Current curriculum development updates
The Alberta government shares important updates about the curriculum development process on their website: Alberta government - Curriculum development
Key principles for curriculum development and resource selection
One of the most important, ongoing and heated debates regarding education pertains to the curriculum and resources used in Alberta's K-12 classrooms.
Consequences of curriculum decisions are far-reaching, impacting the achievement of future generations of students.
For example, over the past 20 years Alberta has suffered one of the steepest declines in math achievement in Canada as measured by several international assessments.
One of the major culprits identified in a C.D. Howe report by Dr. Anna Stokke,"What to do about Canada’s declining math scores", is a shift in mathematics curricula which lacks exposure to key topics in earlier grade levels and overemphasizes what is known as a "discovery-based" approach at the expense of direct instruction. In addition, Dr. Stokke highlights the importance of ensuring teacher competence by implementing required math‑content licensure exams.
From a standpoint of school choice and education excellence, education providers must have the autonomy to select the methods and resources that are cohesive to the setting and most effectively meet student needs and parent expectations.
There are several guiding principles that have been identified by Parents for Choice in Education as critically important to pursue when it comes to K-12 curriculum and resources.
Principle 1: Curriculum outcomes should describe the "what" and not impose the "how"
Methods of instruction (the "how" or pedagogy) should be determined by the professional teacher in the classroom, based on the needs of individual students and expectations of parents, and not imposed by the government as a one-size-fits-all approach on every classroom in Alberta.
In 2015, Parents for Choice in Education wrote a policy paper "Inspiring Education: The Undermining of Parental Choice" detailing concerns with the direction of "Inspiring Education" and explaining that local schools and teachers must have the freedom to select the methods and resources which most effectively meet the needs of their students and the expectations of parents, instead of having the "how" imposed upon them via mandatory methodology-based curriculum outcomes.
Principle 2: Curriculum design should "Begin with the end in mind"
A list of essential knowledge and skills outcomes needed by a graduating student to enter university, technical schools or the workforce should be developed based on input from end-point stakeholders, including entrepreneurs, tradespeople, content-area specialists, parents, industry experts, etc., within a framework of broad public consultation.
The responsibility and role of the education department would be to use that list of essential outcomes to then develop specific grade-level curricula starting with Grade 12 and working through to the lower grades. Freedom and local autonomy should be provided to schools, teachers and families to meet these core essential outcomes in the context of their varying interests (i.e. whether arts, sports, trades, sciences, second language, etc.).
Principle 3: School plays supportive role to parents in areas of values & moral development
Authentic choice is removed when governments fund resources or enforce mandatory curriculum outcomes that coerce teachers to impose an ideological perspective onto a captive, impressionable audience of students that is not consistent with the reason parents have chosen that setting for their child.
One current concerning example in Alberta's Gr 7-12 public schools is the PRISM Toolkit, a 150 page teacher resource published by the Alberta Teachers' Association with funding from the Government of Alberta. This resource is built on an explicit premise that any binary understanding of gender is "overly simplistic and often wrong", "misleading", "exclusionary and harmful" (see page 21), leading to the following concerns:
- How is this resource “for the good of all students” (page 42), when it legitimizes only one view as accurate, failing to respectfully reflect the diversity of beliefs and multiple perspectives represented by all students in our public schools on such a profoundly sensitive topic of sexuality and gender? (See, for example, the
- How is the funding, legitimization and use of this resource in Alberta schools consistent with Alberta Education's own standards, communicated in their Guide to Education (see pages 95-96), that "the school plays a supportive role to parents in the areas of values and moral development and shall handle parental decisions in regard to controversial issues with respect and sensitivity"?
Some dismiss these concerns saying the PRISM Toolkit is an "optional" resource for teachers, however, it is not optional for the students in the classroom, nor for the parents who choose that setting for their child, nor for the teachers feeling pressured by school administrations to implement this resource.
For a more in-depth look at the content and concerns with the PRISM Toolkit, please refer to the well-researched articles published on the Informed Albertans blog (written by former teacher Theresa Ng, who later became PCE's Communications Advisor):
- You think you know what Alberta students learn in school? (published October 30, 2016)
- You’re testing my child on… what?? (published February 6, 2017)
Principle 4: Build competence & confidence of teachers
To ensure student success it is essential that teachers have content-area expertise to successfully teach the K-12 subjects for which they are assigned.
Practical strategies to build teacher expertise include:
- Mentorship and workshop opportunities for teachers who are teaching subject areas for the first time
- Offering opportunities for graduates of content-focused faculties (i.e. history, English, mathematics, sciences) to pursue teacher certification through a school apprenticeship/practicum process following their degree, rather than limiting certification only to graduates from Faculty of Education programs.
- Providing curriculum mentors for professional development within school districts who support teachers by ensuring maximum congruence among curriculum outcomes, planned lessons, taught lessons and assessments.
- Requiring subject-specialty upgrading and proficiency exams be taken on a regular schedule throughout teacher careers.
- What went wrong in curriculum development - written by Stuart Wachowicz, PCE Board Director and former school administrator and Director of Curriculum with Edmonton Public Schools
- What the Alberta Curriculum Re-Write Must Entail - written by Stuart Wachowicz, PCE Board Director and former school administrator and Director of Curriculum with Edmonton Public Schools
- The Great Canadian Math Debate, 38-part series - these 38 columns, published by the Edmonton Journal, examine a variety of perspectives related to concerns about math education provincially and nationally.
- Why Testing is Important - written by Jim Dueck, Ed D, a former teacher, principal, superintendent, and Assistant Deputy Minister in Alberta
- Abandoning History to Create Social Change in Twentieth Century Alberta - written by Michael Wagner, Ph.D., Fall 2017
- VIDEO: Why are Alberta students struggling to compete on the world stage? - produced by Parents for Choice in Education, Nov. 2017
- VIDEO: Restoring Excellence and Evidence-Based Teaching in the K-12 Curriculum - presented by Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies from the Back to Basics campaign at the Alberta Math and Education Forum, May 29, 2015:
- VIDEO: "Inspiring Education" - Disadvantaging Alberta's Youth - presented by Stuart Wachowicz at the Alberta Math and Education Forum, May 29, 2015:
- VIDEO: Alberta K-12 Math Curriculum - A Math Prof's Perspective - presented by Dr. Vladimir Troitsky at the Alberta Math and Education Forum, May 29, 2015:
- VIDEO: Fixing Math Education in Alberta (and Canada) - What's Gone Wrong? What's Needed? - presented by Dr. Robert Craigen at the Alberta Math and Education Forum, May 29, 2015:
To learn more about the key components and benefits of authentic education choice, as well as the areas which strengthen or hinder education choice, visit the "What is education choice?" page on our website.
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