Misguided and misplaced.
Those were just two of the critical words that Alberta Teachers’ Association president Greg Jeffery used to describe the education plans of the United Conservative Party (UCP), which released its 13-point platform on March 25.
The platform commits to maintaining or increasing education funding while seeking efficiencies and “pushing resources to front line teachers.” It also proposes to “end the focus on so-called ‘discovery’ or ‘inquiry’ learning,” pause the NDP government’s curriculum review and affirm parental choice.
But Jeffery’s main criticism focused on the UCP’s desire to bring back a 2014 proposal to implement continuous recertification for teachers and a new proposal to ensure “teachers have expertise in subject areas by introducing teacher testing.”
“Given the UCP’s commendable commitment to focusing existing funding on the front line and the party’s desire to cut bureaucracy and teacher workload, I’m astounded that the UCP would choose to resurrect and even expand on some of the worst ideas advanced by the discredited 2014 Task Force for Teaching Excellence,” Jeffery said.
“Now, as then, these proposals are unnecessary and insulting to the province’s 45,000 teachers — just how will this added bureaucracy improve teaching and learning? What problem is it supposed to fix?”
Jeffery also took aim at the UCP’s plan to bring back the Grade 3 Provincial Achievement Test and implement language and math assessments for students in grades 1 to 3.
“Instead of addressing the real issues of growing class sizes and a lack of adequate supports for students with special needs, the United Conservative Party election platform proposes new high-stakes testing for six-, seven- and eight-year-old children and for all teachers,” Jeffery said. “Its priorities are misplaced and misguided.”
In releasing its platform, the UCP stated that during four years of NDP government, “class sizes in Alberta have continued to increase; math and reading scores have declined, Alberta’s successful tradition of school choice has been under attack, the carbon tax has taken valuable resources away from classrooms, and curriculum reforms have been taking place largely in secret.”
“As math scores plunge and report cards become increasingly difficult to understand, a United Conservative government will reset the curriculum rewrite, restore fundamentals to math and affirm the primary role of parents in choosing how their children are taught,” said leader Jason Kenney in a released statement. “It’s time to bring common sense to education.”
Jeffery noted that the party’s platform lacks concrete measures to address class size.
“Class size is the unsolved crisis of the past 14 years, and unless something is done right away, the continuing failure to support inclusion will be the crisis of the next four years,” Jeffery said.
“Unfortunately, the UCP plan fails to make a firm commitment to fund continuing enrolment growth and is absolutely silent on the issues of inclusion and classroom complexity.”
While criticizing a number of the UCP’s platform planks, Jeffery asserted that the ATA has a long history of non-partisanship and will continue to be non-partisan.
“That does not mean we are not political. It means that we focus on issues and policies and not on the parties presenting them,” Jeffery said.
“Teachers live education in Alberta and we have an obligation to speak out and share our knowledge and understanding with Albertans, particularly at this critical time.” ❚
Kenney ‘open’ to removing principals
In comments to the media independent of the UCP’s platform announcement, leader Jason Kenney said he’s open to removing principals from ATA membership.
Association president Greg Jeffery said such a move would replace collegiality with a more adversarial and potentially combative relationship between teachers and principals.
“That will change the culture of the schools in Alberta. We have an excellent collegial relationship existing in education in Alberta right now with everyone working in the same direction. We don’t have those manager–employee conflicts,” Jeffery said.
Principals are instructional leaders, not human resource managers, he said, adding that the model has had very negative results after being implemented in British Columbia and Ontario.
“We want everyone working in a school – teachers, principals and support staff – focused on the education of kids first. And they should be working together collaboratively to find solutions to the challenges that students face, instead of focusing on a traditional management versus labour type of environment that really doesn’t benefit learning and student well-being.”"