A Parents’ Guide to Common Sense Education in Saskatchewan

September 18, 2014

Saskatchewan parents who are frustrated with fuzzy math assignments, confusing report cards, and low academic standards are about to get some much-needed help. Today, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy has released A Parents’ Guide to Common Sense Education in Saskatchewan. This handbook, written by Frontier research fellow and classroom teacher Michael Zwaagstra, shines a light on the many education fads promoted by the Department of Education.

“Parents are tired of the endless stream of failed education fads that keep resurfacing in our schools,” explains Zwaagstra. This handbook shows parents that, contrary to what they hear from superintendents and curriculum consultants, there is compelling research evidence for the effectiveness of traditional teaching methodologies.

Zwaagstra sifts through the research studies and shows that many of the most common education fads (i.e. discovery learning, multiple intelligences, learning styles, etc.) lack empirical evidence. “It’s time we stop wasting our time on useless fads and start focusing on actually improving instruction in our schools,” concludes Zwaagstra.

This handbook also makes the case for report cards that make sense to students and parents. Zwaagstra shows that the reasons school board officials often give for removing percentage grades from report cards fail to withstand scrutiny. Parents have a right to demand that their children receive report cards that make sense.

A Parents’ Guide to Common Sense Education in Saskatchewan will empower parents and other concerned citizens by providing the information they need to push back against public education’s foolish fads.

Forgo failed education fads

June 5, 2014

Published in The Chronicle Herald (Halifax)

Nova Scotia schools could be in for some major changes. The Minister’s Panel on Education, struck by the Liberal government, will review public education and make recommendations. But if it embraces contemporary education fads, it will do more harm than good.

For parents eagerly awaiting the panel’s report, here’s a prediction of what’s likely to appear.

The panel will begin by pointing out that the world is changing rapidly while schools are still mired in “factory-model” education of the 19th century. Instead of getting students to memorize facts that will soon become outdated, the panel will recommend that teachers must focus on “helping students learn to learn.”

This will lead to the central theme in the panel’s report — the need to move Nova Scotia to a 21st-century learning model. It will recommend rewriting curriculum guides to focus less on content, and more on the process of learning. In addition, it will stress the need for schools to do a better job of integrating technology in classrooms.

How can I be so confident about what’s going to appear in the panel’s report? Because the same empty philosophy and shallow platitudes appear in similar reports from other provinces. The most obvious example is Alberta’s “Inspiring Education” initiative.

Released in 2010 with great fanfare, Inspiring Education suggested that Alberta’s education system needs a fundamental transformation. It trumpeted the importance of 21st-century skills and spoke about “the role of the teacher changing from that of a knowledge authority to an architect of learning.” And, for good measure, Inspiring Education concluded that “technology should play a broader role in the classroom.”

However, while the Alberta government appears enthusiastic about this new direction, this is not true for Alberta parents, teachers, and students.

For example, more than 14,000 parents signed a petition expressing their unhappiness with Alberta’s fuzzy math curriculum. They want the education minister to ensure students learn standard algorithms and memorize their math facts.

Currently, the math curriculum does none of this. Instead, it places a strong emphasis on the so-called discovery approach. Students are supposed to figure out ways of solving math problems by themselves while teachers are discouraged from providing direct instruction. Unfortunately, this is exactly the learning environment envisioned for all grades and subjects in Inspiring Education.

The Alberta education minister recently reinforced this direction with the release of his Task Force for Teaching Excellence report. In it, the task force insists that all teachers must “shift from the dissemination of information and recall of facts to a greater focus on inquiry and discovery.”

The task force also wants principals to evaluate teachers based on the degree to which they adopt this philosophy. Teachers would need to get re-certified every five years and, presumably, could lose their licences if they use a more traditional teaching approach.

It should come as little surprise that the Alberta Teachers’ Association is against these recommendations. Over 450 teacher delegates took the unprecedented step of unanimously voting no-confidence in the education minister at their annual meeting.

Clearly, Alberta’s Inspiring Education agenda is far from universally supported.

Despite the train wreck in Alberta, other provincial governments are moving in the same misguided direction. British Columbia’s education department is promoting the B.C. Education Plan, which similarly trumpets the need to change everything in schools because “the world is changing.”

Like Alberta, it wants to make teachers “shift from being the primary source of content to focus on helping students learn how to learn.”

Fortunately, Nova Scotia still has the opportunity to avoid these misguided educational reforms. Instead of copying empty slogans from the 21st century education movement, the Minister’s Panel on Education should examine ways to help teachers do their jobs more effectively. Less top-down micromanagement by bureaucrats, fewer useless education fads, and more empowerment of classroom teachers would be good places to start.

Nova Scotian parents and students deserve more than failed approaches and empty platitudes. Hopefully, the panel’s upcoming report will prove my pessimistic predictions wrong, and will propose evidence-based recommendations that would actually improve this province’s schools.

Unfortunately, it is more likely we will see more of the faddish and misguided policy advice that has emerged from similar review processes in other jurisdictions.

Everything is changing — except education fads

March 7, 2014

Published in the Calgary Herald.

“Everything is changing.” So states the two-minute promotional video on the Alberta government’s Inspiring Education website. It describes the need to “prepare Alberta’s students for this unknown and unknowable future” and notes that “we cannot predict what work will look like in ten years, let alone what skills will be required.”

In other words, the Alberta government now wants to prepare students for an “unknowable” future. Because traditional learning no longer meets this goal, the narrator cheerfully concludes, “We’re changing everything.”

Confused? You should be. The government plans to scrap the top-performing education system in the country and replace it with a system that helps students develop unknown skills for jobs that don’t yet exist in some unknowable future. Only in education is such claptrap accepted as sensible policy.

Imagine if another government department featured such a ridiculous video on its website. Would anyone take Inspiring Health seriously if a video proclaims “we’re changing everything” because “we cannot predict what medicine will look like in ten years”? Or how about an Inspiring Justice video that states that the justice system must “prepare Alberta’s criminals for an unknown and unknowable future”?

For some reason, education is the one profession where it is acceptable to regularly throw out proven practices and replace them with new—but unproven–theories that have no evidence to support them.

Remember open area classrooms? In the 1970s, Alberta constructed elementary schools without walls. Classes met in open areas separated by dividers. The theory was that open classes would create exciting new “team teaching” opportunities and create a buzz of learning throughout the school.

In reality, many students couldn’t handle the noise and disruption so governments eventually built classroom walls at great expense. Despite the obvious problems with open area classrooms, this theory still dominated North America for years—and did great damage to the learning of millions of students.

For a profession that allegedly values critical thinking, it is remarkable that such a misguided theory was adopted so uncritically.

Failed education fads are not simply a thing of the past. Right now, Alberta students and their parents are suffering from the discovery math approach. Instead of making students memorize multiplication tables and learn the most efficient algorithms for solving math problems, discovery math encourages students to invent their own strategies and techniques. As a result, parents spend hours at home helping their kids figure out convoluted word problems that don’t make sense. Not surprisingly, the math scores of Alberta students have steadily declined since the formal introduction of discovery math in 2008.

What do Inspiring Education, open area classrooms, and discovery math all have in common? They are manifestations of the same failed educational philosophy—progressivism.

Progressives have a naively optimistic belief in the ability of students to direct their own learning. They dislike teacher-led classrooms and want each teacher to be “a guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage.” They prefer to focus on the process of learning and de-emphasize specific curriculum content.  In their minds, any rote learning is derided as “drill and kill.”

Inspiring Education proposes another version of this failed philosophy. Parents who are frustrated with discovery math can look forward to other subject areas becoming equally confusing. For example, science courses will focus less on learning key scientific facts and theories and more on students discovering things for themselves, while history courses will focus more on social justice activism than on providing students with an accurate understanding of the past.

Equally concerning is the Inspiring Education video’s nonsensical claim that we have no idea what skills will be required in the future. In reality, virtually everyone agrees that students will still need to learn how to read and write, do math, and have a basic understanding of Canadian history and governance. These disciplines and skills will be just as useful twenty years from now as they are today and as they were 100 years ago.

If the Alberta government is determined to stick with its mantra that “everything is changing”, it should change its Inspiring Education campaign into something useful. Building on Alberta’s proven strengths would be a much better strategy than tearing everything down just for the sake of change.

The flipped classroom has it all backwards

October 29, 2013

The one constant in the teaching profession is the regular introduction of new education fads. Whole language, open-area classrooms, and “new math” are a few examples from the past.

Sadly, the lack of hard evidence for these and other fads did little to prevent them from being widely adopted.

Now another education fad, flipped classrooms, is making its way into schools. In flipped classrooms, students watch instructional videos at home and complete their assignments during class time. Advocates claim students in flipped classrooms are more engaged in their learning than students in traditional classrooms. .

Carolyn Durley, a biology teacher in Kelowna, BC, recently appeared on CBC Radio to expound on the alleged benefits of flipped classrooms. Durley first heard about flipped classrooms at a professional development conference two years ago in Colorado and was so excited by this concept that she completely revamped her instructional approach. In her view, the change was beneficial for her students.

According to Durley, students in the 21st century acquire content knowledge from a variety of sources and may not look to their teachers as experts the same way they did in the past. As a result, Durley believes class time is best used providing one-on-one tutoring to students who can then learn new content at their own pace by watching instructional videos at home. This is a way for teachers be “a guide on the side” and not “a sage on the stage.”

However, Durley’s enthusiasm notwithstanding, there are a number of reasons to be skeptical about this approach. First, flipped classroom advocates place too little emphasis on the subject matter expertise of teachers. While students can use their computers and smartphones to access content, this does not take away from the ongoing importance of teacher directed instruction during class time. No amount of online reading or video watching can match the effectiveness of a history or science teacher who knows her subject well and can communicate it clearly to students.

Second, flipped classrooms become impractical when used with multiple subjects. A high school student with several teachers using the flipped classroom approach could find himself spending several hours in the evenings watching a variety of instructional videos. This excessive use of screen time becomes even more problematic with young students.

Aside from the testimonials provided by advocates, there is no evidence this approach is any more effective than other instructional methodologies. While there is a great deal of evidence for the effectiveness of direct instruction, a decidedly traditional approach, the same cannot be said for many innovations such as flipped classrooms. Thus, the wholesale adoption of this approach is premature, to say the least.

That being said, there are times when it may make sense to flip the classroom, especially if the videos provide better instruction than the textbooks or teachers. For example, a pilot project in Nova Scotia is currently providing free tablets to approximately 300 grade 7 students. One of the purposes behind these tablets is to enable students to access math videos from the Khan Academy’s website.

These videos will almost certainly have a positive impact on the math skills of these students. Unlike the fuzzy math found in most textbooks and curriculum guides, the Khan Academy videos actually show students the simplest and most efficient way to solve math problems. In fact, all of the standard mathematical algorithms for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division feature prominently in these videos. Ironically, Nova Scotia students with the newest technology will learn math the old-fashioned way—and will benefit from the experience.

Of course, all of this could be done without bringing a single tablet into a classroom. Teachers could teach the standard algorithms using textbooks that actually contain proper step-by-step directions. While watching a solid instructional video about a math technique is good, getting the same lesson from a teacher in the classroom who can answer questions at the time she is teaching the subject is even better.

For a small number of teachers, the flipped classroom has a certain amount of appeal. However, it is premature to push for the wholesale adoption of this approach. Better to stick with proven methodologies than chase after the latest fad solely on the basis of a few enthusiastic testimonials.

There is no such thing as individual learning styles

February 7, 2013

Published in the Winnipeg Free Press

One of the most widely accepted truisms in public education is that all students have individual learning styles. As a result, teachers are expected to tailor their lessons to meet the needs of the visual, auditory, and tactile-kinesthetic learners in their classes.

For example, suppose a Grade 3 teacher wants to teach her students about the solar system. According to learning styles theory, visual students should be shown lots of pictures of the planets while auditory learners benefit more from a detailed verbal description. Meanwhile, tactile-kinesthetic learners should construct models of each planet. In doing so, each student learns about the solar system through his or her individual learning style.

The theory sounds so simple and elegant. Many books and articles have been written showing teachers how to adapt their lessons to meet the learning styles of each student. However, there is just one little problem. Learning styles are a myth.

In his recent book, When Can You Trust the Experts?, cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham explains how to test learning styles theory. Take a group of people and identify each person’s so-called learning style. Let half of them experience a story through their preferred learning style.  For example, the story could be conveyed by pictures to visual learners and recited verbally to auditory learners. Then make the other half experience the same story through a different learning style. If the theory is correct, people who experience the story through their preferred learning style should remember the story better than those who do not.

“Experiments like this have been conducted,” writes Willingham, “and there is no support for the learning styles idea. Not for visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners, nor for linear or holistic learners, nor for any of the other learners described by learning styles theories.” In other words, learning styles theory is no more valid than an urban myth.

Willingham is not the only expert to point it out. John Hattie, Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, reviewed thousands of studies about student achievement in the course of his research. In his 2012 book, Visible Learning for Teachers, Hattie bluntly states there is “zero supporting evidence” for learning styles.

Catherine Scott, an Australian education researcher who has closely examined the evidence for learning styles theory, also came to the same conclusion. Her article, “The Search for the Key for Individualised Instruction,” appeared in the International Guide to Student Achievement (2013) and concluded that any activities based on learning styles theory “represent a waste of precious teaching and learning time.”

Despite the lack of evidence for individual learning styles, it remains widely promoted by provincial education departments, faculties of education, and public school boards. For example, Rethinking Classroom Assessment with Purpose in Mind, a document published by Manitoba Education in 2006, stresses the importance of identifying the individual learning styles of each student. A more recent Manitoba Education document, Strengthening Partnerships, recommends that teacher candidates be placed in a classroom environment where “teaching practices incorporate an understanding of different learning styles…”

The damage caused by this failed theory is significant. Instead of providing well-designed whole class lessons, teachers often waste vast amounts of time trying to adapt to the so-called learning styles of each student. Then at their professional development in-services, these same teachers are pushed to go even further in this direction. As a result, teachers end up working harder, getting worse results, and burning themselves out in the process.

Rejecting the theory does not mean teachers should teach every topic exactly the same way. It makes sense for teachers to use a variety of strategies when introducing students to new concepts. Going back to our example of Grade 3 students learning about the solar system, a good teacher will do far more than simply give a single lecture. Rather, she will show her students pictures of the planets, provide accurate verbal descriptions, and give students an opportunity to work with models of the planets.

Good teachers have always used a variety of strategies to engage as many students as possible. Sometimes looking at a picture is the best way to get a concept across while at other times it makes sense to let students construct a model. There is no need to pigeon-hole students into different learning styles, particularly since there is no evidence such styles exist.

Individual learning styles is a myth that should finally be put to rest.

Progressive ideology a failure

January 24, 2013

Published by The Chronicle Herald (Halfax)

One of the most common sayings prospective teachers hear in university is that a classroom teacher should be “a guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage.” This pithy quote sums up the progressive approach to education that dominates our public schools.

The progressive approach de-emphasizes subject matter knowledge and encourages students to construct their own understanding of the world around them. Teachers who make their students master basic math and reading skills through drill and practice are dismissed as old-fashioned, while teachers who involve students in open-ended inquiry projects are hailed as innovators.

While progressive educators claim their approach is supported by educational research, the reality is quite different. In fact, research evidence makes it clear that students benefit greatly from teachers who use traditional teaching techniques.

John Hattie is director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne and one of the world’s leading experts on student achievement. His recent book, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, is based on a synthesis of more than 60,000 research studies.

Hattie does not shy away from critiquing the cherished dogmas of progressive ideology. Most notably, Hattie rejects the notion that teachers should act primarily as non-intrusive facilitators, arguing instead that teachers must assume an active role directing learning.

One thing all teachers should do is require students to develop their skills through practice. While progressive educators deride practice and repetition as “drill and kill,” Hattie argues that deliberate practice is an essential part of learning. He cites a number of research studies that demonstrate the importance of many hours of practice in order to develop expertise. Hattie even goes so far as to say that, in some cases, learning “is simply doing some things many times over.”

Progressives strongly support open-ended activities in the classroom in which students direct their own learning. However, Hattie cautions against too many open-ended activities (such as discovery learning, searching the Internet, and PowerPoint presentations) because students are easily distracted from what is important. Once again, teachers need to do far more than act as mere guides on the side.

While Hattie acknowledges the importance of helping students develop critical thinking skills and gain greater self-awareness, he differs starkly from progressives in his emphasis on content. “All of this depends on subject matter knowledge, because enquiry and critical evaluation is not divorced from knowing something,” concludes Hattie.

As for the progressive mantra that all students have their own individual learning styles (visual, auditory, tactile-kinesthetic, etc.), Hattie bluntly states there is “zero-evidence” for this theory. Hattie concludes that identifying learning styles is a “modern fad” and a “fruitless pursuit.” Other well-known experts, such as cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham, back up his assessment.

Unfortunately, education officials in Nova Scotia seem blissfully unaware of these findings. As a case in point, the government’s Kids & Learning First document calls on teachers to identify the individual learning styles of each student. Similarly, the Halifax regional school board’s formal assessment policy requires teachers to design “multiple assessment and evaluation strategies that meet the learning styles of students …” Clearly, the individual learning styles fad remains firmly entrenched in this province.

As a result of this unproven theory, many teachers burn themselves out trying to adapt their lessons to every student’s so-called learning style. Instead of wasting their time designing multiple lessons for each topic, teachers should put more effort into instructing the whole class at the same time. Students would learn more and teachers would have more time to focus on things that really matter.

Similarly, the provincial government could significantly improve math instruction if it adopted a curriculum that required students to learn the basic math facts and master the standard algorithms for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. However, the government’s plan to adopt the math curriculum used by provinces in Western Canada is woefully inadequate since that curriculum is heavily influenced by progressive ideology. With this curriculum, Nova Scotia can expect more of the same poor results.

If the government is serious about improving education, it needs to reject the failed progressive ideology that maintains its stranglehold on public schools. Real change means empowering each teacher to be far more than a mere guide on the side.

Failed education fads should be buried, not resurrected

Originally published by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. Link.

The 1970s was a memorable decade. Judging by yearbook pictures from that era, it seems like everyone wore polyester, bell bottoms, platform shoes, and long hair. And while it may be a fun way to dress up at Halloween costume parties, virtually everyone recognizes that fashions from the past belong in the past.

And while poor fashion choices from the ‘70s have been mercifully retired, the same cannot be said of failed education fads. In fact, open area classrooms, one of the worst education fads from that era, are making a comeback in schools across North America.

The theory behind open area classrooms is relatively simple—schools should have as few walls as possible in order to facilitate collaboration among teachers and students. By making school designs open, students are exposed to learning all around them. The buzz of learning would permeate throughout the school as students eagerly construct new knowledge and work together to build a collaborative professional learning community.

However, things didn’t quite work out that way in real life. Open area classrooms proved to be an unmitigated disaster. They were too noisy and distracting. Teachers and students alike found it impossible to function effectively in an environment that prevented them from getting some peace and quiet. By the 1980s, most open area schools were retrofitted with classroom walls and the failed experiment seemed to come to an end.

It seems that in the field of education, however, fads never actually die out. Rather, they disappear for awhile and reappear later under new names. When they do, school administrators jump on the “new” idea and seek to impose it on as many schools as possible. As more schools adopt the latest fad, it gains the appearance of inevitability. Eventually, after it acquires near-total dominance, the fad comes crashing down when everyone finally realizes it doesn’t work. It then lies low or dormant until it is once again re-invented and foisted on an unsuspecting new generation of students and teachers.

The reappearance of open area classrooms under the new label of open concept schools is the newest example. Fielding Nair International, an architecture firm that specializes in this approach, has designed more than 400 schools around the world, along with approximately a dozen in Western Canada. About half of those schools are located in Regina, where the public school board appears to have put all its eggs in the open concept basket.

Earlier this month, Douglas Park Elementary School opened with great fanfare in suburban Regina. As proof of its fidelity to an open concept layout, this school has huge open spaces, lots of windows, and movable walls. During the opening ceremonies, the school’s principal praised the random abstract layout of the building as “innovative.” Director of education Julie MacRae dutifully added that the new school was not merely a building, but rather a “community of learners.” If only the guests had thought to bring their bell bottoms and platform shoes, the trip back to the ‘70s would have been complete.

It’s remarkable that any school board would invest so heavily in an approach that lacks supporting evidence. When Prakash Nair, one of the lead architects with Fielding Nair International, makes grandiose claims about classrooms being obsolete in the 21st century, many educators rightly view his work with skepticism.

Nair’s design has ideological motivations. As he himself acknowledges in his writings, his advocacy of open concept schools is closely linked to his belief in the constructivist approach to teaching.

Constructivism holds that, instead of passing on a defined body of knowledge, teachers should help students construct their own understanding of the world around them. Open concept schools go hand-in-hand with this approach. Interestingly, whole language and the “new math” are examples of two other failed fads that also stem from constructivism. Considering its dismal track record, there are good reasons to be skeptical of any approach based on constructivism.

To cap it all off, there is no empirical research establishing that open concept schools lead to improved student achievement. However, there is a lot of evidence that students and teachers alike find it difficult to function when their learning environment is noisy and filled with distractions.

Far from being on the cutting edge of innovation, open concept schools merely recycle a failed fad from the past. School boards should leave this concept in the ‘70s, where it truly belongs.

How to make math education worse in Nova Scotia

Originally published in The Chronicle Herald (Halifax) on October 3, 2012. Link.

Parents have good reason to be concerned about the state of math education in this province. According to the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program, Nova Scotia students score significantly below the Canadian average in mathematics.

Earlier this year, the Nova Scotia government pledged to improve math instruction by adopting the Alberta math curriculum. Presumably, this means the purchase of new textbooks and lots of professional development seminars for teachers. Many of these training sessions will likely be co-ordinated by the Mathematics Teachers Association, an affiliate of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.

However, the cure may be worse than the disease. Consider the decision of the Mathematics Teachers Association to have Dr. Marian Small give the keynote address at its upcoming conference on Oct. 25.

Dr. Small is the former dean of education at the University of New Brunswick and one of the foremost proponents of the “new math” approach in Canada. We can only assume that the Mathematics Teachers Association shares her perspective since it chose her as its keynote speaker.

Math Focus, the textbook series authored by Dr. Small, reflects her random abstract approach. For example, the standard algorithms for arithmetic, such as long division and vertical addition with a carry, are almost entirely absent. In their place, we find convoluted word problems, confusing instructions, and complicated diagrams. No wonder many parents find it difficult to help their kids with their math homework.

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Small for myself. On Sept. 24, she gave an evening presentation to approximately 80 parents at an elementary school in Winnipeg, Man. Because of her prominence in the field of math education, I assumed she would be able to make an intelligent case for her position. I was wrong.

During her presentation, Dr. Small emphasized that there was more than one way to get the correct answer, and encouraged teachers to assign more open-ended and ambiguous math questions to their students. This way, she argued, all students would be more likely to get a correct answer on their questions. She added that all ways of solving math problems were equally valid and teachers should not make a student feel bad for using a different method.

At this point, I put up my hand and asked Dr. Small whether she felt teachers should include the standard algorithms as a component of math instruction. She replied that she did not. When I asked how she reconciled this with her earlier statement that all ways of solving math questions were equally valid, she insisted that the new math techniques were still better. The message I took from that exchange was that all methods are equally valid unless she didn’t personally agree with them.

I wasn’t the only audience member frustrated by the obvious logical inconsistencies in her presentation. Several math professors in the audience challenged some of Dr. Small’s claims about math instruction. At this point, Dr. Small shut down the questions and said that she was simply going to proceed with her presentation.

It was ironic that Dr. Small emphasized the importance of acknowledging the validity of other perspectives, but did exactly the opposite with her own presentation. She gave a one-sided lecture and refused to seriously dialogue with anyone who expressed an opposing view. This is what Nova Scotia math teachers have to look forward to on Oct. 25.

As for the much-vaunted decision of Nova Scotia’s Department of Education to adopt the Alberta math curriculum, there is much less to this change than meets the eye. Alberta actually has the same math curriculum as the other Western provinces, as evidenced by their shared Western and Northern Canadian Protocol (WNCP). Throughout the implementation of this new curriculum, Alberta has actually seen its math test scores decline.

The WNCP is heavily influenced by Dr. Small, as evidenced by the fact that her textbook series, Math Focus, is a recommended resource for teachers. In fact, the Mathematics Teachers Association proudly trumpets Dr. Small’s experience with the WNCP on its conference website.

Largely in response to the inadequacies of the WNCP curriculum, a group of math professors recently formed the Western Initiative for Strengthening Education in Math (WISE Math). Their website contains links to peer-reviewed research studies that provide solid evidence for a more traditional approach to math instruction.

If the Nova Scotia government is serious about improving math instruction, it needs to move away from a nebulous, feel-good curriculum and adopt a rigorous curriculum that emphasizes the necessary knowledge and skills.

Until then, we can expect math education to get worse in Nova Scotia.

Persons of Canada must fight back against the thought police

Originally published by The Province (British Columbia), September 19, 2012. Original link.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time we call a spade a spade. English-speaking Canadians must learn to speak inclusively. Whether you are a long-time resident or a recent immigrant, choose your words more carefully. After all, we should make sure that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists all feel equally included in our society. Inclusivity begins at home when mothers and fathers model appropriate language for their kids.

Gratefully, I’m not an employee of the Durham, Ont., district school board. If I were, what I just wrote could get me in serious trouble with their language police. In fact, I violated their Guidelines for Inclusive Language more than a dozen times in my first paragraph. That could be enough to classify me as a level-one cultural destroyer on their cultural proficiency continuum.

You see, their guidelines prominently display a chart with six different levels. They range from level one, cultural destructiveness, to level six, cultural proficiency. Being tolerant doesn’t count for much in this school district – it only gets you up to level 2. It is also called cultural incapacity. To reach the highest level of inclusiveness and attain cultural proficiency, you need to master a whole new lingo.

For starters, starting a speech with the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” is verboten in that workplace. Apparently, audiences are supposed to be addressed with a more neutral greeting such as men and women. Similarly, you should not refer to people as husbands or wives, they are all simply spouses. Teachers are also expected to replace the terms mother and father with the more neutral title of parent or guardian.

According to the guidelines, the idiom “calling a spade a spade” can’t be used since it allegedly “demean[s] and ostracize(s) people.” Apparently, bigots in the United States sometimes used the word “spade” as an ethnic slur against African Americans during the early 20th century. So notwithstanding that this English phrase dates back to 1542 and ironically means to tell the truth in a direct way, it still can’t be uttered by Canadian teachers.

The silliness doesn’t stop there. It is now officially wrong to refer to someone as Chinese, Korean, or even American.Rather, teachers should identify someone as a person from a particular country. So calling U.S. President Barack Obama an American is a no-no. Rather, we should say that he is a person from America. So when country artist Lee Greenwood sings that he is “proud to be an American,” we should change that to “proud to be a person from America.”

By the way, the same applies to faith and language groups. No longer can teachers identify someone as Jewish, Muslim or Christian. Rather, they should be identified as members of a particular faith community.

For example, Billy Graham is not a Christian, rather he is a person from the Christian community. By the same token, we cannot refer to someone as English-speaking or French-speaking but rather as a person who speaks a particular language.

So let’s put this into practice and see how it works in real life.

Pauline Marois is a person from Quebec, a person who speaks French, and a member of the Roman Catholic community. Unfortunately, some of her comments during the recent Quebec election campaign could be interpreted as hostile to immigrants.

Oops, I did it again. I used a level-one cultural destroyer phrase when I said the word immigrants. According to the Durham District School Board, I’m supposed to refer to them as newcomers instead. Someone should really tell the minister of immigration, I mean the minister of newcomers, that he insults millions of new Canadians, sorry, persons from Canada, whenever he calls them immigrants.

Isn’t it great to know that Durham District School Board values diversity? In fact, they are so committed to diversity that they’ve issued a document that forces everyone to speak exactly the same way.

If we want to see real improvement in our schools, perhaps administrators should spend more time focusing on academic achievement and no time creating politically-correct language guidelines for students and staff.

All persons from Canada should be outraged at this silliness going on in our schools.