AISI at risk?

January 29, 2013

Upcoming provincial budget could mean trouble for renowned program

Lower than expected revenue returns for the provincial government are fuelling speculation about the possibility of cutbacks to a number of educational programs. Increasingly, signals coming from government suggest that the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) may fall victim in the March 7 provincial budget.

The $40.8 million program provides school boards with a per pupil grant of $71.09 to fund a variety of research based projects. Eliminating the program could lead to the loss of 300-400 teaching positions province-wide and up to one-third of current PD spending. The government previously cut the program in half in the 2011-12 budget and when Premier Alison Redford injected $107 million into education later that year to replace funding cuts, it was not directed to the AISI program.

AISI is recognized for its innovative programs and role in achieving educational transformation. “Our education system has an international reputation.  Possible government cuts to AISI would undermine both student learning and our reputation as a world leader in innovation,” warns ATA President Carol Henderson.

There are a number of signs that the program could be in trouble. For example, this past fall, with the start-up of AISI Cycle 5, the key education partners developed a rigorous external review to examine the influence of AISI on student learning and to assess its promise to support the goals of Inspiring Education. This led to a call for proposals for an expert arm’s-length review over the three years of Cycle 5. But two weeks after a team of researchers from Boston was notified of its successful bid, the government announced that the project would be postponed indefinitely because of the province’s current financial situation.

Another troubling sign is Education Minister Jeff Johnson’s decision to not bring greetings to the upcoming annual AISI conference, “Research in Action: Transforming the Learning,” to be held February 11 and 12. Typically, the attendance of the Minister at the conference has been treated as a high priority.

Educational reformer Pasi Sahlberg, author of Finnish Lessons, is also disappointed at the prospect of cuts to AISI. “Alberta is today recognized as a global education model on par with Singapore, South Korea and Finland,” says Sahlberg.  “In this light, AISI is a unique long-term government-funded school- and teacher-development program that has made Alberta known as an innovative and courageous education leader around the world.”

AISI is an outstanding example of bottom-up change that Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley describe in their book The Global Fourth Way: The Quest for Educational Excellence. “Albertans have much to be proud of with this innovative network that has commanded so much international attention and contributed so much to the vitality of the province’s schools,” they write. “There is so much more to education in the twenty-first century beyond command and compliance, as business leaders everywhere push our schools and school systems to prepare the creative knowledge workers and entrepreneurs of the future. Networks like AISI provide the best way for all educators, students, and communities who are not afraid to think big, to anticipate and to create a better, more prosperous, and a more inclusive future for everyone.”

Henderson adds, “The government’s current fiscal difficulties should not be an excuse to cut programs like AISI that position Alberta as a world leader in public education while AISI is not perfect, it is the best bridge to span the turbulent waters ahead and reach the new shore mapped out by Inspiring Education.”