Editorial - Only Premier Hancock Can Revive Inspiring Education

May 6, 2014
Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

Over the past few months, or even years, Inspiring Education has been in declining health, and today it is on life support with few interventions available that can possibly save it.

The height of support for the initiative was probably right after the 2009 symposium held in Edmonton, where teachers, students, parents, trustees and board officials attended two days of meaningful consultation and truly inspiring speakers, like motivation expert Daniel Pink.

The years that followed were problematic for education in Alberta. Declining government revenues driven by a reliance on natural resource income brought instability to education funding. The state of education was dubbed Expiring Education at the time. Cough.

Earlier this year, however, Inspiring Education picked up a bad chronic condition. Shortly after PISA results for Alberta were released, a swell of support for back-to-basics mathematics instruction emerged, and advocates found their way towards targeting so-called discovery learning as the culprit behind apparently declining test scores. At the same time a complex and novel system of comprehensive curriculum redesign was being poorly rolled out in the name of Inspiring Education. For some, Inspiring Education now became the focus for criticism. Cough, cough.

A healthy dose of medicine and some good bed rest might have helped Inspiring Education through that, but instead it was taken out for a walk … in the snow … without a jacket on. The minister hastily arranged a large 1,200 person symposium in Calgary in February. The symposium featured PISA author Andreas Schleicher, who downplayed the effects of large classes, and CEO of CEOs John Manley, who attacked teachers and pointed to a need for new HR strategies in education, like merit pay. The event left a bad taste in many attendees’ mouths, and Inspiring Education became connected with blaming and attacking teachers. Pneumonia was setting in. Cough. Wheeze. Cough. Hack.

With the May 5 release of the report of Jeff Johnson’s Task Force for Teaching Excellence, Inspiring Education has progressed to the intensive care unit. Threats to remove principals from the profession, strip professional responsibilities from the Association and introduce managerial models in education are direct affronts to the interests of teachers and the profession. By systematically undermining the front line professionals who would be ultimately tasked with implementing Inspiring Education, Minister Jeff Johnson has cut out 35,000 supporters that could have kept Inspiring Education alive. “Code Blue – Stat!”

While there are some valuable things in the report, it is difficult to see how task force recommendations that degrade the professional status of teachers reflect the vision of Inspiring Education. My read of that 2010 report speaks to the importance of teaching professionals. If you are going to have teachers as architects of learning, then you need to treat them like architects, as professionals. Managerial models for growth, supervision and evaluation; managerial relationships with principals; and removing professional functions from their association do not instill teachers with the confidence to act freely as professionals. (As an aside, the Alberta Association of Architects is a completely self-governing profession with full control over conduct, practice standards and registration).

Premier Hancock has a small window of opportunity right now to create an important legacy for his time as premier. A legacy that began with his time as education minister.

The 2010 Inspiring Education process was a remarkable consultation that brought diverse views together to create a grand vision for education. That vision has been placed in jeopardy now that it has been used to provide cover for implementing simplistic ideologically driven reforms. But it is not dead yet.

Premier Hancock can use his influence and role today to bring Inspiring Education back to life and to retain the valuable relationship that existed between teachers and government – much like he did to begin restoring the relationship between government and public employees.

Simply put, the premier needs to come out and clearly and definitively state that the government will not be acting on recommendations that harm teachers and the profession.