Teacher “required” to report drawing of gun in Sansone case

The teacher and principal in the Neaveh Sansone case should not be fired, or even reprimanded, because in Ontario, such reportage is not only expected but legally required.

Frankly, it also doesn’t really matter at this point that the gun in Neaveh’s drawing was a toy gun (H/T BLY).  What matters now is the fact that the complaints have become as hysterical as the incident itself.

Well, sorry but the last thing we need to come out of this situation is teacher and police second-guessing when and if they should protect someone. This is not about Ontario becoming a nanny state. We have had the same child protection laws since I taught elementary and secondary school in the 70s and 80s.

Plus, remember, hindsight is always 20/20. So lets look at two what-ifs — scenarios Neaveh’s teacher would have faced.

Scenario One: Imagine a teacher seeing the drawing of a child’s daddy with a gun. The teacher asks the child why he or she drew that picture and the child says to show that her daddy uses the gun to keep away the monsters. The teacher doesn’t perceive a threat to the child, so he or she doesn’t report the incident.  However, the art work, like all art work, goes into the child’s folder.  Fast forward a month later and the entire family is shot and the father commits suicide. No, this is not applicable in this case, but the what if is there. When the public finds out that the teacher saw such a drawing, they would be outraged, and rightly so. It could have been a warning, a way for a very young child to show what she couldn’t put into words.  Yes, this situation turned out differently, but no one knows that before hand.

Scenario Two: Now, imagine the same drawing and the same teacher decision to simply put the art work in the child’s file.  However, in this scenario, a few days after the child does the drawing, a friend or relative of the child picks up an unsecured weapon in their home and accidentally shoots and kills him or her. The public would have been just as outraged that the teacher had concerns based on the drawing but did nothing.

Plus, the issue that Neaveh was just being imaginative doesn’t ring true to me.  I taught visual art for years. I also offered primary art classes after school as an extra curricular activity. One of the elementary schools I taught in was a rural school encompassing many farms where there would have been legal guns. Yet, in all that time (plus when I used to supervise teachers in training), I never ever saw a child draw a picture of a gun warding off monsters, a knife or any other possible weapon.

So yes, while we live in a free and democratic society, it is a society with a social contract and the police are, in effect, there to uphold that contract. And, as society gets more complex and on the Internet, that social contract is spreading into some of our areas of privacy.  Which mean that those who primarily uphold that contract, such as the police, need to include some common sense to their procedures. However, it is very important that the teachers who do the initial reporting do not second guess their decisions in order to avoid being tarred and feathered in the media and the Internet.

In other words, there is no reason for libertarian paranoia and tying the hands of those meant to protect us and our children by making something out of this incident that is just not there. That is not to say that this incident was not appalling for Jessie Sansone and his family. It was and hopefully police forces across this country and beyond will learn from it.

But, what it wasn’t, was an expression of progressive ideology or at attack on legal gun owners.  It was simply about making sure a child was safe because, as teachers and principals unfortunately know only too well, there are many children at risk every day of their lives.

Therefore, I decided to stick my neck out on this one. I may be a conservative but I do not think educators, social services and law enforcement are our enemies. While I have no doubt, some will minimize what I have written here simply on the basis of: “Well, what can you expect, she is a former teacher,” it was preciely because of that previous experience, and knowing something about the Ontario Child and Services Act, that I agree with Gregg Bereznick of the Waterloo Region District School Board, when he said: “We did what we were supposed to do.”

EQAO & issue of cheating re standardized tests

There were allegations that a principal with the Thames Valley District School Board (London, Ontario) unfairly opened an Ontario’s Education & Quality Accountability Office (EQAO) standardized testing package ahead of time so that teachers could prepare students.  To read about the whole issue and the outcome of the investigation, check out Hugo’s blog at The Education Reporter

Now, Hugo does a very good job of explaining the ifs, ands and buts of the allegations, along with providing highlights from the report of an investigation into the incident. However, I wouldn’t go so far as to call what happened “cheating.” Breaking EQAO rules perhaps, but not cheating. I say that carefully because not letting teachers know what a testing package is about is going against everything I have ever learned about how to teach kids — and that is to always review curriculum content and demonstrate skills before a test.   

In my opinion then, this is a power struggle between EQAO and the professionals in the system. You will do as EQAO says or else you will be punished by your school board — maybe even be fired. Isn’t it, in fact, cheating the students when teachers have to completely ignore their pleas and questions during the time they are completing the EQAO tests. Some students, let’s not forget, are only 8 years old and in Grade 3 and don’t yet have abstract reasoning skills.

So, while I agree with the concept of standardized testing, I would recommend that EQAO ease the rules to allow teachers to better prepare their students — which will help reduce the stress for everyone involved. Otherwise, the testing process, in Ontario at least, is not really about finding out how well our children are performing, or how well individual schools are performing in relation to others, but how well they are at test taking.

Which begs the question: Would advance preparation be considered simply “teaching to the test?” And, if so, what would be wrong with that? In my view, nothing, as long as the preparation time was short because, after all is said and done, the validity of the tests would still be there given it is individual children who complete them.  

Something to think about.

Special education Internet links for parents & teachers

Listed here are some special needs and special education web resources that would be very helpful for parents or teachers. Normally, this information is posted on my header bar. However, I thought I should publish it to get the post onto the various search engines. (See also the non-endorsement disclaimer below.)

Applied Behavioural Analysis or ABA Treatment — (Link) (Link)

Alberta Committee of Citizens with Disabilities — (Link)

Autism Society Canada — (Link)

Autism Treatment Centre of America — Autism development treatment program called “Son-Rise.” (Link)

Canadian Association for Community Living — Advocacy for individuals with intellectual/developmental disability (Link)

Canadian Association for Independent Living — Information, programs and services for individuals needing assistance with daily living (Link)

Gifted Canada — (Link)

L’arche — International movement of people with developmental disabilities (Link)

Learning Disabilities Association of Canada — (Link)

Learning & Reading Disabilities — a site about the importance of phonics and other techniques to improve and enhance reading (Link)

Our Kids.net — Lists schools children that are focused on accommodating attention deficit disorder and/or learning disabilities (Link) (Link)

Son-Rise — Autism treatment program (Link)

[...]

Disclaimer: The Internet organizations and web links listed on this page are for information only. They are not affiliated with this weblog or its owner, nor are they endorsed in any way. As such, it is up to each and every visitor to determine whether to use them or to conduct further research or inquiries.

School standardized testing about accountability, not fairness

It seems that most, if not all, principals, teachers and teachers’ unions hate school-based standardized testing. Why? Well, according to Ian Gillespie’s column in the London Free Press on November 24th (H/T Catherine), it’s because the tests are costly to administer, stressful for the students and unfair to teachers.

Too costly? Unfair to teachers? How? Do they not indicate how well students can perform certain tasks? Do they not indicate whether or not students have all the skills they need to read and calculate? Yes? Well then, if that is the case, they are neither too costly or unfair. 

However, that said, the problem seems to be that teachers as a group do not want to be held responsible for what a child learns. They also don’t like the competition that results from ranking schools. Which may not be fair, but which is, after-all, what public accountability is all about!

Now, I have some sympathy having been on the front lines for more than a dozen years. I mean, you can’t simply open up a child’s head and dump in the learning. They have to be willing to be active participants in their own learning. However, if teaching practice research over the past fifty years has shown us anything, it is that the way a teacher teaches influences the way children participate — and yes, learn. So, it’s a two-way street.

However, teachers don’t like to have that responsibility. Thus, the likely reason they think standardized tests are unfair is because they are not only exposing how well a specific class is performing, by default, they are also showing how well a teacher is teaching — and, let’s not forget, given how parents use school rankings,  how well an entire school is doing .

Then, there is the endless cry that if students do badly they are maimed for life because their self-esteem is crushed. Hogwash! Absolute nonsense. Life if about stress. Life is about succeeding and failing. I mean, that is how we learn, by screwing up and learning from our mistakes.

Which is why I am so against “success” policies that are nothing more than “no-fail” policies or social promotion policies that push kids through from one grade to the next before they are ready. Short sighted hardly begins to describe the current ideology in most school boards in Canada and the U.S.

Well, this type of philosophy has to change. It has to change because the standardized testing results we do have, in Canada at least, indicate the results are abysmal. Meaning, that far too many of today’s high school graduates are not ready for college, university or an apprenticeship, in terms of the skills they will need to complete qualifying tests.

Need proof? Here is a section from Gillespie’s column with quotes from Jim Cote, a sociologist at the University of Western Ontario and one of the authors of the Ivory Tower Blues (a blog that has been on my favourites list for some time).

“‘The low-achieving students obviously need some remediation. I mean, isn’t that the point?’ says Cote, a professor in the University of Western Ontario’s sociology department and co-author of Ivory Tower Blues: A University System in Crisis. ‘The intention is not to be punitive. The intention is to bring up everybody’s standards.’ And those standards, he says, are abysmal. A survey of nearly 2,000 faculty and librarians from 22 Ontario universities released last year reported first-year students frequently displayed a lack of required writing, math and critical thinking skills, poor research abilities and an expectation of success without the requisite effort.

All these problems,’ says Cote, stem back to the 1960s when department exams were abolished and grades began to be routinely inflated to boost overall averages. ‘Grade inflation is really messing up the system,’ says Cote, whose new book on the topic (Lowering Higher Education, co-written with Anton Allahar) is due out in a few months. ‘We’re getting people coming to university who are really not prepared. They’ve been given totally false feedback.’

Cote says making a student feel better about their abilities avoids the real problems revealed by the tests. ‘You’re really doing (students) harm because they’ll eventually hit the wall and do a major fail, and that’s not good for self-esteem,’ he says, adding testing helps students prepare for the stresses of life. ‘If there are problems, let’s deal with these problems: Identify those (students) who are weak and who need remediation, and get them help early. But don’t pass them on to universities and expect us to do it, because it’s too late.’” [My highlighting.]

Students have “been given totally false feedback.” Cote is right on! When I was teaching university, undergraduate students — who were training to be teachers — would show up in my office asking me to change their marks. Why? Because they inevitably thought their mark was too low and that they deserved an “A” because they had, quote: “worked hard.”

When I would explain that, since I had no idea how hard anyone had worked, I had to base my mark totally on what they handed in, they seemed puzzled. Yes, I would explain, I gave marks for grammar, spelling and presentation of sources and footnotes, but that an “A” was only ever given, not only for a near-perfect presentation, but for a well argued and exceptional argument and defence.

In other words, students need to be taught what accountability means, what an “A” means. As such, school standardized testing should be here to stay, in fact increased to include more grade levels.  Yes, it is about public accountability, but more than that, it is about students learning that they too are accountable for their own success or failure.

And so, the crux of the matter is that it should NOT be considered unfair to students, teachers or the teachers’ unions that our provincial governments insist on having standardized testing.

Ethical standards & legislation both guide & hinder teachers

I know there is not much sympathy in general society for elementary and secondary school teachers, but they really do get a bum rap from all sides of the educational divide.  First, let me state that having taught in both pre-service and graduate education programs, I can verify that this is a group of individuals who are by their very nature, societal leaders.  

Yet, once in their jobs, teachers find out fairly quickly that their notion of independence is no more than an illusion because they have to do exactly what their government, principal and union demands — and in that order. For example, here and here are comments Doug Little wrote on another thread about union involvement.  

In other words, teachers either learn to do what they are told or they have to quit and find a new career path. Most, because they like children, the salary, the benefits and the pension plan, adapt. And, truth be told, I was no different.  

Yes, there are ethical standards of practice. But, click on the link and you will quickly see how general they are. In fact, they are all motherhood concept words or statements — edu-babble as far as the general public is concerned — because they don’t say anything concrete.

I mean, when push comes to shove, how can a parent judge whether a teacher has a commitment to professional knowledge? And, even if parents did have access to that information, where does that leave their children when they disagree about something?

Let’s say, for example, that a parent complains about an evaluation technique whereby high school teachers have been told they cannot deduct marks for handing in assignments late. Let’s assume, for discussion purposes, that the parent’s child is one of those students who works very hard and does exactly what they are told to do. Yet, they see another student do very little for the same credit. Both the student and the parent feels the policy is wrong because there appears to be a lack of fairness and equity.

Now, who exactly are parents and students going to blame for such a policy? Do they blame the Premier or Education Minister? Not likely. Rather, they tend to blame the teachers because they are the front line workers. Which is likely why, Matt, a regular commenter here, writes in a comment on the same thread as Doug, that it was not fair for me to suggest that it is the teachers who are widening the divide between the no-fail policy and parents — when they don’t like the policy either.

The irony of the situation is that the “no-fail” policy was developed in the first place because of the public complaint that too many high school students were dropping out because school was not meaningful to them. In fact, Ontario’s current Premier, Dalton McGuinty, campaigned in both 2003 and 2007 that, if elected or re-elected, he would decrease the drop out rates and increase the graduate rates. And, guaranteed, come hell or high water, he will make sure he has improved statistics in time for the 2011 provincial election.   

In reality, then, what options do teachers have if they disagree with a policy they must implement when, under the Ontario Education Act (Part X, Sections 264-265), they MUST follow their principal’s direction? It is not just as Catherine suggested in the same thread as Doug and Matt, that teachers don’t speak out because of the politics of fear. It goes far beyond that. It is the law.

Well, it seems that the only option they have is to ask their unions to lobby on their behalf. True, I have been hard on the teachers’ unions over the nearly five years I have been blogging. But, I am finally beginning to see why the teacher-union rep relationship I remember as being somewhat distant, is now so close.

Yet, I can’t help thinking positively about the whole subject. I mean think about it. Each and every day in every province and territory of Canada, there are thousands, if not millions of positive teacher-parent contacts, in person, by e-mail or on the telephone. In other words, whether it is because of College of Teachers ethical standards or legislation, such as Ontario’s Education Act, teachers are usually able to communicate effectively with parents.

However, for those parents who want to go further, to advocate change, they need to consider starting or joining a parent advocacy group that speaks regularly with provincial politicians, not on individual cases, but in general areas that need attention or reform. And, no, I am not talking about parent groups that cow tow or accept money from school boards, the government being lobbied or unions that might have a conflict of interest. In other words, parents need to become political because that is where all education policy happens. I know, because after early retirement, I worked as an EA for an Ontario MPP from 1995 until 1999, a member of provincial parliament who also happened to be the Education Minister’s PA. And, that old adage that the squeaky wheel gets the grease? Well, it is bang on!

So, while provincial ethical standards and Education Acts may be in place to provide public accountability, they may also hinder the parent-teacher communication process.

Ethical standards & legislation both guide & hinder teachers

I know there is not much sympathy in general society for elementary and secondary school teachers, but they really do get a bum rap from all sides of the educational divide.  First, let me state that having taught in both pre-service and graduate education programs, I can verify that this is a group of individuals who are by their very nature, societal leaders.  

Yet, once in their jobs, teachers find out fairly quickly that their notion of independence is no more than an illusion because they have to do exactly what their government, principal and union demands — and in that order. For example, here and here are comments Doug Little wrote on another thread about union involvement.  

In other words, teachers either learn to do what they are told or they have to quit and find a new career path. Most, because they like children, the salary, the benefits and the pension plan, adapt. And, truth be told, I was no different.  

Yes, there are ethical standards of practice. But, click on the link and you will quickly see how general they are. In fact, they are all motherhood concept words or statements — edu-babble as far as the general public is concerned — because they don’t say anything concrete.

I mean, when push comes to shove, how can a parent judge whether a teacher has a commitment to professional knowledge? And, even if parents did have access to that information, where does that leave their children when they disagree about something?

Let’s say, for example, that a parent complains about an evaluation technique whereby high school teachers have been told they cannot deduct marks for handing in assignments late. Let’s assume, for discussion purposes, that the parent’s child is one of those students who works very hard and does exactly what they are told to do. Yet, they see another student do very little for the same credit. Both the student and the parent feels the policy is wrong because there appears to be a lack of fairness and equity.

Now, who exactly are parents and students going to blame for such a policy? Do they blame the Premier or Education Minister? Not likely. Rather, they tend to blame the teachers because they are the front line workers. Which is likely why, Matt, a regular commenter here, writes in a comment on the same thread as Doug, that it was not fair for me to suggest that it is the teachers who are widening the divide between the no-fail policy and parents — when they don’t like the policy either.

The irony of the situation is that the “no-fail” policy was developed in the first place because of the public complaint that too many high school students were dropping out because school was not meaningful to them. In fact, Ontario’s current Premier, Dalton McGuinty, campaigned in both 2003 and 2007 that, if elected or re-elected, he would decrease the drop out rates and increase the graduate rates. And, guaranteed, come hell or high water, he will make sure he has improved statistics in time for the 2011 provincial election.   

In reality, then, what options do teachers have if they disagree with a policy they must implement when, under the Ontario Education Act (Part X, Sections 264-265), they MUST follow their principal’s direction? It is not just as Catherine suggested in the same thread as Doug and Matt, that teachers don’t speak out because of the politics of fear. It goes far beyond that. It is the law.

Well, it seems that the only option they have is to ask their unions to lobby on their behalf. True, I have been hard on the teachers’ unions over the nearly five years I have been blogging. But, I am finally beginning to see why the teacher-union rep relationship I remember as being somewhat distant, is now so close.

Yet, I can’t help thinking positively about the whole subject. I mean think about it. Each and every day in every province and territory of Canada, there are thousands, if not millions of positive teacher-parent contacts, in person, by e-mail or on the telephone. In other words, whether it is because of College of Teachers ethical standards or legislation, such as Ontario’s Education Act, teachers are usually able to communicate effectively with parents.

However, for those parents who want to go further, to advocate change, they need to consider starting or joining a parent advocacy group that speaks regularly with provincial politicians, not on individual cases, but in general areas that need attention or reform. And, no, I am not talking about parent groups that cow tow or accept money from school boards, the government being lobbied or unions that might have a conflict of interest. In other words, parents need to become political because that is where all education policy happens. I know, because after early retirement, I worked as an EA for an Ontario MPP from 1995 until 1999, a member of provincial parliament who also happened to be the Education Minister’s PA. And, that old adage that the squeaky wheel gets the grease? Well, it is bang on!

So, while provincial ethical standards and Education Acts may be in place to provide public accountability, they may also hinder the parent-teacher communication process.

Teaching after retirement

The teachers’ unions must be dancing in the street given the media is doing their dirty political work for them by sensationalizing that retired teachers are “double dipping” and costing the public system millions of dollars.

And, no doubt, as people read the headlines and the details, it really does sound like  teachers who teach after retirement are a selfish bunch and that public school boards are somehow wasting millions of taxpayers’ dollars by hiring them.  

Well, I say bullocks!

Check out MendEd to find out what others have to say on this topic as well. But, from my point of view, first and foremost, the money retired teachers are paid is not a gift. They are working for their pay just like any other public service worker. They are teaching kids for that money. And, if they cost more it is because they have years of extra training and experience. To simply call it double dipping is just silly and ageist.

You want to know the real story here? It is about the teachers unions wanting retired teachers out of the public schools. Why? Because retired teachers are no longer union members. Oh, sure, there is a small deduction for supply teacher dues, but not as much as if they were still in the system.

So, the media are trying to make it sound like a brand new teacher (who costs less) should be chosen over a retiree (who costs more) to supply or for short term contracts — because that would save millions. What they are NOT telling you is that it is not a simple this new teacher instead of that retired teacher.

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Why do teachers “identify” with their unions?

Yesterday I wrote an article describing how the teachers’ unions have affected practice – directly and indirectly, negatively and positively – simply by what they choose to advocate and/or include in collective agreements.

Unfortunately, as a result of that article and follow-up comments, I also discovered another teacher-union negative effect – namely, that classroom teachers are now so personally linked to their unions that they see criticism about what their unions do or have done as criticism of themselves.

Not good. Linked in that way puts them in a type of symbiotic relationship (in the psychiatric sense), a relationship the union could clearly exploit. Moreover, it would have the desired result that the rank and file do exactly what they are told, no questions asked. 

Which goes a long way towards explaining why so few educators dare to speak out – even when they are retired. It’s not the professional ethics we were taught. It’s the fear of being shunned by colleagues and their union masters. 

As such, when they visit here, all too often they resort to minimizing what I write that questions their assumptions about their unions and in the case of yesterday’s post, to not deal with what I actually wrote. 

The reality is that teachers are teachers. They are not their unions. As such, they need to allow for informed and reasoned criticism about what their unions do — without taking it personally.

The latest on teachers’ salaries

One of the most popular “Retired Educator” posts on Internet search engines is an article I published at the end of May this year about teachers’ salaries. As such, I decided to check out the latest statistics at “payscale.com” — something I would recommend people do if they are thinking of a career in education. The last update was done recently, on November 14th, 2009 and here is some of what the site reports:

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Average teacher salaries across Canada

True or false? The average teacher’s salary in the publicly funded systems across Canada is between $42,000 and $53,000. If you answered true, you would be right. However, if you answered false, you are probably also correct. Why? Because we are getting conflicting information.

To begin with, we know that the number of Ontario teachers making $100,000 or more is increasing  annually thanks to the Harris government passing the “Public Disclosure Act” in 1996. Referred to as “The Sunshine List,” it provides the name and (gross) income of every public employee who earned $100,000 or more the year before.

For example, check out The Education Reporter who has written an excellent article on the disclosure list, arguing how Ontario’s sunshine numbers will keep expanding given the recent collective agreements and their automatic cost of living salary increases.

Then, as Reporter pointed out, there is also the Society for Quality Education’s report on this topic. The SQE report alleges, for instance, that even when Boards of Education are struggling financially (such as the Toronto Public Board of Education), their employees just keep earning more and more without cause or a ceiling. 

And so, a paradox. On the one hand, as payscale.com identifies, the median teacher salary in seven selected provinces (in Canadian dollars) are:

  1. Alberta $53,457
  2. Ontario: $49,254
  3. B.C. $49,129
  4. Sask $48,544
  5. Man. $48,080
  6. Nova Scotia $47,353
  7. Quebec $42,444

On the other, more and more teachers are earning $100,000 or more – double the amount listed at payscale.com. And, I think we can assume that if all provinces and territories had disclosure legislation, the numbers of people earning between $80,000 – $100,000 would be similar.

So, what does this all mean? While I certainly don’t begrudge a good teacher earning a decent salary, when it comes to automatic cost-of-living increases, should there not be some kind of accountability or criteria built into the system?

For example, the notion of merit pay is no longer a dirty concept because even U.S.  President Obama is talking about rewarding good teachers – in spite of the fact the teachers’ unions are completely against such a possibility. In other words, are the high income earners subject specialists or department heads? Have they upgraded their educational or specialist qualifications? Are they working longer hours? Are their students achieving, no matter what the demographics of their school district?

My opinion? I would say that the truth is probably somewhere in the middle – that the payscale.com numbers are too low because their sample size is insufficient. I mean, teachers can’t simply go from $50,000 to $100,000 in only a few years. And, that the Ontario sunshine list — or its  equivalent in other provinces – is not actually reflective of what the majority of teachers earn.

Something for Ontario PC leadership candidates (and conservative leaders and premiers in other provinces and territories) to think about.