Monthly Archive for February, 2007

International Education Consumers Talk

I have recently joined, on a free trial basis, a group which involves consumers in education. Their site is: Education Consumers Clearinghouse.

My latest conversation was today with Mona in England, see below:

From Canada, just joining the ECC conversations. Mona’s posting today reminds me of conversations we had at CIDOC, Ivan Illich’s center in Cuernavaca, Mexico in the 70’s (he of deschooling fame).

1) Yes, I believe we can date the “crippling” to have started around 50 years ago (Mona’s words: half a century). Let’s pin this down as to the factors that contributed to making of parents and children as dependent clients.

2) At CIDOC we talked about the “iatrogenic” results of schooling. As in medicine, unintended illness or symptoms generated from medical treatment (Mona’s words: in school…at public expense…by hard-working, well-meaning but MIStrained teachers).

3) Yes, I too as a parent was told “not to interfere” with education. It was some kind of catechism handed down from the teacher unions, as I generally heard this first at school board meetings when parents dared to question methods (as new math, sight vs phonics, ita, etc.).

I am recording, for the historical record, my own experiences of the last half century in my blog.

I am hoping to produce an essay on the issues raised by Mona and hope others can contribute research and effort to establishing more genuine parent involvement in education, not less.

In another recent communication with Tom, he had said:

if education remains a socialist enterprise, all of our gains will eventually be swept away by the sort of creep who inevitably rises to the top in organisations which are not subject to the disciplines of the marketplace

I sent him the following note:

Reminds me of the Peter Principle:

The theory that employees within an organization will advance to their highest level of competence and then be promoted to and remain at a level at which they are incompetent.”

[After Laurence Johnston Peter (1919–1990).] Please remember or be acquainted with the origins of those insights of Mr. Peter’s. He was a long time employee in the Vancouver School Board system here in British Columbia, Canada.

I hope to shortly produce a d-r-a-f-t essay on the issues discussed plus bring forth a solutions-based approach to the problems of “hierarchism” as so ably articulated by Mr. Peter who probably should have received a Nobel Prize in Economics before he died.

The solution proposed will be the libertarian notion of subsidiarity:

Subsidiarity From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Subsidiarity is the principle which states that matters ought to be handled by the smallest (or, the lowest) competent authority. The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level…

From Catholic social teaching:

The principle of subsidiarity holds that government should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently. The principle is based upon the autonomy and dignity of the human individual, and holds that all other forms of society, from the family to the state and the international order, should be in the service of the human person…

School Vouchers Wait for Governor’s Proclamation: UTAH

On Feb 12, 2007, Utah passed a bill to provide a grant from $500 – 3000 for a child to enter a private school of choice. The amount will depend on the parents’ means. See latest article in The Daily Herald.

With only 3% of the state’s students presently in private schools it remains to be seen what shift will occur. The concession made to critics of vouchers who fear exodus from public schools is that a departing student will still be counted and funded in the departed district for 5 years. Also, families who presently enroll in private schools will not get funding, only new enrollees.

The bill (House Bill 148) was spearheaded by Rep. Steven Urquhart and his supporters from Parents for Choice in Education. The opening words of the bill state:

parents are presumed best informed to make decisions for their children, including the educational setting that will best serve their children’s interests and educational needs.”

Education: Let technology do the teaching?


Education Advisory, the service providing 'consumer advice' to parents, sponsored 5 Home Learning Fairs in the 80's to show how technology and parents could prepare students for the future. The following newspaper article was published in the Vancouver Province, Nov 03, 1985. From this article you will see how Education Advisory was involved in the climate of ferment seeking improvements and alternatives to the existing system of education.
Frank Ogden is a Vancouver futurist.
Education: Let technology do the Teaching (Vancouver Province, Nov 03, 1985)
Underneath the technological tidal wave that is dominating our society are changes in public opinion. For, along with the outward changes that technology is bringing to us, are the first stirrings of great social changes to come.
Perhaps the greatest of these is the groundswell for change in our educational system. All over the world many forces are eroding the professional monopoly of teaching.
We are discovering, for example, that most information can be acquired via satellite, computer link or information utility at a cost of at least 10 per cent of current educational costs.
And it isn't just the 'information elite' that knows this is so.
A case in point: For the past 12 years a West Vancouver woman named Tunya Audain has been researching just what is the matter with our educational system. (The original goal of education was to provide employability. Well, we now know that isn't working.) She isn't doing it the old way. She is closer to her word processor than are most institutional teachers.
Three years ago she started the Home Learning Fair, subsidizing the costs out of her own relatively meager funds. The first year she called a meeting, 500 parents hungry for a better way showed up. Last year her bugle call drew more than 2,000 parents who wanted to explore alternatives to traditional schooling.
On Monday, Nov 11, she will hold her third annual meeting at the McPherson Convention Centre in Burnaby. And this time, more than the crowd will have increased.
Exhibits of computers, home education courses, educational games, books and toys will be displayed. Alternative schools and counseling services will also be exhibiting themselves.
Workshops showing how to start independent schools, how to design your own home curriculum, how to develop cottage industries or handle the special needs of the gifted or the disabled will be held. Flowery academic language will not be used to mask the tasks.
I love the titles of some of the lectures:
Beyond Schooling to Real Education
Why we Need a Voucher System
Preserving Freedom of Choice
Education Malpractice
Education in the Future
The process of non-institutionalized education is nothing new and it has been proven beneficial. In fact, B.C. is leading the country in educating students at home. The Open Learning Institute alone has 16,000 course registrations representing 9,300 individuals, says Ron. Jessels, Principal. This covers university courses, career, vocational, technical and adult education.
In addition to that, ministry of education correspondence courses are reaching 1,040 elementary school students and 17,419 secondary.


Education Advisory Report on Parent Involvement, 1982

[The report was published by Education Advisory in 1982 to stimulate discussion and improvement. Hopefully comments will bring us up to date on parent involvement in 2007.]

Parent Involvement in Public Schools in BC, February 1982

Summary: A lot remains to be accomplished to improve home-school communications in BC public schools.

Evaluation Standard

Indicators are:
Parents (guardians) should experience dialogue and a sense of belonging (vs. alienation) with the schools their children attend. Indicators are:

  • The level of parent satisfaction with their own child’s education
  • Quality of home-school communication
  • The degree of consultation and resulting responsiveness
  • The level of parent satisfaction expressed via school accreditation/evaluation procedures

Present Status

  • Minister of Education, Hon. Brian Smith, after 3 month tour of the province said, “Many parents expressed concern with the lack of communication between themselves and their school.”
  • B.C.Council for the Family Report, Aug. 1980, noted: “With respect to education and schools considerable attention was focused on the alienating effect public schools were felt to have on families and the potential (but often unused) power schools had to help strengthen family competencies…Most parents are concerned about the welfare of their children in school, and their own involvement in the overall process of education…However, not all parents felt that their views were welcome or appreciated…from our reports, we do know that only about 25% or ¼ of the school boards in BC have known policies encouraging parent-school committees…Given the results of the survey…it is not hard to see why Council members feel frustration with respect to home-school communication.”
  • Education Advisory mail from parents and schools indicates considerable interest in improvement of home-school communication, and a low level of information on the subject.


Overall impression is that, generally, parents appear dissatisfied with present home-school communication. On a 4-point rating scale (Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor) we would rate the situation in BC at present as Fair.


  1. Dissemination of material and other resources to schools about improving home-school communication and increasing parent involvement
  2. School Boards develop written policies and backup support promoting substantive parent involvement in every school
  3. Workshops for parents, principals, teachers on the skills of home-school communication, conferencing, consultation, co-operation, etc.
  4. Monitoring each school’s home-school communication (possibly via accreditation/evaluation procedures)
  5. Teacher training and administrator training to include theory and practice in home-school communication


Given that:

  • The present level of parent satisfaction with school communication appears generally low,
  • That there is awareness and interest by parents and educators in improvement in the field,
  • A gradual trend exists of parents exiting the public school system for other forms of education (tutoring, private schools, home learning, correspondence, etc.),
  • School-based management (with parents an integral part of school-site decision making) is a viable model of school governance gaining favor in some circles,
  • That research shows a strong positive correlation between parent involvement and effectiveness in achievement of educational goals,
  • That social services in general are moving to the model of partnership with clients vs. “medical” delivery-of-service model,



Parent Choice in Schools

It’s been largely true that parents on the whole lack both voice and choice in a monopoly public school system. Essentially, they and their children are trapped into being a captive audience. Yet, remember, education is about learning to be critical thinkers, developing self-expression skills, making wise life choices, etc., etc.

However, some say, voice is granted through parent advisory councils in schools, and district advisory councils on the district level. But, how much does it really count?

Choice, it is also said, is granted to those few parents who choose to send their children to private (often costly schools) or independent religious schools. Some parents exercise their choice by educating their children at home.

Choice advocates promote vouchers or tuition tax credits, so that public dollars collected for education can follow the child. But, these efforts are beaten down by stakeholders, mainly teacher unions, who mobilize funds, manpower, and public relations against such efforts.

But, it seems parents might be getting choice via the back door! How ironic! Look what’s happening.

Feb. 05/07 Vancouver Sun reports on the topic of school closures. The threat of a school closure triggers parental response to seek openings for their children in other schools before spaces become unavailable. What has happened on the north shore of Vancouver, in the two communities of North and West Vancouver is that one school district is suffering falling enrolment, while another is experiencing migration of students from next door. North Shore News has the headline: N. Van’s school pain is W. Van’s gain. A N. Van school (Balmoral) is expected to be closed.

Not only are parents choosing stability and continuity in a school, they are also choosing from a variety of choices that are likely to suit their children’s talents and interests. West Vancouver has a variety of choices including a hockey academy, soccer academy and the International Baccalaureate Program.

Parents from North Vancouver would also like more choices that would be a magnet to draw students to their schools. Lacking a voice in producing magnet schools, parents vote with their feet.

Lacking voice and influence in their schools frustrated parents have the recourse of trying to gain support from their community through letters to the editor. A recent letter in the North Shore News urges such mobilization.

People may wonder about the role of school boards and how fair or businesslike are their decisions. We must remember, school district trustees are politicians, and “petty” (as in small) politicians at that. Too often school trustee politicians use their role as stepping stones to greater political stature, using school district affairs as a “farm team” experience. They are elected from their community, usually running on ideological, political platforms and with the backing of various self-interested lobby groups.

They might either be politicos-in-training, or, as in the Vancouver School Board, the “community representatives” are dominated by educators. 7 of the 9 trustees are either teachers, ex-teachers (one having been a long time teacher union official) or otherwise with education backgrounds. One trustee has been there for 20 years, therefore qualifies as a member of the status quo, a charter member of the system. How can parents get some representation in decision-making in this scenario?

In a recent blog in North Vancouver I discovered the following:

Anonymous said…
I hate to be cynical, but no one really cares about School Board. School Trustees are not worth much to this community. All the work and decision-making is done by the Admistration and simply rubber-stamped by the Trustees, the same trustees that voted themselves a big raise for serving absolutely no purpose whatsoever. The provincial government should scrap School Boards altogether.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007 9:09:31 AM
Another blog in that same discussion about Balmoral has this to say about choice:

Sue Cook said… The thing is, I do not think that past school boards have given a lot of choice to parents. I am not sure about the new school board, as my children are all grown. But if choices are not given then parents will find alternate forms of education.

A day later in the same discussion Mr. Anonymous proposes a plan to dissolve school boards:

School Boards should be dissolved. Their “responsibilities” could easily be taken over by municipal councils which would give Councils full control of school facilities 24/7. As Trustees actually do very little, the additional workload to Councils would be minimal. Municipalities could also set up a Schools Commission, similar to the Recreation Commission model. Taxpayers would benefit by doing away with the unneccesary expense of School Boards.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007 1:41:11 PM