Phew! It has been a busy beginning to 2011 with preparations for a major conference on learning disabilities in May 2011. More on that in a few days.
For now, I wanted to share information on an upcoming conversation on education in Nova Scotia. Called "Putting Students First and Fixing Our Schools," the public forum will be taking place on Monday, March 28 from 6:30 to 10pm at the Maritime Conservatory for Performing Arts in Halifax.
The featured guest will be Michael Zwaagstra, Teacher and Author of "What's Wrong With Our Schools and How We Can Fix Them." His presentation will be followed by a reaction panel, including Doretta Wilson of the Society for Quality Education, Charles Cirtwill of the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies, and Denise Delorey of Save Community Schools.
Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door. Go to http://www.aims.ca/ to register online.
I have just picked up a copy of Michael Zwaagstra's book, so I can't share my opinions on it - yet - but Paul Bennet of Schoolhouse Consulting recently shared his review of the book in an article in the Chronicle Herald. That article is reproduced below with the permission of the author.
Put common sense back in school system
By PAUL BENNETT
Much in today’s education system defies common sense. Cutting through the public rhetoric of "romantic progressivism" and "edu-babble" to get at what is really happening can be frustrating for parents and supporters of our publicly funded school system. It can also leave you in what might be called a "school daze."
A few examples come immediately to mind. We claim to be teaching children to think, but often give them little of substance to think about. School systems professing higher standards now allow virtually everyone to pass their grades. School taxes and teacher salaries rise at the same time as student enrolments shrink and schools close.
Good teaching is critical to student learning, but teachers are rarely, if ever, evaluated on the quality of their instruction. Special needs children are mainstreamed, even when they might benefit from more intensive, individualized learning. High school graduation rates rise, yet universities regularly claim that graduates are ill-prepared for post-secondary studies.
Whatever happened to common sense in education? That’s the fundamental question asked and answered in a stimulating new book with the alluring title What’s Wrong with Our Schools and How We Can Fix Them. Co-authored by Michael C. Zwaagstra, Rodney A. Clifton, and John C. Long, policy analysts linked with Manitoba’s Frontier Centre for Public Policy, the book’s a real rarity. Although written by Canadians, it’s actually aimed at a much wider North American audience.
The book is organized and presented in a clear, straightforward fashion. In 14 rather short but readable chapters, the authors tackle the fundamental issues, essential practical matters, and the so-called "distractions," namely teachers’ unions and "edu-babble."
What’s Wrong with Our Schools promises straight talk and it delivers on that commitment. Zwaagstra, Clifton and Long have the courage to state in plain, understandable language, what matters to them in education. Learning subject matter comes first. Testing is good for students and so is a little homework. Students do need some periodic discipline. Special needs children cannot always swim in the mainstream. And, shockingly, public schools are still falling short in teaching literacy and preparing students for the academic rigours of university.
It’s a bracing and most refreshing education book. Concerned parents and students of education will find it far more satisfying than Charles Ungerleider’s overrated 2003 book, Failing Our Kids. Where Ungerleider defends mediocrity, serves up rationalizations, and pays careful homage to teachers, this book cuts right to the chase.
Most chapters begin with a personalized story of encounters with the contemporary and largely unresponsive school system. In each case, the reader is introduced to a serious impediment to achieving better schools and higher standards. After several of these vignettes, the formula tends to be a little tiresome, even for those sympathetic to the overall message.
Zwaagstra, Clifton, and Long are all well-known educational researchers fiercely committed to raising public school standards. Manitoba social studies teacher Zwaagstra has worked on the AIMS High School Report Card project and is a staunch supporter of standardized testing and the ranking of schools.
What’s Wrong with Our Schools will stir controversy because it challenges the "romantic progressivism" deeply ingrained in the Canadian educational establishment. It is written by three acknowledged experts, but provides some clear, unambiguous answers to the most perplexing issues confronted by parents and students in our P to 12 education system. Let’s hope it gets the respect it deserves, where it counts, inside the system.
Paul W. Bennett is director of Schoolhouse Consulting, Halifax.
2 weeks ago