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High praise for public education

From Monday's Globe and Mail

A bird's-eye view shows how a community revolves around its school ...Read the full article

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  1. Charles Raymond from Windsor, Canada writes: A testimonial about public education from a guy who thinks that the Big 3 make the best cars in the world. I hope he never gets involved in public education....although it couldn't get much worse.
  2. john chuckman from Canada writes: “As our school is a prized asset in our neighbourhood, so is public education in general a gift to our whole society.”

    Some gift, an almost broken system that no one can reform.

    Conservatives in Ontario tried and failed, making many foolish blunders. Liberals have changed nothing of substance and now do nothing but throw money at the teachers to keep peace.

    The really good teachers are such motivated individuals they survive despite the many barriers against them.

    Our schools in general our behind the times in almost every respect.

    Neighborhood schools themselves are largely obsolete, representing as they do a step up from the rural one-room schoolhouse of a century ago with the emergence of city neighborhoods.

    If we are to offer all the courses and enrichments children should have, we need the equivalent of big-box stores in our schools, and the costs are prohibitive to do this in every neighbourhood. Teachers’ salaries and benefits alone make it so.

    (cont'd)
  3. john chuckman from Canada writes: If you want a specialty item today, you go to a big-box store with the selection, not a corner store in the neighbourhood. That is just a fact of today’s world. And our population’s embrace of the car and suburbanization and urban sprawl only greatly increase the pressures in this direction. If you want music, art, libraries, and qualified teachers in subject areas, a neighbourhood school is not the way to go. A major fraction of our teachers cannot even use a computer, let alone teach a child about computers. Teachers at the elementary level often are assigned to subjects for which they have absolutely no competence, and the elementary level is the foundation for all that follows. The curriculum - confused, bloated, and unfocused on important things - is the classic result of bureaucratic compromises, resembling the work of Soviet apparatchiks. Teachers cling to the notion of being professionals, but if you examine what they study in their year of teacher education, it is half mumbo-jumbo and pseudo-science. (cont'd)
  4. john chuckman from Canada writes: Teachers are not judged according to merit, just appointed for lifetime sinecures. They are allowed to pretty much govern themselves out of politicians’ fears of strikes. Bad teachers are almost never eliminated, even though everyone knows there are many of them. Principals and many administrative officials are just former teachers who worked their way up in a pretty slack system. It is actually fairly rare to find a principal who is impressive and decisive. We play games with stats, as with the silly literacy test. The test has no objectivity, and both its writing and marking may easily be adjusted – and are – to suit a changed political situation. The current government of Ontario, for example, claims credit for improvements from such meaningless scores, but they have changed nothing of substance, except pay and extra benefits. I think the perfect symbol of our public schools is the school library. Where it hasn’t become a thing of the past, it has become a nasty little corner of the school. The teachers’ union controls this in part through the fact that so-called teacher-librarians run them. They are mostly not even competent as librarians, and if we cared we see the libraries staffed by good library technicians who know something about books. The teacher-librarians mostly spend little time in the library, too, since they are valued by principals as fillers they can stuff into any classroom missing a teacher. (cont'd)
  5. john chuckman from Canada writes: At the same time, vast new resources from the province are squandered on stuff like graded literacy series – these are quickie, over-priced paperbacks churned out by publishers to make a quick buck - and “literacy closets.” Our libraries, if we are going to have them, should have lots of good books and plenty of computers plus staff qualified for using them.

    Intellectual rubbish like the literacy series are a response to one of the many fads that sweep through the teachers’ union and the school bureaucracy. How better to encourage literacy than with the vast richness of our actual English literature and things like book clubs, rather than the dreary rubbish of literacy quickie books?

    (cont'd)
  6. john chuckman from Canada writes: Our schools, too, are not providing for the needs of many students. We do have a certain percent of people with limited natural capacities, but saying so is anathema in the teaching establishment. These people need schools and classes that teach them useful skills, taught by people who have the skills.

    The resources thrown at the system actually are being thrown at a union everyone is afraid to take on. They have hours and benefits like no one else. Their pension fund is so fat they own the telephone company and, yes, the newspaper you are reading, a ridiculous and a waste of precious resources.

    “That children from all classes and backgrounds attend the same building, get to know each other and learn from the same teachers is nothing short of a miracle.”

    Now that is largely a good thing. If you could fix everything else, they might even get some valuable education too.
  7. Antonio San from Canada writes: What a teary piece... so Jimmy are you saying they deserve OTPP take over of BCE and the tax treatment they can get on trusts while ordinary canadians can't? Or is it a softening love before the next teachers' strike?
  8. D. Sadoway from Hong Kong writes: John Chuckman writes: "The resources thrown at the system actually are being thrown at a union everyone is afraid to take on. They have hours and benefits like no one else."

    While it is easy to bash the teachers unions, it is easy to forget how urban public schools are now run in comparable jurisdictions just across the border. Within US cities there are a patchquilt of have and have-not public schools--essentially meaning that if you live on the wrong side of the tracks you are out of luck--your school is underesourced; your teachers are underpaid and your education will likely keep you in the permanent underclass.

    Certainly Canadian school districts and instructors have a long ways to go towards adopting curriculum that supports individual learning styles, pushes critical and independent thinking skills, and sharpens collaborative learning and global education; but some of this job is up to the parents in the communities. If the teachers and facilities are underfunded in the first place then the chances of community involvement and innovative curriculum being put in place are next to nil.

    Here in Asian the world famous economic miracles (i.e. tiger economies) would not have happened without steady and sustained investment in a solid publically-funded school system. To forget this lesson from another part of the world risks not only creating a lost generation and failed neighbourhoods or communities in Canada, but also risks a massive socio-economic meltdown in a generation's time.
  9. K McIntyre from Oshawa, Canada writes: Today Jim Stanford added the term 'safety-proofed' to my vocabulary. It is an ironic label, I think, because I'm sure it means the opposite of what it sounds like it means.
  10. Private Person from Toronto, Canada writes: Some make many good points but I think it's an abuse of the spirit of this forum to fill 4 "limits" with one's dissertation. I found much to agree with in Chuckman's several contributions above, but I disagree with the target of his wrath. It is common among Conservatives to advocate the starving of resources from public institutions, then to return later and criticize the ineffectiveness of the institution, blaming the greedy unions, the lazy employees, anything but the funding formula. In the case specifically of public school libraries and their lack of professional librarians, the funding formula is entirely, simply, purely, to blame.

    Chuckman's rant about Teacher-librarians' ineffectiveness is entirely correct, but the cause is the withdrawal of the proper librarians which were there before the Common Sense Revolution in Ontario.

    A close friend is a "golden boy" teacher (in demand by parents) at a school in the very wealthiest area in Toronto. We talk about these issues often. One thing that sticks in my craw is the fund-raising parents do in this filthy rich enclave, raising many tens of thousands of dollars, to spend as they see fit on THEIR SCHOOL ONLY. There is no law preventing them from building their kids a better playground, leaner school, safer environment than at a shool in a poorer neighbourhood. A school in a low-income neighbourhood might hold a bake sale and raise $200, while another school gets a new playing field, new playground and other benefits. parents can donate this money for the benefit of the kids and they can legally specify that the donation be limited to a specific school.

    Is it just me, or is ayone else disgusted with this?
  11. Rob Fulford from Toronto, Canada writes: I have to chuckle at John Chuckman's rant. Having worked for one of the big six banks in Toronto I can only state that the level of bureaucracy and inefficiency at all levels in these organizations supercedes anything I have been involved at within the public school system. The role of schools within a community is essential for breaking down barries. Certainly the overall compensation in the private sector far exceeds what even our highest paid education workers receive so the role of the unions here has not exacted any high tolls on education. For the most part Jim Stanford had it right on in his assessment. I wouldn't have it any other way in my community.
  12. Adam Allouba from Canada writes: Rob Fulford, just out of curiosity, what happened to incompetent employees in the bank? Did they have jobs for life? Or did they eventually get fired?
  13. D. Sadoway from Hong Kong writes: Adam Allouba from Canada writes: Rob Fulford, just out of curiosity, what happened to incompetent employees in the bank? Did they have jobs for life? Or did they eventually get fired?

    Interesting how Adam jumps all over "incompetent employees" in his reading of Fulford's letter as if somehow frontline workers are directly and solely responsible for the big banks excessive bureaucracy and sucky services.

    At is issue here, and this is also relevant in the schools debate, is what kind of SYSTEMS are we (re)designing, who is benefitting from system re-engineering, and what are the long-term impacts? Are the banks providing good services at fair costs and are they investing in the communities and neighbourhoods they are located in, or are they simply blowing it all on marketing, service fees, easy credit gimmicks, and perpetual service cut-backs, all the while padding the pockets of upper management and fat-cat CEOs who derive pecuniary benefits from short-term 'efficiencies'?

    By extension if you want to re-engineer the school system, I would suggest avoiding having it done solely by a team of bean counters who places higher priority on administrative rationalism and cannot see the forest for the trees. To do change that make sense we need people from the frontlines of organizations squarely involved in reorganizational matters, not just the guys who want to 'test the latest MBA case study theory' on re-tooling an organization.

    Sometimes listening to the bank tellers (and bank customers); the teachers (and students and parents); or the nurses/doctors (and patients) might be a much better approach to private or public organizational change than just relying on change from the top-down. A little less greed on top of some of these organizations (with top administrators or CEOs who have far more 'job protection' than frontline workers) might go a long way in making change we can all be happy with...
  14. Gardiner Westbound from Canada writes:
    It's difficult to reconcile this with Margeret Wente's August 30th Globe column, "High-school daze: In Ontario, failure is not an option."

    http://tinyurl.com/6plwcu
  15. western thought from Calgary, Canada writes: A sound articulation of secular theocracy.
  16. scamp the from Canada writes:
    If the greatest economy of your local economy is your school... well...
    I literally give up on this country.

    All it is is taking from peter to Pay Paul.

    And who gets to choose who gets the privilege of being part of the well protected teacher's union? Is it based on qualifications or merit? Nope. It's just a gang of people who get to take from us and we have no choice in the matter.

    I guess that's the perfect union position.

    I have a better idea. Why don't we all just become teachers so we can all have good paying jobs in our local community! Somehow I doubt Jim Stafford, 'an economist', would understand the futility of that statement.
  17. scamp the from Canada writes:
    BTW... I work in the private sector and I have gotten my Bachelor of education. I am looking to join the well paid union teachers.

    If this country is going down, I'm going down in a life boat. Might as well be on the receiving end of taxes in a nice easy job. yes I said easy... I taught in my practicums. Compared to the work I do now (engineering), teaching is easy and fun. Now I just need to squeeze into the bureaucracy and I'm set. I'm giving it time.

    Screw work and generating wealth. Just work for the public sector.
    You want to see where Canada is heading? People like Jim Stafford will wonder where all our wealth has gone when all the hard working engineers and risk taking business people go away because they don't see the point of working anymore. The only people left in the private sector will be 3rd rate idiots who won't be able to compete anymore with the 1st rate Indians and Chinese.

    Don't worry. The socialists will get their way, and we'll all be equally poor.

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