Archive for the 'Obstacles to Reform' Category

BC Education System Creaking, Cracking, Croaking!


I just published in a local blog the following comment on mismanagement and "accounting errors" in Langley School District.  I infer from my comments that this may not be the only jurisdiction with major bookkeeping and reporting flaws. I am calling for a full-scale forensic accounting examination of the accounts, reporting and due diligence of the school board.

BC Education System is Creaking and Cracking and Croaking.

(by Tunya Audain, comment published 090911, in The Report Card blog by Janet Steffenhagen, Vancouver Sun education reporter on topic: “Education Minister and quote of the month” 090910)

Look at the Langley school district fiasco — a $4.8 million deficit suddenly balloons into $8.3 million due to “accounting errors”.    That $35,000 paid by the School Board for a financial “review” is peanuts compared to what a proper forensic accounting examination would cost.  But, it would be worth it.  It would ferret out, item by item, digit by digit, the cause and effect of the problem revealed by the shocking and stunning disclosures this week.  It’s not as if there weren’t warnings and red flags all over the place.  They were there, but were snubbed and dismissed.

A proper forensic accounting report, I think, should be properly and appropriately ordered and financed by the Provincial Government.  It would:

–   Catch what the board’s auditor and external review failed to catch
–    Provide an accurate account of assets and liabilities
–    Discover if there has been deception, cover-up, fraud
–    Determine if proper accounting procedures were followed
–    Establish if there was proper reporting and administrative response
–    Check if the board of trustees were well-informed in a timely manner for decision-making and oversight
–    Examine if proper accountability procedures were in place and followed
–    Determine if the law has been broken
–    Provide evidence for future litigation if supporting data is revealed
–    Comment on whether a “blind eye” was turned on complaints and alerts by members of the public
–    Further the public interest  
–    Clarify the language used in reporting to the public and media, eg, what constitutes “cost pressures”

Whether small or large corruptions are found, or none at all, mistakes have certainly been made and incompetence has been acknowledged. It’s not just “underfunding” that’s brought on this state of affairs.

A recent research paper, entitled: Corruption and Educational Outcomes: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back by Francis Huang

says :  “…corruption has the potential of holding back or sabotaging a country’s education progress – much like taking two steps forward and one step back…turning a blind eye to it does not make it go away but actually encourages it. Eliminating corruption involves a culture change and a shift in mind-set along with the implementation of accountability systems and processes.” 

Huang further elaborates that it’s no surprise that corruption might occur in education systems world-wide (she studied 50 countries) because “education is the largest or second-largest budget item in most countries and opportunities for corrupt practices are numerous.”

Given that last observation, shouldn’t the whole Ministry of Education and all boards have forensic accounting reports done?  At $8,323 per child shouldn’t we want to know what percentage of that actually reaches the target?

Or are we funding a self-serving industry, serving selfish vested interests?  Only a credible, in-depth examination will tell us if the present model is effective and efficient or if we need to search for better models of education delivery.


Educator Opposition to Evaluation — a Long History

Continuing to archive material from my files, I came across this letter to the editor deploring lack of proper evaluation in schools and a preponderance of teachers on school boards. Notice the mood being described. Parents and public want concrete information about the achievements (or otherwise) of their schools. But the response is more PR – public relations. In today’s scenario the teachers union is actively campaigning in the press and with parents to withdraw students from FSA (fundamental skills assessment in reading, writing and numeracy) in Grades 4 and 7 in public schools and provincially funded independent schools.

Feb 25, 1981
Globe and Mail
Dear Sir:

Parents, students and taxpayers are the losers when evaluation is not routine in our schools. We must begin with the premise that if anything is worth doing, it is worth assessing. So, why is education exempt?

Not only are teachers and administrators opposing evaluation of their own performance (G&M, Feb 23, 1981), they are also opposed to testing of students. There is presently, in BC, considerable lobbying by teacher groups against standardized tests, with the feeble suggestion that teachers should design their own tests. 

But, the majority of teachers have little experience, training or inclination to prepare tests. Nor should we expect it. While checking and feedback are part and parcel of everyday teaching, evaluation of the broader effort is best measured by objective, unbiased means. 

There seems to be an ominous defensiveness surrounding the whole area of student and teacher evaluation. What is there to hide? Is there a cover-up? This reluctance to assess results and effectiveness is probably the number one reason the public education system suffers credibility problems today. 

To further blur objectivity regarding schools, we see more and more teachers becoming trustees, thereby eroding the democratic principle of public control of public education. (Need I say that part of trustees’ jobs is to ensure competency of school staffs and effectiveness of instruction?) 

In BC we have had provincial testing of basic subjects for a number of years, but it is disappointing to realize that the testing is provincially referenced and has little comparative value against Canadian norms. In the most recent round of testing of reading, our own school district, though scoring well, felt the tests were themselves inadequate. Inflation of scores (making the students look good) was the perceived result since many of the questions were ambiguous, irrelevant to the skills tested, and some were downright too easy. 

Poor, watered-down tests (or no tests at all) are not the way to go if parents are to be assured that they have enrolled their children in good schools, that students are not being cheated of their education, and that taxpayers are to be convinced that their money is well-spent. So far, educators have failed to convince me that evaluation is detrimental. Surely, quality is possible to demonstrate, especially at a time when there is so much concern about rising educational costs and people are questioning their support of such a high expense service. 

Parents sending their children to the University of BC for their first year are not happy to hear that their son or daughter stands as much chance of failing as of passing their English composition test. The controversy that this year’s record 46% failure has unleashed is showing no abatement, with as yet, little agreement over the source of the problem or the means for solution.

However, we are grateful that we have at least one concrete measure of school success (?) that helps focus concern and problem-solving. We do NOT have, as the United States does, the kind of reputable testing programs which caused Dr. John Goodlad (a Canadian educator, now working in the U.S.) to question parents’ misplaced faith in American schools After completing a massive 7-year study of U.S. education this is what he said: 

I don’t think parents are as acutely aware of the achievement decline as many other people are….I think there’s an enormous unawareness on the part of parents as to what the schools are doing.” (Christian Science Monitor, June 9, 1980) 

Is this the kind of evidence we are being steered away from in Canada?

Unfortunately, when dissatisfaction about schools surfaces, the response is for more PR – public relations – rather than black-and-white evidence. What I find happening is that parents who are denied concrete information about their children’s school success, and who are denied meaningful voice in their schools are responding in a way which is telling indeed – flight rather than fight. Frustrated parents are looking for exits from the public education system and are pleased to find attractive alternatives via private schools, correspondence courses or home teaching. 

My message is this: If the public school system does not respond intelligently to consumer need for accurate information, they may find themselves without consumers.

(letter not published by G&M)



The education systems I follow – Canadian, American, and UK – are so ponderously top-heavy on the supply-side of education economics that they can only survive from toppling over by using complex, interlocking schemes that deliberately and successfully thwart reform efforts from the demand-side (the customers). Having usurped the rightful “property” and duty of parents and teachers, they cling to power and influence by deceitful methods.

There are probably 101 DECEITS that impede effective education. I will start listing a few and you can add others.

   1. We aim for a classless society. Yet, by denial of choice in education, poor or disadvantaged students are prevented from overcoming limitations and leave school with deficient skills for quality life, work, or further education. Lack of choice frustrates social mobility. Equality of opportunity applies to the rich who can buy private education or move to catchment areas where schools respond to articulate customers.

      Look at the array of obstructionists that prevent CHOICE mechanisms from operating (magnet schools, charter schools, vouchers, open access….) and you start to see a good picture of those vested interests that benefit from a monopoly, state supply system.

   2. We have civilian governance of education. That is, trustees, are elected from the community to ensure that schools are run for the benefit of the students and not the providers (teachers, administrators, teacher educators, etc.) Yet, how many trustees do we see that are themselves educators, ex-educators, or ex-teacher union leaders with hidden agendas? And, they are quickly trained and domesticated to follow the dictates of the administrators. Some simply exploit this experience as an opportunistic stepping stone in pursuit of higher political aspirations.
   3. High costs of education are mainly due to teacher salaries. Yet, is this true? Compute all the overhead and subsidiary costs of the system. Factor in top dollar salaries of administrators and the rest of this bureaucratic empire. Don’t forget the costs of lawyers who are always on call in case of disputes. And, don’t forget the costs of Public Relations experts, conflict resolution experts, facilitators…..
   4. Parent involvement is very important to boost student achievement. Yes, research supports the correlation between student achievement and parent involvement, yet the current waves of soliciting more parent participation results in only more fund and fun-raising activities – not academic attention. Furthermore, whole industries of “parent involvement practitioners” are spinning off of this fad, further providing jobs for unemployed education PhD’s, adding more layers of “experts” and further mystifying parents and keeping them at bay.
   5. Education enables young people to be self-sufficient adults. However, the rising tide of mediocrity and dependency arising from “illiterate” grads is troubling. In some populations over 40% of students are drop-outs, leading to underemployment or dependence on welfare.

The poor economic performance in France and Germany is blamed on the education systems which prepare students for government welfare (“Learning to Love the Dole”) more than they do for entrepreneurship or productive employment. See: Europe’s Philosophy of Failure here:

Obstructing Techniques Foil Education Questions

[Continuing to add to the list of Obstacles that prevent education responsiveness and reform, I attach my letter to the Editor published in the North Shore News, July 29, 1999.]

Dear Sir:

Parents have been moaning for decades about the unresponsive education system. They are so frustrated that in fact they are often more eager to “graduate” than their kids! 

The fact that now a politician is moaning (“Education system is unresponsive” July 16) shows just how much of a closed shop it is. Students complain, but get nowhere (“Teachers should know their subject”. June 30) and citizens want accountability (“Take more care with school funds.” July 14).

 The school system seems to be run for the convenience of the operators, not the customers. Even conscientious teachers, I hear, dare not rock the boat.

 My forty years of involvement shows the system uses these cagey responses to criticism:
  1. Freeze – Ignore, evade, or generally give the silent treatment.
  2. Pander – Isolate the complainer and co-opt the new-found “darling” into the system.
  3. Delay – Insist on due process, proper channels, and chains of command.
  4. Grandstand – The ultimate delaying tactic is to stage an inquiry or public hearing.
  5. Disempower and Mystify – Make parents feel inadequate and students feel juvenile. Stress that only professionals know best.
  6. Hijack – State in no uncertain terms that democracy is at work. Trustees are elected from the public to look after the general interest. Forget that trustees are the mouthpieces for the system: petty politicians using the system as a stepping stone for higher political aspirations. They are useful democratic window-dressing.
 There are many theories about why the system is so defensive and impenetrable. It would take a book to try and sort out the excuses and the agendas at play.

Whatever….I do know that any system which is said to have a 40% failure rate and which spins off numerous side industries such as math and phonics remediation programs probably does have something to hide.

I think this counter-productive, wasteful, anti-family, government monopoly is long over-due for radical change. Calling for more parent, politician or student involvement is not going to do it. More alternatives and loosening the hoops for starting independent schools might give some relief.

Tunya Audain


Obstacles to Education Reform

“We can whenever, and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need, in order to do this. Whether we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.” (Dr. Ron Edmonds, Harvard, 1978)

 It is 30 years ago that the Effective Schools Movement was born with the speech by Dr. Edmonds: “Some Schools Work and More Can”. 

Much is known about what works and what doesn’t. However, there is no ONE cookie-cutter approach that succeeds with all children. That is why CHOICE is important, and why parents have to be involved in helping find effective solutions for their children’s educational needs.

But there are OBSTACLES

Here are a few to start the list:

  1. Educators still differ about reading, and each wants their side to win: Phonics or whole word.
  2.  There is a lot of experimentation going on in public schools. This is a large pool of captive audience, and while new methods are being tried out, critics by way of concerned parents are not welcome.
  3. Besides experimentation about methods, there are also agendas, some call it social engineering, molding the “new man”, social justice, progressive education, whatever…. Again, critics are not welcome.
  4. Choices are limited because of financial constraints. Parents, as do other citizens, don’t like to pay double for services. Why should they pay school taxes as well as fees to private school or  suffer wage loss to home educate if they want out of the public school system?
  5. Organized obstructionism happens when reforms are proposed. For example, state voucher reform legislation in Utah was soundly turned-back when the combined forces (financial, manpower, organizational) of the country-wide teacher union (NEA) first forced a referendum, then overwhelmed the Yes side.

Education reform won’t happen until the obstacles and obstructionism are understood and counteracted. AND parents need to be equipped with knowledge and a Charter of Parent Rights to pursue their children’s best educational interests.

My new TOPIC in my blog will be: Obstacles to Reform and I hope others will add to the list started above. Parent Rights already has its own Topic in this blog. 

I should stress that I am as concerned about public school parents as I am about all parents who feel thwarted or frustrated. For example, Section 6 of Parent Rights and Their Children’s Education (1977) strongly outlines: The Right to Safeguards concerning privacy, assessment, experiments and innovations and that parents have special rights in these instances:

  • to receive a written description of the program, rationale, goals and supporting references
  • to grant or refuse permission for their child’s attendance
  • to receive satisfaction that the program is run by qualified, well-prepared personnel
  • to be involved in the ongoing evaluation.
 The Right to Appeal decisions in a public school should also be well advertised and understood by parents.