A decade ago, then Superintendant Angus McBeath led Edmonton Public Schools through a series of major changes. Today, students and parents have the power to choose the school that meets their needs. There is also more emphasis on supporting teachers and principals with research-based best practices and more involvement by stakeholders in supporting the crucial work of teaching and learning.
Angus McBeath will be a keynote speaker at Emergent Learning: Turning Tides in 21st Century Education this April 23-24, 2012. He'll be sharing the lessons learned in Edmonton, with advice for Atlantic Canadians. We hope you'll join us for what promises to be an interesting conversation on the future of education in our region. In the meantime, we thought we would share a bit of a preview.
By Rhonda Brown
I had a really interesting conversation not too long ago with Angus McBeath, a consultant, Senior Fellow in Education for the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies, and former Superintendant of the Edmonton Public Schools. He’s a veteran of the education system, having started his career as a teacher in PEI in the early 1970’s before moving to Alberta a few years later. He worked as both a teacher and administrator in his 30 year career.
I called Mr. McBeath after hearing an extended interview with him on Maritime Magazine on CBC Radio. (You can hear that interview here.) He was talking about the Edmonton approach to schooling, where parents have the choice of which schools to send their kids to – public or private. This has led to a system where schools are more competitive, specialized programs have been developed, and students can attend schools that speak to their interests and abilities.
So how is it working? McBeath believes it’s working quite well. He says parents in Edmonton have been remarkably adept in making choices for their kids. After all, who knows a child better than the parent? They can match the school to the needs, aspirations and hopes of their children.
The process is also easy. Each student receives a one-page passport with their name and ID number on it. All parents need to do is visit the school they’re interested in and pass in their passport. Students are accepted as long as the school isn’t full and any members of the local community who want access are accepted.
About 57% of students in Edmonton choose to go to a school outside of their own neighbourhood. The local transit system provides subsidized bus passes for students, helping them access schools around the city. It also helps the transit system by guaranteeing a critical mass of passengers. Traditional bus service is arranged for schools where Edmonton Transit isn’t appropriate or available.
Parents can choose to move their child if the school isn’t meeting their needs. McBeath told me about a battle to close a school in a suburban area. Enrollment at the school had dropped from 1300 to just 350. A group of parents rallied to save the school, but as McBeath points out, it was the parents who chose to leave the school who decided the fate of the school.
This sounds like a good solution for Edmonton, but would it work in Nova Scotia? Join the conversation at Emergent Learning: Turning Tides in 21st Century Education to be a part of the conversation.