Time to Learn: Taking Action on Education Reform in Nova Scotia

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This is part of a “thought starter” series that Tim hopes to expand upon in the coming weeks. Tim understands and appreciates he doesn’t have all the answers to our major issues in Nova Scotia, so he is turning to the experts in the field, within our key sectors and throughout our communities.  The idea is that thought-starters are developed with experts, then discussion is shared with the broader public for their input. Fill out Tim's survey by clicking here with your thoughts on the education system.

On February 17, 2017, teachers in Nova Scotia launched a one-day strike in response to our provincial government’s approach to collective bargaining. This strike followed a work-to-rule campaign that had been initiated on December 5, 2016 by the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU).  This was not simply a labour dispute between the government and the NSTU – it was a revolt against a system that is no longer focused on learning in our schools.  

The system is broken.

With our current model, we are not serving our students and communities, and most importantly, we are not setting up the next generation for success.  

For some time, teachers in our province have been pointing out the serious problems with the policies they have been forced to implement in our classrooms.  Unfortunately, very few in government listened.  As we all witnessed, this came to a head during the 2016-2017 school year.   

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the first-ever teachers strike in Nova Scotia the status quo in education is still unacceptable.  Instead of demonstrating positive, tangible action by using some of the helpful reports, the government has merely added new committees, commissions and studies.

One of these reports was released today, Raise the Bar: a Coherent and Responsive Education Administrative System for Nova Scotia. Known as the “Glaze Report” after its author, Dr. Avis Glaze, an International Education Advisor, the recommendations are bold, direct and understandably resulting in mixed reactions.

A more detailed response to the Glaze Report from our team will be forthcoming, but my immediate reaction is that Nova Scotia deserves an education system that maximizes the learning potential of every student; and there are many items highlighted in Glaze’s report that could help get us there.

Those on the front-lines – our teachers, administrators, students and parents – all have brought forward innovative insights and ideas to enhance our education system and address the complex challenges that exist in our classrooms.  They’ve brought these ideas forward to support the development of Nova Scotia’s Action Plan on Education in 2015, during the labour negotiations in 2016 and 2017, during consultations for the “Raise the Bar” Report, through public engagement sessions and surveys issued by the Commission on Inclusive Education – essentially, they’ve been shouting into the proverbial abyss for years.  



My initial take after reading Dr. Glaze’s report is as follows:

Translate Knowledge to Action

Without listing the various reports that are collecting dust on shelves throughout the hallways of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, suffice to say that we’ve invested a great deal of money and resources into building recommendations. We have the Council on Classroom Conditions, the Commission on Inclusive Education and today the release of “Raise the Bar”.  From these initiatives, government needs to outline the direct action they will take, and the associated timeframe. If we’re able to invest over $55 million into pre-primary with no consultation to back it up, surely we can move on recommendations made by highly paid experts and supported by input from thousands of Nova Scotians.

Address Complex Problems with Long-term Strategy Top of Mind

Removing unnecessary bureaucracy and roadblocks in our education system in order to offer a more streamlined and cohesive approach is always the ultimate goal. If, in particular, we are going to implement and enforce the recommendations outlined from the Council on Classroom Conditions and the Commission on Inclusive Education – we need a unified structure that allows for consistency and accountability.

A concern that came from Dr. Glaze’s presentation was when she suggested that if the removal of the seven school boards didn’t pan out, they could always be reinstated in five years time. This undermines the significant cost associated with overhauling a bureaucratic model – cost in both financial and human resource terms, only to reinstate it a few years later.

If the decision to proceed with doing away with the school boards is approved, then some lessons should be learned from the dissolution of the health care governance. As we have seen with the consolidation of health care authorities, the benefits to our health care system have not actually come to fruition.

From these ideas and insights, there are two ideas that I believe can be acted on immediately, ideas that will strengthen the principle of equal opportunity, and connect our schools with our communities once again.

Entrust our Schools to their Communities

For far too long, our schools have been handcuffed by policies developed and enforced by the Department of Education and our regional School Boards. On this point, we agree completely with Dr. Glaze’s assertion that we need to bring decision-making closer to the school community. This was a message that I have heard emphatically and repeatedly while touring across Nova Scotia from teachers, school administrators and parents.

They have told us that the policies developed by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and the various School Boards are more often than not completely detached from reality.  

Educators, students and communities thrive when schools are empowered to adopt policies that work for them.  For example, the needs of an urban school are drastically different from those of a rural school.  I believe in a model of education that empowers school principals, their respective staff members and School Advisory Committees, to make decisions at the school level. Dr. Glaze’s recommendation to enhance the roles and responsibilities of the School Advisory Committees is also embraced by our team.

Naturally, there are areas like health and safety, security, privacy, and curriculum essentials, where legislation is in place and standard policies must remain. Examples of community-based decisions might include storm day decisions at the ‘family of schools’ level and the renting of school gyms and other facilities determined by the school.

The point is to reduce layers of authority while providing schools with the flexibility to support the learning needs of their unique communities.  

An additional idea that was not included within Dr. Glaze’s report, but we believe should be further fleshed out is the expansion of the Educational Program Assistant’s role, and perhaps this will be addressed through the Commission on Inclusive Education.

Expand and Strengthen the Role of the Educational Program Assistant

What a Licensed Practical Nurse is to health care, an Educational Program Assistant (EPA) can be to education. The role of the EPA is underdeveloped.  I propose the following:

  1. Design a three-tiered system of expertise dependent upon students’ needs;
  2. Provide more training for our EPA’s; and
  3. Expand their responsibilities to include lesson development, progress reports for parents/guardians, and Individualized Program Planning (IPP).  

To support the above tactics, we need to establish a tailored program at the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) for those who wish to work with diverse learners in our P-12 education system.  As we have heard from families whose children require inclusive supports in the classroom, there is a significant gap in this area.

We have an opportunity to re-imagine and develop an education system that meets the needs of the next generations.  It is imperative that we work together to implement an education system that makes student learning the priority and the overarching value, and a system that returns our schools to the communities they serve – the communities in which they can thrive.

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