Friday, December 19, 2008

Cap and Gown time

This is the time of year when many high schools across the province hold their cap and gown ceremonies. These are the formal ceremonies when the previous year's graduates return to their schools for the classic diploma awarding. They are held this time of year because students who have gone away for work or school are back for Christmas.

Education policy is an area in which everyone, including me, has an opinion. As a parent and debate coach, I get enormously frustrated at what I see as the slow pace of education and the thin substantive course offerings. A real problem, as far as I'm concerned, is that the system is generally dumbed down and assumes that too many students can't handle a faster pace and heavier content.

I understand full well that many students cannot handle the higher level of academic rigour but the fact is that many students can. Government likes to talk about student achievements but, in many cases, those achievements are in spite of government policies and school programs and not because of them. There are just as many students bored and fed up because they are already two steps ahead of the class as there are students who are bored and fed up because they are two steps behind. The former are left to their own devices because the resources are simply not there for the. Heaps of resources are focused on the bottom third of the student achievement level but the top third is woefully underserved. Existing enrichment programs rarely enrich. They are generally just lackadaisical field trips in which teachers and students enjoy a day out of the classroom.

As for culture of excellence within the school system? In short and in general, it simply does not exist. Sure one can always point to the occasional standout teacher and their students who really do embody excellence but they are just excellent teachers working within mediocrity. There is no generalised culture of education excellence in this province.

When the announcement was made that Holy Heart of Mary might be closing, some of the media chattering classes advocated that it be turned into a provincial high school for the arts. Now that's all fine and dandy but that only satisfies a limited need.

I would much rather see a generalised provincial magnet school of excellence where the very best students from across the province are accepted on an application basis for rigorous specialised programs in fine arts, science and commerce backed by a common foundation program in sound reasoning and academic substance. Any student outside a reasonable geographic limit receives a housing allowance to help equalize the playing field. A proportion of student (and teacher) placements are reserved for those outside the province to add mix, colour and diversity. Teachers (in their prime and not on the cusp of retirement) are accepted to teach for a maximum term of 3 years, renewable for a maximum of one additional term before being rotated back to their original school in order to seed the benefits of their experience back into the system as a whole.

Could this work? I think so. All we'd have to do is override the shortsighted, self serving objections from the teacher's union, the school boards and the Department of Education. Once we stop trying to serve the educational system and its interests and start serving the students and their interests, the solutions become clear.

Who knows? Maybe the 3008 cap and gown ceremony at the Holy Heart of Mary Center of Academic Excellence might look like this.

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