When it comes to education reform, there are a lot of different models to look at. Here in Alberta, our education system is doing very well, we have an appreciation for resisting the urge to rest on previous successes.
Alberta's former Education Minister Dave Hancock put it this way:
In Alberta we can be proud that we have one of the finest education systems in the world. This is a testament to the dedication of our teachers, administrators, school board staff and other educational specialists and professionals who are committed to doing the best they can every day.
But we know that the world is changing, and that education must change with it to prepare students for a future none of us can predict. And the change is well underway.In their article Testing, Testing, Larry Booi and J.C. Couture make the case for why Alberta has a lot to learn from the Finnish model of education. Meanwhile, they also make a point that Alberta has a lot to learn from the United States which acts an an anti-model. In other words, the United States has a lot to teach the world about how not to reform education.
By contrast we can also learn what not to do from reform in the US, whose education system is in decline. Its elements, implemented over the past two decades, are largely ideological: "market-based" reforms (the application of "business insights" to the running of schools); an emphasis on standardization and narrowing of curriculum; extensive use of external standardized assessment; fostering choice and competition among schools, often with school vouchers; making judgements based on test data and closing "failing schools"; encouraging the growth of charter schools (which don't have teacher unions); "merit pay" and other incentives; faith that "technologically mediated instruction" will reduce costs; an overwhelming "top-down" approach which tells everyone what to do and holds them accountable for doing it.
President Obama's education policies have largely reinforced this overall approach, to the great dissapointment of many educators. US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has pushed states to include merit pay, charter schools and standardized testing in order to qualify for federal funding in the key "Race for the Top" program (soon dubbed "Race to the Bottom" by critics). These directions are popular with large corporate interests, notably educational publishing companies. K-12 education in the US presents an estimated trillion dollars in opportunities for potential privatization.When I read about the education deforms that are taking place in the United States, I take careful notes so that when I play my role in transformational change in Alberta, I will be prepared to do the exact opposite.
All this makes me extremely thankful that Alberta has leadership in both Alberta Education and the Alberta Teachers' Association who understand that while the Americans may be our neighbours geographically, they are pedagogical strangers.