Below is an op-ed piece the ATA News received from Education Minister David Eggen on the government’s efforts to rewrite Alberta’s curriculum.
In keeping with the ATA’s policy of remaining non-partisan, the ATA News invited other parties represented in the legislature to submit their views on curriculum or public education in general. The following commentaries represent the views of the respective political parties.
Curriculum is key to students’ future success
Alberta NDP/Education Minister
If anyone asks you why we need new curriculum, just tell them this: Alberta students are missing basic elements.
I learned that last fact recently at the Calgary City Teacher’s Convention, while talking to a high school science teacher about her support for new curriculum. She pointed out that the periodic table in our textbooks is actually out of date.
In late 2016, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry officially added four new elements to the periodic table. That was just weeks after I announced the beginning of a six-year project to revamp K–12 curriculum. Some of the curriculum was more than 30 years old before five other elements were discovered and added.
Over the past three years, hundreds of teachers and educators like you have worked hard to write new curriculum that reflects a fast-changing world. Thousands of Albertans have taken the time to share insights and feedback on your work. It’s been a mammoth task, but also incredibly rewarding and exciting.
We heard a different story earlier this month, when Jason Kenney threatened to throw it all away because of “political agendas and failed teaching fads.” The United Conservative Party leader has repeatedly insinuated that there is a political agenda in our new curriculum, and has threatened to throw it all in the shredder.
As a teacher, I was incensed. I told reporters that Kenney was saying two things. First of all, he understands very little about education. Second, he is willing to score cheap political points through open deception about a rigorous process.
Jason Kenney’s comments are also a statement about character. To drag Alberta back to an imagined past, Kenney is willing to throw teachers under the bus.
We owe our children more than that. We owe them an updated curriculum that prepares them for success in a fast-changing world. We owe them the latest research, a strong foundation in basic reading, writing and math skills. We owe them an up-to-date periodic table.
We also owe our students more than nostalgia. We owe them the skills they need to navigate a world dominated by misinformation and attempts to manipulate public institutions for political gain.
I know from conversations with many of you that you’re excited to bring new K–4 curriculum into your classrooms. I’m excited too. As we move forward with preparations and training, I want to thank you for playing a vital role throughout our development work and your keen insight into what students will need in the future.
As the minister of education, I am proud to be part of a government that is making the choice to invest in the future success of our students.
Just like that periodic table, new curriculum is about building blocks and basic elements. And like most chemistry, its best done through an open and transparent process, backed by rigorous testing.
If Kenney has his way, Alberta students will continue missing basic elements. We can’t let that happen. ❚
Redesign needs to be open and accountable
United Conservative Party
The NDP campaigned on a promise to balance the budget this year. Now they tell us to wait until 2023. It seems that for the NDP, the “Path to Balance” is about the journey, not the destination. If we keep going down that road, Alberta’s public services will be paying the toll.
United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney has made it clear that we can get to balance and eliminate the deficit without cutting spending. Contrast his approach with the NDP’s reckless drive toward $100 billion of debt by 2023: Albertans will pay $5 million in interest on NDP debt every day for years to come. And every dollar spent on interest can’t be spent on health and education.
You may have heard that Jason Kenney promised to put the new curriculum “through the shredder.” What you probably haven’t heard is that he only promised to do that “if the NDP tries to smuggle more of their politics into the classroom.” Rest assured, United Conservatives are not going to throw out all the hard work that’s already been done just because it was started by our political opponents. We do agree that the curriculum needed to be updated. We are, however, going to look critically at what has been produced to ensure that the content will prepare our next generation for the challenges of the modern economy.
The main reason for a re-evaluation is transparency: this has been the most secretive, inaccessible curriculum exercise in Alberta’s modern history. Curriculum development should not be about inserting any particular ideology into the outcomes of the curriculum. The UCP wants to make sure that the entire K–12 curriculum has the content necessary for our students to succeed, that it encourages critical thinking, and that it truly and fairly reflects the diverse views of all Albertans.
Consider as well the pressure that a rushed implementation will place on educators: as things stand, every single K–4 teacher in the province will be preparing and teaching a new curriculum in every discipline, all at the same time! I don’t need to tell you about the challenge that will present.
If elected, the UCP will take the time to ensure that curriculum implementation does not set teachers and students up to fail. We will see to it that when a new curriculum is ready, the rollout will be gradual, measured and properly supported with training, resources and assessments. We owe our teachers and our students nothing less.
The coming election will offer a clear to choice to teachers, and to all Albertans: a choice between fiscal responsibility now, or increasing fiscal hardship in years to come; between an open, transparent and accountable curriculum redesign, or a secretive process with a predetermined outcome; between a measured, well-supported roll-out and a mad rush that’s guaranteed to fail students, families and teachers. The choices we face today are difficult, especially when the alternatives are presented as easy and painless. But avoiding difficult choices now will only make them harder in the end. ❚
Taking action on class size
It was 17 years ago when 21,000 Alberta teachers went on strike across the province. The reasons for that strike were complex, but a major concern was class sizes. After the strike, the Alberta Commission on Learning put forward class size guidelines as a means to address Alberta’s overcrowded classrooms.
Despite these guidelines, Alberta’s students and teachers continue to face overcrowded classrooms. This is a generational problem that no government has been able to fix.
The benefits of smaller class sizes are clear. They improve academic performance and the learning experience for students, and they improve working conditions for teachers. Our education system is critical to the future of our economy. In an increasingly competitive and dynamic
global market, it is imperative that we give students the best education possible.
This election, the Alberta Liberal Party will be running on a plan to provide a significant boost to education spending in order to fund the implementation of class-size caps.
We are prepared to fund the hiring of every new teacher needed to keep class sizes under the cap. We will begin by focusing on K–3 education, where smaller class sizes have the biggest impact on education. We will also, on the recommendation of the auditor general, introduce stronger reporting and monitoring mechanisms to track spending on class size initiatives so we know the money is going toward the desired outcomes.
We cannot afford another generation of Albertans crammed into overcrowded classrooms. That is why I, as leader of the Alberta Liberal Party, support taking bold action and disrupting the status quo on class sizes. Whether in government or in opposition, the issue of class sizes will be a top priority for the Alberta Liberals. ❚
Creating a better future for Alberta’s children
Leader, Alberta Party
One consistent theme for my family is the recognition that hard work tomorrow is nothing without the right investments in education today. This commitment to my grandson’s future is what brought me back when I thought I had finally escaped the political bug.
First off, I want to thank you for your time and commitment to our children. You do an outstanding job under often challenging conditions. You are all focused daily on ensuring that each child receives a world-class education, whether it’s in our urban classrooms, which are bursting at the seams, or in the rural classrooms, which are facing the pressures of declining enrolment, and regardless of where students live or their parents’ economic circumstances. You have also been consummate professionals in the development of a new K–4 curriculum and the ongoing work to roll out an updated curriculum for the later grades. I want to thank you all for this.
The Alberta Party also recognizes that you face significant pressures on a number of fronts. We commit that our government would continue to fund growth and develop a new formula to address declining school enrolment in predominantly rural schools. We cannot make education a have/have not issue. Our party will also focus on moving mental health and wraparound services funding from AHS to your school boards. Some of you are already experiencing the impacts where your boards are doing this at the local level, but it is being done by using your classroom funds. We need to stop this and get classroom money back where it is needed, while ensuring the funding to address mental health and support issues is made available to assist you where it matters most. ❚