Third-party experts and validators are a powerful tool that governments often use to push forward and support policy positions.
When it comes to unpopular decisions around managing the COVID-19 pandemic, the premier and the minister of health will often say they are following the advice of the chief medical officer of health, Deena Hinshaw.
On vaccines, Premier Jason Kenney has routinely said they are following the expert advice, including the national recommendations, to determine who will be vaccinated and when. This is a convenient talking point, even if not completely true. The national recommendations suggest school staff, along with other front-line workers, should be included in stage two vaccinations before the general population under 60 is included in stage three.
On curriculum, government spokespeople have been quick to point to the involvement of 100 teachers in December 2020 as validators of the draft K–6 outcomes.
But much like the premier’s statements on vaccination, this argument doesn’t hold much water.
Very little is known about this so-called engagement session because the teachers who participated were required to sign restrictive confidentiality agreements. Notably, the confidentiality agreements do not expire until the end of October, 2021 — a full seven months after the curriculum will have been publicly released.
What happened in the meeting, what feedback was gained and whether it was used to change the draft documents is not at all clear. However, there are some conclusions that can be drawn based on what we do know.
Printed off, the curriculum documents amount to almost 600 pages of 11X17 paper. Assuming that the documents were not shared in advance, which is highly likely given the high degree of confidentiality, there is little chance the teachers could have even read the documents in full during their two-day meeting.
I have to assume that the work was divided up either by subject or grade level. With 11 subject areas and seven grade levels, we are talking now about feedback from only about 10 to 12 teachers in each area. This can hardly be considered representative feedback.
Now let’s look at the quality of feedback that could possibly be acquired. An analysis by teacher Loralee Martin, posted to Facebook, suggests that there are between 1,000 and 1,700 outcomes in each subject area. This is an enormous amount of material to be analysed and discussed over the course of two short days.
Accounting for time for introductions, general overview, reading, analysis and discussion, I would be quite concerned as to how deep of an analysis and discussion would be reasonably possible. Keep in mind that the Grade 5 and 6 material, and anything new introduced since 2018, had never been seen by an active teacher before this.
Nothing is known about the methods used to collect, collate and analyse the feedback and no report has been released about these days. Given the widespread, visceral response we now hear from teachers, I am certain that many of the concerns must have been identified during this review. So were those concerns ignored or dismissed? We just don’t know.
Yet, in the meantime, government officials will gladly point to the work of only 100 teachers over just two days reviewing 600 pages of content and potentially 5,000 learning outcomes as a form of validation for the curriculum.
These teachers participated in this process in good faith, believing their feedback would be valued, not discounted or ignored. Their names were publicly released and the government is pointing to them as validators without providing them the ability to share their experience.
From what I can tell, the consultation and engagement of teachers was not meaningful, it was not genuine and it was not comprehensive.
The government is indignantly telling the public that teachers were involved. Frankly, this is baloney.
We need to be allowed to hear from these curriculum working group members. Given the concern and controversy that has emerged, it is time to remove the gag order.
It makes no sense to keep these teachers beholden to a confidentiality agreement when the documents they were sworn to hold secret have now been publicly released.
If the government is going to point to these 100 teachers as validators of the draft curriculum, then Albertans have a right to hear from them. ❚
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