with Damion Cooper (another sought after presenter in B.C.), are co-authors of the Communicating Student Learning – Guidelines for Schools in Manitoba.  It is interesting to see that in line with the Ontario discussion, some of the same discussions are happening in Manitoba.

Student understanding of the importance of deadlines, guidelines giving proper credit when others’ work is shared, amongst a host of other work-ethic habits, are very important.  As a parent, I want feedback not only on my children’s progress in relation to the outcomes of any given course, but their growth in a host of very important behaviours, as well.

I just don’t want the two mixed up, so that I can’t understand where the assessment of learning ends, and where their development of work habits begin.

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As we look at increasing “personalized learning” in British Columbia, we have been encouraged to look over the fence and see what are neighbours are doing.  It is not a local, provincial, or even national trend to evolve schools to better embrace “21st century skills“, the movement is happening around the world.

For the past two days, Ontario has hosted Building Blocks for Education:  Whole System Reform and featured big thinkers from around the world including Michael Fullan, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Timo Lankinen the Director General of the Finish National Board of Education.   The conference is connected to the  Ontario government’s education plan:  Reach Every Student – Energizing Ontario Education.

With thanks to those tweeting from the Conference, and some late-night viewing of the keynotes that were webcast, here are some of the more interesting insights I found looking over the fence:

Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence, Singapore:

  • the first building block to success is the principals
  • the role of politicians is sometimes to get out of the way
  • 20% of Singapore’s government spending goes to education
  • recognized that performance art can help promote 21st century skills

Timo Lankinen – Director General, Finish National Board of Education:

  • In Finland grade 1’s spend only 3 hours in school a day
  • Focus is moving from literacy and numeracy to arts and physical activity
  • Teachers salaries are not higher, but it is a very valued profession
  • 21st century skills are a key part of Finland’s success
  • All teachers in Finland hold a Master’s Degree

Michael Fullan, Special Advisor to the Premier of Ontario:

  • Transparency is here to stay
  • Relevant and personalized curriculum is helping grad rates
  • Role of central government in education is strategy, manage evaluation, explain to taxpayers what is happening
  • clamour for autonomy occurs with bad policies and bad leadership
  • not acceptable in definition of professional teacher or principal to say “leave me alone” – it is a balance between autonomy and integration

Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education:

  • “the fight for education is a daily fight for social justice”
  • Department of Education needs to be an engine of innovation and not a compliance office
  • Interesting – 2000 high schools produce 1/2 of US dropouts – call them “dropout factories”
  • US is in the midst of a quiet revolution in school reform
  • Courage not resources will transform education in the U.S.
  • In the U.S. the kids that need the most help get the least

Andreas Schleicher, Special Advisor on Education Policy, Directorate for Education, Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD):

  • once you remove the influence of social background, public schools do better than private schools
  • use statistical neighbours and interrogate data
  • technology enables non-linear learning
  • best systems attract great teachers and give access to best practices and quality
  • schools need to focus on the things that our kids will really need to know – learning how to learn and collaborating with others

There is some reassurance in knowing so many jurisdictions are having the same conversation. Many of our conversations in West Vancouver and the directions we are moving sound similar to those being implemented around the world.  The challenge, though, when we look at Finland, or when others look at us, is to take the ideas and apply them to what can be very different local contexts.

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