Can Ontario fix its maths curriculum – Not Yet: Response to Greg Ashman

Greg Ashman seems to be one of the few people writing in opposition to the ongoing disaster that is math instruction in Ontario. This week, he wrote another great article on what is not working with math in Ontario – Can Ontario fix its math curriculum.

Great article and really interesting comments. I agree that Ontario’s obsession with Michael Fullan is misplaced and he needs to move on. However, from what I have seen, Fullan is still the hero of the Ontario education scene and he can do no wrong. The solution to the problem of low scores in Ontario is just to train teachers harder in the inquiry-based system. You can get a good sense of this in this recent interview with Dr Mary Reid of OISE http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1041393219874/

True enough, no one will listen to the critics as we have been marginalized and to speak out against Fullan and the dominant ideology in Ontario is a huge risk to your career in education. As Greg Ashman writes,

There are a few prominent Canadian voices on Twitter but, as far as I can tell, they hold no positions of authority in Canadian education and will be easily marginalised as eccentric, old-fashioned conservatives.

I have felt this way for awhile and as an administrator here in Ottawa, I knew that to publically speak out about the inquiry obsession would have been very unwise from a career perspective. Now as a retired educator I can speak out, but it is not likely that what I write will have any impact.

The trend will continue to be to emphasise inquiry over explicit teaching and results will continue to go down. Senior administrators and ministry officials will continue to drink to constructivist kool-aid because there is little critical thinking going on and school boards demand conformity from their educators and conformity to some really bad thinking is actually the way to guarantee an advancing career for an administrator.

How many years will this silliness continue? How long will we put the blame on teachers who just don’t get inquiry? How long with Ontario’s math curriculum be directed by people who do not need to face its consequences in the classroom?

Thank-you Greg Ashman for your clear perspective on math in Ontario. We can only hope that someone here is listening!

Poor Math Scores – Should We Really Blame the Teacher?

I am listening to a rebroadcast of a CBC Ottawa interview on the Ontario Math curriculum with Mary Reid from OISE. This is one of a series of interviews and articles seeking to understand why students, especially in elementary school, are doing so poorly in math. You can hear the full interview here.

The interview was really nothing new until around the 5-minute mark when Mary Reid makes the classic argument that I always find misses the mark. At this point, Dr Reid dismisses any problem with EQAO and squarely puts the blame on teachers and their training for low math scores in Ontario.

Teachers, she says are not ready for inquiry-based learning. Teachers have high anxiety and low content knowledge when it comes to the inquiry approach. Professional development takes a ‘one size fits all approach’ whatever that means. So, because of the teacher’s high anxiety levels, we are failing at the inquiry-based approach.

These ‘highly anxious’ math teachers then pass this anxiety on to their students.

Then the argument takes on a bizarre note – research shows, according to Dr Reid that it really is the female teachers who are to blame. Female teachers especially pass on this anxiety to their female students, not the male students. This is what the ‘research’ shows. How do you even test for that?

We have been doing inquiry-based math in Ontario for a long time. Over the years, math results in grade 3 and 6 EQAO tests have steadily gone down. During this same period of time, teachers have been continually blamed for not being strong and skilled enough to effectively teach math.

The human factor always comes out – if you are really skilled and somehow ‘get’ the inquiry approach, your kids will do well. If not, your kids will do poorly. I only thank my lucky stars that I never had to teach math in such a poisoned atmosphere. How do elementary teachers do this when they are continually blamed by OISE professors and senior administrators for failing their students?

Why do we not look at the tests? Why do we not examine the curriculum or the inquiry approach?

As long as we see our teachers as lacking something we will continue to have problems when it comes to the math curriculum. It is now time to stop this fruitless blaming and look critically at EQAO and the curriculum.

We certainly need to look at how we assess learning in our schools. Today in the Globe and Mail, Sir Ken Robinson was interviewed and came much closer to a true assessment of our current system.

We need to recognize that children have a huge range of natural abilities and they all have them differently. Our education systems are designed to focus on a small band of those. If you have a narrow conception of ability, you end up with a very big conception of disability.

Sir Ken Robinson, Globe & Mail, September 8, 2017

The sooner we take a really creative approach to how we do education in Ontario the sooner we will be able to liberate our teachers and students to learn, live and grow in our schools. We really need to learn to stop blaming our frontline educators and move on to something much better.

 

Take It Back – Where Are We With Explicit Teaching?

It’s worth considering why we are in this situation. Why do bad ideas persist and even flourish in the field of education when they would have been superseded in medicine or engineering?

Greg Ashman Take It Back

I just read Greg Ashman’s latest post – Take It Back, he writes some great material that flies in the face of current education orthodoxy, so I find him refreshing and I like how he challenges the education status quo.

Tomorrow, teachers and students across the province of Ontario will be returning to class again entering the world of the 4C’s, 6C’s, Play-Based Learning, Deeper Learning and Inquiry-based Instruction.

These are all wonderful ideas but they all skirt around the true nature of teaching. Ministry officials, politicians and senior administrators all love these ideas, but I am not entirely sure why. It seems to me that if you want to be part of the established flow, you must uncritically accept all these ideas. To stand up in a meeting of principals and say that you question any of these ideas is a great way to put your career aspirations on a back burner.

That is of course until the ideas get called into question in the forum of public opinion. Right now in Ontario, there are several good articles out there that attack the way math has been taught in schools for the past decade. The Inquiry approach is not leading to better math scores no matter how much the math deck chairs are rearranged. Take a look at When will Ontario break the cycle that is failing its math students? by Anna Stokke, a professor of mathematics at the University of Winnipeg.

To be honest, in my years as an administrator, I never saw a huge amount of inquiry-based teaching in the classroom. I always worked with really talented teachers who had seen many of these education fads come and go. I did see many educators on Twitter and at school board meetings talk about the revolutionary impact of inquiry-based learning and I witnessed the 6C dogma of Michael Fullan being proclaimed everywhere in our school board. I don’t really believe that these ideas ever had a huge impact on good teaching, but to say so publically was never a good idea.

Greg Ashman makes the point in his post that educators now need to ‘take back’ education from those who have swung too far away from explicit teaching in all areas of the curriculum.

Instead, we need to fix this. This one is on us. We are the ones who want to be treated as professionals and so it is time to take control of our profession.

Sadly, you won’t see many educators write like Greg Ashman, it is simply too dangerous. To go against the orthodoxy is somehow seen as disloyal, it certainly doesn’t make you a team player.

This is a big problem. How do we question ideas that in reality make little sense and that have little hard research to back them up? How do we act when we see the education emperor really has no clothes?

I would start by questioning more and reading more – don’t get too caught up in someone else’s education orthodoxy.

Second Response to Five ways to damage a good school

One of the roles I took very seriously as an administrator was that of the gate-keeper. The administrator needs to shelter staff from unnecessary distractions that take them away from the important job of teaching.

I took this to mean that I had a responsibility to protect staff from the many ‘edufads’ that continually rained down on us from our school board and the ministry. My most recent favourite is Deep Learning, something that still defies any logical explanation. Michael Fullan, Ontario’s education guru has written volumes on this concept and his ideas have filtered down to all the schools in my former board. There is no debate about this concept, all schools are expected to follow the Deep Learning mantra even though most of us have no idea what it is and how the concepts improves or even impacts the learning of our students.

The second of Greg Ashman’s ‘howlers’ that have the potential to damage a school has to do with this ongoing trend in education – Lock yourself into the latest novelty

It is almost impossible for schools to filter out all of the bad ideas. Often, senior managers will have a pet project or enthusiasm that seems pretty reasonable at the time.

We don’t need to belabour the point about Deep Learning, it is simply an example of another fad that needs to play out in our system until it exhausts itself. Then we can all go back to what we were trying to do before – offering an excellent education, devoid of distractions, to our students.

The most recent recruiting poster for the Ottawa Public Board plays on this idea of the deep learner. The poster is based on the idea of the 6C’s another Fullan concept that is usually put out there along with Deep Learning.

While all this looks wonderful on a poster, isn’t this what good teachers have always done? Don’t we want all educated people to collaborate and be globally aware? Would it not be more honest and appropriate to say that the goal of education is to teach concepts in math, science, language arts, history etc that people need to be competent and literate in t0day’s society?

I really like writing that provokes critical thinking and Greg Ashman is doing what good educators have always done. He thinks and he challenges the standard orthodoxy which calls on educators to accept ideas without challenge.

Maybe educators along with their students need to adopt a goal of really thinking critically for the academic year ahead.

Thanks for the challenge Greg!