By Donna Trimble
Parent choice in education will soon be an illusion in Alberta. Alberta Education’s micro-management of core curriculum has overstepped its mandate to provide education objectives for students from kindergarten to Grade 12.
This overreach will culminate in 2016, with an Inspiring Education platform which not only reduces knowledge outcomes, but also enforces a specific “inquiry” delivery method. No longer content with ensuring scholastic outcomes are met, Inspiring Education will mandate how educators must teach.
Inspiring Education’s delivery method is based on a failed concept called inquiry learning, known in previous iterations as problem-based or discovery learning. This teaching method has repeatedly failed students. Fortunately, parents across Alberta are waking up because of the debacle that is Alberta Education’s Discovery Math experiment. Though Alberta Education claims otherwise, Discovery Math uses the same inquiry methodology Inspiring Education will integrate across all subject areas in 2016.
Thanks to the brave tenacity of Alberta parent Nhung Tran-Davies, parents and educators have come together to fight for changes in Discovery Math, which has been an abject failure. Discovery Math was meant to acknowledge the unique learning styles of students and teach math in a wide variety of exploratory ways in order to allow students to “discover” math for themselves.
The traditional math curriculum was gutted of time-tested techniques emphasizing the memorization of timetables and other math facts and algorithms, such as carrying and long division. The goal was to produce well-rounded and deep math thinkers for the 21st century.
Instead, ignoring cognitive science, the Discovery Math developers left Alberta children with an incomprehensible math program that teaches a cornucopia of counter-intuitive techniques that even parents and mathematicians can’t decipher. The only benefactors have been the growing number of math tutoring centres across the province. According to the Program for International Student Assessment, math proficiency in Alberta students has plummeted since this new approach was imposed on Alberta’s schools.
“Inspiration” and “discovery” are great buzz words, but parents send their children to school to learn the foundations of reading, writing and math, so that they will have the core fundamentals to tackle any and all scholastic material they may encounter in their future. Rather than learn from the failed Discovery Math experiment, Alberta Education is pushing forward with Inspiring Education, ignoring parental wishes that education focus on core skills.
The teaching method of inquiry mandated by Inspiring Education requires more time for exploration. Therefore, Alberta Education admits that it is once again lowering the standard for knowledge and skills that students are expected to master. Parent choice will be meaningless if one Inspiring Education formula for instruction is mandated across all school settings and subject areas.
While educators may choose to use the inquiry teaching methods of Inspiring Education in full or part, Alberta Education oversteps its bounds and contradicts Alberta policies and laws when it manipulates the curriculum to the extent that educators no longer have the time for traditional, direct instruction methods.
Across Alberta, petitions are being compiled and rallies organized demanding that Alberta Education stop their overreach and abuse of curricula, returning choice to the classroom. It is Alberta Education’s responsibility to identify key knowledge and skill outcomes and then leave it to the schools to discern the tools, curricula and methods they will use.
The government of Alberta should limit its involvement in education to the discernment of basic skills expectations per grade from kindergarten to Grade 12, and the implementation of standardized testing to ensure students are meeting these basic essentials. As for educational enrichment, leave that to the ones who know the children best: teachers in the classroom and, most importantly, Alberta parents.
Donna Trimble is executive director of Parents for Choice in Education, and co-author of Inspiring Education — The Undermining of Parental Choice, posted at www.parentchoice.ca.