Saving the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement
Much of the February 2011 provincial education budget disappointed me, but I was especially upset with the 50 per cent funding cut to the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI). Because this issue of the ATA Magazine profiles AISI, I will use my column to express my extreme disappointment with the Stelmach government’s decision to cut AISI’s budget. As well, I’ll use this opportunity to offer viable and realistic ideas for properly funding education in Alberta.
As discussed in articles featured in this issue, AISI offers a bold approach to improving student learning by encouraging teachers, parents and the community to work together to introduce original and imaginative initiatives based on local needs and circumstances.
Teachers know that to maintain Alberta’s status as a world-class leader in education, it is crucial that teachers and education leaders embrace innovative and creative ways to deliver education. Although Alberta has one of the finest education systems in the world, teachers are impeded by standardization and the government’s fixation on test scores. Teachers’ influence, resourcefulness and vision are diminishing as a result. This is precisely why we must support a program like AISI, for it provides innovation and creativity and encourages and supports research and acquisition of knowledge. Now is not the time to reduce funding for a program that has gained worldwide recognition. Scholars of educational change and policymakers from around the globe have noticed and praised AISI.
Despite its many successes, however, AISI isn’t perfect (a fact noted by AISI’s partners). In some school jurisdictions, a trend has emerged whereby AISI has shifted from school improvement to system improvement. Evidence of this shift is supported by the fact that in Cycle 1 there were 828 projects, whereas in Cycle 4 there were 291. This decrease illustrates a trend toward more centralized school improvement projects—a trend to be avoided. The 10-year review of AISI found that a managerial framework that is focused on control of teachers and accountability for outcomes will have limited or no success.
AISI’s partners also recognize that the program works well in most of Alberta because the projects have been initiated and implemented by teachers and school communities. The projects are successful because parents and communities support them. Strong personal relationships and high levels of trust are built; this directly affects learning across the district. The result is increased learning for all students and teachers. AISI is sound in design and is a robust school-improvement program.
We live in the richest province in Canada. It is unconscionable, therefore, that a highly successful program like AISI should have its funding halved. What is the solution to saving educational programs like AISI and public education in general? First, I suggest that Alberta relinquish its title as the lowest-taxed province and settle instead for a tie with British Columbia for the lowest taxation rate in the country. Such a bold move would yield $11 billion for education, health care and other critically important programs. Second, if Alberta reverted to a progressive tax rather than a flat tax, it would benefit low-income earners and have a relatively small effect on middle- and high-income earners.
One of the many positive outcomes from these moves would be the restoration of the $40 million chopped from the AISI budget, thereby putting Alberta’s teachers back on track toward undertaking the important work of informed transformation.