Saturday, August 28, 2010

most educated country in the world?

What country would you guess is the most educated country in the world?

No, it isn't the US. he US is second, but well back. It's not Germany, either, despite Germany's long tradition of scholaship. Not Britain. Not Japan.

The most educated country in the world is Canada. That's according to UNICEF. Canadians are the most educated. And Toronto is the most educated city in the world. Funny no Canadian news outlet has ever carried that story?

You'd think they'd be busting their buttons with pride, shouting it from the rooftops. But not a peep. I had to find the story by accident in a newspaper printed in English in, from all places, Saudi Arabia.

How come AIMS never told us that in one of their "studies"? How come the Times-Transcript never mentioned it? I guess they had no room that day after devoting section one to the latest visit of an elderly rock group, section two to pictures of their concert, and section three all squished with sports and celebrity gossip.

graeme decarie

Friday, August 27, 2010

a senior, American education administrator speaks his mind.

The following comment from a senior American school administrator is describing exactly what has been happening in New Brunswick. Do not trust your newspapers. They say what they are told to say. Usually, that should be no big deal. Newspapers have always lied and/or censored the news. But these are our children they are interfering with. Parents should have the courage to speak publicly about what is going on, and what they think of it.

New Brunswickers are not used to standing up and speaking their minds. For the sake of their children, they had better learn how to.




Although I’m a career educator, I’m

also a skeptical, questioning independent,

not a mindless defender of

public schools. I believe our nation’s

public education system must be

changed (dramatically so at the secondary

level) for the U.S. to retain

its economic competitiveness and

democratic freedoms.

I worry that many of the changes proposed for

schools could be motivated by aims other than economic

or democratic ideals. Simply, a growing number

of the changes to the public education system may

be motivated by entrepreneurial greed with little or

no consideration for the consequences of the changes.

Hypothetically speaking, if I wanted to end public

support for schools and privatize the system, Americans

would have to believe privatization was necessary.

To justify privatization, the public schools would

have to be discredited.

If I wanted to discredit the public education system,

I would:

1. Reluctantly and minimally fund the system and

restrict spending flexibility within the system.

2. Mandate punitive accountability standards that

force school districts to stress the basics at the

disadvantage of elective courses.

3. Legislate burdensome compliance standards that

require more administrative personnel to

complete.

4. Discredit those who defend the system and

those who work to make schools successful.

5. Divide the ranks of school employees by

creating suspicion about compensation

decisions made by administrators and boards of

education.

6. Hype the instances of public school violence,

mismanagement, incompetence, and the results





7. Shift blame for violence and poor student

behavior to educators.

8. Absorb any discretionary school district funds by

creating unfunded or minimally funded

mandates.

9. Blame teacher turnover on the lack of administrative

support for effective classroom discipline

instead of on low salaries and the vexing societal

maladies that spill over into classrooms.

10. Minimize the benefits of the teacher retirement

systems and increase the cost of school district

and individual contributions to those systems.

11. “De-professionalize” the art of teaching by

promoting a recipe-driven method of

instruction that minimizes the importance of

pedagogy and great expectations for all children.

12. Devalue teaching certifications by allowing “just

about anyone to teach,” but simultaneously

require all school districts to have highly

qualified teachers.

13. Develop legislative incentives that encourage

competition among public schools and

minimize the compliance and accountability

standards for the competition.

14. Implement a comprehensive strategy, accompanied

by unlimited private funds, to continually

tout the advantages of home schooling, private

schools, charter schools, and virtual schools.

15. Call attention to political differences between

wealthy and poor school districts and encourage

feuding over limited resources.

16. Deny that market forces are driving up

administrative salaries or be proactive and

blame increasing administrative salaries on

incompetent school boards.

17. Disguise the aforementioned actions as school

improvement efforts.

These strategies aren’t all inclusive. I’m certain that

other public school supporters can add ideas from

their own experiences.

I hope my intention here is clear: I want citizens to

be savvy about distinguishing between changes that

could bolster our democratic and economic ideals and

support public schools and changes that would harm

public education for enigmatic, avaricious reasons.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Standardized testing under the microscope

I've been doing some reading on standardized testing and privatization in education - which is what we are watching in New Brunswick. Some interesting points -
1. UNICEF rates American education at rank 18 in quality of education. The US is the country that has gone in most heavily for standardized testing and privatization of education over the last 25 years or so. In that time, its quality of education has improved slightly. But it was iimproving before that - and at a faster rate.
2. UNICEF usually ranks Canada among number five in education quality. Why are we copying the country that ranks 18th?
3. The US also ranks far lower than Canada - and most other rich countries - in adult literacy.
4. In international tests on science, Canada ranks second in the world. The United States, with its tests and rankings comes 22nd.
5. Canada leads the US in the percentage of students who finish high school. At least, we did when we didn't have standardized testing.
6. As early as the 1960s, it was well researched and well understood among social scientists that socio/economic factors and parents have far more to do with school success than teachers do. In other words, rich, white kids tend to do better than non-whites, the poor - and the lower middle class - all over North America. And standardized testing has done nothing to change that.
7. The purpose of the Atlantic Institute of Marketing Studes is, like the Fraser Institue, to make more money for people who are already rich. To do that, they are very happy to treat our children like any other commodity on the market. That's why the government gave the testing contract to AIMS. AIMS is also the one who gets to announce whether it's working. New Brunswick has, as it usually does, a bought and paid for government and, for the most part, a bought and paid for news service. They are all quite happy to sell out children.
8. There are at least 70 professors of education in New Brunswick. Where the hell have they been while this has been happening? No doubt, they're all tied up giving honorary doctorates to wealthy contributors and each other.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

it's tough to be an editor

Some editors, depending on t he size of the newspaper, have to punch out an editorial every day. Nobody can possibly know enough to have something original to say for some 300 days a year. As a result, many editorials are terribly ill-informed.

Remember when the Liberals,NDP and Bloc were threatening to form a coalition to defeat the Harper government? A Moncton Times editor fumed that this was unconstitutional behaviour. Anybody who could say that obviously knows nothing about our system of government at all. There is nothing illegal or even questionable about forming a coalition. The Conservatives did it for the election of 1917. Perfectly correct behaviour.

But I want to sort of offer a compliment to the Moncton Times. Editors often don't know what they're talking about. Nor is there any reason to belief they could After all, why should a person whose job is setting up a  newspaper be an authority as well on military  afairs, foreign diplomacy, provincial government, economic theory, health needs, education...and on?

But, in my time here, I have never seen the Moncton Times (or most papers) descend to vulgar sneers and innuendo. That distinction today (August 17) went the The Toronto Globe. The editorial was headed "Why Tests Matter". It was about standardized testing, school ranking, and teacher opposition to both.

It was clear from the first sentence that the editor knew squat about education. It was also clear he was avoiding any mention of who was behind the move to standardize tesing in Ontario schools - the Fraser Institute - an organization to help along businesses that are feeling especially greedy.

But what was really disurbing about it was a cheap shot, a vulgar sneer at the teachers. They were protesting, said the editor, because they were against high standards. (Even if that were true - and it almost certainly  is not true - there is no way the editor could have known that about thousands of people.)

Oh, you will also find a report in the same copy on the teacher protest. It's as prejudiced and unprofessional as the editorial.  Though suppedly reporting on the protest, almost half of it is dedicated to the arguments of the Fraser Institute.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

truth and the news media

Damn.

Norbert Cunningham, editorial page commentator for the Moncton Times, blotted his copy book.
After a superb column about a week ago, he wrote one that wasn't,well, it wasn't true is what it wasn't. August 13.  He quite correctly said that when politicians ignore us, it's at least partly our fault because we don't watch them closely enough. That part is true. Then he said all the information we need is available through the news media. Well...

In a period of some thirty years, I did thousands of radio and TV commentaries, and at least hundreds of newspaper columns. I did them them over a wide range of media outlets. In all that time, I never found a news medium that told the whole truth - and I have known many that downright lied. I have known many that had a heavy bias. I have known some that kept back some of the news and opinion because they were scared of what might happen to them. This happens in all news media. And the city of Moncton has more bias and leaving out news, more fear of repercussions than any I have seen in other provinces.

When was the last time you read a story critical or doubting of anything that came from Atlantic Institute of Marketing Studies?  With AIMS now efffectively in control of our children's education, can you think of an item that reported anyone who had said standardized testing and ranking of schools is bunk - and damaging?

Together, Moncton and NB and Canada are borrowing 85 million dollars to build a hockey arena as the most important thing Moncton needs. Did you read any questioning of this in the Moncton Times?

Please, Norbert. That's not like you.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

UN - quality of Canadian education.

The UN, year after year, has ranked Canada in the top five countries for quality of life. This includes, in a major way,  factors like health and education. The United States typically is down around number fifteen  - and probably much worse in this disastrous year. Health and education are both major items in the survey.

Why on earth, then, are we looking to private think tanks to tell us daily what a terrible mess our public schools and medical system are?

If we're in the top five, this is scarcely a disaster area.  But the Fraser Insitute and Aims tell us daily that these are disaster areas, and we have to privatize as much as possible to save them. You mean saving them just like health and education, by privatization - as in the US ?

Why are we anxious to drop a dozen or points in our world ranking?

This is all pure greed. The Atlantic Institute, whose reports show it knows nothing of education, and which routinely ignores a century of research by top scholars to churn out idiot reports by incompetent amateurs, wants our children. They want them not because they love them. They want them to make money out of them for private interests. This is a travesty that ranks with pedophilia.

These are our children. Doesn't anybody in New Brunswick have the courage to stand up and protect these children? Our children. Are all New Brunswickers so abolutely gutless that they will hand over their own children?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Provincial Elections

New Brunswick has Canada's second most tedious politics. (The leader is PEI.) Only two parties, Liberal and Conservative, have enough money to be able to put on serious campaigns. Both parties get the greater part of their money from Big Business in New Brunswick. Big Business does not donate money to political parties out of any patriotic love for the democratic system. It expects something, plenty, back.

I don't know of another province in Canada in which it is so obvious that big business owns the government. And the opposition.

Both parties,despite having different names, are really the same. Indeed, I doubt very much that any Liberals or Conservatives actually know what the words liberal and conservative mean. Seriously. I challenge any Liberal or Conservative respond to this (if they're not afraid they'll be reported for responding to a blog) to tell us what those two words mean, and how the principles of those words guide their policies.

The NDP and the Green Party don't have enough money to mount a serious campaign. Big business never liked the NDP, and it doesn't give a damn about the environment. Even if the NDP and the Greens did mount an interesting campaign, it would never get reported accurately (or at all) in 90% of the NB news media. Guess why.

The People's Alliance? No way. They don't get corporate money either. In any case, their idea of  MLAs  voting on each issue is a very old idea. It's been put forward in both Canada and the US, and even tried on occasion. In Canada, it was called direct democracy, and was a hot item in 1930s Alberta. It doesn't work.
Quite apart from the logistical problems and costs that would come up with getting a measure of local opinion in every riding for every bill that comes up would be impossible. And there's an even bigger problem.

Many bills are complex matters that require expert opinion. Getting that expert opinion means spending every day studying reports, some of them hundreds of pages long. It would also require every citizen to be an expert in economics, sociology, law and a dozen other subjects. Not many people are going to sit up every night reading reports. And if they did - remember that this is a province in which almost half the population is functionally illiterate.

There is no party that looks at the fundamental problem of politics in New Brunswick (and not just in New Brunswick.) Even the People's Alliance misses it. The problem is not that the government doesn't listen to the people. They problem is that it does listen to big business. We have a legislature of puppets.

What this province needs is to take a hard look at the funding of political parties. It needs to cut down on corporate control of the election system. Now, how one can get that message across, I don't know. To get the message out, you need news coverage. And there is no chance of getting honest and complete coverage from a good 90% of the province's news media.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Language Wars and New Brunswick

There is a crisis in the making in this province. It concerns language. And both sides are acting in a way guaranteed to make it worse. It's important when problems arise to deal with them by action. But action is not the same as reaction. Action means taking a sober look at the realities, at what must be done to ease the tensions, at what must be done to satisfy needs.

Reaction is something quite different. Reaction is attacking the other side who earlier reacted by attacking you, and who will next act by re-attacking you.

Reaction is what we're watching among both French and English. I have been through this before, in Quebec. In fact, I was more pominent in it than I cared to be. For a half dozen years, I was on the provincial executive of the Quebec English rights group, Alliance Quebec. Then I was vice-president for two years, then Chairman of the Board for two more. That was ten years of long hours of meetings every week, travelling the province, getting death threats on the phone, being warned by police to evacuate our building because of danger of mob violence...the whole schmeer.

That's the direction New Brunswick is heading. And it's heading that way because both English and French are reacting instead of acting.

It began with the English majority for two centuries either ignoring the Acadians or treating them like second class citizens if, indeed, they were regarded as citizens at all. At last, action began, and began well, under Robichaud and his successors. Then reaction stepped in. Remember mayor Jones? Nor was he the only one. I was surprised when I first moved here to see how deep was English resentment of Acadians. That was a reaction to their increased prominence in New Brunswick life.

Reaction has bred another reaction - Dieppe's desire for French on all signs of business. I've been there. Done that. You have no idea of the hatreds, fears, and legal and social complexities of going that route. Just discussing it noticeably worsened language relations.

And that reaction bred another reaction - an anglo organization that wants to plant its flag, especially on the anniversary of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, as the symbol of English domination.  Expect now a counter-reaction which will make things worse.

This is not only foolish. I strongly suspect that both English and French are being used as dupes in a bigger game. And both English and French are being dumb enough to play along with it.

In recent years, the Bloc Quebecois has been extending its influence to French speakers in other provinces. The demand for bilingual signs on private businesses, for example, was effectively used to stir up fears and hatreds in Quebec - to the benefit of the Bloc. That is not, so far as I know, the typical behaviour of Acadians. But I note that a major figure in starting this signs campaign is a local person who studied in Quebec.

I also noticed a recent letter to the editor in The Moncton T&T. It referred to the warning that Quebec would back up the Acadians in their struggle against the English. Would it now?  It might. Stir up enough hatred, and that could pay off in Bloc seats - and it could also be a bargaining chip in separation negotiations with Canada.

So here we have English and French fish swimming around and trying to get a worm - and neither side smart enough to notice it's on a hook.

This is not a time for reaction by either side. Dieppe is being suckered into a bylaw that is of almost no practical value, and which stirs up hatreds. The anglo group (whose name I forget and would prefer not to remember) has also been suckered. Sticking up invented flags does nothing useful, and simply stirs up more hatreds.

Grow up, both sides. This is not a time for reaction. This is a time for action.

credit where credit it due

In the Friday, August 6 edition,  there is a superb commentary by Norbert Cunningham in his "ToThe Contrary" column. It deals with the problem of plagiarism by university students (that is, copying the work of others, and submitting it as their own.) It's a constant problem. In my early years of teaching at UPEI, a student submitted a paper that was a word for word copy of an article in a historial journal. I was sure of it because I had read the journal. I also wrote the article in the first place. (Maybe he was just trying to flatter me?)

Cunningham dismisses the assertion of some professors that plagiarism today is not really plagiarism at all. Students are copying, they say, the wealth of material that is available on the internet. So it's not plagiarism. It's the "new creativity". Cunningham is quite right to dismiss tnat nonsense. Plagiarism is copying and claiming it as your own work. Whether it's from books or the web or two big,stone tablets being carried down a mountain by an old man, if you write that down and claim it as your work, that's plagiarism.

Cunningham indicates no great respect for professors who explain away such behaviour. He says they delude themselves. He is being kind. Universities are full of pompous asses who think they live in clouds far above us earthlings, and who say quite silly things.

I would just add a footnote to Cunningjam's excellent piece. In my experience of university teaching, students plagiarize because most professors don't know how to teach them to do research, how to make judgements, and how to write a research paper. And, in my experience as a student, most professors don't even try to do it, That's the major reason why students cheat.

I realized early in my first years at UPEI that I had better learn how to teach these essentials if I expected to serious results. So I worked out a way to do it. The result, with a few years of development, was that plagiarism dropped off to nearly zero.

The Moncton Times&Transcript. August 6. Bottom of the editorial page. It's a keeper.