Editorial: We need the government to choose student success

January 16, 2018
Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

“We would be the last people to make excuses — we want success for every kid.”

These words from Edmonton Public Schools superintendent Darrel Robertson are likely indicative of the thoughts of teachers all across the province.

The quote comes from an Edmonton Journal story about the board’s December meeting, during which Robertson presented the results of last year’s teacher assessment of student reading levels. That report showed that one-quarter of elementary students in the district were not reading at grade level by the end of last school year.

Robertson does not blame teachers.

“I know that our staff are dumping their hearts and souls into achieving (success) for our students,” he says.

So true.

The situation in Edmonton Public is common across the province. Teachers are doing whatever is in their power to support success for all students, but unfortunately, they are too often left struggling to overcome circumstances beyond their control. They feel increasingly distressed as they witness too many students falling through the cracks.

We can no longer wait — students have been waiting far too long already.
Every year without improvement is another cohort of students hampered by inadequate conditions.

Of course, it is the most disadvantaged students who are most vulnerable to being left behind. The data presented to the Edmonton public board showed that 27 per cent of students were reading below grade level, but the rate was 32 per cent for English-language learners, 50 per cent for self-identified Indigenous students and 60 per cent for students identified as needing specialized supports. In Edmonton Public, those students account for nearly half of the population.

Speaking of the circumstances beyond the control of teachers, I am referring to the state of learning conditions. As our recent #MyClassSizeIs campaign has highlighted, our classes are too large and too complex to ensure that teachers are able to adequately meet the learning needs of their students.

It is not that teachers cannot tell which students are behind in reading or other aspects of development. It is not that teachers do not have strategies they know will help students improve. It is that they simply do not have the time and support required to get students the individualized attention they need.
I think this is precisely why the class size campaign gained so much traction so quickly. After an initial rollout of 15,000 cards, we have received requests for 25,000 additional cards through locals, schools and individual teachers. Our social media accounts have been kept buzzing with responses to posts related to the campaign.

The issue is clearly not isolated to Edmonton Public; it is provincewide.  Alberta's classrooms, according to international surveys, are some of the largest and most complex in the world. Now we need the province to do something about it.

The government needs to fund adequately to ensure that school districts can reduce class sizes and improve in-class supports for special learning needs. We can no longer wait — students have been waiting far too long already. Every year without improvement is another cohort of students hampered by inadequate conditions.

The government simply needs to make a choice. Do we want success for every kid? Can we find the political will and resources needed to improve learning conditions, or are we satisfied with one in four students not succeeding? ❚

I welcome your comments — contact me at jonathan.teghtmeyer@ata.ab.ca.