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Editorial—A hot summer in the education world

September 4, 2018 Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief
Welcome back to another new school year.

I hope that you have had a restful, relaxing and rejuvenating summer. If you did, you were probably able to tune out some of the news stories that kept heating up the education world through the summer.

Let’s recap.

In late June, Alberta courts denied an injunction sought by a few parents, private schools and advocacy groups against Bill 24. In a scathing ruling, ­Justice JC Kubik said the act, which aims to protect the privacy of students who attend gay–straight alliances, "in no way restricts the rights of parents or schools to continue to impart their religious and moral values to their children."

Her decision said the applicants failed to prove a degree of irreparable harm and ruled that the loss of GSAs would be "considerably more harmful" than temporarily limiting parents’ rights. She dismissed much of the evidence presented by the applicants, calling some of it unreliable and other bits "largely hearsay" while describing evidence in support of GSAs as "uncontroverted."

This decision does not resolve the legal challenges to Bill 24, but it may foreshadow how efforts to strike down the law will be received by the courts.

Since then, the education minister recently announced that 61 private schools currently in violation of the law will need to become compliant or risk losing their government funding.

Elsewhere, following extensive coverage from the Edmonton Journal on the issue of growing class sizes, the government released raw data on all class ­sizes in the province going back to 2004/05 (find the data at open.alberta.ca).

The Alberta Teachers’ Association has been calling for the release of this data ever since the government launched an open data portal in 2013, as the only data previously available reported class size averages across an entire school jurisdiction. Then-ATA president Carol Henderson said, "We know that reporting averages hides the fact that there are extraordinarily large classes in many schools."

This data proves Henderson right. The data dump showed a number of high school academic classes in Calgary as large as 45 to 47 students. In 2017,
80 per cent of division one classes exceeded the learning commission target of 17 students, up from 60 per cent of classes 10 years ago.

The ATA and others will continue to use this data to analyse the issue and to identify the problems that averages have kept hidden for years.

Finally, the summer would not be complete without some curriculum outrage.

A mid-July newspaper column ­attempted to portray the current curriculum review as "politically charged" and lacking in history. The columnist had obtained the draft K–4 social studies curriculum and criticised it for not using the word "Albertans."

The government hastily released the full set of curriculum drafts, but not before a political storm was created. UCP leader Jason Kenney reiterated his critique that the curriculum review is secretive, ideologically driven and tantamount to social engineering. He vowed to throw the NDP changes into the shredder.

"Secretive? Hardly," wrote a subsequent ­Edmonton Journal editorial, which pushed back against Kenney while simultaneously rebuking its own columnist.

"The proposed new Alberta K–4 curriculum won’t overthrow the established social order or turn our children into mindless political correctness robots."

"(Kenney’s) is an overwrought response that would destroy years of work and likely completely politicize the process, the opposite of what he claims he wants to achieve."

Curriculum politics dominated in Ontario as well, as the new Doug Ford government works to shred the recent revisions to the sex ed curriculum. Teachers are finding themselves in the crosshairs after the government set up a hotline for parents to report teachers who continued to teach the repealed outcomes.

Therefore, while summer may be ending, I don’t think these hot issues are going away. As we head to a spring election, this school year may be one of the hottest when it comes to public debate on education.

I hope you have a great school year, but I also hope you stay engaged and involved — the voice of teachers is important in keeping the discussion focused and reasonable. Welcome back! ❚

I welcome your comments—contact me at jonathan.teghtmeyer@ata.ab.ca.

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