Tag Archives: Ministry of Education

Does Liz Sandals Hate Twitter?

9 Jun

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” spoken by Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

On June 6-8 the Ontario Public School Boards Association held their annual general meeting in Muskoka. As a taxpayer and an educator it was enlightening to be able to follow the twitter stream of the conference, monitored by the excellent OPSBA staff, and see what delegates were doing, thinking and saying. Trustees are increasingly using twitter and it gives a layer of transparency and accountability to what they do and allows others to engage with them. In the course of the conference I agreed, disagreed and asked questions about what was going on, all through twitter.

One of the highlights of the conference was an address to the OPSBA by the Minister of Education, Liz Sandals. Minister Sandals is a past president of OPSBA (1998 – 2002) and so understands the organization well. She was there, however, as the representative of a government that had significantly undermined the role of school boards in Ontario through it’s handling of collective bargaining in 2012 and Bill 115.

Unfortunately the Minister was not a contributor to the #OPSBAAGM twitter feed in any way because, unlike her predecessor Laurel Broten and a long list of other liberal MPPs (including leader Kathleen Wynne) Liz Sandals isn’t on twitter. This in itself may not be a big deal. Most people recognize that while a politician may have a twitter account it is often a political aide who is doing the tweeting. However, when it comes to using twitter the lack of an @LizSandals account may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Anyone who followed Laurel Broten quickly learned that it was also a good idea to follow Paris Meilleur, her Director of Communications, for other education related tweets. Paris often explained issues, provided other contexts and engaged with Ontarians about education. I don’t know whether Minister Sandals has a director of communications (I assume she does) but whoever it is, they, or any other members of her staff, don’t use twitter in a professional capacity.

(Correction: Found out through Caroline Alphonso at The Globe & Mail that the Minister of Education’s press secretary is Lauren Ramey and she is on twitter. Lauren says she is trying to be more active on twitter)

Another layer to this is to look at what has happened to the official twitter account of the Ontario Ministry of Education (@OntarioEDU) since Liz Sandals became the Minister in mid-February. It seemed that since then there haven’t been as many @OntarioEDU tweets in my timeline. My quick and dirty research revealed that there are about half as many tweets on the @OntarioEDU account as under the previous minister (an average of 9.7 tweets/week vs 19.5/week). There are innocent explanations for this. Maybe it’s taking them a while to get organized. Perhaps, because of the “Bill 115 Crisis”, the previous staff were tweeting more.

Nevertheless the combination of a minister and staff with no twitter presence and a ministry that’s tweeting less suggests a change in attitudes towards twitter. So what? Does it really matter if the minister and ministry uses twitter? I think it does.

Education issues in Ontario are increasingly discussed and ideas are shared on twitter. It’s an incredibly meritocratic space where ‘who you are’ doesn’t matter as much as the quality of your ideas. That’s why trustees, directors, principals, parents, students and educators are increasingly connecting on twitter. If the minister and the ministry have a reduced or no presence they’ll miss out on that discussion and exchange of ideas.

That’s a critical error and a missed opportunity to engage with Ontarians about education. When the minister says she “…wants to hear from education stakeholders, parents, students and members of the business, research and innovation, not-for-profit and Aboriginal communities…” about education in Ontario, that’s exactly the people who are discussing education on twitter. A refusal to engage with people where the discussion is should make us question her interest in hearing what Ontarians really think.

Over 90% of high school students, and an increasing number of elementary students, use social media daily. When the minister says she want to discuss  with Ontarians “How can we use technology more effectively in teaching and learning?” mobile devices and social media must be a big part of that. How can the minister effectively administer Ontario’s education system and discuss student use of technology if she isn’t conversant in how social media works? She can’t really understand how social media changes the way you think about things unless she’s actually used it.

In an effort to help I extend an open invitation to meet with the minister and help to get her up and running on twitter. I’ll pay my way to wherever she is and I’m sure that within an hour or two I can get her tweeting. I know she probably has people on staff who can help her, but it can be embarrassing to reveal your ignorance to someone you work with (believe me, I know).

I encourage the minister to do something we ask our students to do every day. Step into the unknown, take a chance and try something new. It would serve as a great example to all Ontarians of how we all, no matter who we are, have to take chances and try new things. It would also signal a genuine willingness to engage with Ontarians about education.


Advertisements

Shhhhh!! Ontario’s “Secret” Public Consultation into Education

4 Jun

Next Phase

June 30th 2013 marks the end of the most turbulent year in Ontario Education in over a decade. The imposition of Bill 115 has, for better or worse, politicized education in Ontario. Parents, students, educators and members of the general public are discussing education issues with passion and conviction.

Now would be a perfect time to tap into that engagement and open a dialogue about what Ontarians really want from their education system. What do we value? How should it be working? Coincidentally there WILL be a public consultation about Ontario education, but if the Ministry of Education really wants to hear from all Ontarians they have a funny way of showing it.

On May 30th Liz Sandals, The Minister of Education, “announced” that there will be a consultation into ‘building the next phase in Ontario’s education strategy’. Announced is an overstatement, because news of this ‘public consultation’ wasn’t widely shared. Whispered is more apt. There was no press conference and no press release. A search on the Ministry of Education’s website will not uncover any mention. However some Ontarians got personal invitations to participate (hint: not me).

On June 1st I got the digital equivalent of a brown manilla envelope stuffed into my e-mail box directing me to a dusty page on the Ministry of Education’s website that lists ministry policy memos. Posted there is a letter from the minister to ‘education stakeholders’ and a document titled “Building The Next Phase in Ontario’s Education Strategy” that explains what a great job the government is doing with the education system, how the public consultation process will take place and giving seven ‘key questions’ to guide the discussion. Stakeholders are encouraged to ponder these questions over the summer and be ready to discuss in the Fall.

I was confused. As an educator, a parent of three children in the education system and a writer about education don’t I count as a ‘stakeholder’? If not me, who does count and why?

After reading the document a few questions and reflections coalesced:

  • Why The Secrecy? If the ministry is truly interested in “…feedback from a broad range of individuals and groups…” why wasn’t the process publicly announced? I understand the document was sent to trustees and directors of education. Why? What about everybody else?

  • What is an “education stakeholder”? I see everyone as an education stakeholder. Our collective future depends on our public education system so isn’t it in everyone’s best interest to have the best possible system? Apparently the ministry sees education stakeholders as a few select people on their mailing list. If only there was some sort of mass information system they could use to inform everyone about the consultation process. Hmmm…

  • Why Do We Have EQAO? For anyone who asked me this question over the past month, you need wonder no more. The main function of EQAO is to allow the ministry to make statements like this:

“Ten years ago, only 68% of our students were graduating, and only 54% of children in grades 3 and 6 were achieving at the provincial standard in literacy and numeracy. Today, those numbers stand at 83% and 70% respectively, and they continue to climb.”

  • Any discussions about using EQAO to improve learning is merely window dressing. EQAO is a tool that allows the government to show how well (or in the case of the Mike Harris government how badly) public education is doing. EQAO scores are the primary evidence of how Ontario’s public education system has improved. And we know how accurate and reliable EQAO scores are.
  • The Process: The document discusses wanting to hear from “…education stakeholders, parents, students and members of the business, research and innovation, not-for-profit and Aboriginal communities…” and mentions “groups and individuals”. However later it mentions the minister will be holding consultations in Toronto for provincially focussed groups and regionally for regionally focussed groups. It also mentions that there will be some ‘digital only’ sessions and an opportunity to participate via e-mail. It seems as if the minister is really only interested in meeting with groups. That’s too bad. Groups homogenize opinion and reduce the breadth of possible input. There’s many individuals who want to make their voice heard and not have to funnel it through an organization to give it legitimacy.

The Seven Questions:

Here are the seven guiding questions for the public consultation with my initial reflections:

1) What are the skills, knowledge and characteristics students need to succeed after they have completed school, and how do we better support all learners in their development?

The first question in our education strategy is about preparing students to be workers. It could be reworded as “Are we producing good future employees?”. Is this really where we should be starting? Is this the first thing we should be considering about our education system? Not maximizing students’ potential or helping them to fulfill their dreams but will they meet the province’s economic needs. I’m disappointed.

2) What does student well-being mean to you, and what is the role of the school in supporting it?

I’m glad to see this as part of the discussion. We need to better address student’s mental and physical health needs and understand their impact on learning. We don’t educate children in isolation and an unhealthy child is not able to learn well.

 3) From your perspective, what further opportunities exist to close gaps and increase equity to support all children and students in reaching their full potential?

 Another critical discussion we need to be having. We must move away from a system of equality to one of equity. In an education system where resources are limited, why are we directing the same resources to all students regardless of need? Students aren’t equal so why do we fund them that way? A student from a middle or high income family doesn’t need the same level of support as one from a low-income family. We need to address this on a provincial, systemic basis. I’d like to see the introduction of a weighted funding formula for education in Ontario.

4) How does the education system need to evolve as a result of changes to child care and the implementation of full-day kindergarten?

This confuses me. I assumed that given the commitment and money spent on Full Day Kindergarten there was some sort of long-term plan in place. This suggests a sort of “Oh, we’ve got FDK, now what?” approach. That’s concerning.

5) What more can we all do to keep students engaged, foster their curiosity and creativity, and help them develop a love of life-long learning?

This should be the first question, not the fifth. This is the mission statement of a progressive education system. A foundational idea. If we can accomplish this, everything else will fall into place. Bravo!!

6) How can we use technology more effectively in teaching and learning?

This is the mandatory Ed Tech question. It is now illegal to discuss education unless you mention technology once. I suspect this is something The OPSBA pushed hard for at the round table seeing as they’d spent money on their new report. I support the vision presented but ask the same question as when the report was published. Who is going to pay for it? Digital technology should be an essential part of our education system but it requires an investment and nobody seems willing to make that investment. If you want to put tech in schools you’ve got to show me the money.

7) What are the various opportunities for partnership that can enhance the student experience, and how can they benefit parents, educators and our partners too?

Not sure what this really is but it feels like a discussion of how can we involve private enterprise more in public education. The reason we seek partnerships is that we want to do things but don’t have the necessary resources. We must remember that, as the old saying goes, “There’s no free lunch”. Enterprises we enter into partnership with aren’t primarily interested in students or their learning. They’re interested in making money. Effective partnerships result from an exchange of value. Let’s be clear and aware of what we’re giving up and what we’re getting in return and remember it’s our job to put students first.

What’s Missing?

Some questions I’m surprised not to see there:

  • What is the role of standardized testing in Ontario’s education system?
  • What is the role of school boards and trustees in Ontario’s education system?
  • What is a fair and effective system of collective bargaining in Ontario’s education system?
  • What role should faith play in Ontario’s public education system?

Those are my first, off the cuff, reactions and responses. I’ll keep discussing and pontificating and prepare myself to participate fully in the government’s “public consultation”. I urge all Ontarians to do likewise. It’s time for an “Education Spring” in Ontario. This may be our opening.