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It is time to try something different
June 13, 2012
WINNIPEG, MB, Jun 13, 2012/ Troy Media/ – The National Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Education is calling for the creation of yet another large education bureaucracy for aboriginal students.
Of course, the fact that Aboriginal students are generally doing poorly in school is no surprise.
According to its recent report of on-reserve students (Nurturing the Learning Spirit of First Nation Students), on-reserve students are at least two years behind other Canadian students and their graduation rate is less than half that of other students.
Failing grade for programs
Federal and provincial governments and band councils have – since the closing of residential schools – been devising and implementing a variety of programs, which unfortunately, the evidence shows have mostly failed. Nevertheless, the panel recommends another bureaucratic solution – the creation of a large national commission for administering and monitoring aboriginal education.
It is time to stop. It is time to try something different: to turn responsibility and resources over to parents.
To accomplish this, band regulations will need to be amended to require band councils to pay for tutors for any student who has been assessed as being capable but is two grades below standard. As soon as the students have improved to the appropriate grade level, they will stop attending the tutoring programs and resume full-time attendance in the band-controlled schools.
Normally, the cost for tutors has been borne by parents. Unfortunately only a few parents can afford to hire tutors. But under this program the band councils would give a voucher to parents to cover the cost,
The program would focus only on literacy and numeracy, the basic skills necessary for sustaining progress in all the other subjects and for participating in a knowledge economy. Local people with B.A, B.Ed., or B.Sc. degrees or teachers in private agencies could provide the tutoring services.
Obviously, vouchers will not be issued for students in kindergarten, grade 1, or grade 2, because they cannot be two years below grade level. Thus, school administrators and teachers will have at least 2,000 hours of school time to assess the students, determine their academic competencies, and bring them up to the established levels of proficiency. If the children’s educational deficiencies cannot be improved, the teachers and administrators, in cooperation with the parents, will need to devise suitable alternative programs.
Why support private tutors with band money? Because they are the only ones who can, at any time during the school year, provide the services necessary to hold school teachers and administrators accountable, particularly in rural areas where 50 per cent of aboriginal students live.
Of course, band councils will dislike providing vouchers for the lessons. As a result, they will hold principals and teachers accountable to ensure that very few students are spending as little time as possible in the program.
Parents will also become more accountable. They will need to pay for their children’s initial and follow-up assessments, conducted by professionals who are independent from the existing schools and the private agencies. There is nothing, of course, to prevent private foundations, churches, or other public interest groups from assisting poor families with the costs.
While the voucher system would have many desirable consequences, most importantly teachers will have incentives to increase the time students spend on literacy and numeracy. Moreover, teachers will have good reasons to assess students more often and to provide effective remedial programs for those close to the borderline. Obviously, few teachers and principals will tolerate incorrigible students who continually waste other students’ instructional time.
In addition, school administrators will be more careful to hire and retain good teachers and to create school environments in which teachers and parents cooperate to ensure that all students progress at reasonable rates. And, school administrators will have disincentives for shuffling incompetent teachers from grade to grade or school to school in the so-called ‘turkey trot’ that exists now.
Recommendations should be rejected
Finally, principals will encourage their best teachers to teach the most difficult students. No longer will excellent teachers be able to bargain with principals to obtain the best classes of students, leaving the most difficult students for their inexperienced colleagues.
For these reasons, band members, and indeed all Canadians, should reject the recommendations of the panel to create yet another large education bureaucracy for aboriginal students. Instead, parents should be empowered because they care more about their children’s education than any bureaucratic office holder.
Rodney A. Clifton is a Senior Scholar at the University of Manitoba and a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. He is author of A Workable Voucher System for Aboriginal Students published by the Frontier Centre (http://www.fcpp.org).
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