Photograph by: Dan Riedlhuber, Reuters
Here are some initial thoughts on how Redford's victory might affect education in Alberta.
$100 Million Injection
In the immediate, Redford's victory is a victory for education in Alberta because of her promise to reverse $100 million in education cuts within 10 days.
Grades 3 and 6 Provincial Achievement Tests Axed
Redford's plans K-12 include regular but sensitive measurements of academic performance and expected outcomes. While this statement might be interpreted in many different ways, Redford's plans for the grade 3 and 6 Provincial Achievement Tests are not up for interpretation:
An end to provincial achievement tests for Grades 3 and 6, as these are too stressful for students and do not impart the information we need to measure performance.This move will allow Alberta schools to focus on real learning which is infinitely more productive than consuming our already limited time, effort and resources on constructing, proctoring, grading these stressful and costly exams.
After hearing Redford speak at the Alberta Teachers' Association Banff Summer Conference PC Leadership Debate, I got the feeling that she would not bring Dave Hancock back as Education Minister. While she praised Hancock's work with engaging Albertans in a province-wide dialogue with Inspiring Action, she made it clear that it's time to move from talk to action. This might leave Redford with the opportunity of naming someone like Doug Griffiths, who was eliminated in the first leadesrhip ballot, as Hancock's replacement.
Social Promotion & No Fail Policy
Redford has made it clear that she believes Alberta has an unofficial policy of promoting struggling students to the next grade level in a vain attempt to keep pace with their peers.
Redford doesn't suggest how to fix this, but I see two likely game plans. One is to engage in failing and retaining children and the other is to engage in early intervention when children experience difficulties. The former would lead to a nightmare, the latter to a better place.
While a case can certainly be made that some students in Alberta are not getting the education they need to succeed in today's rapidly changing world, there is also a solid case against failing or retaining children in a grade. Research over the last 100 years shows that grade retention does not benefit students having academic or social adjustment difficulties compared to similar students who are not held back to repeat a grade. In fact, grade retention has consistently been associated with negative outcomes.
My hope is that Redford's stance against "No Fail Policies" and social promotion translates into a similar solution the Finnish have endorsed which focuses on reducing poverty, increasing equity, improving access to early childhood education & wrap around services and empowering & supporting teachers to engage in life-long professional development. Sam Abrams notes that, "Since 1991, Finland has rejected the practice of holding back underachievers, concluding that the consequences of grade repetition were too stigmatizing to be effective and that students would be better off being tutored by learning specialists in areas of academic weakness." You can read more about how Finland educates all of their students while not failing or retaining students here.
The Choice Myth
Redford points out that she ultimately wants to place decision-making power where it belongs - in parents' hands. She wants to open up choice to parents by allowing new schools to open in areas where their operation was previously uneconomical.
There are different kinds of choice - one kind of choice is from the US Republican/Democratic and Wild Rose playbook where choice is nothing more than an assault on public education -- this kind of choice is about union busting and privatization via throwing education to the free market. There is a very good reason why this kind of choice has been challenged by some of our most intelligent leaders, including Franklin Roosevelt who said, "The school is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize."
This is why I grow very uneasy when I see Redford state that Alberta should heighten competitiveness by allowing schools which share catchment areas to compete for students and funding. This line of reasoning is entirely contradicts the collaborative environment that is required for a system to work. Pitting one government ministry against another ministry, one school against another school or a child against another child are all equally morally bankrupt and intellectually indefensible.
However, if by choice Redford means that the public system needs to focus on a heightened level of collaboration between the Alberta Government, the Alberta Teachers' Association and the Alberta School Board Association then this makes sense. The best leaders and best educators both know that collaboration always trumps competition. I am really, really hopeful that this is what Alison Redford means when she promotes more choice and parental control.
Redford talks about the need for sustainable funding. Alberta's dependency on oil revenues has lead us to normalize a volatile economy which leaves us victims of uncertain budgets and futures. I don't know how she's going to address this, but she says she's going to.
With an emphasis on collaboration (rather than competition) between all stakeholders, including the Alberta Teachers' Association and the Alberta School Board Association, I'm optimistic that Alison Redford's victory will be a victory for education in Alberta.