It's been a busy and exciting winter season for us.
We've been very active in advocacy, and our work has borne a lot of fruit. Covid mandates are over at the provincial level, and there is lots of good news to report in growth of Charter and Independent schools, as well as homeschooling options. There is still plenty to be done.Read more
The biggest development in education in Alberta seems to be the government’s draft K-6 curriculum. It has gathered a lightning storm, and parts have returned to the drawing board. As I’ve said before, the most interesting part of the controversy is what’s under the surface. In December, the controversy advanced in a way that has little to do with curriculum.
Before Christmas, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced that the government would remove the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s (ATA) control over teacher discipline. This power was enshrined by the Teaching Profession Act of 1935 – almost a century ago. The government’s arguments are largely based on cases where the ATA failed to refer disciplinary cases for criminal proceedings, including that of Michael Gregory. The Opposition called it a “cynical attempt to distract from prior policies,” but it seems likely that this is actually the biggest move the government has made on education in a century.
LaGrange’s comment is telling: "It is now abundantly clear that the ATA can no longer act as the investigator and the prosecutor for complaints against its members. This obvious conflict of interest has made Alberta an outlier. All other provinces and territories follow either an arm's-length or government-operated model for teacher discipline."
Minister LaGrange is sincere: she already overruled an ATA panel three years prior. Her observation is echoed by former Minister Jeff Johnson, whom the ATA criticized for overturning disciplinary panels in 2014. Even former Minister Lyle Oberg wishes he had been able to do what LaGrange is seeking to do.
However, LaGrange is not simply forcing the ATA to be more diligent in prosecuting members: she is reducing the amount of control the ATA leadership is able to exert over members.
The ATA’s power over its members is not limited to disciplining the incompetent or misbehaving. While internal discipline is part of what normally makes a profession a profession, the ATA disciplines teachers for “unprofessional conduct.” This includes anything it deems to be “detrimental to the best interests of students, the public or the teaching profession.” Such conduct might include speaking out against mandatory workshops on Critical Race Theory. ATA discipline is a very wide net, catching anything that might diminish the power ATA leadership has over its members.
Should the ATA be the sole arbiter of the best interest of students, the public, and the teaching profession? Aren’t parents and students the key stakeholders? Teachers, as professionals, want to be responsive to the needs of the families and students they serve – not to union leadership.
Because the ATA is presently the sole arbiter of ‘right conduct’, teachers that PCE talks to often disclose that they view the ATA as oppressive. No teacher will go on the record to criticize it – they are simply too afraid. As one put in a private email to me:
The only institution I fear more than my government is my union. Anything that reduces the power that the ATA has over education, I support. The ATA is more radically progressive than any teacher I know.
Opposing the removal of discipline from the profession should be the primary objective of the ATA. However, the ATA has expended so much money – and bandwidth – advertising against the draft curriculum, their ability to talk about discipline is limited. They are left to complain that it is merely a “distraction” from the curriculum discussion. It isn’t. Curriculums come and go. Gaining or removing power over teacher discipline, however, is a once-in-a-century event.
While we can argue about the validity of the claims made, they are largely irrelevant. Power over discipline makes the ATA more powerful than any non-state actor should be, with a built-in conflict of interest that harms students, families, and teachers. The government must remove it – and with the ATA overbalanced on the curriculum rewrite, it may just have that chance.
John Hilton-O’Brien is the Executive Director of Parents for Choice in Education, www.parentchoice.ca
It’s been a crazy year. I took the helm in March as PCE's new Executive Director, and we have been at a full gallop since then. Our main effort has been the trustee elections, whose effect cannot be understated. PCE has written a book, created a course, and trained dozens of people in campaigning. We've also managed to see several columns published, which have had substantial effect.
Doing this at the same time as other changes has been challenging. This year has seen PCE workhorses Donna Trimble and Theresa Ng take a step back from direct involvement, due to life changes. We have been very well served by this pair over the years, and we cannot thank or honour them enough. They continue to stay on as volunteers, for which we are deeply grateful.
Speaking of changes, we welcome Maria Cameron into her new role as Executive Assistant. Maria has done tremendous work for PCE the last few years in different roles and is well-acquainted with our organization. Her work – together with volunteers working under her direction – was the mainstay of PCE’s 2021 Voter’s Guide and Candidate Questionnaire. Going forward, she will be an invaluable part of our team.
This newsletter contains details about our election effort, which was more successful than we could have hoped! You will also find links to some blog posts that you may have missed, and links to some articles that we hope will be informing or amuse you – or possibly both at once. At the end, we will talk a little about our plans for the near future.
Executive Director, Parents for Choice in Education
Get to know PCE’s new Executive Director, upcoming March webinar & sounding alarm on school research databases
We hope this message finds you well! Here’s a round-up of important highlights and current opportunities related to parental choice in education.
September marks a time of transition for many families as students head back to classes in one of the most unusual years in recent memory.
This month also means a major transition for Parents for Choice in Education (PCE) as Donna Trimble steps down and we welcome our new Executive Director to the helm.
Lots of important updates in this month’s PCE newsletter below!
It has been an especially busy month for education choice in Alberta, given the recently tabled Choice in Education Act, as well as dealing with ongoing concerns with the new funding framework.
PCE Executive Director Donna Trimble also had the opportunity earlier this month for an extended television interview on Bridge City News, highlighting the updated section on our website about Health & Sexual Education.
All this information and more follows below in this month’s newsletter!
I am writing to you today to share some important news.
After a great deal of contemplation, I have made the very difficult decision to step down as Executive Director of Parents for Choice in Education (PCE), as of August 31, 2020.Read more
March & April in review: Overhauling education funding, Sask. court case & new health and sexual education resource
We at Parents for Choice in Education (PCE) recognize the very changed reality we are all facing right now as a result of COVID-19.
Our hearts go out to all those who are facing difficulties and challenges as we navigate these new and complex circumstances, as well as to those in northern Alberta who are facing devastating spring floods.
There continues to be ongoing developments impacting choice in education and PCE has prepared a summary of highlights to help keep you up to date.