Where are the teachers? 

Excluded from participation in a curriculum advisory panel, Alberta’s teachers are skeptical about the future of Alberta’s curriculum

August 22, 2019

Alberta teachers are skeptical about the Curriculum Advisory Panel established today by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange that is devoid of active teacher representation, and they are confused and concerned about the current status and future of curriculum development.

“We remain confident about the quality of the curriculum that was developed for kindergarten to Grade 4, and we are anxious that curriculum redevelopment proceed for upper grades—it is unclear, however, just what the extent of the advisory panel’s authority is, how its recommendations will inform the process and what sort of delay this will entail,” said Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association.

Schilling also questioned the composition and mandate of the advisory panel. “A few days ago, this minister cancelled a memorandum of understanding that ensured teachers would have a key voice in curriculum development. Today we see her establishing an advisory panel on curriculum that manages to exclude anyone who might have had active classroom experience in the current millennium.”

Schilling noted that the Alberta Teachers’ Association, representing 50,000 teachers in the province’s public, separate and francophone schools who have practical expertise in delivering curriculum, was not asked for any input on the potential structure of the advisory panel, who might serve on it, or what its mandate and terms of reference might be.

Schilling also expressed concern about the assumptions underlying the establishment of the advisory panel: “Premier Kenney has asserted that he was seeking to remove ‘political agendas’ from, for example, the social studies curriculum that he believes were being ‘smuggled into the curriculum by the NDP in a highly politicized way.’”

Schilling notes that no evidence of bias has been brought forward: “This project was initiated by a Conservative government; tens of thousands of Albertans participated in consultations at various points in the process; and there were hundreds of classroom teachers who, along with academic experts, helped write and validate the K–4 curriculum. They brought great expertise, experience, professionalism and integrity to their task—the suggestion that they were politicized and that the content of the curriculum is partisan is beyond comprehension,” said Schilling.

Similarly unsupported claims, repeated by the minister, have been made that the curriculum is based on “discovery learning” at the expense of mastery. The term discovery learning is not one used by teachers and is nowhere to be found in the new curriculum. As Schilling observes, “Literacy and numeracy are already foundational elements in the curriculum—a browse through the online program of studies shows how these skills are to be taught directly and are linked explicitly throughout the curriculum.”

The ATA president also notes that many concerns have been addressed in the new programs of study: “In mathematics, for example, the new curriculum introduces as early as kindergarten computational thinking, a skill required for computer coding; fractions, decimals and times tables will be taught explicitly and earlier than is set out in the current program of studies.”

“If the advisory panel engages in its work with open minds and absent a prior political agenda, it may be able to correct the premier’s and minister’s misconceptions about the curriculum project,” said Schilling. “We might then be able to move forward with implementing the new kindergarten to Grade 4 curriculum and continue to finalize revisions to the decades-old upper elementary, junior and senior high school programs of study.”

Schilling concluded that it is increasingly difficult for teachers to trust that this minister and government will do the right thing. “Minister LaGrange said in her press availability that she was cutting the Alberta Teachers’ Association out of the curriculum review process because ‘their focus was on teachers and my focus is on student learning and on improving student learning.’ Perhaps the minister is unaware that thousands of teachers across this province are already back in their classrooms preparing for the new school year, they are members of the ATA, they love their kids, and they live to improve student learning.”

“I am left to question government’s intentions around curriculum, particularly given its unilateral withdrawal from a curriculum partnership with teachers that had supported more progress in curriculum development over the last three years than over the two previous decades and now its deliberate exclusion of active teachers from the advisory panel. Nonetheless, I will give my commitment, on behalf of Alberta teachers and their Association, to be as helpful as we can be or, at least, are allowed to be.”

 

Background

A timeline of the curriculum design process, including opportunities for consultation, is still on the Alberta Education site: https://education.alberta.ca/curriculumtimeline/?lang=en

Janet French of the Edmonton Journal wrote an excellent overview of the curriculum development process in Alberta, with comparisons to Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Ontario: https://edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/hitting-the-books-how-alberta-education-is-rewriting-curriculum-for-the-next-generation-of-students

Other stories covered the curriculum consultation and development process as it was under way: