Editor’s Notebook

June 1, 2015 Gordon Thomas

Interesting times calls for diligent measures

Every time I write a piece for this slot in the ATA Magazine, I’m tempted to lead off with the phrase, “These are interesting times in Alberta.” This phrase is always apt, given the politics that go on at the provincial level, but it’s especially apropos now, so I’m actually going to use it. Here goes.

These are interesting times in Alberta, with the 44-year Progressive Conservative government having come crashing down at the hands of the Rachel Notley-led Alberta NDP. Given this turn of events, the political landscape is considerably different now than it was when we conceived this issue of the ATA Magazine, which we did well before the start of the provincial election campaign.

The idea was to identify some of the more commonly believed myths around public education, and apply some good old empirical evidence and rigour toward knocking them down. The hope was to inform our readers and exert a fact-based, positive influence on provincial decision making.

Even though the Alberta electorate has replaced the provincial decision makers, this issue is still as relevant as ever, as these myths aren’t tied to a particular political party and have made a habit of persisting through thick and thin. So we’ve got our gaudy bowling shirts starched and pressed and are proceeding with our plan to knock down some myths.

As an organization that is committed to not only conducting research but also advocating for education policy based on sound research rather than ideology or ooga-booga beliefs, the Association is constantly battling misconceptions that habitually creep into the public consciousness.

So, this issue is built around five main articles, each of which has deftly debunked a common education myth: you can do more with less funding, class size doesn’t matter, early learning is too expensive, blended learning is the next ed-tech revolution and politics doesn’t belong in the classroom.

In debunking the myth that more can be done with less during tough budgetary times, Harvard’s Pasi Sahlberg highlights the fallacies that creep into education decision making when money is tight. In particular, he takes aim at the idea that the solution is to enhance the quality of the teaching force when what’s needed is to put appropriate resources in place.

Next, the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s J-C Couture teams up with University of Alberta researcher José da Costa to revisit the university’s groundbreaking research that pokes holes in the myth that class size doesn’t play a significant role in student learning.

Then, Susan Lynch of Alberta’s Early Child Development Mapping Project shows how spending on early learning is a wise (and socially responsible) long-term investment.

In a seminal piece that looks at blended learning from numerous angles, the Association’s own Phil McRae illustrates how a potentially positive trend toward increasing educational choice and flexibility is being co-opted by corporations for the sake of profit.

University of Ottawa researcher Joel Westheimer takes aim at the 21st century trend toward keeping schools and classrooms “above politics,” arguing that politics should be put back in schools.

These education myths (and others) have a habit of making regular appearances in the way of true educational progress, like bowling pins being reset from above. As Alberta’s first ever NDP government eases into its term, it will be interesting to see how it approaches these “pins.” As always, the Alberta Teachers’ Association will be diligent in advocating for decision making based on evidence in the hope of helping government deliver a clutch shot.

Also In This Issue