NSTU president: Glaze report is flawed

by Karen Janigan

Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) local president, teacher, parent and educator Grant Frost said there are flaws in the Glaze report Raise the Bar that makes him wonder why it is being used to mount the largest reform on education this province has seen in years,

Frost was speaking to an audience of about 50 that included school trustees, student advisory council memberships, teachers and parents about the report that is overseeing the dissolution of the seven anglophone school boards based on the premise that Nova Scotia's schools are failing kids,

It's a charge that Grant dismisses by drilling into the standardized test scores consultant Avis Glaze used to make her point.

He said Glaze used the Pan Canadian Assessment Program that shows Nova Scotia's scores are lower than the national average.

"What you see shows where N.S. ranks compared to the rest of the provinces in the country. Ontario, Alberta and B.C. all scored higher than us; all the other jurisdictions scored lower than us," Grant told the audience.

"If you look at the science, we are 1.6 per cent below the Canadian average; in reading we are four per cent below; we are four per cent the Canadian average in math," he explained.

"How close is close? If we increase our test scores by five percentage points ... we'd be second in the country.

"For five percentage points, we're looking at the single most significant educational reform our province has seen in 125 years that's basically being implemented after an eight week report. "

He also looked at results from a science test from the Programme for International Student Assessment administered to 64 countries by the OECD.

"Canada scored 528 on average. Nova Scotia was 517 and below the Canadian average. But if Nova Scotia was a country we'd beat New Zealand, Slovenia, Korea, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland.... If Nova Scotia was a country we would be 15th best on the planet in teaching our kids science."

But, he said this didn't receive any attention in the press. What gets the headlines is that we're failing.

Glaze wrote in her press release: "In many cases, Nova Scotia students are performing below average compared to the rest of the country and the lack of clarity and coherence in the system is contributing to that."

"This is the massive panic because it suddenly looks like we're doing terribly," said Frost. "There's stuff we can do better, we know that, absolutely, but if you are going to beat me with these standardized test scores I reserve the right to basically challenge you on that."

Frost noted that Glaze models her changes to the Nova Scotia system on Ontario's reforms; but Ontario's standardized test scores in math, science and reading have been falling since 2006,

"In Nova Scotia we are the model for a rural education," Frost said. "One in five kids in this province live in poverty, one in five. You don't get to say that in Alberta, you don't get to say that in BC, and we're still 15th in the planet in teaching our kids science. Ladies and gentlemen, we're doing something right."

Education Minister Zach Churchill said coming in below the national average is not acceptable.

"Even though we beat most [provinces] is that good enough? I don't think it is. Why would middle of the road ever be acceptable to people in this province when we know we can achieve better."

Churchill also disputed that the socio-economic background of the students was a factor in Nova Scotia's test scores.

"The number one factor that influences is teaching excellence. The number two is leadership excellence. Statistically they mean more..... We know we have to do a better job in the education system supporting out teachers so our kids will do better. And I know we can do that; it's not just a matter of funding.

According to Frost, the other flaw in the report is establishing a college of teachers in Nova Scotia and taking the principals and vice-principals out of the union to take away a conflict with discipline that doesn't exist.

"The NSTU has not now, nor never has been responsible for disciplining teachers. The one guy who pays my pay cheque gets to decide whether I am hired or fired, not the teachers union. A fundamental premise [of the report is that] Ontario College of Teachers and pulling principals out of the union gets rid of conflict. But if they are not responsible for discipline, where is the conflict that she alluded to? Its doesn't exist"

Churchill said other supervisors up the chain can also be members of the union - like superintendents - so there are conflicts in the system.

Frost says there are too many flaws in the Glaze report to implement such massive changes without slowing down and talking because any changes would be around for years.

"We have to do everything we can do get the government to stop what they're doing and consult with the people in Nova Scotia."

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