The provincial government spent around $100,000 as part of an effort to "ensure parents have a say in how to improve B.C.'s education system." But one of those who attended the parents congress in Vancouver last week says such opportunities were few and far between at the conference. In an email distributed to members of Moms on the Move, Patti Bacchus summarized the theme of the day as, "Ask not what the Ministry of Education should be doing for children, but what parents should just do for their own kids." And, as an example, Ms. Bacchus says a scheduled 30 minute question and answer session with Minister Shirley Bond was abbreviated to 10 minutes.
Asked about the matter, education communications manager Lara Perzoff stated in an email to Public Eye, "It is unfortunate some parents have chosen to characterize the day this way, but the day was certainly beneficial to the ministry and to the many parents who attended." To support her statement, Ms. Perzoff cited positive comments submitted to the ministry on feedback forms such as: "the format was efficient, respectful and inclusive;" and "refreshingly not political."
As for Ms. Bacchus's specific criticism there wasn't enough time to speak with Minister Bond, Ms. Perzoff wrote, "Parents were given several opportunities throughout the day to provide their feedback to the Minister at the Parent Congress as well as a set time at the end of the day." Indeed, according to Ms. Perzoff, "Minister Bond spent each break and lunch talking individually with parents in addition to the larger group discussions that happened throughout the day." The following is a complete copy of Ms. Bacchus's email.
---- Original Message -----
From: patti bacchus
To: patti bacchus
Sent: Monday, January 28, 2008 8:34 PM
Subject: Notes from Parent Congress
How I spent my day at the BC Ministry of Education Parent Congress
January 28, 2008
Morris Wosk Centre for Dialogue - Vancouver
The day-long event was billed as the MoE's "commitment to engage directly with BC parents."
"Participants in the Parents' Congress will be in a position to help shape the future of education in the Province and help government move towards our goal of making BC the best-educated, most literate jurisdiction on the continent."
"The Congress provides opportunity for parents from all regions of the Province - from public, independent, and band schools to share their views."
Which is surprising given that at no time on the agenda were parents invited to share their views (aside from a very brief 10 minute Q & A session at the end of the day, which several parents were denied from participating in as time ran out).
This is what we got instead (I summarize the theme of the day as "Ask not what the Ministry of Education should be doing for children, but what parents should just do for their own kids"):
After education minister Shirley Bond's welcome and introduction, which didn't end until 9:22, Silken Laumann did the keynote address which was about her ActiveKids program. Interesting presentation, inspiring individual, some positive ideas about playing with kids but totally not what we were there for. This went on until 10:25. We did get to ask questions and I went first with one about inadequate gym facilities and equipment, lack of trained PE teachers, problem with provincial policy that encourages kids to go cross boundary (and get driven), and of course lack of funding for stimulating and safe school playgrounds.
Shirley Bond responded about the "complexity of doing everything everyone wants you to do within a school system" and went on about her new 30 minutes of physical activity a day and countered a (negative) comment I'd made earlier about doing jumping jacks by the desk not being a very inspiring, high quality way to teach a love of physical activity, by saying she'd participated in a chair aerobics class at a school and really got her heart rate up. She also told us the parents need to be role models and "walk the walk."
Silken's section finished at 10:25. Still no sign of an opportunity to discuss substantive issues.
10:25 Shirley introduced the Parent Info Network, thanking BCCPAC and the Virtual School Society. "Your connection to educational opportunities and services in BC."
Shirley demonstrated it with help from a staff member.
10:40 break (healthy fruit snacks!)
11:07 Back to work. Shirley reminds the 100 or so parents present that the MoE goal is to be the "best educated, most literate district on the continent" (in which case someone should tell her to say "fewer students" not "less students" when she makes her tired claim of more funding for less [sic] students).
11:10 A "literacy" presentation. Some lovely, interesting people talked until 11:34 about the how parents, schools and communities can support literacy. Lot of emphasis on what parents/community can do etc. Again, great presentation but not what we were there for. We were then told to break into groups and discuss the following questions:
What do schools need to do to support literacy learning and engagement at home and in the community?
What are some of the obstacles to building home/school/community relationships that support literacy?
What can families do to help schools promote literacy?
Note: No mention anywhere of funding for school librarians, library resources, assessments and interventions for children who are struggling, support for ESL students, impact on non-enrolling staff as a result of Bill 33, effective IEP writing for children once they're identified with special needs, how to provide a continuum of services to meet learning needs of all children.
Until we got to ask questions... I squeezed most of those points into one "question." That was when I got a lecture from Shirley about the "less students" and more funding than ever. "It's all about choices" she told me. For the record, my question got applause and her response did not.
Several good questions about need for books, librarians, early assessment. No "engaging" responses.
Lunch break at 12:40. Back at 1:30. Still only having presentations and Q & As in response to presentations, not to MoE (although as you can see from these notes parents managed somewhat to turn the attention to the MoE, despite the tightly controlled format).
ANOTHER PRESENTATION - Nice bunch of folks from Revelstoke talking about a program to make kids Screen Smart. Info struck me as a little outdated (mind you, I'm an "early adopter" of stuff like FaceBook and the presenter confessed to being on dialup). Nice presentation I suppose but again it struck me that this was simply diversionary from any meaningful engagement of the real issues. Although I did use it as an opportunity to ask about whether if screen time was so perilous, had they thought about the implications of the push toward Distance Learning etc.? Also alarmed that presenter showed a slide of all the bad things screen time contributes to: obesity, diabetes, ADHD...and Autism! (This is news to me - gave me the message that if we just turned off our TVs and computers our kids would be "less" autistic. If only!)
1:55 end of that presentation. Still no "engagement."
2:35 End of questions about that presentation. Shirley introduced a young woman from ActNowBC and she led us in dancng the "Funky Fish". I am not making this up. The visual description is something I lack the abilities or stomach to convey. Art Hister (next presenter) said it looked like the dance he did when his wife beat him to the bathroom in the morning.
After another break where we enjoyed chocolate-dipped strawberries and San Pellegrino water, we resumed at 3 pm...for another presentation! This time Art Hister gave an entertaining and somewhat alarming presentation on childhood obesity, diabetes etc. Again, a perfectly informative presentation but it was not relevant to why we were there (or was it?) as his message was along the lines of "school should not be the primary place for physical activity."
3:45...still on questions about the Hister presentation.
4:10 Shirley going on - a lot - about fruits and vegetables and talking about classrooms with baskets of apples by the door.
4:20...still on Hister stuff
Total of 10 minutes for Q & A with the Minister.
My questions (that I never got to ask) : How much did this day cost (parents were flown in from all over the province, all expenses paid)?
Did one thing that happen that will improve public education?
Why not re-configure FSAs (just sample) and stop enabling the Fraser Institute's harmful rankings? And don't say it's because parents will complain if they're not included -how many parents have complained when their children aren't sampled in the international tests?
Impact/review of Bill 33 and review of Bill 33 - Any special ed rep at roundtable? Why students carrying designations into classes where it is irrelevant (ie: LD may not have any impact on Art class but student may have reduced access to classes due to designation). Also resulting in decreases in non-enrolling positions as staffing allocations going to meet class size limits. How many students are being denied access to schools or courses due to their designations and the Bill 33 cap?
Funding - counter claim of additional funding with question about % of GDP allocated to public ed. And if it's all about "choices" as Ms. Bond told me, then why on earth is she choosing to squander limited education funding on the absurd congress?
Question about inadequate supplemental funding for students with special needs and general crisis in special ed. For example in Vancouver, we're losing special ed teachers and seeing them replaced by aides. Many many students have already fallen in to the cracks - crevasses - and those who can are fleeing the public schools to find the help they need.
Disappearance of gifted kids etc. from MoE designations now that they don't get supplemental funding.
Many more questions but no time allotted to ask them.
Day ends at 4:30 (only thing all day on time was abrupt end to questions).