We urge you to take advantage of this excellent opportunity to provide input on this new legislation prior to the survey deadline of Dec 6th, 2019.
Much of the survey is demographic in nature and several of the open-ended questions are based on your unique, individual circumstances.
That said, there are several other open-ended questions which ask for your input on key aspects of choice in education:
- What does choice in education mean to you?
- What, if anything, do you see as currently working well or needing improvement in terms of choice in Alberta’s education system? (i.e. type, access, level, quality, etc.)
- What would you like to see in the future in terms of choice in Alberta’s education system?
How anyone responds to these questions will be specific to each person’s experience and understanding of education choice.
However, we offer several key ideas below to draw from as you are thinking about how you would like to respond.
Note that we have combined our responses to the last two questions (areas needing improvement and what you would like to see in the future) as they are quite similar.
PCE’s response: What does choice in education mean to you?
Authentic education choice requires two key ingredients:
- Parents must have the freedom to access educational settings that genuinely meet the needs of their children while honoring their family’s culture and values.
- Schools must have the freedom to provide settings that fulfill the expectations of families who attend.
In this respect, supporting education choice reaches far beyond simply supporting the mere existence of different education settings.
PCE’s response: What do you see as currently working well in terms of choice in Alberta’s education system?
Alberta has a broad range of education choices including government public schools, separate (Catholic) schools, Francophone schools, independent schools, home education, charter schools, as well as a wide array of alternative programs within public and separate schools.
All of these options are funded either fully or partially by taxpayer dollars, meaning that education choice is more widely accessible to people regardless of income, not just reserved for the wealthy.
PCE’s response: What do you see as currently needing improvement? What would you like to see in the future?
Authentic education choice can only flourish when legislation, regulations, policies and bureaucratic procedures support local decision-making, rather than undermining local authority with unnecessary and unreasonable levels of interference and red tape.
Local education decision-makers must be equipped with meaningful authority to ensure their education settings are responsive to student needs and parent expectations within their unique community context.
Specific examples of areas where choice in education can be strengthened include the following:
To ensure genuine choice in education it is important to expand the opportunity for charter schools to exist by reducing barriers and limitations.
Currently, according to sections 24 and 25 of the Education Act, either the Minister or the public school in the area can undermine the capacity of a charter school to exist by claiming that the desired educational focus will be established, or is already established.
Rather than allowing the public school to dictate the available education options in the area, legislative amendments should ensure that charter schools exist based on student needs and local community demands, not on the opinion of the Minister or the consent of the public school. Any restrictions on the number of charter schools should also be eliminated.
To ensure genuine choice in education it is important that the application process for new private/independent schools, as well as the process for these schools to expand their program offerings, is streamlined and collaborative, with clearly communicated expectations and consistently applied standards. Unnecessary and unreasonable levels of red tape and bureaucratic interference should be eliminated.
Currently, many report that these processes have been difficult to navigate, resulting in a very limited number of new applications being approved.
To ensure genuine choice in education, legislative protections should be added for home education.
Currently, most of the parameters of home education are defined only in regulations, which can be changed at any time at the whim of regulators, without proper stakeholder consultation.
For greater certainty and increased long-term stability, legislation should protect provisions that are currently regulatory. Also, the choices to home educators could be expanded to allow for a “notification only” option.
To ensure genuine choice in education, stable and predictable levels of funding should be provided to school authorities in a manner that enhances access for students.
Currently, funding allocations to school authorities are paid out based on enrollment as of September 30th. This means that if a parent accesses an education setting for their child in September, but then discovers their child’s needs are not being met, funding will not follow their child to a new education setting. Receiving schools are understandably reluctant to take students for which no funding is provided, thus potentially limiting options for parents. This problem could be remedied by providing partial funding allocations twice each school year to ensure students who choose to move to a new education setting mid-year have some funding allotted to the new education setting.
Also, funding of private/independent schools is currently governed by regulations, which can be changed at anytime. This uncertainty hampers the security of private schools to provide consistent educational opportunities and should be corrected by legislating predictable levels of funding for private/independent schools.
PROTECTING AUTONOMY OF PRINCIPALS & SCHOOL STAFF
To ensure genuine choice in education, principals and school staff in all schools must have the autonomy to use their professional decision-making authority to work with students and their families in a manner that best meets the unique needs of students and is cohesive within the context of the local school community.
Currently, section 35.1 of the Education Act forces principals to permit clubs and school-wide activities which may include political activities and activism that undermine or contradict their school community’s educational focus and identity. Learn more from the PCE website: Laws & policies that strip parental rights
Amendments must be made to section 35.1 to protect the autonomy of principals and school staff so they are equipped to meet the needs of students in a manner consistent with their local school context.
To ensure genuine choice in education, it is important that the identity and integrity of faith-based settings is protected, including within the separate (Catholic) school system, alternative faith-based programs in the public schools and independent/private schools from a variety of faith perspectives.
These schools should have the freedom to permeate all aspects of their environment with the faith-foundation upon which they exist and for which they have been chosen by students and their families.
Following are examples of how the identity and integrity of faith-based settings has been undermined recently in Alberta, along with suggestions for improvement:
1. Direction and influence of the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA)
The ATA has provided direction, support and resources which do not represent the core values of all teachers, yet membership with the ATA continues to be mandatory for every teacher within the public, Francophone and separate (Catholic) school system.
For example, at the 2017 ATA Annual Representative Assembly a resolution was passed that Catholic educators should have the autonomy to choose lessons which could be in contradiction to the Catholic doctrine upon which their schools exist, a move that would undermine the raison d’etre of Catholic education (Learn more from a PCE column: Is it time for Catholic educators to leave the ATA?)
To ensure genuine choice in education, teachers should have the autonomy to decide for themselves whether or not membership in the ATA will be to their benefit and the benefit of the schools where they teach.
2. Proposed mandated curriculum outcomes that would undermine faith-based perspectives
There have been recent concerns among faith-based schools when it comes to mandated curriculum outcomes that could enforce the teaching of sensitive topics in a way that is contradictory to the faith foundation upon which the schools exist.
For example, a former Alberta education minister publicly rejected a sex-education curriculum developed specifically to align with the core values of the Catholic school system.
To ensure genuine choice in education, government mandated curriculum must allow for the diversity of perspectives on sensitive topics. Furthermore, education providers must have the autonomy to select the resources that are cohesive to their unique setting and that most effectively meet student needs and parent expectations.
Time is running out...
The deadline for this choice in education survey is Friday, December 6, 2019 and we encourage you to take advantage of this time-sensitive opportunity as soon as possible.
The survey can be completed online, or there is an option to print and send your responses to Alberta Education via email, fax or snail mail.
Thank you for your ongoing support as we advocate together for an excellent, quality-oriented, choice-driven education system which recognizes parental authority!