P.E.I. Education news bad, confusing

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Hal Perry

Education on P.E.I. is swirling with various announcements and developments in recent days - most of it bad and the rest mostly confusing. News was circulating last week about a big government announcement coming for education. It was so big that no one could talk about it even off the record. Yet, there was Education Minister Hal Perry telling the annual meeting of the P.E.I. Teachers’ Federation (PEITF) about it.

Mr. Perry was light on specifics because he apparently didn’t have them - but said details would be released in the next few weeks. If he didn’t have the specifics then who exactly does? Is there some consultant or task force about to present a landmark report which the minister is going to accept, sight unseen?

Mr. Perry calls it a new direction to give a stronger voice to students, parents and front-line educators. It will also get teachers more involved in setting policy directions and develop new partnerships among parents, educators, community leaders and government.

It all sounded exciting and progressive. It seemed that happy days are here again. Other shoes started dropping the next day.

P.E.I.’s English Language School Board said it is launching an investigation into why so many elementary school children are struggling with reading and writing, after provincial student assessment results released earlier last week revealed alarming results.

Pulling kindergarten into the school system happened six years ago and was supposed to pay dividends for younger students but these assessments suggest otherwise. The alarming part is that no one is able to pinpoint why this is happening, even though test results show this is an ongoing, three-year trend in Island schools. It doesn’t take rocket science to point a finger at significant cuts to teaching positions over the last few years. The province has cut 106 teaching positions since 2012.

A lot of teachers have been reassigned to different grade levels which cause a loss in traction every time it happens. This year the province cut seven literacy coaches from the school board.

Mr. Perry acknowledges there is obvious room for improvement but he pointed out these results were better over last year. That is small consolation. He then noted a review is underway on the provincial assessments to ensure they are not adding to teacher workloads at the expense of teaching time. So the assessments themselves are now the problem?

Then a new English board policy was released this week on school changes or closures. It seems more schools will close but there will be more public involvement before the closures actually take place. It’s not much consolation but at least it’s a shift from when closures were announced first and then public meetings were held to justify them.

Also this week, contract talks broke down between the province and its teachers. Labour peace seemed to have been restored last June when the province backed down in the face of wide protests and rescinded cuts to some 29 teaching positions. That brought teachers back to the bargaining table after they walked out, claiming bad faith bargaining. Thirty days of talks this fall failed to resolve issues and now teachers are headed to binding arbitration for the first time in 15 years.

Teachers say there is poor connection between understanding the needs inside P.E.I. schools, programs announced by the provincial government and management by the school boards. The PEITF observes that various parties don’t seem to be working together right now.

So where does Mr. Perry’s major announcement fit into all this? Maybe it will alleviate concerns for teachers, help solve the assessment issue and keep schools open. But it doesn’t involve various partners and even the minister isn’t sure what’s coming. As for the assessments, it seems no one knows the problem so how can the announcement design solutions to fix them?

There is a growing, unsettling perception the department is spinning its wheels and various elements inside the education system are getting caught in the morass created by the province.

Organizations: P.E.I. Teachers, English Language School Board, English board

Geographic location: P.E.I., Iceland

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Recent comments

  • de udder guy
    November 02, 2015 - 07:22

    @in-box journalism. Male or female, human or bot you win the internet today for hitting the nail on the head. Questions are not asked, when they are asked they are softball sized or never followed up with the 5 w's. Representatives need to be questioned and questioned repeatedly and often, sadly it does not happen and due to apathy on the part of the public and loss of direction of journalisms's moral compass it shall continue.

  • laurent Beaulieu
    November 01, 2015 - 12:28

    It really all boils down to the question What is Public Education worth to us all? Are we all willing to work towards a strong education system which will reward Society as a whole. Reinstate teachers, stop the cuts and focus on learning instead of fancy theories like what Minister Perry is talking about. BTW they have the same speech in Ontario and Quebec, it looks like copying the current education philosophy.

  • reader
    October 31, 2015 - 11:35

    @In-box journalism Interesting points. I would like to add, that one look at the Guardian these days tells you, that the newspaper has given up on providing the readers with anything meaningful. Big letter headlines and pictures take up the spaces, so less writing is required. The stories are human interest stories that elicits "aah" s and that require no thinking to grasp. The Guardian has become a rag that caters to the lowest common denominator, befitting a Province where education is regarded as an interference in a life of hockey and other fun pursuits.

  • Question
    October 31, 2015 - 09:45

    When the seven literacy coaches WERE employed over the past while - what exactly were they doing - if "many elementary school children are struggling with reading and writing". Whatever happened to accountability? Maybe it is the literacy coaches who should be assessed at this time??

  • Fed up
    October 31, 2015 - 08:55

    What do they expect? Laying off teachers. Closing schools. Little children on a bus for hours, then sitting in school....on a bus again....the children are TIRED!! English teachers, especially, are getting laid off. More and more French classes added....an Education Minister that has no idea what teachers go through?!? Currie should have stayed as Education Minister. He did a great job. He knows teaching! Not so as Health Minister....he has no idea what he's doing!! A Health Minister should know something about doctors....at the very least! Our PEI government has no idea what they're doing as far as appointing Ministers....THAT is the main problem with Education. Ask parents of a 5-yr-old who has to travel by bus early morning and after school....the little ones come home and fall asleep SITTING!! Stop closing schools and laying off our teachers!!

  • In-box Journalism?
    October 31, 2015 - 08:25

    There's no quick fix for the problems that plague public schooling. However, it would help if the media would give up lazy in-box journalism; the practice of unquestioningly publishing whatever drops into the in-box. Based on what is usually published, it would appear that because an official says something it's print worthy? What we are not getting are the answers to hard questions. Unfortunately, we don't hear those answers because good questions are rarely asked in the first place. To this end, the public who own the schools are worse than confused, we have become uninterested - the kiss of death for learning. In this, high quality journalism can help; lazy in-box journalism just perpetuates the problem.