Monthly Archive for November, 2006


Should anyone think my concerns of 30 yrs ago are stale or “old hat” see The Province (Vancouver, BC newspaper) of Tuesday, Nov 21, 2006 by Michael Smyth, regular columnist.

The story: “Teachers’ union fails test for accountability. Skills Assessment: Sabotaging annual class statistics hurts future education”

Every year, the Ministry of Education tests the abilities of kids in Grades 4 and 7 in the classic three r’s: reading, writing and arithmetic.
Although participation in the so-called Foundation Skills Assessment tests is voluntary and does not count toward final marks, about 90 per cent of eligible school kids take the test each year.
This year’s overall participation, however, was down about two per cent. Why? Very likely because of the boycott campaign against tests led by the B.C.Teachers Federation.
The teachers’ union urged parents to pull their kids out of the assessment tests, arguing the tests are “harmful” to kids by triggering “test anxiety” and damaging their sense of self-worth if they score poorly.
I find the union’s arguments absurd–as do most parents, according to groups such as the B.C.Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils.
As the largest advocacy group for parents of kids in the B.C. school system, BCCPAC agrees with the ministry’s argument that the tests are a useful tool for measuring the fundamental skills that children require to succee at school. Not to mention life.
The test results are used to make improvement in the school system. Parents are also sent their kids’ test results, giving them a direct accounting of their children’s education progress.
The teachers’ union opposes all of it and has gone to extreme lengths to convince parents to pull their kids out of the tests and to hamper the ministry’s actual conducting of the tests themselves.
In addition to pressuring parents, the union has urged its members in the past to refuse to conduct the tests unless directly ordered to do so by a supervisor.
Teachers ordered to conduct the tests were told by the union to not put labels on the test booklets, to not match up multiple-choice response forms and to not put insert sheets in the booklets. They were also told to not have students sign their test papers and to refuse to mark the tests.
What an appalling lack of professionalalism from a union that was just given a generous new contract that included a 16-per-cent wage hike and a $4,000 signing bonus for teachers. Is this their thank-youy to parents who pay their wages and support these important tests?
I wonder how many kids get “test anxiety” because of the fuss the teachers created?
The participation rate in this year’s assessment tests whows how badly out of touch with parents the union has become a two-per-cent drop in participation, despite the BCTF boycott campaign, shows parents massively rejected the union’s pressure tactics.
Now the test results are in and they show a disturbing dip in students’ reading and writing skills. Just 73 per cent of Grade 7 students are meeting expectations in reading, a four-point drop over last year. (Grade 4 kids averaged 80 per cent, up one point.)
In writing, 90 per cent of Grade 4 students and 87 per cent of Grade 7 students are meeting or exceeding expections, both down three point from last year. Scores in math modestly improved this year in both grades.
The Ministry of Education will now take these numbers and try to make improvement. As they do so, they know which school districts, individual schools districts, individual schools and even individual classrooms are having trouble.
Is that the real reason the BCTF opposes these tests? At the end of the day, these results are about accountability for teachers as well as for students.
There are few things more important to our kids’ furure than making sure they can read, write, add and subtract. Rather than bad-mouth, boycott and sabotage these tests, the BCTF should carefully examine the results and commit themselves to doing better.

The next day, Nov.22/06, very predictably, the Teachers’ Union president, Jinny Sims, produced the expected response:

BCTF responds

We agree with Michael Smyth that few things are more important to our kids’ future than making sure they can read, write, add and subtract.
But we draw the line at his misguided efforts to blame the B.C.Teachers Federation for the dip in student achievement levels in government tests.
Research shows large-scale testing can have negative effects on student motivation and learning, especially for low-achieving students.
That’s why teachers are frustrated with the lack of understanding that their classroom assessment is preferable to government’s large-scale assessment.
True, the BCTF encourages parents to boycott government tests, because those asessments fail to produce an accurate portrayal of how their children are performing academically.
Smyth needs to understand the difference between assessment for learning and assessment of learning.
When parents want to know how their children are doing in class, they shouln’t ask the government.
They should ask those who work with those kids on a daily basis: the trained professionals who will provide more than just a test score.

Jinny Sims, President, BCTF

The next day, Nov 23/06, a parent responds:

Test score needed

What is B.C. Teachers Federation president Jinny Sims afraid of?

Is it that we will actually find out how our kids are doing?

While the evaluation of students by their teachers is valuable, they can be subjective.

We need the “trained professionals” and a test score from an unbiased, objective source.

Cherryl Katnich, Maple Ridge

Short and sweet, AND a parent point-of-view.

While I am in the process at the moment of producing reviews of three very important books that illuminate the issue of accountability (for future posts) I direct you to the titles of these books and you can look up the reviews on the Internet or get them from your library for now.

Important Books on Accountability in Education

– Public Education: An Autopsy
Myron Lieberman, 1993, Harvard University Press

– The Teacher Unions: How they Sabotage Educational reform and Why
Myron Lieberman, 1997, the Free Press, New York

– PTA: The Untold Story
Charlene K. Haar

An important article is printable from the Internet

Teacher Unions and Parent Involvement (from the EPI series on Teacher Unions) by Charlene K. Haar from the site

Go to Search and ask for Education Policy Institute

Parent Involvement in Schools

[TO READERS: Is this 1982 article (25 yrs ago) still relevant in 2007? Please comment. TA]

The Canadian School Executive, September, 1982

Parents and Citizens in Schools: An International View

By Tunya Audain

Most parents resent being fed education jargon and sweet niceties about their children in school. Instead they want to know the what and the why of schools so that they can participate intelligently in planning for their children. When they are intimidated and frustrated, they feel diminished as parents.

Parents claim there would not be the apathy they are charged with if genuine interaction replaced present superficiality.

Continue reading ‘Parent Involvement in Schools’


[This article was published in The Canadian School Executive, Dec. 1982]


School accountability: from defensiveness to disclosure

By Tunya Audain

I know it’s wishful thinking, but wouldn’t it be nice to know what schools are doing? And how well they are doing? Wouldn’t parents feel much more confident as they send their children to school? Wouldn’t taxpayers feel they are supporting a worthwhile cause?

In an era of cutbacks wouldn’t we all feel better if we knew that essential tasks were being carried out and that priorities in education were still being met?

Most parents admit they are poorly informed and easily bamboozled concerning the educational enterprise. Taxpayers usually get sensationalist impressions from the media, but even those who dare to question directly are equally befuddled and given the run-around. This is not to say that school people necessarily conceal information, or that they are nasty to customers. They are generally nice. “But, it’s like dealing with a marshmallow,” some say, “soft and sweet and bouncy. And, nothing to bite on.”

Continue reading ‘Accountability’

Education Malpractice


[My posting today is an article published in Education Advisory newsletter, #10, October 1981. In those times, there was considerable interest in the topic and I will post more material later. It is very telling that in 1980 BC (Canada) school trustees received a letter referring to educational malpractice stating that with respect to special education, “parent involvement is absolutely imperative for the effective delivery of special education services”, and a legal opinion pointed out that parents then “are not as likely to consider having recourse to the Courts”. I find it unfortunate that parent involvement is valued as a means to circumvent malpractice suits. Instead, parent involvement should be valued as sound educational practice.]

We hear sometimes of an action for damages against the unqualified medical practitioner, who has deformed a broken limb in pretending to heal it. But what of the hundreds of thousands of minds that have been deformed forever by the incapable pettifoggers who have pretended to form them!” Charles Dickens, 1830 in Nicholas Nickleby

Continue reading ‘Education Malpractice’

Parent Rights


The rights compiled here are those that generally apply in most democratic countries. They have been gathered from sources in Canada, United States, England, and Australia. Some of these rights are self-evident, some are inscribed in law. Others are simply standards which parents have grown to expect when good educational practice is followed.


"Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children." (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948)

This means, that while parents have a duty to see that their children are educated to a reasonable level of self-sufficiency and citizenship, they can choose how this is to be accomplished: public, private or church schools, tutoring, correspondence courses, home study, or other styles. If a style other than a public school is chosen and the parents are challenged, the onus is generally on the state to demonstrate that the child is not being educated at a level equal to his peers in a public school. The mandate of the public schools is to make available to all children in the community an education which is free, appropriate and equal. Parents have a right to choose and expect at least that minimum for their child.

2. THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION In order for parents to make a proper choice, they need adequate information. They need to know enough details about schools so that when they do register their child into a particular school, they are in effect, giving "informed consent" for the child to be there. Equally important, they need ongoing information as the child progresses through the school programs so that they can maintain confidence and support for the school, or withdraw the child if things prove unsatisfactory. If theirs is a public school, parents need information for one other reason – to help them provide informed opinions to the school and to participate in school decision-making.

 Specifically, parents have the right:

a)     to obtain sufficient details about schools to enable them to make informed choices about schools

b)   to receive specific, understandable information about their child’s progress; strengths and weaknesses

c)   to see all student records and files on their child, to expect that the information therein is confidential and respects the privacy of parents and student, and to request that inaccuracies and damaging information be removed

d)   to obtain information about any program in which their child is engaged, the rationale for the program, the evaluation methods used, and the credentials and job description of those implementing the program

e)   to visit and observe any programs involving their child

f)   to easy access to those working with their child (teachers, principal, specialists)

g)  to receive information about school services–including alternatives in the system, procedures, rules, and to be informed about changes

h)  to see that the public school board is operated as an open public business, that is, that the public has a right to see all policies, budgets, minutes, and official reports, and to see that decisions are made at public meetings.


As advocates for their children, parents have a responsibility to inform public schools about their expectations concerning their children’s education. And this means that if the public system is to be responsive, parents must be accorded the right and the opportunity to be heard. They have a right to be heard by the teacher, by the total school staff (for example, on such items as philosophy, goals and programs), by the local school board and the higher educational authorities. Parents, as individuals and in parent groups, have a right to be heard when policies are being formulated, when planning is undertaken, when budgets are being prepared, and when evaluation is being conducted. They have a right to present briefs, make statements, and try to influence decision-making about schools their children attend.


Parents have the right to expect special services for children with handicaps, limitations, disabilities or exceptional talents. Parents also have the right in these instances to expect special assistance for themselves so that they can understand the situation and be enabled to continue helping their child. Parents whose children have been taken into care by the state (e.g., foster care, correctional institution) also have a right to expect special services to help their children continue their education, and for themselves so that they can maintain a helping contact as much as possible or desirable.

5. THE RIGHT TO INVOLVEMENT Parents, as co-educators and guides of their child’s total education, have a right to be involved in that part of the child’s day spent in school. Particularly, it is important to know that parents have the right:

a) to understand the principles, aims and programs of formal education so that they can support, enrich and provide home follow-through to school programs. At times, parents have also found it necessary to have this basic understanding in order to provide external remediation or tutoring.

b) to have their child excused from programs or prescribed reading which offends the values of the home, when specifically requested

c) to consultation before fundamental changes are made which affect the parents, the child, or the total school climate

d) to participate in evaluation procedures affecting their child’s programs, and in formulation of policy, goals and shape of education

e) to be involved in the event their child is to be suspended from school. The student has the right to "due process" and parents and student are part of the affected parties to be heard before judgment or action is taken and before the student is suspended for just cause.


Parents have the right to expect that a school system has certain standards that govern good practice. Specifically, parents have the right:

a) to expect safeguards which protect their children from physical, intellectual and emotional negligence or abuse

b) to receive assurance that their school does not allow unauthorized invasions of their child’s privacy or property (e.g., questionnaires which pry into family life, searches of lockers)

c) to expect that parental permission is required before psychological, psychiatric, or medical assessment and/or treatment of the child are undertaken

d) to expect strict supervision over new programs, innovations and experiments, and that parents have special rights in these instances:

i) to receive a written description of the program, rationale, goals and supporting references

      ii) to grant or refuse permission for their child’s attendance

      iii) to receive satisfaction that the program is run by qualified, well-prepared personnel

      iv) to be involved in the ongoing evaluation.


Parents have the right to appeal decisions which they consider unsatisfactory and to report behavior which they consider might be incompatible with good educational practice. Parents should be informed of their lines of appeal, which generally start with the teacher, then proceed up through to the principal, the school board, to the government ministry in charge. Parents have a right to receive, on request, a written explanation which responds to their appeal, and which they might require in pursuing their grievance further up the ladder. Matters of law can be referred to a court for judgment, and the normal civil remedies exist when it is considered damages should be claimed.

Parent Role, Rights, Responsibilities in Education of Their Children

With respect to educational rights, parents have a two-fold duty: to know and exercise their own rights, and to know and enforce their children’s rights. As users of the educational system, and as advocates for their children, parents are duty-bound to act well and wisely to see that the system works to the advantage of their children and the community’s children. If the rights here described are challenged by school officials, they have a right to ask why rights parents enjoy in other jurisdictions are denied them And they have a right to receive an explanation.

Interwoven with rights are responsibilities and some of these have been mentioned earlier. Besides all that parents have to do to provide the kind of home life and support for good education to happen, they also have to do their part in building a co-operative relationship with educational authorities. Parents need that relationship to ensure that policies and programs are developed as close "to home" as possible – close to the important parent-child-teacher relationship. The rights enumerated here should provide the confidence and background to help build that co-operative framework.

Remember:  It has always been, except in totalitarian states, the duty of parents to educate their children.

England: It shall be the duty of the parent of every child of compulsory school age to cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability, and aptitude, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise. (Education Act, 1944)

United States: The first School Laws in America (1642) underlie the system to this day: “Universal education of youth is essential to the well-being of the State. The obligation to furnish this education rests primarily upon the parents.”

Canada: “The responsibility is placed by law upon the parents or guardian to educate their children.” (You and the Law, 1973)

The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959) support this parental duty.

The public schools do have a statutory duty to provide a free education to all students whose parents choose to register them. However, it is made clear in all school law that parents are to be kept informed of the progress of the child. This information must be accurate and understandable to the parents so that they in turn can exercise their duty by supporting, augmenting, intervening or withdrawing from that school.

Public schools serve a two-fold purpose: to assist parents in meeting their parental obligation in the education of their children and to serve the broader public interest in seeing that citizens are educated to a certain standard.

(Compiled in 1977 by Education Advisory, an independent research and advisory service about effective parent participation in the education of their children.)