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Curriculum exclusion an insult, says ATA president

September 3, 2019 Mark Milne, ATA News Staff
ATA president Jason Schilling talks with a reporter during a rally at the legislature on Aug. 28. The rally was a response to the government’s decision to strike a curriculum review panel that excludes the ATA.

It’s an insult that teachers have been left out of the UCP government’s curriculum efforts, says Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association.

On Aug. 16, without any prior notice, the UCP government abruptly severed its partnership with the ATA to rewrite the K–12 curriculum, a move that took the Association by surprise.

Education Minister Adriana Lagrange said the agreement did not engage all the partners in education and was one she would have never signed. She stated that the ATA’s focus is on teachers while hers is on students.

“I think she’s categorically wrong and it’s an insult,” responded ATA president Jason Schilling. “The majority of our colleagues have been in schools throughout the summer, preparing classrooms, developing lesson plans, and doing research to enhance their professionalism and student outcomes.”

The cancellation of the partnership came on the heels of Premier Jason Kenney’s social media announcement that an expert advisory panel was being formed to examine the new curriculum. He stated its objective was to remove the NDP political agendas being “smuggled” into the social studies program and battle the “huge decline in numeracy and math competency.”

A voice on the panel

The following week, LaGrange formally announced the panel members. Former Edmonton Public Schools superintendent Angus McBeath is chair alongside vice-chair, Jen Panteluk, who is the former CEO of Junior Achievement of Northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories. The remainder of the panel is primarily made up of leaders from the business and post-secondary education fields.

Shilling is disappointed the panel doesn’t include any members with current K–12 teaching experience.

“Teachers live curriculum. They apply it. They take it off the page and bring it alive. Without that voice on the panel, they lose that expertise.”

LaGrange’s announcement provoked a flood of social media activity under the hashtags #wherearetheteachers and #IamtheATA.

The panel’s mandate is to help provide direction on the foundation knowledge, skills and competencies that students should have through the K–12 education system and help inform the direction for curriculum that includes globally endorsed best practices, jurisdictional research and previous engagement feedback.

In mid-December, the panel will present the minister with an updated Ministerial Order on Student Learning, along with a report on their findings. In early 2020, Alberta Education will seek engagement from a wide cross-section of Albertans on the panel’s results, a process Schilling says has already been done with the existing rewrite.

“They put out surveys and tens of thousands of people provided input. They talked to school boards, they talked to parents, and they talked to other stakeholders in education. They had that opportunity and they exercised that opportunity.”

A rally against the new curriculum advisory panel took place at the Alberta legislature on Aug. 28, with protesters decrying the lack of teacher, Indigenous and LGBTQ representation on the government-appointed panel.

Pausing the new curriculum

Earlier in the summer, Alberta Education paused the rollout of the K–4 curriculum, which was supposed to be tested in classrooms this fall. While the ATA had concerns that the curriculum rollout timeline didn’t allow for proper resources and assessments to be in place, it never doubted the content.

“Teachers did an excellent job on the content,” Schilling said. “Curriculum implementation, however, is really quite complex and that’s why it’s discouraging not to have teachers involved in this panel.”

During her news conference, Minister LaGrange thanked everyone who had a role in the K–4 curriculum development.

“I respect and value all of your hard work and we will continue to work together to build on and enhance these efforts.”

LaGrange did not provide a definite timeline for the new curriculum rollout but said her goal was to have elements in place very soon.

Curriculum advisory panel

Angus McBeath, chair — former Edmonton Public Schools superintendent

Jen Panteluk, vice-chair — former CEO of Junior Achievement for Northern Alberta and NWT

Sharon Carry, former president and CEO of Bow Valley College

Glenn Feltham, president and CEO of NAIT

Paulette Hanna, associate vice-president academic at Red Deer College and former superintendent of the Red Deer Catholic School Division

Keray Henke, former deputy minister at Alberta Education

Martin Mrazik, professor in the department of educational psychology at the University of Alberta

Andy Neigel, CEO of Careers: the Next Generation

Miles Smit, co-founder of the Petrarch Institute

Amy von Heyking, associate professor in the faculty of education at the University of Lethbridge

Nhung Tran-Davis, founder of Children of Vietnam Benevolent Foundation and a family doctor

Ashley Berner, deputy director of the Institute for Education Policy at the John Hopkins School of Education

Advisory panel timeline

The Curriculum Advisory Panel is expected to meet for eight days to review the curriculum in development, with a final report to be delivered by Dec. 20, 2019.

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