IPE/BC Submission to Budget Consultations 2022

IPE/BC has submitted its recommendations for the 2022 provincial budget to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services.  In doing so, we focused on the urgent need to place a priority on funding initiatives to support the most vulnerable learners, specifically recommending that the budget include additional funding for:

  • the inclusion of students with special needs.
  • access to adequate, nutritious food.
  • better provisions for health and safety, and
  • equitable access to technology.

You can read the complete submission here

 

 

The Charter for Public Education project: Reflections from a parent on the panel

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

The Charter for Public Education project: Reflections from a parent on the panel

By Kathy Whittam

My experience as a panel member for the Charter for Public Education was a crash course in how public education works in BC and the many ways in which each community in this province is unique.

It now seems like our Charter journey was a lifetime ago. My stepson was in elementary school at the time. Later, as he was graduating from high school, my daughter began kindergarten. So, my partner and I got to engage with public education all over again. With my daughter now only a few years from finishing high school herself, I can say that public education has been a vastly different experience for each of them. But the big picture perspective I acquired while serving on the Charter panel certainly helped me as I navigated the school years with both.

The Charter experience was profound. I still reflect on all that I learned from the students, teachers, parents, trustees, principals, and community members who participated in the hearings. From a school library in Gibsons, to an auditorium in McBride, to a community hall in Haida Gwaii, to high school classrooms in Fort St John, and many places and spaces in between- each session was highly engaging and deeply meaningful.

Inevitably, the dialogues began with frustration about budget cuts, and the ways in which those in public education system were struggling as a result. But the discussion quickly turned to the goals of public education, the characteristics of an educated person and community, and what our public education system should be providing to learners of all ages. For me, it was always affirming to hear participants describe the role of education as being much broader than simply preparing students to be workers.

I have heard the Charter, created from these rich discussions, critiqued as “motherhood and apple pie” statements, but I struggle to see the problem with that. What could possibly be wrong with developing a positive vision of the public education system with the learners at the center, supported by a broad commitment by all to work together to help all learners reach their full potential?

How can the Charter be used for discussion and advocacy today? I believe it is still a powerful and effective tool, especially when we think about the pressing issues now facing us.  The Charter includes the promise that, as a community, we will “prepare learners for a socially responsible life in a free and democratic society, to participate in a world which each generation will shape and build.”

For a truly sustainable future, we urgently need transformative action. It’s very important that all generations be involved in shaping and building a better “normal “than we have ever had before. This is a critical time, in fact, to explore the role of public education in preparing our kids for their part in creating that future.

The promises in the Charter are coupled with the expectation that government “be responsible for fully funding all aspects of a quality education”. What is meant by “fully fund” and “quality education”? Ideally, each community should have a community public school that:

  • is lead by a principal who is welcoming, supports the staff team, and partners with the community to build connections and opportunities for students.
  • has teachers and support staff who are passionate about helping their students learn and grow.
  • has a library in which students can relax, read, and enhance their literacy skills.
  • offers music, art, play & physical education to fully develop students intellectual, social, physical, and esthetic capacities.
  • supports families who are struggling so every child is nourished and able to learn and have fun.
  • is supported by trustees who advocate for the needs of their schools; and,
  • is provided with funding to meet those needs, so that staff and parents do not have to keep spending valuable time on fundraising and worrying about what is needed next.

It was clear from the engagement in the hearings that talking about what quality education means to us is time very well spent. This was true then and is still the case today. Equally so, the funding to give every student the support they need is money very well invested. Further, I believe that no single top-down approach can meet the needs of every district or community. Instead, it’s time for us to define the quality and support we’re looking for from the bottom up. Just imagine the potential in community members working together on behalf of the public schools in their district, collaborating to build a needs-based budget, identifying priorities, and defining the ways in which public education is key to the well being of their children and youth and their community overall.

As you can see, the Charter project had a significant impact on me. I feel certain that this was also the case for the many people throughout BC who took the time to engage and share their perspectives. I believe that the powerful process and outcome, the Charter for Public Education, have a great deal of wisdom to offer us today.

Kathy Whittam was a member of panel that conducted hearings in many communities around BC and drafted the Charter for Public Education document and report.  She is a parent in Vancouver and has a deep commitment to inclusive, quality public education and progressive community engagement.

 

Revisiting the Charter for Public Education: A powerful process and a deep commitment.

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

Revisiting the Charter for Public Education: A powerful process and a deep commitment.

by David Chudnovsky

An extraordinary document was published in British Columbia in 2003. The Charter for Public Education was a visionary statement of principle, belief, and commitment about what public education could and should be in our province. But where did it come from?  How was it written?  What did it say and who decided what it said?  It is an instructive story.

In 2002 British Columbia income taxes were cut by 25% resulting in deep cuts to education and other public services. Two notorious new laws (found unconstitutional 14 years later by the Supreme Court of Canada) threw out collective agreement clauses protecting class sizes and guaranteeing services to students with special needs and made it illegal to negotiate such provisions in contracts between teachers and their employers.

Almost immediately, class sizes got bigger, specialist teachers disappeared, students with special needs suffered, schools were closed.  Teachers, parents, students, and the wider community reacted swiftly and robustly. The government, though, had a 77-2 majority in the legislature and would not budge.

While the reasonable and necessary political fight-back continued – for more than a decade – some felt an additional strategy would be helpful. The idea of an independent commission which would travel the province, hear from, and speak with British Columbians about what they wanted their public education system to be and then report back in the form of a Charter was proposed.

The BCTF, after a discussion and debate that was not without controversy, decided to fund the initiative. Many teachers were not convinced that their resources should be used in this way. Why, they asked, should teachers pay for a commission would be independent of the Federation? Still, the project was eventually enthusiastically approved.

BCTF set several criteria for selection of the Charter panel of five. One was to be a teacher. The others could not have any connection to the BCTF, had to represent the diversity of the community, be credible as individuals, and be supporters of the public education system.  But the attitude of panel members to any particular issue or controversy was not asked, nor was it known.

While the BCTF funded the project, the Charter panel operated completely independently and the BCTF was to see the Charter – the result of the panel’s work – at the same time as it was released to the public.

The panel consisted of:

  • The Reverend Margaret Marquardt (Chair) – an Anglican Minister
  • Dr. John C. Moss – a retired School Superintendent
  • George Watts – an Indigenous Leader, Nuu-Chah-Nulth
  • Kathy Whittam – parent of a student with diverse needs
  • David Chudnovsky – a teacher and former President of the BCTF

The Charter panel held hearings in 42 communities across the province. Large cities like Vancouver, Victoria. Kelowna and Prince George; smaller urban centres like Campbell River, Cranbrook, Fort St. John, and Chilliwack; very small communities like Port McNeil, McBride, Masset, Princeton and Sparwood.

In all, the panel received more than 620 submissions from students, teachers, teacher organizations, principals and vice-principals, school district staff and superintendents, school trustees and their provincial organization, parents and parent organizations, seniors, business people, First Nations organizations, municipal organizations, college and university students and faculty, community health nurses, early childhood educators, and others.

Because of the very painful political context, the panel heard many criticisms of then current government policies. But that was not the mandate of the Charter process. Rather, the panel determined to draw out the principles behind the pain. They decided to pose a number of questions to the participants in every hearing:

  • What is an educated person?
  • Which of the characteristics of an educated person are developed through the public schools?
  • What is an educated community?

This proved to be a very useful strategy.

Still, often a participant expressed their anger, frustration, or bitterness about conditions in a school or school district. The panel reminded the presenter of the mandate of the Charter and asked them to restate their concerns by expressing a positive principle rather than stating a criticism. Significantly, time and again participants said that the hearings were energizing to the people who attended. They reported how helpful and inspiring it was to be in a room with others who cared about public education, talking about what really mattered, about principles, about values and ethics.

The result was the Charter for Public Education which today hangs on the wall in hundreds of schools across BC.  It can be found here:

https://instituteforpubliceducation.org/projects/charterforpubliceducation/

Every concept and principle outlined in the Charter came from the 620 submissions. The panel were careful, as they wrote at the time, to ensure that the Charter and the analysis in the report were, “…. true and accurate reflections of what was heard in the presentations across the province.”

The Charter now resides with the Institute for Public Education BC.  We at IPE believe that it is a good time to look again at the Charter for Public Education. Already we have several ways we think the Charter could be improved.

  • The Charter should deal more explicitly with equity.
  • There needs to be more content regarding Indigenous students and their education – possibly with references to UNDRIP.
  • Support for students with special needs isn’t emphasized nearly enough in the Charter.
  • Though the panel called for an implementation plan for the principles of the Charter that work was never done.

Of course, we cannot simply “fix” the Charter to suit our preferences.  The current version is based on what hundreds of British Columbians said they wanted.  We can’t alter or reject that important reality.  So, we’re left with a challenge: How can we use the Charter for Public Education today?  Is it still a useful document?  If it needs to be updated, how could and should that be done?

We invite you to help us confront those challenges.  Let us know what you think.

David Chudnovsky is a member of the IPE/BC Board of Directors and one of the co-authors of the Charter for Public Education Report. A retired teacher, former MLA and Past-President of the BCTF, David continues to be very actively engaged in support of quality, inclusive public education.

 

 

 

 

Beyond Education as Usual: Public Education in a Post-COVID World 

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

Beyond Education as Usual: Public Education in a Post-COVID World 

A report on the IPE/BC Fellows Forum by Moira Mackenzie

COVID-19 is a mirror, and the flaws in many of our institutions are being reflected back to us. The pandemic has created the most significant disruption in education we may have ever seen, revealing much as this virus has taken over our lives.  What has happened that is worth keeping, what is worth exploring and what has failed?

This is the challenge put to the panel addressing the annual Fellows Forum on February 27th.  Rising to the occasion were panelists: Julia MacRae, an experienced teacher with a Masters in Curriculum Studies and 1st Vice-President of the Surrey Teachers’ Association; Jamie Smallboy/Nohtikwew pisim, a Langara student in Aboriginal studies, dedicated advocate, Cree mother of five and survivor of residential schools and the 60s Scoop; and Bryn Williams, veteran teacher and administrator, currently a principal in Coquitlam and Executive Director of BC Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Julia, Jamie, and Bryn were all clear that a return to “normal,” as it was pre-pandemic, was neither possible nor advisable. COVID-19 has compelled us to refocus.

Looking back to last March, Bryn recalled worrying about whether the resilience of students, teachers and parents could sustain itself for the long road ahead. However, even with very difficult challenges, shared leadership and strength have grown, with everyone working together in support of students, families, and the community. “This embodies what public education is all about- that it’s for the common good,” said Bryn. His hope is that distributed leadership with connections to community continues to flourish, post COVID-19.

Jamie lauded the care that teachers at her children’s school take to connect with students, knowing that family circumstances vary greatly. “What’s amazing is that my children are nurtured body, mind and spirit; it doesn’t matter what’s going on in their external environment, their school is welcoming,” she said. Contrasting this with her own deeply traumatic residential day school and public school experiences, Jamie strongly advised all schools to uphold this commitment. Bryn agreed, speaking to the value of focusing on the whole child and of trauma-informed classrooms where students can count on understanding, empathy, and wrap-around support.

Correspondingly, Jamie called for the public funds spent on private schools to be redirected to supports that are necessary for children’s well-being but not currently available in public schools.  “I’ve seen so many children shut down before they even begin because they’re overwhelmed with everything they don’t have and everything they’re expected to accomplish in competition with children who have always had opportunity, privilege and a stable home.”

For Julia, it is paramount to consider the injustices laid bare by this pandemic. Many students are dealing racism and inequity in their communities and grief, fear, tragedy, worry, and job loss in their families. In turn, teachers have been creating deeply meaningful lessons and making space for discussion of these real-life issues, reinforcing the important role of public schools in social justice.

Will there be a lasting impact on teaching, learning and the curriculum? Again, the panelists advised against simply going back to the way things were.

Jamie urged recognition of the Indigenous world view in schools, noting that Indigenous people are keepers of knowledge fundamental to the creation of a compassionate, harmonious society and to the planet’s very survival. She highlighted the need to recruit more Indigenous teachers and welcome Indigenous elders into classrooms, and expressed her concern that an over-emphasis on academics means that children are missing many of the basic life skills needed to survive and live in harmony with others.  “We’re teaching kids to be scholars; we’re not teaching them to be community members,” she said.

Julia noted that teachers have definitely been advancing the new curriculum in these times. The professional decision-making, choice and innovation required by the current circumstances are aligned with the tenets of this curriculum. Teachers have been creating, curating, and sharing excellent teaching resources, exercising their judgement both of necessity and in deep commitment to their students.

What about the heavy reliance on technology?

Bryn drew attention to the huge divide within communities when it comes to equipment and access. There are many ways to use the technology to enhance in-person learning and meetings, attend to engagement, and provide flexibility, but equity must be addressed.

“Every teacher sees the difficulty in it now and every parent sees the limitations,” said Julia. She noted that attendance at virtual meetings and workshops is high, but there is a passivity that comes with engaging online. “There is something about the physicality that leads to memorable professional development experiences and enhances the way we learn and make decisions together,” Julia observed.

Sharing a warning,  Jamie said, “During the pandemic, I’ve seen how much time teachers spend with our children. They are a huge part of their lives. I’ve also seen how desensitized our children are becoming because of technology. These children will grow up with Google as their moral compass.  If society continues to accept technology over humanity, we’re in serious trouble.”   She concluded, ” There seems to be less humanity within the walls of the rooms where decisions are being made for children, and that is discouraging fact”.

Many more perspectives were shared; the time flew by and the value of the dialogue was clear.  Now, the challenge for all of us is to continue the discussion.

The central role of education, and especially public education, in the economic, social and political life of British Columbia is more obvious than ever and understood more fully by the general public. The pandemic has shone a bright harsh light on so many vulnerabilities and exacerbated already unacceptable inequalities. While no one would have wished for this societal trauma, we want to consider how to capitalize on the centrality and essential role public education plays by thinking big to envision change in these unprecedented times.

Moira Mackenzie is a member of the IPE Board of Directors, former BCTF Executive Director, and retired elementary school teacher.