The Daily Kel

Blog for Kelly Lamrock, M.L.A. for Fredericton-Fort Nashwaak, New Brunswick

Monday, October 23, 2006

Three Questions

"I put a dollar in a change machine. Nothing changed." -- George Carlin

How do you deliver change in a system without short-circuiting the system? That's the challenge.

First thing I decided is that we're not going to throw out good ideas because they were someone else's. Too often government sputters because the new management is hostile to everything the old guys did. Business doesn't run that way. Neither should we.

I criticized the government for wasting a lot of time restructuring administration instead of addressing the classroom. So, it would be hypocritical of me to now restructure DEC's because "they" created them. The structure's fine. Not the biggest issue. So, we keep it.

The QLA asks some good questions, too. Early literacy and intervention. Reaching kids in the middle group of learners in a system too often focussed on crisis management. Testing and accountability. So, we keep working on those.

But we add, too. In some cases, we add resources and resolve. Add some issues that were forgotten. Test what isn't working. And maybe think about some assumptions about how education works, and how a public system can offer more innovation, rewards for risk-takers, parental choice and local leadership. Ask how schools can serve the whole community, or how we screen earlier for learning disablities, or how we can do a better job of providing diversity in our course offerings.

Really, I want to keep what was good and build on it. I have some pretty strong ideas, but I also don't believe that I, and a few folks in my office, are going to single-handedly make our province a leader in education.

The first thing I've done as minister is start a tour of schools in the province. Every district. I've asked to see classes where teachers are doing innovative things. Talk to students about what makes them learn, and what makes them want to. Speak to parents.

I've asked three questions that cover the change people should prepare for. And now, I'd like to offer these here for any thoughts you all care to offer.

1. How do we encourage and reward innovation from teachers and principals? Did you know that the STU education class often has a higher entering GPA than some law schools? Absolutely true. Today's teachers are high-achievers, they have two degrees, they had to show a passion for their profession just to get admitted. So, why do we have education plans and remuneration plans that are so top down? If we're going to be leaders in education, it will be the sum total of many small innovations that get us there, not waiting for one big ministerial lightening bolt of an idea.

2. How do we interven more quickly and more appropriately for exceptional learners? The big challenge -- being leaders in education means getting everyone on the bus. But one important note -- "exceptional" means gifted kids as wellas those with learning challenges.

3. How do we ensure that every child has a chance to find something they are good at, and passionate about? My old mentor in education, Chip Anderson, was an expert in making students stay in school. He believed that you study those who succeed to find out what they do right rather than asking what others do "wrong". He found that high achievers have a strong sense of their strengths, and use them to find something that makes them persist and overcome obstacles.

So, why do we have art, music, extra-curriculars, hands-on learning, proper libraries and trades in the schools? Because they give kids a chance to love learning.

So, those are my three questions. And I owe it to the system to consider other answers as well as my own. Thoughts?


  • At October 26, 2006 11:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm encouraged to see a "systems thinking" approach to this. ( I'm not sure if this is purposeful or not but seeing eduication as a 'system' as opposed to bringing an rigid ideology to it is a pretty innovative and new way of thinking about social policy (find anything published on systems thinking pre-1985 and I'll donate 100 bucks to charity). Ideally government has to find a better way of testing new ideas about social systems, in the same way we can test ideas in engineering. But unlike experiements with machines, we can't throw the test out when it fails - because tests that are thrown out when they don't prove the thesis too often take the form of illiterate high school graduates and wasted potential for individuals and the economy.
    I think that the approach itself is valuable because of two reasons - you are acknowledging complex problems that involve helping many actors and seeing the "big picture" and not just you or your staffs part of it and you are sensitive to recurring problems or those that have been made worse by past attempts to fix them.
    The innovation speaks for itself - I think you are saying that you want to encourage more private sector like competitive behaviour in teachers to stand out and be noticed in one of our most dear social prograns. There is something for the right and the left to benefit from in that. Seeing this from the perspective of a 'system' rather than ideologically seems to make the most sense. I think you're on the right track.
    So, at the very least I think you should be proud of the method you are using when you ask your questions to the public and hope that's good enough to warrant a good solution:-)Heck, any solution is better than what we had.....

    -Shawn Stevenson
    Montreal, Quebec
    (NB expat)

  • At October 28, 2006 6:37 AM, Blogger Autism Reality NB said…

    Minister Lamrock

    You make an excellent point about retaining good ideas even though those ideas originated with your opposition. It is equally true, however, that a change of government should include a review of what is not working or at least what does not work as it should.

    As an education representative of the Autism Society New Brunswick I have tried to communicate with the Department of Education in various forums about a more flexible, child centered, and evidence based approach to educating autistic children but the message does not appear to be getting across. New Brunswick chose to convert to a full inclusion model of education and much good has come from that model. But in some cases, in the cases of some autistic children, over reliance on placement of children in the regular classroom has been hurtful, resulting in lost opportunities to educate and develop autistic children to the best of their capacities, disruption in the classroom and even self injurious behavior. Some autistic children are mentally behind their chronological peers, learn best by highly structured behavioral techniques and are very sensitive to environmental stimulation. A regular classroom for some autistic children can literally be considered a prison or place of abuse. This opinion is based on direct personal experience of my son and other autistic children in New Brunswick. It is also supported by expert professional literature. Yet the Department of Education continues to promote the regular classroom as an end all and be all solution to inclusion of all students.

    Despite rhetoric of partnership with "stakeholders" the view of the ASNB has been ignored or obscured in events such as the MacKay Report, the Inclusion Summit, the Ministerial Committee on Inclusive Education and the Dialogue on Education Committee meetings. Despite ASNB's repeated expressions of concern about how to educate autistic children and insistence that ASNB have real input into the formulation of policies affecting education of autistic students the Department of Education still bypasses ASNB completely at important inclusion events. The Department of Education has even recently committed, without input from ASNB, to sending 3 educators from each district to an privately organized workshop on inclusion of AUTISTIC children in regular classrooms. When the Department emphasizes the regular classroom as the place of choice for educating AUTISTIC children in this manner the message is picked up by teachers and educators. The ASNB is bypassed and its message that children should be educated in the setting which is appropriate for that child in the manner appropriate for that child is also bypassed. The absolutist philosophy of mainstream classroom placement for all children regardless of what works for them once again trumps the evidence based child centered approach promised in such efforts as the Inter Departmental Committee Report on delivery of Autism Services (November 2001).

    Keep the good but reject that which is not so good. And please Minister, take steps to ensure that those senior advisors in the Department of Education who have based their careers on the philosophy that classroom placement is good for all students be made aware that any good educational philosophy must be evidence based and child centered. Some autistic children do not prosper by full time regular classroom placement. Some, like my son, suffer in a mainstream classroom and they do not learn.


    Harold L Doherty
    Education Representative
    Autism Society New Brunswick

  • At November 04, 2006 8:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I noted that you continue to support testing and accountability as set out in the QLA. Since you've also said that you're open to dealing with issues that were forgotten and testing what isn't working, I will let you know where at least one hole I'm aware of exists in the QLA.

    Currently, all Grade 2 students must participate in literacy testing. This is effectively an evaluation of the student's abilities and also those of the teacher.

    I support the idea of standardized testing and accountability in the system.

    However, students with learning disabilities must also participate in these tests.

    While it is important not to exclude students with differences, including their scores with those of more average learners seems unfair.

    In addition, we must consider what this does to the student. The child is faced with a task above his/her abilities and is left discouraged and demoralized. The teacher who is forced to administer the test knows the child is unable to perform well on it, is left frustrated by the system and grieving for the student.

    In addition, the impact of this policy on a teacher's score in a rural school is significant.
    For example, many rural schools have split Grade 1/2 classes. In a class of approximately 20 students, 10 of those students would take the Grade 2 literacy test. It is entirely possible that at least half of those 10 children could have a learning disability.

    Imagine what that does to a teacher's score!

    In a class of 25 students, if five children cannot read, and cannot be expected to read due to their disabilities, the teacher's results are impacted. In a class of 10 students, five students with difficulties is a recipe for failure -- for the students and for the teacher.

    Teachers who want to work in rural communities are rare gems. They face long drives and low resources with creativity and optimism. They need the system to support them, not damage their careers.

    Just something to think about.


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