Like all parents and educators and citizens of BC, I’ve been thinking a lot about the current labour dispute between the BCTF and the government. My kids, along with about a half million others, are home today – not in school.
Watching the news and the back and forth, I’ve noticed how often polls are going up about “whose side are you on?” or “who do you support?” The overall approach is, most often, who should win?
And that bothers me. Not that I want everyone to get along – sometimes agreeing on certain issues just isn’t possible. It bothers me because there is no “win” in this situation if anyone else “loses.” As long as we dwell in this adversarial paradigm, our students and children are the ones who are hurt.
Just as I was thinking this, I came across Kristi Blakeway’s post “I Am Not On A Side: We Are In This Together” – and I found myself reading and nodding my head:
We are humans first and for that reason alone, ‘sides’ should not exist. We are in this together. May we take care of one another and keep sight of better days to come when the joy of learning will return.
Win-win situations happen within relationships, when both sides involved are looking for the best for everyone. And to look for solutions that everyone benefits from, you have to understand and respect what everyone needs/wants!
We can go on trying to make people choose sides – which is a very ego-driven strategy (needing to be right, needing to be chosen). Or we can acknowledge that there are multiple valid viewpoints that need to be prioritized or balanced.
My next thought, though, was “How do we resolve this, if it’s not about sides?”
I started thinking about my training and work world. As a project manager, something core to everything we do is the “triple constraint.”
There is always a balancing of these three factors – time/schedule (how quickly do we have to get this done), scope (what do we need to get done in order to be successful) and cost (how much will it cost).
One oft quoted statement about these constraints says “you can have it cheap, fast, or good – choose any two!” Which is so true! If you want something fast and done well, then it will be expensive (because you have to hire lots of people). Conversely, if you want it cheap and good, it will be slow. Etc…
What this also speaks to is the need to prioritize – you usually can’t have it all, but you have to consider them all. As a project manager, one of the things you have to do in order to be successful, is to understand what is most important, what is non-negotiable, or how (in general) decisions should balance needs/wants.
It’s important to know where there is flexibility and where there isn’t. Or, when an unexpected change arises, how will we adjust?
- Can the schedule be flexible or do we have a fixed completion date? (eg a law/regulation is changing on a specific date)
- Does the budget have some contingency built in?
- Can we adjust the scope/deliverables to do less (eg use phases of work over a longer time period) and still complete on time and on budget?
So, tying this back to education in BC: What are our priorities for schools?
Cost is obviously one factor. There is not now, nor will there ever be, an unlimited budget to do everything we want to or could do with/for kids. At the same time, cost is not the ONLY factor – we can’t decide how much money education can have with no consideration of what is needed to educate children from Kindergarten to graduation. It does children great harm to see education as an expense that needs to be minimized, when it actually needs to be approached as an investment in the future (both theirs and our whole society’s!)
When it comes to scope, I believe the bottom line is that we need an inclusive education system and that every child has an equal opportunity to learn. This comes down to a human right. It’s not “charity” to try to include students with special needs in the classroom. It is no more acceptable to segregate (or exclude) children with special needs than it is to segregate children based on their race or gender (or any other characteristic).
This right has been laid out in the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child.
Take note of: Articles 23 (children with disabilities), 28 (Right to education) and 29 (Goals of education).
It has also been upheld by the precedent set by the Moore case, which sets the stage for other parents to take the BC Government to court for failing to provide needed services for their children to learn. I suspect the only reason that hasn’t happened yet is that individual families supporting children with disabilities are so wrapped up in caregiving and every day advocacy, the immense amount of time and resources needed to pursue a court case hasn’t been the necessary priority. Regardless, the Supreme Court clearly laid out that inclusive and accessible education is a RIGHT for all children!
And, it’s perhaps important to note, “inclusive” doesn’t just mean “in the classroom with everyone else.” It means that every student has the tools, skills and supports available to them to successfully participate, to learn and grow to the best of their ability! Meaningful inclusion includes times when groups of students may receive intensive (and specifically targeted) assistance out of the classroom, too!
Which leaves me with time – and that doesn’t seem as relevant in the context of education. What does need to be included, though, is the relevance of learning. Memorization and what my teenager calls the “bulimia” style of learning (remember it just long enough to regurgitate it onto a test, then it’s gone) could be considered “fast” education. As opposed to “slow” education, which is what I’d call true learning that is relevant and meaningful to kids.
Movement toward inquiry or project based learning provides students the opportunities to bridge new concepts, ideas, tools and skills to their lives and passions. When we can make connections between what we’re learning and its relevance/use in the “real” world – then learning tends to “stick” more.
More and more, what we’re realizing we don’t want for our kids is the K-12 equivalent of Father Sarducci’s Five Minute University. We want kids to be curious and interested and to wonder and ask questions. And there are systemic changes (schedules, class organization, curriculum redesign, etc…) that are needed to support those changes!
That leaves me with a new triangle:
So, what does all that mean?
When we discuss proposals regarding educational change, projects, or even collective agreements, our discussion has to include how successfully we are moving towards accomplishing all three of these factors: relevant learning, inclusive education for all, and affordability.
By using this triple constraint as our framework for discussion, we could more effectively question results or effects.
We can never have just one of these, or we are failing the children and the future of this Province.
If I look at what the BC Liberals call an affordable agreement between the BCTF and the government, does it allow Districts and schools to provide inclusive education for all? Right now, there are many Districts that are cutting essential services for students in order to balance their budgets – so without additional funds added to education, the answer to this question is inevitably no.
And conversely, if I look at what the BCTF is asking for in terms of restoring language regarding class size and composition, specialist teachers or funds to support release time, professional development, etc… – the government says it will be unaffordable.
I may not know all the details, but here’s what I see:
Break down the issues to discuss them separately – and, very important, discuss them separately in the media and in updates. Different issues can and do have different priorities. Discussion of wages will be mostly about affordability, while anything about class size or composition has to consider all three aspects. Even then, class size (since it involves capital projects, available classrooms, need for portables, etc…) needs to be considered separately from specialist teachers (who may be working in existing spaces or inside classrooms).
As parents, we have less understanding of the best “how” of these situations. By that, I mean that we don’t have the training or expertise to comment on whether early learning is a better investment than educational technology. Or we don’t necessarily know why learning support teachers change so often. Or when an educational assistant is a good option vs when a trained special education teacher needs to work with a complex learner. What parents need to do is ask questions and push all parties to keep the triple constraints of education (and the needs of our children) at the center of all discussions.
When the government is talking only about affordability, some important questions are:
- How successfully are student needs being met? How are students with identified special needs being thoughtfully included? Show me the data!
How many students are reading at grade level at Grade 2? At Grade 3? Since research shows that students who aren’t reading at grade level at this point most often never will, this is a critical measure!
How many students are reading at grade level at every other grade?
How many students with identified special needs have meaningful IEP/learning goals? Are those IEP/learning goals being met? Are modifications/adaptations identified in the IEP being implemented in the classroom? If not, why?
How many students with identified special needs are unable to attend their schools for full days? If not, why?
- How many students are struggling, but receiving no assistance?
How many students are waiting for psycho-educational assessments? How long are they waiting?
How many students are NOT on any waiting list but are not meeting grade level expectations (in any area – reading, math, behaviour, attendance, etc…)?
How many families feel their children are not learning to their potential, having difficulties, can’t go to school, etc… and are not receiving the support they need?
What assistance, interventions, counselling or other services are needed (but unavailable)?
- How many students are learning in relevant and lasting ways?
What percentage of projects/homework requires remembering, understanding and applying (lower order thinking skills) vs creating, evaluating and analysing (higher order thinking skills)?
What balance of formative vs summative assessment is being used?
And so on…
I’m sure there are more and better questions that others can think of, but that should give you an idea of what I’m talking about. If we don’t know this data, then how can we know whether our school system is successfully educating our students, regardless of whether it is affordable or not?
This data (and these types of questions) seems an important first step to me.
The next steps aren’t easy either – somehow, we have to work through what to DO about it, when the data tells us there are gaps. And, considering a limited budget, what to do that will have the GREATEST effect towards achieving our goals? After all, almost anything we do could have some effect on student learning, but how do we choose what to do first or how to measure its success – those are tricky questions too.
Then, the conversation will get more complex and push teachers to evaluate their practices as well. That’s not always easy, since teachers are under so much pressure in the current situation. But maybe if the evaluation and data collection results in resources being applied to support change in classrooms, it won’t feel so threatening. That’s my hope.
But I also know it’s critical to create a supportive and trusting culture that enables change! Not the easiest thing to do in the current climate in this Province…
To begin, though, parents must be a part of changing the discourse and culture – by asking better questions. By forcing all parties to consider the needs of students at the center, but also the perspectives of the other parties – in order to work together towards our common goals.
The best education (cost effective, relevant and inclusive) can only be achieved for students by working together and understanding/respecting each others’ needs – not by choosing one side over another.
I don’t know what will happen with this labour dispute, but I do know that parents must speak up. And we need to do that in a way that makes everyone think. And remember the reason we’re here – to raise the next generation of children into healthy, curious, productive, joyful citizens. Our priorities are greater than “affordability.” And the solutions are greater than “more money.”
Our kids are worth it!