Free-choice Educational Experience with Multi-age Children

OTTAWA EAST SUMMER PROJECT (’71)

Ottawa East Summer Project was designed at the outset as an educational experiment where multi age children would interact, learn and play together in a free-choice atmosphere.

Upon obtaining a $10,700 grant from the Federal Government Opportunities For Youth (OFY) program in the summer of 1971 five staff were hired as “enablers” to work with 200 students, ages 4 – 11 years. The main criterion for hiring was the stated intention of the university students to pursue teaching careers.

Using the freely offered facilities and grounds of St. Patrick’s College in the east end of Ottawa the activities set up included sculpturing, painting, puppets, sewing, acting, woodwork, gardening, sports and writing.  During the first stages the children were able to mix-and-match their activities and were able to thus acquaint themselves with all the staff and the rest of the children of the neighborhood who during the school year attended three different schools (French Catholic, English Catholic and English Public).

The ongoing stages saw the children initiating their own projects, giving them the opportunity to expand their talents and leadership abilities.  Older children helped teach and supervise younger ones.  Parents and grandparents and local teen-agers developed into a volunteer force to help the children.

The experience was considered a tremendous success and substantiated the growing move in educational circles towards more of a community concept in education – children learning from other children, parent involvement, using the children’s own interests to teach skills as reading and writing. This, combined with the use of the total neighborhood as a learning environment, provided a meaningful setting for educational outcomes.

The children, brought up in such a setting, it is felt, develop more in the areas of independence, resourcefulness and creative thinking than children brought up in the more traditional, desk-oriented schools.

I had just graduated with a teacher certificate from Ottawa Teachers College (’71) and did the main conceptual work in preparing the proposal for the grant and coordinated the project. 

Tunya Audain
 

Tips for Trustees from a “failed” Candidate

While I ran for school board trustee in the last election, Nov 15/08, I kept my fingers crossed that I would NOT be elected. I dreaded having to go to interminable meetings for three years of my life.  I did run to bring to public and institutional awareness the need to seriously examine the very relevancy of school boards in this day and age.  I did learn a lot during the campaign and from my research and thus I have some insights to offer.

TRUSTEE AWARENESS #1

My HOMEWORK on school board issues during my recent trustee candidacy yields a lot of interesting information. I did not get elected, however did garner over 1/10 of votes. My website continues: http://abolish-school-boards.org

As well, I will publish on other sites as news comes in. With that in mind, I share the following:

1. Getting more money for schools. Most candidates I heard or read about said they would dedicate themselves to this effort.

In Quebec the opposition (ADQ) says they would abolish school boards to save $125 million annually. To compute for BC that would mean a saving of about $70 million annually. Instead of the savings going back into provincial coffers perhaps that money should be spread out to BC schools or for special needs. Would BC trustees consider that sacrifice worthwhile?

2. Few trustee candidates mentioned any kind of system-wide reform. Most just wanted to hunker down and improve their own district.

Meanwhile, our sister province to the east, Alberta, seems to have province-wide reviews every few years. Right now they are in the midst of a review of education for special-needs. In 2003 a Commission on Learning produced 95 recommendations with the Ministry of Education acting on 88. The Minister told school trustees Nov 19 that another review is imminent, that “he wants to get people talking about education…that could lead to changes in the legislation that governs how schools are run.” When asked if that meant abolishing school boards, he answered, “…governance is part of that discussion and if we’re not doing governance the right way, then we should be open to the concept of how we should do it.” See "Education System Could Face Changes".

These reviews, if genuine, definitely lead to greater responsiveness to what citizens express and want. For example, Alberta has had enabling legislation since 1994 to provide for greater choice through charter schools where parents, teachers and principals run individual schools. This autonomy allows flexibility in meeting accountability standards as well as providing for creative programs to emerge. This is something that BC should consider for its citizens as well.

A worldview approach has significant educational and decisional implications. BC also needs these focused conversations outside the periodic provincial elections. A commission of inquiry soon???

3. School closures due to falling enrollment seem to be a BC political no-no.

Meanwhile, trustees in Boston, even in the midst of closing six schools, are expanding in other areas to improve school quality. They expect to add more “pilot” schools which have more “autonomy than other schools over budget, staffing, governance, classroom teaching standards, and testing programs.”

4. Trustee candidates see themselves as volunteer public servants called to do good things for their community. They don’t see that they’ll be paid to do a lot of busy work and a lot of frustrating political wrangling and manipulation.

A little flavor of the jockeying and fighting that goes on and the ideological agendas at play was evidenced during the recent board elections in Langley. However, rarely do we see anything comprehensive like “Confessions and Frustrations of a Long Time School Trustee”.

Well, there is such a book, not with that title though. The 1998 book by Russell J. Edwards is called “How Boards of Education Are Failing Your Children” and available from $.33 to $1.00 plus shipping (about $5-6) from AbeBooks or Amazon. It’s a long rambling, stream of consciousness, full of insider gossip, political and personal, dirty tricks, etc. Written by a well-intentioned “Master School Board Member” who wants to tell “what is wrong with the educational process and why it is so hard to make progress and solve problems.” Highly recommended, especially for trustees who think it’s a “nice” job and think they’ll get anywhere during any 3yr term.

5. Fads come and go, yet they continue to be embraced for the WRONG reasons. What they really do is buy time for the system to carry on business-as-usual — not for any real reform.

Canada (except for Alberta) it seems is wedded to the pro forma model of consultation as noted in the OECD report of 1976 meaning — going through the motions, affecting concern that is not genuine, perfunctory…

Here is a recent gross example of such a fad from the US. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation poured millions, NO, over 2 billion dollars into converting large high schools into smaller ones. 8 years later, Nov 11/08, the Foundation called a meeting “to admit candidly that the new small high schools had not fulfilled their promise.” Please see "Bill Gates and his Silver Bullet"

Critics of this program show the harm done to students, 8 years of their lives lost, whole schools turned upside down…millions of taxpayer dollars wasted, good teachers quitting rather than being forced to support a plan they knew would be detrimental for their students…

I’ve been reading the 12 page promo for the Iowa Lighthouse Project that BC trustees will be considering in their upcoming training in Dec and I’m really hoping it is not being sold as another “silver bullet”. By trying to make trustees more “effective” this still consigns parents to a secondary, auxiliary role. Parents having choice and voice can move “stuck” schools and scores far better than expensive trustees and school boards.

Alternatives to School Boards

 

Continuing to add to 101 Reasons to Abolish……

14. Alternatives to School Boards

Jean Charest, Premier of Quebec, has called a General Election for Dec. 08/08. He said his minority government can’t operate with “three pairs of hands on the helm”. He seeks a majority government to tackle the difficult times ahead.

He blamed the other two parties of brinkmanship with the PQ and ADQ threatening to force votes of confidence and vote together to bring down his Liberals. He cited the ADQ plan to abolish school boards as a possible issue to bring down his government.

In the last election of 2007 the school board issue was widely discussed. ADQ claimed that by abolishing the boards this would remove this extra layer of bureaucracy, leaving governance to the municipalities, the provincial government and the schools themselves.

We shall await any discussions of this issue in Quebec in the next month

101 Reasons to Abolish School Boards

 

I am compiling 101 Reasons to Abolish School Boards.  To see the ongoing discussions on the topic and the Reasons as they are developed, see my site:

http://abolish-school-boards.org

101 Reasons to Abolish School Boards

1.  An unnecessary level of government
2.  Politics of lay acquiescence – trustees become tamed for establishment purposes.
3.  Conflict of interest abounds – many trustees are educators or ex, or even ex teacher union leaders.
4.  Trusteeship is often used as a stepping stone for politicians-in-training.
5.  School Boards are Obsolete – outlived their usefulness.
6.  Influence peddling has no place in school board business.
7.  Parent rights in education is a taboo topic in school boards.
8.  School Boards are a great field resource to study incompetency.  The saying: “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence” was “discovered in the Vancouver School Board system.
9.  School Boards and other public education bodies love to hear speakers who denounce standards.  Do they give equal time for those supporting standards?
10.  School Boards should not be running recreation classes for adults.

More to follow…..see above site…..
 

Campaigning to Abolish School Boards

 

(Below are my background notes for the 2 minute presentation taped for local TV.  I don’t know how the final will look or sound.  Air time (Cable 4) for West Vancouver candidates are:  Sat Nov 1, 8-9:00 am & Sun Nov 9, 6:30-7:30pm. I’m running for School Board in West Vancouver, Canada, Nov 15/08.)

The last time I ran for School Board Trustee in West Vancouver was in 1975 and I ran then as a parent of 2 young students in the school system.  I wanted to make things better for them and others in West Van schools.  I did not get elected.

Now I’m running as a grandmother, 33 years later, and in all that time I do not see things having improved….responsiveness to student needs, relationships with parents don’t seem to have improved…parents are still frustrated and families are still not meaningfully involved in governing their schools or successful in pushing for achievement goals.  In fact, things are worse, more complex, more entangled than ever…..

I’m running not for power or to sit for 3 years at symbolic school board meetings.

I’m running in order to have conversations on issues with people during this election period.

The main issue I present is that of the relevancy of the school board system itself.  I see the school board as an unnecessary 4th level of government.  Why do we cling to the large central control institution of school boards when we have the successful model of independent schools where parents govern their own schools?  Or we can try the charter school model where teachers and parents govern an autonomous school.

If school boards were abolished we would achieve enormous cost savings, perhaps to the amount of $1,000 – $2,000 extra per child which could either go to all students or dedicated to serving special needs.

Other issues are community education.  Should school boards, for example, run Yoga and quilting courses? No.

Should school boards recruit and educate international students — for profit?  No, that is not their mandate.  Leave that to the private sector.

Other issues I want to discuss with people are vouchers and tuition tax credits.  What about the idea, in the name of transparency, of having the board post online their cheque registry of ALL expenditures?

Basically, my belief is that the best decision-making is that done closest to the individual and in the case of education, closest to home.  That means having the family as closely involved in choices and decisions in education as possible. 

The best model for school governance is local autonomy, therefore we don’t need school boards.  Phone me or visit my website:  http://abolish-school-boards.org