Monthly Archives: August 2010

Faut-il payer pour des livres «recommandés»?

Justine Mercier
Le Droit

C’est la rentrée, cette semaine, pour des dizaines de milliers d’élèves de la région de la capitale fédérale. Pour l’Outaouais, les prévisions font état de près de 48?000 écoliers attendus en maternelle, au primaire et au secondaire. Sur la rive ontarienne, les trois conseils scolaires francophones de l’Est ontarien prévoient accueillir plus de 42?000 enfants et adolescents. Plusieurs prennent le chemin des classes dès lundi, tandis que d’autres ont un répit jusqu’à mardi, et même jusqu’à mercredi dans certains cas. Énervante pour les enfants, la rentrée est plutôt stressante pour leurs parents. Les dépenses s’accumulent pendant que la gestion des horaires de toute la famille relève parfois de l’exploit. Portrait de la situation.

Les parents doivent-ils payer pour des dictionnaires, des grammaires, des guides de conjugaison ou des romans requis par certaines directions d’écoles ? Les établissements contournent-ils la loi en inscrivant les mentions « facultatif » ou « fortement recommandé » ? La Cour supérieure est appelée à se pencher sur la question alors qu’un recours collectif a été autorisé, cet été, contre une commission scolaire de la Montérégie.

En entrevue téléphonique avec LeDroit, hier, la nouvelle ministre de l’Éducation, Line Beauchamp, s’est dite consciente que le fardeau financier des parents peut parfois être très lourd. Mais au-delà du matériel à fournir par les parents, « l’éducation est gratuite », affirme Mme Beauchamp.

« Les cours et le matériel didactique sont fournis par l’école, et le matériel périssable doit être acheté par les parents », explique la ministre, en poste à l’Éducation depuis moins de deux semaines. Questionnée à savoir qu’est-ce que comprend le matériel didactique, la ministre a indiqué que cela englobe « notamment, bien sûr, les dictionnaires, les grammaires ».

Line Beauchamp n’a toutefois pas voulu développer davantage sur cet enjeu, d’abord parce qu’elle vient d’arriver en poste, mais surtout parce que la question est devant les tribunaux.

C’est un parent de la Montérégie qui a entrepris un recours collectif contre la Commission scolaire des Grandes-Seigneuries (CSGS) après avoir payé des livres qui auraient dû, selon lui, être fournis par l’école.

La Loi sur l’instruction publique prévoit que les élèves ont « droit à la gratuité des manuels scolaires et du matériel didactique requis pour l’enseignement des programmes d’études […] ». Cette gratuité, cependant, « ne s’étend pas aux documents dans lesquels l’élève écrit, dessine ou découpe », précise toutefois la loi. C’est le cas, par exemple, des cahiers d’exercices.

Pour Me Fredy Adams, l’avocat qui plaide ce recours collectif, la CSGS enfreint la loi en exigeant des parents le paiement d’ouvrages obligatoires.

Selon l’avocat montréalais, « c’est uniquement pour contourner la loi » que certaines écoles inscrivent donc « fortement recommandé » ou « facultatif » à côté d’un manuel inscrit sur la liste de fournitures scolaires. « Quel parent va voir les mots ‘fortement recommandé’ et ne pas acheter le dictionnaire ou le Bescherelle ? Et comment on peut faire apprendre le français à des élèves de six ans ou de douze ans sans dictionnaire ou Bescherelle ? », s’interroge Me Adams.

En autorisant le recours collectif, la juge Carole Julien a souligné que le tribunal est appelé à déterminer si le caractère facultatif se veut « une dérobade des autorités scolaires » pour éviter de fournir certains ouvrages. La cour devra aussi statuer sur l’admissibilité de la gratuité, par exemple, de romans dans lesquels les élèves doivent effectuer des soulignements ou prendre des notes.

La consultation aléatoire effectuée par LeDroit de quelques listes d’effets scolaires d’écoles secondaires de la région a permis de constater que plusieurs établissements demandent des articles « facultatifs, mais fortement recommandés », tels que des recueils de conjugaison ou des grammaires.

D’autres omettent ces mentions. C’est entre autres le cas à l’école Hormisdas-Gamelin, où on demande un dictionnaire anglais-français à des élèves, ou encore à l’école Mont-Bleu, où une liste demande un Bescherelle. Le secrétaire-général et directeur des communications de la Commission scolaire des Portages-de-l’Outaouais, Pierre Ménard, a indiqué que l’omission d’indiquer qu’un Bescherelle n’est pas obligatoire est « peut-être un oubli. » « En principe, ça devrait être marqué facultatif », a-t-il admis.

Le recours collectif ne sera pas entendu avant au moins un an, selon Me Adams.

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Bold ideas and the future of education!


Scott McNealy is not the bashful sort.

He’s a Silicon Valley original who cofounded Sun Microsystems and ran the place for two decades. He’s cocky and an adherent to the mantra “go big or go home.” He sees no reason to curse the darkness when you can light a candle or a stick of dynamite.

Now that Sun is no more (sold to Larry Ellison, another valley shrinking violet), McNealy has turned his attention to a bold plan to turn elementary and high school education inside out.

“If we had $100 million, I could create a website — and I’ve done bigger and crazier things than this — that is a combination Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter for anybody involved in K-12 — every parent, teacher or student in K-12 education.”

McNealy is sitting in a booth over breakfast and it feels like the place is vibrating. Yes, he’s very excited about Curriki, his vision for a free and open source digital compendium of just about everything teachers use to teach — textbooks, worksheets, tests, video presentations, podcasts, you name it. The project, run by McNealy and former Sun executive Kim Jones, started inside Sun six years ago and spun out as a nonprofit in 2006.

McNealy is the lead evangelist and funder for the initiative that’s also received donations from Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim, Bechtel CEO Riley Bechtel, former eBay CEO and gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and others — about $10 million in all. Eliminating bulky textbooks, McNealy says, and the need to update and reprint them could save schools billions of dollars a year, particularly when you add in all the other printed educational material that could be digitized.

Estimates of what the nation spends on textbooks vary wildly, but for an idea of the scale of the project, consider that California spends about $350 million a year on textbooks and educational material.

Curriki has a start and a long way to go. Jones says college professors, teachers and authors have uploaded 38,000 educational pieces to the site, http://www.curriki.org. It has about 135,000 registered users. No question the site needs to become easier to navigate, Jones and McNealy acknowledge. And despite the volume of contributions, there are considerable gaps for those looking for a complete K-12 experience.

There are other obstacles for Curriki, too. McNealy is taking on an educational bureaucracy that is notoriously hidebound. Education reform does not move on Internet time. Textbooks must be approved by state boards and accepted by school districts and school administrators. Publishers have political clout and a huge financial stake in the way educational content is delivered. Critics have pointed out that even a free and open source system has costs — technical support, training, the need to make sure schools and kids have computers or other devices to access the wealth of Web-bound information.

But McNealy is unbowed.

“If I never have another job,” he says (and at the moment he doesn’t have another job), “this is a wall that I am going to keep bashing my head into.”

Why? Don’t get him started. It drives McNealy nuts, for instance, that third-grade math books are regularly reprinted and reordered by schools year after year.

“The ones you and I learned on would work just as well for my third-grader as the new ones,” he tells me. “You learned 10 plus 10 was 20. It hasn’t changed since then and it’s not going to change 20 years from now.”

Saving money is just the beginning, McNealy says. Open source digital textbooks would mean that teachers could add, subtract and change curriculum. Teachers could comment on each others’ lesson plans. Students would receive instant feedback — yes or no, right or wrong — when completing assignments delivered via computer program. And instant feedback lights kids up, says McNealy, the father of four scholars, ages 8 to 14.

McNealy is a true believer in an open source answer to what ails education and I admire his zeal. Our public schools are a wreck and sinking fast. I can’t say that Curriki is the answer. And even McNealy, a fierce competitor in golf, hockey and business, says this isn’t some contest that Curriki must win. But he figures Curriki might at least inspire other big ideas.

“I just want the problem solved.”

We all want that. And the truth is, the more big, bold ideas out there, the more dynamite fuses we light, the better our chances of finding something that might just save our schools and our future.

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Commissioner Expense Accounts

Always a hot topic. And one that is a source of derision for many voters. But what does it really amount to?

I have filed expense reports over the period that I have been a commissioner. I have filed for travel to and from schools and events. I have filed reports for hotel and meal expenses while away at a conference. I have made what I deem to be legitimate expense claims.

But I see some school boards go even further with their expense claims. Lester B. for a local one – click here and see that they list them all, monthly, by commissioner.

And then, check this one out in Fort Worth – in an article labeled:

Fort Worth school board president takes another step toward transparency

Great detail in this one.

I, for one, would be all for this type of detail in expense reports being reported to our tax payers.  It’s interesting to note that in Fort Worth, they are even including cell phone usage in this list.

So my question to you:

Should Quebec school boards provide this level of transparency as it relates to commissioner expense accounts?  Should it extend to administrators as well?

Truly,

Steve

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School taxes – how we can fix it and move on.

This is a snippet from a piece I am collaborating on with several business and education leaders in Quebec:

Taxation

School boards collect taxes.  These taxes go to Quebec.  Monies are then distributed to school boards according to social and economic realities of the regions.

So why do we collect these taxes separately?  Why do we have 69 school boards responsible for collecting these taxes? What purpose does it serve?  The first step in reforming school boards should be the unification of tax collection, outside of the realm of individual school boards.

The issue we have in Laval now is an issue this same board has had for years now in the Laurentians – as I recall from an email from the local Commissioner, the Commission Scolaire des Laurentides is billing somewhere around $0.19/100 this year.  Our school board rate is at $0.35/100.

Why the variance in the amounts?  Why do we have so many little bureaucracies spread about the province preparing tax bills, mailing them out, collecting them?  The actual amounts school boards have per student is the same, after equalization, so what’s the point?

How does any of this add to the value of education delivered in our schools?

The answer:  Unify school tax collection into a single, provincial agency.  Apply the same tax rate to all taxpayers.

Isn’t this an easy one to just *fix* and be done with?

Truly,

Steve

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Montreal families win English education battle

The parents of 10 Montreal children have scored a victory in their fight for access to an English-language education in the public school system.

An administrative tribunal ruled in favour of the nine families on Thursday.

The children had been in non-subsidized private schools and their parents wanted the right to transfer them to the public high school system.

Quebec’s Education Ministry denied the parents’ request for access in July. According to Bill 104, students in English-language private schools are not allowed to move into the public system.

Last fall, the Supreme Court ruled that Bill 104 law was unconstitutional. The Quebec government argued that since the ruling has not yet been applied, the students could not attend English schools.

The tribunal’s judge ruled the reason given by the province wasn’t good enough to deny the children their constitutional right.

Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/montreal/story/2010/08/27/quebec-english-education.html?ref=rss#ixzz0xp9MtgKn

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WiFi / EMF in schools

The Barrie, Ontario case has had a lot of press this summer.  The issue is EHS (electrohypersensitivity) and the suggestion that EMF is a contributing factor.

There is no credible scientific evidence that Wi-Fi or any other source of EMF can cause EHS.

If this is a cause for concern, please click here for the real science behind it, provided to me by Dr. Joe Schwarcz, PHD and Director of the McGill University Office for Science and Society.  He is one of the most interesting and entertaining *real* scientists I have the pleasure of listening to.

Truly,

Steve

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A broken record, I be.

Yup, I am a broken record when it comes to the question of bullying in schools.  But guess what?  I am proud to be a broken record.

This is too important an issue for it not to be Top of Mind for everyone involved in education.  And it’s quite satisfying to see the people like Arne Duncan are driving the message home now too.  Arne Duncan is the Secretary of Education in the Obama administration.

At the recent Bullying Prevention Summit, Mr. Duncan took the podium – his entire speed can be found by clicking here.

Some interesting and very pertinent snippets:

You have heard all the excuses. You have heard the lineup of reasons to minimize the gravity of bullying and to dismiss the potential of effective programs to reduce it. “What can you do,” people say, “bullying has been going on forever. Kids are mean.” Or “she just made a bad joke.” “He didn’t mean to hurt anyone.” “It was just a one-time thing.” “Bullying may be wrong. But it really isn’t an educational issue.” At the heart of this minimization of bullying, is a core belief that bullying is an elusive concept that can’t really be defined.

Every one of those myths and excuses I’ve just cited is flat-out wrong. Bullying is definable. It has a common definition, and a legal definition in many states. Good prevention programs work to reduce bullying. And bullying is very much an education priority that goes to the heart of school performance and school culture.

As I keep saying, bullying and safety in schools is an education priority – it really is the foundation.

For the record, let me state my basic, operating premise, both in Chicago and Washington DC: No student should feel unsafe in school. Take that as your starting point, and then it becomes inescapable that school safety is both a moral issue, and a practical one.

It’s a simple statement.  A starting point.  A foundational point.

The fact is that no school can be a great school until it is a safe school first. A positive school climate is foundational to start academic achievement.

Yup, I am an Arne Duncan fan.  🙂

What does a safe school look like?  We have spent a good deal of time talking about this too.  I like Mr. Duncan’s description:

What does a safe school look like? As all of you know, it is obvious from the minute you walk in the door. A safe school is one where students feel like they belong. The students feel secure, valued, and are surrounded by adults that they trust.

Safe schools also cultivate a culture of respect and caring–and have little tolerance for disruptiveness. At a safe school, students don’t curse or threaten teachers. They don’t spend most of their class time texting other students or tune out on their iPods. Students don’t roam the hallways.

At safe schools, teachers are primarily engaged in helping students learn and grow—and students, empowered by feeling safe, are more likely to feel free to explore, and even fail as they learn. At safe schools, all the building’s staff pitches in to create a culture of respect—from the teachers and principals to the receptionists, lunch room attendants and custodial staff.

I had never really thought about this as a testament to how severe bullying is – but again, this is very well put:

A powerful testament to the fact that bullying is not part of the natural order of things is that most people can remember, even decades later, the feeling of being bullied or bullying another individual. Or they may feel haunted by the memory of standing by while a friend or classmate was bullied.

The fact that those memories are seared into our brains suggests that bullying leaves long-lasting scars on children.

——–

I strongly encourage you to read the full text of the speech.  Our school board’s guiding principles are a good start.  We need to be sure that these principles are in fact guiding our schools to be as safe and secure as they can be.

Truly,

Steve

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