An Initiative for Red Deer Public Schools to Consider

Dianne Macaulay is a long-time Trustee with the Red Deer Public School District.  We have reprinted, below, an open letter that Dianne is distributing.  As the letter indicates, on Wednesday evening, April 12th, she gave Notice of her intention to move the motion set out in her open letter.

You can see examples of news coverage here (Global News) and here (Red Deer News Now).

The initial response from the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association is interesting.

Quoting from the Global News story -- ACSTA President Adriana LaGrange said in early April. “The only way to save taxpayer money would be if all 175,000 students simply stop having access to education altogether.”

The best aim of unification would be to re-direct money away from duplication of ‘back-office’ costs (such as administration, transportation, and maintenance), marketing, and fragmentation, toward improved classroom service and broader access for students to a wider range of programs.  The aim is not to ‘save’ money:  the aim is to make the best possible use of limited money.  In education, money well-used is not a cost:  it is a very wise investment.

Universal access and inclusion dictate that all the students currently being educated in separate schools would continue in school – in schools under one umbrella.  All the teachers currently working in separate schools would continue to be teaching – in schools under one umbrella.

And, of course, there would be other advantages.  An upcoming post on this site will address the video that was recently screened in a Red Deer Catholic Separate school, making comparison to the Holocaust.

Perhaps – hopefully – other public school jurisdictions will find their own way to join and encourage the conversation.

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Dianne Macaulay’s open letter

“To the citizens of Alberta :

I have had many conversations with the community and my colleagues over the education system in Alberta since I have become a Trustee. I have a passion for education and doing what is best for students. One of the most dominant and thoughtful conversations have been around “How can we improve our system”?

I support choice within public school districts. All Alberta taxpayers pay for public education in this province and yet we have two school systems that are only for students of one religion.

I want to promote a conversation about the unification of separate with public school boards that will focus on only the issues. 

At the Board meeting of the Red Deer Public School District on April 12 –

 Dianne Macaulay gave notice of motion for ....

The Red Deer Public board of Trustees advocate for a unified Public School system that allows for Locally elected school boards to offer Catholic programs as well as other faith and program options

 It is important to note that this initiative does not call for the abolition of Catholic programs in Alberta, but rather contemplates the potential for public school boards to grow and expand faith program offerings. This is no different than Red Deer Public operating French Immersion programs which do not challenge the existence of the constitutionally protected Francophone School boards. The Red Deer Public School Board supports programs of choice where there is a demand and if anything this would mean more choice, not less! While we are engaged in a dialogue on curriculum redesign, maybe it’s time to have the bigger question about program or system redesign. To be clear, this is the vision of one trustee until a formal vote is taken at the Board table on May 10

It is the right thing to do, and it can be done. Feel free to engage me in this conversation dianne.macaulay@rdpsd.ab.ca or twitter https://twitter.com/dianne_macaulay (@dianne_macaulay)

 

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Public Education. What should we 'know' and how might we know? And Why?

I am a citizen with no formal education in the field of education, and I have just spent 9 hours with 35 – 40 educators who are obviously passionate about their vocation and its place in the community and in the universe.  I am almost overwhelmed.  Sometimes it is good to be 'almost overwhelmed', so my thanks to every participant.  It was a great day.

The venue has been the “Twin Peaks” research symposium of the Alberta Teachers’ Association.  The participants – leading educational researchers and proponents of research from eight different countries (Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, Iceland, the U.K., Canada, the U.S.A., Australia) and Education International.  About 90% of the participants appeared to be evenly split between teachers’ federations and academe, with a scattering of government insiders, and me.

I expect that a number of my posts in the near future will refer directly – or allude -- to what I (think I) heard in the course of these 9 hours.

 

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A very personal post: principles, policies, and practices -- not personalities

Promoting a conversation about the unification of separate with public school boards should focus on the issues.  But, as often happens in political discourse these days, some people will quickly turn the conversation away from the principles, policies, and practices, to focus, instead, on personalities and personal circumstances.

This initiative is only five days old, and the following letter has appeared in the Edmonton Journal –

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Re: “Former education minister launches campaign for one public school system,”     --  The headlined story appeared in the March 30 edition of the Edmonton Journal (here)

“David King never tires of criticizing the Catholic school system. His children went through the education system many years ago. Someone ought to ask King which system he chose for his family. I had the pleasure of teaching his children in the Catholic school system. Enough said.

(signed)  R.C. Newcombe, Edmonton

•••••

Mr. Newcombe apparently believes that my advocacy of unifying separate school systems with public systems is based on some unhappy experience that my children had in the separate school system in years gone by.  In fact, I hold my position notwithstanding good personal experience.  My concerns are about principles, policies, and practices.

But, my life and my family are interwoven with Catholicism, and since Mr. Newcombe or others may come back with other reflections on my family, let me put widely known facts about my family on the record.  (Anyone who knows us knows our circumstances.)

My wife is an active Roman Catholic and was, for more than 30 years, a very happy teacher in a separate school system where she was well-treated and where, I am confident, many children received the education the province and their parents expected them to receive.  (I know that my wife poured herself into her teaching.)

I am an active member of the United Church.  My father, my grandfather, and many other relatives have been clergy.

My wife and I generally attend both Mass and a United Church worship service on a Sunday morning.  For more than a decade I was a reader in our local Catholic church.  My wife and I were married in a Roman Catholic church in the Diocese of St. Paul, and my father participated in the ceremony, with the prior approval of the Bishop.

One of my early jobs was as Research Director for the Edmonton and District Council of Churches.  The then President was a Roman Catholic priest who became a life-long friend.  He baptized our eldest son, who subsequently became a Knight of Columbus and a Squires leader.  (My father baptized our second son.)

Because my wife is Roman Catholic our children had the legal ‘right’ (or privilege) to be educated in either the public or separate school system. Together, they were educated for 10 of 36 years in the separate school system.  (If, at the time, there had been the current controversy about G.S.A. clubs, or the recent controversy about vaccination, they would not have been educated in the separate school system at all.)

Faith is important to me personally, and I respect the faith of others, although I sometimes disagree – even strongly -- with doctrinal positions, including the doctrines of my own denomination.  However, it is not faith or family experience that brings me to my position (except that, for reasons of faith, I believe strongly in the separation of Church and State).  Nor is it the quality of the teaching in the separate school system, or the results that separate school students achieve on Diploma exams that bring me to my position.

With this, I believe that I have made full disclosure.  I would certainly have done this earlier if I had suspected that it would be germane to anyone’s response to the invitation to a conversation.  If any reader has concerns about how my own and my family’s faith journey impacts my approach to this issue, I look forward to hearing from you, perhaps directly.  Otherwise, I would like the conversation to return to the principles, the policies, and the practices that lead to proposing unification.

1.         Separate school education is an anachronism that was invented 250 years ago, more than 3,000 km away, for reasons that are simply not relevant in Alberta at the beginning of the 21st century.  In Alberta at the beginning of the 21st century Roman Catholics do not need ‘protection’ any more than people of most other faith traditions need protection.  (There is no evidence that Roman Catholics in the six Canadian provinces without separate school systems experience discrimination as a result.)

2.         Separate school education in Alberta was never a condition of Confederation, and Quebec, where separate school education was invented, did away with it 20 years ago.

3.         Separate school education is a privilege that is extended to one denomination and denied to all others, contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  To put the Roman Catholic Church on the same footing as every other denomination or faith community in Alberta is not a discriminatory proposal.

4.         In the course of permeating and evangelizing the Roman Catholic faith, separate schools have lost sight of the fact that they are a civil institution, not a Church institution.  In the course of permeating and evangelizing they are sometimes undemocratic.

5.         In the absence of any compelling reasons to continue separate school education, there are considerable annual investments that could be much better used in the classroom rather than for administration, facilities, transportation and other costs.

With this, I hope that we can return to discussing the substance of the proposal, rather than the personal circumstances of individuals.

 

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the Conversation Begins -- encourage people to join the community

Since 'unveiling' the web site a couple of days ago, there has been considerable public interest and support.

Media Response

The initial news release went out to a couple of hundred media outlooks across the province.  My thanks to the people who made this happen.  You know who you are.

There was a good story in the Edmonton Journal (here) on Wednesday.  On Thursday morning I talked with Danielle Smith about unification, on Calgary 770.  Today I did live interviews with two CBC early morning shows -- the Eye Opener in Calgary and Edmonton AM.  At noon I did a 30 minute phone-in show on CBC radio Calgary.  Also today, I have done an interview with the Red Deer Advocate.  There may be something in the paper tomorrow.

The take-away from the media response, and the phone-in program

The reporters are interested.  I hope this means they hear unification talked about and know it is a story that deserves attention.

On the phone-in program the callers were about 3 or 4 to 1 (75% - 80%) in favour of unification.

One caller referred to 'research' concluding that private schools consistently perform better than public schools.  I responded that I know of no such research, and I invited him to get back to me with detailed information about the research he referenced.  This kind of intervention often happens in conversations about important issues.  Sometimes the 'research' is simply concocted by one person and then repeated, in ignorance and in good faith, by people whose bias it supports.  In this conversation it will be important to call out all claims to research evidence, and validate it (or not).  Where there is no good research, we should call for well-qualified people to do it.

One caller, from rural Alberta, expressed support for the local separate school system because it provides a program the corresponding public school jurisdiction does not.  I suspect that, on the other hand, the local public school system provides some programs that the separate school system does not.  Especially in rural Alberta, two parallel school systems cannot offer as wide a range of programs as they might want to.  They are forced to make choices that further fragment the community.

Our web site

The web site is operational, and my sincere thanks to the lady who made it happen.  (You know who you are.)

Now, we want suggestions about how to improve it.  What particular information would you like to have?  How can we support the conversation across the province?  Are there broken links?  Are there new social media applications that we should be exploring and using?

"Joining the community" and furthering the conversation

Most of the public's direct response has been in the form of people "liking" the Facebook page.

It is important to have people "join the community" on the web site.  This provides us with contact information that we can use.  These are the people who are more ready to volunteer, and volunteering is important because we want to create a constituency of support.

The whole conversation/campaign is self-organizing.  As more people become involved, we will discover new ways of furthering the conversation.  We will add new arguments to our part of the conversation.  We will gather more and better evidence.  We will create the conditions that support 100 or 1000 local conversations, rather than a single province-wide conversation.

Volunteers are beginning to step forward, and we have had two donations.  My thanks to you:  you know who you are.

 

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ourIDEA goes public -- the news release

The following News Release went out to Alberta's media on Wednesday, March 29th.

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For Immediate Release - Wednesday March 29th, 2017

 

EDMONTON- Former Education Minister David King has launched a website to promote the constant improvement of public education across Alberta.  The initial focus is on unifying the province’s public and separate school boards.

 

“I invite Albertans to join me in a campaign about a better IDEA-- Inclusive, Diverse, Education for All. From Milk River to Keg River, and from Lloydminster to Blairmore, it is time for a thoughtful conversation, involving every interested Albertan, about why we duplicate administration and services, and operate under-utilized schools, to preserve a denominational privilege that is out of keeping with current human rights practices and may no longer be relevant.”

 

“The recent provincial budget revealed serious on-going financial shortfalls for the provincial government.  In education, this raises questions about duplicating administration and infrastructure costs when the money could be re-directed to the classroom for better service to students or reduced costs to parents.  Imagine how much further school fees could have been reduced without the current cost of duplication.”

 

A successful campaign to promote unification of the two systems will quickly involve others, including education and civic organizations and concerned citizens.  The conversation will take many forms, from small house meetings to large gatherings, and may eventually lead to a province-wide referendum or similar outcome.  ourIDEA extends an open invitation to Albertans -- join the conversation, ask for information, offer suggestions, involve your neighbours.  

 

For ourIDEA.ca, the goal is to offer a focal point and a reliable resource base -- of information, argument, and campaign practices to encourage and  support the conversation that should spread across the province.  Currently, this site has one active project:  the unification of Alberta's two civil school systems -- public and separate, along lines already adopted in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Quebec.  (In both provinces, denominationally established school systems have been drawn into non-denominational public school systems.)

 

From time to time, the web site will take up other projects.  The constant focus will be -- our Inclusive, Diverse Education for All.

 

Visit www.ouridea.ca to join the campaign and participate.  Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ourIDEA_ca

Follow us on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/ourIDEA.ca/

 

Contact:  David King (email: info@ouridea.ca   Telephone: 780-216-5402 )

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Private schools -- choice, cost and funding, democracy and the common good

In Alberta, funding for private schools is perhaps the most generous in Canada.  These subsidies have recently become the focus of public and media scrutiny, primarily because of a multi-group initiative spearheaded by the Edmonton Public School District, Public Interest Alberta, the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta, and others. ( more here)

Public funds for private schools are problematic for a number of reasons, and most of the reasons are never even acknowledged, let alone discussed in meaningful ways.  This post explores the issue of cost.  Subsequent posts will explore a number of other issues that may ultimately be more important than cost.

Cost is an issue.

Public support for private schools is a subsidy, since the money only covers part of the cost of the education provided and the public support is not accompanied by any requirement to contain costs in any way whatsoever.  Albertans should ask if private schools may provide extravagant facilities and/or programs, and contract with 3rd parties to provide goods, services and/or facilities.  Does the provincial government have strict reporting and public disclosure requirements to assure that payments, either directly or to contractors, are not overly generous, or unnecessary except to enrich someone once removed from the private school.  Can private schools pay their Board of Directors honourarii any amount and/or re-imburse Directors for expenses, without limits?  Is there timely disclosure of all payments made to close parties?  Can private schools pay any number of executive staff (indeed, any staff) without limits?  Is there any control over potential conflict of interest situations?

Bearing all that in mind, ending the government subsidy could conceivably result in greater direct cost to the government.  Potentially, every student currently enrolled in a private school would return to the public or separate school systems, where the government’s financial obligation, per pupil, would be greater than the per pupil cost of the subsidy.

Practically speaking, that is extremely unlikely, although some students would almost certainly return to the public or separate school systems.

There are basically three kinds of private schools the funding for which is being challenged.  (The alliance is proposing that private schools for special needs students should be exempted from the phase-out of the subsidy.)  There are a number of ‘elite’ private schools, characterized, with respect to cost, by high tuition and associated fees.  There are a number of ‘church-associated’ schools characterized, with respect to cost, by tuition fees that are more or less equal to the annual per pupil subsidy from the provincial government.  There are a small number of ‘theory of schooling’ (Steiner, Montessori, hockey focus, etc.) private schools that are also characterized, with respect to cost, by tuition fees that are more or less equal to the annual per pupil subsidy from the provincial government.

Ontario provides no public funding for private schools.  On the basis of the Ontario experience, and hypothesizing about an end to government funding in Alberta, the following seem to be reasonable tentative conclusions.

  1. Virtually none of the students enrolled in ‘elite’ private schools would return to the public or separate school systems.  The family’s socio-economic condition would probably not be changed in any material way by the removal of the subsidy.  Other attractors to the private school would remain strong:  they might even be stronger in the absence of a public subsidy.
  2. A significant majority of students would likely remain In ‘church-associated’ private schools.  Parents have made an important faith commitment and both the parents and the school are likely embedded in a community that will fund-raise to replace some or all of the former subsidy.
  3. A majority of students enrolled in ‘theory of learning’ private schools might return to the public or separate school systems.  The parents commitment is not as deeply grounded as the faith-based commitment of other parents and the school is not likely embedded in a community that would fund-raise to replace some or all of the former subsidy.

Financially, the provincial government might well gain by ending the subsidy.  If there is a net cost to the provincial government it will likely be much less than would result from a 100% return of all private school students to the public or separate school systems.

It is unknown if there has been any good survey or other research on the issue of ‘return’ in the event the provincial government subsidy ends.

An indirect and unmeasured cost is the cost of compliance, including the cost of negligible compliance.  Private schools are not well and consistently monitored.  Standards are not clear, consistent, and comparable to standards for public or separate schools.  Compliance is more costly to enforce, because private schools operate in the private sector, not the public sector.

The main thrust of arguments supporting public funds for private schools is that the funds represent the cost of ‘freedom’ or ‘choice’.  This will be explored in subsequent posts.

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