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Curriculum pilot an unwelcome distraction

Q & A

April 27, 2021 Dennis Theobald, ATA Executive Secretary

Question: With the new draft curriculum being rolled out to schools in September for piloting, do I need to pilot the curriculum if I have serious concerns about it?

Answer: At its April 12 meeting, Provincial Executive Council passed a motion “affirming the professional and moral right and responsibility of teachers to refuse to participate in the voluntary piloting of the new draft K–6 curriculum … should they believe that curriculum to be structurally and developmentally unsound and potentially damaging to student learning.”

To her credit, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has indicated that she intends that teachers’ participation in the pilot should be voluntary. It is expected that those school boards that might decide to participate in the piloting program (and many are opting out entirely) would honour the minister’s stated intention and ensure that the decision to participate is left to the discretion of the individual teacher.

Were a school board, however, to issue a lawful order to its teachers to participate in the pilot, then those teachers would be bound by Section 196(2)(a) of the Education Act. This states “At any time during the period of time that a teacher is under an obligation to a board to provide instruction or supervision or to carry out duties assigned to the teacher by a principal or the board, the teacher must, at the request of the board, … participate in curriculum development and field testing of new curriculum….”

A teacher subject to a board directive requiring their participation in a pilot would be encouraged to have an open, professional dialogue with their principal about their options. For example, it may be possible to provide informed feedback on the draft without actually teaching it. In any event, a teacher would still have the right to protest, through proper channels, an order that they believed was contrary to their professional judgment and responsibilities. A teacher in this situation should contact Teacher Employment Services for advice.

To be clear, there are good reasons for school boards and teachers not to participate in this pilot—many teachers who have had an opportunity to review the proposed programs of study have shared with the Association their deep concern that the draft curriculum is not developmentally appropriate for children aged five to 11. Its design and content do not reflect the current research on elementary student learning, brain development and student engagement. It is poorly structured and fails to create the cognitive framework necessary to facilitate meaningful learning, and the specific content identified is disjointed and decontextualized.

These teachers have concluded that students subject to instruction based on the proposed curriculum, including its mandated subject matter and approaches to teaching it, are likely to experience poor achievement, frustration and disengagement from schooling. As students’ success in the early grades is a significant predictor of their success in later grades and, ultimately, of school completion, the alarming conclusion is that this curriculum, if rolled out as planned, may actually harm some students and undermine their learning for years to come. This is why the release and proposed implementation of the draft curriculum, even as a limited pilot, is a matter of grave concern and, for many teachers, resisting its implementation, a moral imperative.

On top of this, many teachers are focused on ensuring that individual students have an opportunity to enjoy a return to normalcy after the disruptions brought about by the pandemic. It is apparent that student learning has been differentially affected by transitions to online learning and school closures as well as the stress visited on them over the past year. Given these realities, many teachers are focusing on attending first to their students’ emotional, social and mental well-being and to ensuring that those in their charge will have the best opportunity to meet current grade-level learning standards. In this context, a largely unsupported and inadequately resourced curriculum pilot is an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction.

Finally, teachers have legitimate concerns about whether the pilot itself is a useful exercise. A partial pilot of some subjects in some grades will do little to inform, and will even gloss over the challenge of implementing the curriculum simultaneously across multiple grades and subjects, as the government is currently planning to do. Nor are teachers convinced that their feedback will be heard or acted upon. Those who have participated in the limited consultations offered thus far have been subject to gag orders and have observed that their input is not reflected in the draft that was released. The government has not committed to making available in a timely and unredacted manner the feedback that is being provided through their online survey or through other consultation processes.

Of course, there are teachers who, assuming their school board has not opted out of the pilot entirely, and subject to conditions that might be imposed concerning their participation, may want to provide practical and professional feedback about the draft curriculum. Some may want to do so based on students’ experiences in class. Others may choose to review the content of the document and provide feedback on the draft without actually teaching it. Ultimately, that decision too would be based on the teacher’s professional judgement consistent with the best interests of the students, and it should be respected. ❚

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