Power Corrupts Absolutely, Even in Education

Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.

Lord Acton,  in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887

I started off my day today reading about the testimony of Jody Wilson Raybould to the Justice Committee and John Ibbitson’s response in the Globe and Mail        “Trudeau has lost the moral mandate to govern“. It was quite the day yesterday. Not only did we have the stunning testimony of the former Justice Minister, the House Oversight Committee in the United States grilled Michael Cohen, the former Trump fixer, for over nine hours. I watched lots of this testimony, it was incredible. While I didn’t see Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s questioning, I saw a clip of her quizzing Cohen later in the day. If you haven’t seen it you should take a look here

If you contrast this with the performance of her Republican colleagues, you can get a good example of power corrupting absolutely. Like their Liberal Party cousins here in Canada, they are displaying blind loyalty to a leader and a party that has lost the right to govern due to their abuse of power.

I think we need more oversight committees and more politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jodi Wilson Raybould. Speaking truth to power is a very rare commodity these days.

There are more examples of the corrupting influence of power closer to home. Our premier Doug Ford has been in the news twice this week. First, it was reported that lobbyists, companies and industry groups are feeling pressure to attend a $1,250-a-person fundraiser in order to maintain access to Ford’s government “Doug Ford defends fundraising dinner amid cash-for-access criticisms“.

Then there is the $50,000 bill for Doug Ford’s new van with leather-covered swivel chairs. Very nice, but is this something he really needs to be premier of the province? This is yet another interesting article to read – all published this week! Here it is “Doug Ford’s van customization has $50K price tag, documents show”.

Power corrupts absolutely. Is there an educational context? I think there is. As a society, we are just not interested in making the investments necessary to ensure a safe system that is flexible enough to cater to all children. There is no reason at all that in a wealthy society like our own we can’t create a system that caters to the needs of all children. The fact that we have daily incidents of violence, especially in our elementary schools is an indication that we are not willing to make the hard choices that would allow for a more humane system.

Instead, we get the shoddy of implementation of cure-all philosophies like self-regulation. We get well-meaning educators who claim that if we just trained really hard, there would be no violence in our schools because everyone would be ‘regulated’ somehow. While this is an interesting idea, school boards will never be able to make this happen. Their implementation has been way too ham-handed.

The senior administrators who have played out this cure-all are happy with this self-regulation movement. They want violence in the schools to be the educator’s problem. Advocating for a whole-scale change to the education system to put all children first is not part of their game plan. It doesn’t have to be. Like all those in positions of absolute power, there is no real incentive to solve, or even look into the problems of school violence.

Education commentators are no better. Because they are linked to the current ideas on self-regulation they seem to be unable to think outside the education box. The response seems to be that this is the best we can do or that this is ‘part of the solution’. What if we put the child, every child, including the autistic child first? Why are we instead contemplating a system that stops intensive treatment at a very early age then putting everything on the backs of the school system? We are inviting more violence. Is self-regulation really going to be our best tool, or are we just blurring the issue and blunting the debate about what is really needed.

parent protests against the proposed changes to funding of autism programming in Ontario

One school board – Halton District has reversed this trend by speaking some truth to power. This week (again – a big week!) they published a letter to Education Minister Lisa Thompson and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod. In the letter, the school board indicated that a lack of communication about government funding has made it challenging to ensure that these students have the resources they need.

Without the current government funding, many of these families will be unable to continue therapy at current levels. For example, some students may drop from 25+ hours of therapy per week to two hours per week under the new program. Presumably, students will spend some, if not all, of the rest of this time within publicly funded schools…

Halton school board ‘gravely concerned’ about Ontario autism program changes

I would be surprised to hear that many other school boards are planning to write similar letters and I am sure none of the Catholic boards will do so.

Power corrupts at all levels. When it comes to senior management in school boards, there is little connection to the classroom and to the current debate on violence in the classroom. While protesting against a cut in funding for treatment programs for autistic children is a necessary step, senior officials need to question why we have the problem of rising violence in our schools. The symptom is the violence, the problem is that we are doing an inadequate job at serving our most needy children.

If they cannot address the problem they should get out of the way and let others try. That will never happen. They have the power and authority and power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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Public officials should not destroy what they cannot understand.

nothing against this person, but Lisa Thompson is not an advocate for a strong public education system in Ontario

Like many concerned educators, I have been following the education news in Ontario as closely as possible.

It seems to me that the political leaders in our province are doing their utmost to follow the lead of the much more flamboyant political dilettante south of us when it comes to public audacity.

In the last few weeks, some crazy ideas about education have been floated out there.

First – let’s get rid of the kindergarten cap of 29 and the hard cap of 20 in grades 1,2 and 3.

As a former elementary principal, this seemed to be thoughtless and irresponsible hogwash. It was soon followed by another thought bubble – let’s see if full-day kindergarten is all that effective!

Again, as an elementary principal, I have to say that FDK was easily one of the most innovative and successful education initiatives that any government has proposed over the past thirty years. Especially in my last school in a high poverty community made up of immigrants from all over the world, FDK became the great leveller. Children who did not speak any English, who had never had the opportunity to socialize with other kids were all brought together in the same classroom.

It was a little hectic, but we had gifted, truly wonderful teachers and ECEs who worked hard to socialize these children. They had them all day. They made sure they got a good nap. They taught them how to play in a larger social setting, they brought them into a wider society.

I can say the same about the caps in primary and kindergarten. In the most important years of education, class sizes were kept small. No school in the province could sneak in more students and save costs through larger class sizes. In the most vitally important years, a calm learning environment was given a chance.

These wonderful innovations had one important thing in common – while they were great for kids and educators, they were expensive. The number one expense in education is staffing and small class sizes mean more teachers, more salaries.

We have been very fortunate in Ontario. Over the past two decades, we have had some truly visionary leadership in education, inspired and guided by some of the best minds in the education world. I have been so proud to be an Ontario educator.

Now, something has changed. Call it the rise of populism in Ontario or whatever you want, but the expert is now not needed or wanted. We can get rid of great policies by floating an idea out there with no consultation and absolutely no wisdom or vision.

A wise person once remarked that we are experiencing the death of the expertise era. In a populist wave, public ministers are moving into positions of power with little or no experience. But they are for the ‘people’ so experience no longer matters.

So, as a way to start turning things back to sober discourse on what is best for children, I am suggesting that the current Minister of Education, Lisa Thompson resign.

I have nothing against this person and good for her for becoming a public servant, but she doesn’t know anything about education and she is certainly not a strong advocate for a vital public education system.

She is being moulded as a hatchet person for the current premier who certainly has no love for public education. As you would expect, the Toronto Star has come out against Doug Ford as the anti-education premier – The results show education is enemy number one for Premier Ford, but there is a good point here. The current government is looking for the vulnerable points in our education system.

What costs lots but serves a population that certainly cannot speak for themselves?

Lisa Thompson really has little idea of what she is doing, but it is the job she was assigned and she is going to do it. Calling for her resignation will go nowhere, but the call does need to go out.

We deserve an excellent system. Our system is excellent. Public officials should not destroy what they cannot understand. In the end, we will rebuild, but why put children through all of this?

 

Why PRO Grants make a difference

 

It is in the details where things really matter in education. Last week the Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced that the province was taking a ‘pause’ in the awarding of Parents Reaching Out (PRO) Grants. The news got some attention on social media, but do people really understand the impact of this move on parents?

Doug Ford’s government has no doubt found more ‘efficiencies’ by cutting a few million from the education budget, but he has done this on the backs of low-income parents across the province. This is a pretty simple grab by a callous and cynical government who clearly understands that few will really protest the loss of the grants.

In the affluent school communities, the workshops funded through PRO Grants (see a partial list below) will be made up through fundraising in the community. This is one of the unseen inequities in Ontario’s schools. Communities that have the money to support their schools generally have a healthy account that parents can put to use in a whole variety of ways including funding the programs previously supported through the PRO Grant.

a partial list of PRO Grants awarded in the Ottawa area. For a full list go here.

 

In poorer communities, this financial padding is simply not available. PRO Grants allow parents to make a significant impact on the life of the school and in many cases, this was the only money they have during the year to hold significant events for the parent community.

This is the message we used to get from the Ministry of Education. It was positive, empowering and respectful.

Applications are now being accepted for the 2017-18 Parents Reaching Out (PRO) Grants!

We invite your school council to apply for a 2017-18 Parents Reaching Out (PRO) Grant. We know that good schools become great schools when parents are involved in their children`s learning and well-being. PRO Grants for School Councils support projects that help parents identify barriers to parent engagement in their own community and develop local strategies to address these barriers in support of student achievement and well-being.

PRO Grants are available to school councils for a maximum of $1,000.

School councils of publicly funded schools may develop applications individually, in partnership with other school councils, or with other parent or community groups. When partnering with another school council, each school council is responsible for submitting its own application.

I left the date – 2017, this was the last time I had the chance to work with our Parent Council to apply for the PRO Grant. In these years, the Ministry went even farther to make sure money reached low-income parent communities. As long as the ministry received an application, schools like ours were guaranteed to receive the funds they applied for. This was so important, it allowed us to plan events with the certainty that the funds we needed would be granted. This gave low-income schools an advantage. We didn’t have many so it was really good to get some recognition of the disadvantages faced by many families in Ontario.

St. Anthony BBQs became great events for our entire community. These gatherings were funded through the PRO Grant

It is really important for governments to ensure that all parents have a voice and that all parents are empowered. In poorer communities, the parent community has few tools to ensure that they have an impact. We won’t hear from them about the loss of the PRO Grant and this makes it even more important that we talk about the injustice in this most recent provincial action.

The current government is not ‘respecting the taxpayers’ by stopping these grants, they are taking something important from parents who want to be involved in their schools. They are making it harder to engage the parent community in our schools.

If the minister truly cares about the parent community in Ontario she will make a quick reversal of this ill-considered decision.

A good public system needs effective participation by all parents, this action only weakens this system.

 

Some Suggestions and more responses on what to do with Education in Ontario – a rolling blog

results 1

This image has been updated from July 7th. This wordl includes some of the key words in the 148 responses to our survey.

This past week a very interesting article was published in the Hamilton Spectator by a retired teacher, Ken Durkacz –  An open letter to Premier Ford on education

So, I have to say I find all of his suggestions appealing and it would be interesting to see what others think. Here are the author’s main ideas, I will paraphrase, but you can click on the link above to get the details:

1. Eliminate standardized testing. It would save tens of millions per year, which could be reinvested.

2. Move to one publicly funded school system. It would save millions in the duplication of services.

3. If you must cut from boards, cut from the top. There is a widespread feeling among front-line workers in schools that boards are bloated with people in positions that have little to nothing to do with the day to day education of students.

4. Reintroduce principals and vice-principals back into teacher unions.

We tried to survey people interested in issues during the election and it did work a little. You can read how people responded to an open-ended survey I wrote here. Thanks to Google, the 44 responses to the survey are summarized here. If you ignore the obvious overrepresentation on Regulation 274, there is no clear consensus on what the major issue in Ontario education is. So, I think Dan is heading in the right direction by making some very practical suggestions on how to improve education in this province. People who took the survey certainly echoed what he wrote.

Rather than giving my opinion on what might be the most popular ideas, let’s open this up to others who have an interest in public policy and education in particular.

Here are some ideas:

  • a survey (who doesn’t like a good survey) on what are the best ideas to pass on to Mr. Ford
  • a series of podcasts on some of the key ideas in the article. We will take care of that using our series – First Hand Stories on VoicEd Radio.
  • (a postscript – here is the first of our podcasts  and here is our second podcast
  • our third is here
  • a summer panel discussion – what are the key ideas that the new government should be considered in education? I think this would be a great discussion for VoicEd Radio. Maybe one episode per idea?

Summer is a great time for wondering about new ideas and initiatives. Maybe the new Minister of Education, Lisa Thompson could be a special guest on one of these shows? I will certainly share the survey with her.

We will start with number 1 – a survey for all of you. How would you rank the four suggestions? Do you have your own suggestion? Let’s see if we can generate some interest in education issues here in Ontario for the summer.

Postscript:

After 59 responses in less than a day, the results can be seen here

It is a little hard to interpret the results except to say all four issues seems to be important to respondents. What is most interesting so far are the comments at the end of the survey.

It is unfortunate that most are dominated by the Regulation 274 robots. This is to be expected, but what is a bit disappointing is that other educators in the Twittersphere are not all that willing to enter the debate, retweet or even like this discussion. I do hope this changes, the debate on the future of education deserves to be joined by more education opinion-makers.

We have completed our first podcast on our response to the article – you can listen here

A follow-up podcast is now out here

Our third in the series is here