Tag Archives: MELS

My Facebook reply to a discussion on bullying.

A couple of days ago, I posted a link to a Quebec Gov website consultation on bullying.  In response to a comment suggesting that our schools had the power and tools they need and that this was perhaps simply a distraction. I expanded greatly on why I think this is worth responding to and I spoke to some of the problems we face in dealing with the issue.

Here is my reply:

See, there’s more to it than just “the power and the tools”. Frankly, I am not at all sure that they have the tools either. Sure, we all know that we need to address bullying when we see it. And even the definition of bullying is fairly clear. But the  “always on” piece of it that we have today is not something a school is equipped to handle.

For that student who arrives at home to find 50 messages posted on whatever website, driving the point home that they are in fact worthless.  For that student who’s had a compromising picture taken and now finds it spread to friends and foes and everybody else. Neither of these things have occurred while in school. But the school, with funds cut year after year, the school is supposed to have the resources to be able to handle what is in fact a social problem that extends well beyond its walls. We demand more from our schools. And we give them less.

Move to the governance side of things. Two major problems in reporting right now.  An act of bullying that results in “a complaint” that is reported to the Principal of a given school becomes an individual issue that is to be reported to the Director General of the school board, along with a summary report on the incident and the follow-up measures taken.

So – what is a complaint?  When does something become a complaint?  How is a complaint defined from one school to another?  How is a complaint defined from one school board to another?

As parents, you and I will say that a complaint is the natural result of a bullying incident being recognized and dealt with within the school.  How many of these incidents do you think happen in a school in a given week?  StopaBully.ca reports that 64 percent of kids have been bullied at school.  13 percent report being bullied once or more times in a given week.

So – we have 13,500 students in our school board.  Let’s go with just the kids being bullied weekly.  That’s 1755 complaints that must be summarized, reported along with follow-up measures. And received by the Director General.  EVERY WEEK.  That’s only 43 incidents per hour based on a 40 hour week. Heck – she’s got more almost 90 seconds to deal with each one, if this is the absolute only thing she deals with bar anything else. Tell me – what in the world is that Director General supposed to do with that?

Now – let’s say school “A” reports that 13% of incidents.  School “B” reports 7%.  School “C” reports 20% and school “D” reports 3%.  Well obviously, school “D” is best.  Or maybe it’s definition is a little more narrow than school “C”’s definition.

Bring it a step further along.  Look at school boards.  How are they reporting?  What do we, as a board, do when the other school board in our territory reports 1% bullying.  We report 13%.  Holy cow! Put our school board in trusteeship, for God’s sake!  Something is horribly wrong!  Or there are no norms, no clear rules, no clear definitions and no clear directions to move in.

Bullying is a complicated issue. It’s a societal issue.  It exists in our schools and well beyond our schools.  It is insidious, often goes unrecognized and it deeply damages children – often for their entire lives.

Personally, I am glad that we at least recognize it and we’re trying to do something about it within the Education Act.  It’s a step in the right direction.  But do I think we have it covered?  Not by a long shot. And do I think the Education Act is the only place this needs to be addressed?  Not by a long shot. Are there enough resources being applied to the problem?  Not by a long shot.

So yes – the Quebec Government is keeping the issue alive. Talking about it. Asking people to think about it, to discuss it, and they are gathering information that will hopefully lead to greater understanding and better ways to recognize, deal with and report on incidents of bullying.

I don’t think that this is a distraction at all.  I think it’s something we need to pay attention to. To be involved in.  To understand, to talk about and to maintain as a major priority in our society as a whole.

I am quick to point out when Government is wrong. In this case, I’m going to point to this and say that it is a step in the right direction. And every step counts.





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Preparing students for jobs that have not yet been created?

From the Action Canada website:

Education systems in most industrial societies have historically focused on the direct instruction of facts and methods. However, this model of information delivery has changed substantially as a result of new technologies that enable unprecedented access to knowledge and information. In this context, the role for education systems is no longer as dispensers of knowledge, but rather facilitators of learning. In order to ensure that Canadians are resilient in the face of rapid change, education systems must be adapted to “prepare students for jobs that have not yet been created, technologies that have not yet been invented and problems that we don’t yet know will arise.” To do so requires a paradigm shift in which teaching students answers gives way to teaching them how to ask the right questions, evaluate information critically, and communicate effectively.

Read the full report here.

Does the Ministry of Education understand and support this? Do our school boards? Do our schools?

I know we have a lot of people in our board who understand. But are we giving them all the tools they need to deliver on this massive change? Something to work on and move forward this last year of my mandate.



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Not a great fan of Diane Ravitch, but this note on the “Common Core” is something we should understand


Diane Ravitch has gone a little overboard with her seeming endless hate for “school reform” and the role private business might play in it, but this note from a Professor of Neurology, Pediatrics and Psychiatry presents exactly why a strict adherence to the “Common Core” is not the right path to follow.

Though the term “Common Core” is mainly associated with the USA these days, we too follow a similar path with age based groupings and the hugely specific benchmarks defined by MELS for what each student should have mastered at any given point.

I don’t know who he is, but he’s right.




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When schools are open, and welcoming…

It’s interesting to read this press release from our PQ government from just last week, recognizing that when schools are perceived to be more open and welcoming, parents get more involved.

And when parents are more involved in their children’s education, their children end up being better students.

How is this new proposed “Charter of Values” going to affect the openness and the welcoming atmosphere of our schools? I don’t see how it can help, but I *do* see how it will hurt.





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Are we training lab mice?

From Diane Ravitch’s blog:

A teacher in Broward County writes:

“I am tired of hearing about data. We teach CHILDREN, every time I hear about the data, I feel like they think we are training lab mice,”

This is the battle I find myself in, as a technology guy and as a Commissioner. Data is important. It’s hard (impossible?) to measure effectiveness without data. Really, I am a data guy.  But there is a line.  This is about students. And they’re not just numbers.

The role of Commissioner is to oversee the effective delivery of a school board’s human, financial and educational services. We are to create, monitor and update policy to ensure that we are meeting the needs of the population. We are accountable.

I worry that we sometimes miss the fact that we are not just shuffling “numbers”.  Each one of these “numbers” is a student, living within a family with all of its history, its uniqueness and its varied abilities. When it comes down to students and their families, the Commissioner is the final line of defence for the student first, above and beyond the numbers.

As we embark on a new school year, I’m going to do my very best to ensure that Council has it in mind that students are the priority; they are not just numbers. We are *not* training lab mice.



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A repost from 18 months ago…

… and sadly, the only thing that has changed is the name on the Minister’s door. Congrats, MELS. You’re doing great.

Our new Minister of Education, Line Beauchamp, is delusional if she thinks that her latest decree has the slightest chance of accomplishing *any* positive change in public education in Quebec.

Do we need change? Absolutely. Do I think our schools to have more effective local governance? Absolutely.

But let’s start at the *real* top here. Let’s look at what the Ministry does, how it does it, and how they are the root cause of so much of the useless bureaucracy that robs public education of time, energy and yes, money.

The most recent change. Partnership agreements between the school board and the Ministry. Management and Educational Success Agreements between the schools and the school board. On the English side, the Ministry hired three fairly recently retired education-types to help “guide us” through it. How many on the French side? How many bureaucrats did they have behind the scenes to develop this asinine idea before that? How many resources are being abused in their attempts to monitor it? How much money was thrown away in this useless exercise?

And what real change, in our classrooms, do you think these paper-pushing-collossal-wastes-of-time have delivered?

ABSOLUTELY ZERO. There’s the truth of it. ABSOLUTELY NONE.

It’s a joke. It’s a hoop that the Ministry forces school boards to jump through. And they have to jump. And nothing gets better, because we just spent scads of time, energy and yes, MONEY on getting through this useless hoop. And for what? So that the Minister can say that school boards are failing. The Ministry is failing!

Your fancy announcement about smart boards and laptops. Nice. Every teacher gets a laptop. And the reality? For our 800 teachers, our actual allotment is 120 laptops. And we’re not allowed to buy them. Because the specifications for them are not yet out. And the call for tender is not yet done by the Ministry, because the specs aren`t out.

The announcement was: Every teacher with a laptop. And the reality is: 85% of our teachers WITHOUT a laptop, and really, the 15% that should maybe somehow get them, well, our Ministerial bureaucracy has yet to respond. No laptops. Good sound bite for the news cycle though. Oh, and by the way, good luck finding a plug. And let`s hope someone`s going to pay to connect the thing to the internet.

WHO IS AT FAULT HERE? The school board? Or The Ministry?!?

ENOUGH. The buck stops where, Line? The buck stops at *YOUR* DESK. You and your bureaucrats are responsible for 99% of the bureaucratic waste in our system.

The simple fact is that the vast majority of useless reporting that schools spend their time on is forced upon all of us by the Ministry, *not* by the school board. Until these facts are addressed, there will be no real change.

Do we want more power at the school level. Absolutely. Who’s going to manage it? Who’s going to oversee it? Who is going to be accountable, and how is it going to be measured?

If you think for one second that you can just dump this all on our principals, well then, I am *certain* that you have *no* idea what you are talking about. The bulk of the principals in public education are teachers first. Most have very little experience in budgeting, purchasing, human resources, crisis management, I.T. and so on. I have been to an actual governing board meeting and checked on the local budget report. EMPTY. Nothing. ZERO. A particular principal waits until the end of the year, and then kind of divvies the total monies out to budget lines that seem appropriate. This is the truth that we have. Do you have any first-hand knowledge of the way things really are, Line? Your actions suggest that you don’t.

Now, more parental involvement on governing boards. Absolutely. But! Governing boards need to have experienced contributors as well. People who know the education act, who know how to manage, who know how to help direct a governing board filled with parents who typically have all the good-will in the world, but who have no real idea how to govern a school. So – more parental involvement, but with experienced and professional “guides” to ensure governing boards understand and fulfil their role to its potential. Without that, a governing board can be fairly useless.

And when we look at more local governance, are you even aware that governing boards can often times be entirely acclaimed, and even short members, because the participation rate at that level is sometimes less than 1%? The public has lost confidence at every level of Government. Many of Montreal’s municipal by-elections elect councillors with far less than a 10% participation rate. So let’s get rid of the city? Similar logic, no?

Continuing on election participation rates… you seem to love talking about these. Yes, they are horrible for school board commissioners.

But really – do you have any right whatsoever to say anything at all when the provincial participation rate in 2008 was THE LOWEST RATE IN SEVENTY YEARS?!?! And what is spent on a Provincial election? I spent around $2500 of a total legal limit of around $3400 for my ward. You spent more than $51,000 on your last election in your riding. Is it any wonder that there is a lower participation rate for school boards?!? And by the way, add to that the fact that in my ward, we somehow expect voters to drive for as much as 45 minutes to get to the single polling station we have in northern Blainville. Yes, that’s incentive to vote.

Listen, we all agree that there are big issues that we are facing in public education today. We need major change. Many of Francois Legault’s ideas are bang-on. Even some of the direction from Line Beauchamp makes some sense to me. But overall, the arrogance and the extreme ignorance that is driving announcements like today`s one is simply astonishing, and in fact dangerous in its potential to harm our students.

Let’s try and work together to fix these problems. Your decrees with little or no useful foundational information are going to result in public education in Quebec costing us more and delivering less than it is today.

And once again, the kids will pay the price.



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Vocational education – an immense need.

It was a funny thing to read, this morning, on CBC’s website:

(Stephen Harper) He says that means starting at the basic education level: “There’s a general feeling there are too many kids getting BAs and not enough welders.”

Measures aimed at promoting apprenticeships will feature prominently in the budget, he says.

Vocational education often has a certain stigma to it.  “Well, he may not get into Cegep, but there’s always Voc Ed.  Sorry.”

That just isn’t the case.  Or it shouldn’t be the case.  And it didn’t used to be this way. Over the last 30 years, the entire focus has been put on getting that Bachelor’s degree.  “High school alone just won’t cut it.”  But what comes after high school? Not everyone gets into Cegep. Not everyone *wants* to get into Cegep.  And not everyone *should* get into Cegep, and especially so when there is a real need for tradespeople.  And not to burst anyone’s bubble, but the kid graduating with a BA in computer science?  Well, that kid working as an undersea welder out in the Maritimes is likely making 4-5 times as much money, with more time off and benefits.

Other countries have sophisticated systems to bring bright young people into trades and professions, but we’ve never really figured it out.

And why haven’t we?  Well, I would ay that the first step is to remove the stigma from the work path in high schools.  Understand that vocational education is not where you go if you can’t succeed in school.  It’s a path that you may choose that leads to a great future, and all the success in the word.  Graduates of Vocational Education, even if they have not managed to pass Sec 4 history and maybe missed a credit in French or English – well, they are our success stories as well, and the MELS needs to recognize that.



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