Tag Archives: British Columbia

Public forum: How school funding matters

Does size matter when it comes to public school classes?

Does size matter when it comes to public school classes?

This question was debated on CBC Radio’s The Current this morning. Burnaby, BC grade 4/5 teacher Jennifer Heighton, Russ Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution, and I weighed in on the question.

Important context is the ongoing BC teachers strike, where class size and composition are key elements of contract negotiations. The ruling BC Liberals stripped class size and composition rules from the BC teachers contract in 2002, a move that has twice been judged as illegal by BC courts.

I’ve written a brief summary of class size research, with key references, which you can find here.

You can read a very recent review of the research on class size here.

Last month, Global TV BC broadcast a “town hall” discussion on a wide variety of education issues related to education in BC and the ongoing dispute between teachers and government, including class size. You can watch that segment here.

Here’s a good background piece from The Tyee: Everything You Need to Know about BC Teacher Bargaining

Listen to The Current segment (21 minutes) on class size here.

Class size and composition most important public policy issue in BC teachers dispute

Class size and composition is arguably the single most important public policy issue in the current dispute between BC teachers and government.

The educational and economic implications of class size and composition policies are huge, but in the context of collective bargaining and related court cases public discussion of the costs and benefits of class size reduction has been cut short.

Class size is one of the most rigorously studied issues in education. Educational researchers and economists have produced a vast amount of research and policy studies examining the effects of class size reduction (CSR).

What is the research evidence on CSR?

Since the late 1970s, the empirical evidence shows that students in early grades perform better in small classes and these effects are magnified for low-income and disadvantaged students. Most studies have focused on primary grades, but the relatively small number of studies of later grades also shows positive results of CSR.

Randomized experiments are the “gold standard” in social science research. One such study, known as Project STAR, involved 11,500 students and 1,300 teachers in 79 Tennessee schools produced unequivocal results that CSR significantly increased student achievement in math and reading.

A CSR experiment in Wisconsin illustrated student gains in math, reading, and language arts. In Israel, which has high, but strict maximum class size rules, a rigorous study of CSR produced results nearly identical to Project STAR. Studies in Sweden, Denmark, and Bolivia find similar results.

Do all studies of CSR produce unequivocal positive results? No, but the vast majority of research, including the most rigorous studies, leave no doubt about the positive effects of CSR.

The research evidence on CSR led to class-size caps in California, Texas, Florida, and British Columbia, before the BC government stripped them from the teachers’ contract in 2002.

Why are smaller classes better?

Observational research in reduced size classes finds that students are more highly engaged with what they are learning. That is, students have higher participation rates, spend more time on task, and demonstrate more initiative.

In turn, teachers in smaller classes spend more time on instruction and less time managing misbehavior. They also have more time to reteach lessons when necessary and to adapt their teaching to the individual needs of the students.

One, perhaps counter-intuitive, finding from the research is experienced teachers are better able to capitalize on the advantages of smaller classes than more novice teachers.

How small is small enough?

Project STAR reduced class size from an average of 22 students to 15. Previous research found significant positive effects of CSR at below 20.

Based on these findings some have argued that CSR is not effective unless these levels are attainable. But, the broad pattern of evidence indicates a positive impact of CSR across a range of class sizes.

What about the costs?

There are demonstrable costs involved in reducing class size. As with all public policy questions both benefits and costs must be considered. The potential future costs of not creating smaller classes in public schools also must be taken into account.

Reduced class size boosts not only educational achievement, but has a positive impact on variety of life outcomes after students leave school.

Results from a number of studies show that students assigned to small classes have more positive educational outcomes than their peers in regular-sized classes including rates of high school graduation, post-secondary enrolment and completion, and quality of post-secondary institution attended.

Additionally, students from small classes have lower rates of juvenile criminal behavior and teen pregnancy; and better savings behavior and higher rates of homeownership than peers from regular-size classes.

What are the policy implications of CSR research?

Class size in an important determinant of a broad range of educational and life outcomes, which means policy decisions in this area will have a significant impact on future quality of life in the province.

The money saved today by not reducing class size will be offset by more substantial social and educational costs in the future, making class size reduction the most cost-effective policy.

Sample of CSR Research Articles:

Angrist, J.D., & Lavy, V. (1999). Using Maimonides’ rule to estimate the effect of class size on scholastic achievement. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 114(2), 533-575.

Browning, M., & Heinesen, E. (2007). Class Size, teacher hours and educational attainment. The Scandinavian Journal of Economics, 109(2), 415-438.

Chetty, R., Friedman, J.N., Hilger, N., Saez, E., Schanzenbach, D.W., & Yagan D. (2011). How does your kindergarten classroom affect your earnings? Evidence from Project STAR. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 126(4), 1593-1660.

Dynarski, S., Hyman, J., & Schanzenbach, D.W. (2013). Experimental evidence on the effect of childhood investments on postsecondary attainment and degree completion. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 32(4), 692-717.

Finn, J., Gerber, S., & Boyd-Zaharias, J. (2005). Small classes in the early grades, academic achievement, and graduating from high school. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(2), 214-223.

Fredriksson, P., Öckert, B., & Oosterbeek, H. (2013). Long-term effects of class size. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 128(1), 249-285.

Krueger, A.B. (1999). Experimental estimates of education production functions. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 115(2), 497-532.

Krueger, A.B., & Whitmore, D. (2001). The effect of attending a small class in the early grades on college test taking and middle school test results: Evidence from Project STAR. Economic Journal, 111, 1-28.

Krueger, A.B., & Whitmore, D. (2002). Would smaller classes help close the black-white achievement gap? In J.Chubb & T. Loveless (Eds.), Bridging the Achievement Gap (pp. 11-46). Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Molnar, A., Smith, P., Zahorik, J., Palmer, A., Halbach, A., & Ehrle, K. (1999). Evaluating the SAGE program: A pilot program in targeted pupil-teacher reduction in Wisconsin. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 21(2), 165-77.

Word, E., Johnston, J., Bain, H.P., et al. (1990). Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio (STAR): Tennessee’s K-3 class size study. Final summary report 1985-1990. Nashville: Tennessee State Department of Education.

Urquiola, M. (2006). Identifying class size effects in developing countries: Evidence from rural Bolivia. Review of Economics and Statistics, 88(1), 171-177.

CFP: Educate, Agitate, Organize! Teacher Resistance Against Neoliberal Reforms (Special Issue of Workplace)

Educate, Agitate, Organize! Teacher Resistance Against Neoliberal Reforms

Call for Papers

Special Issue
Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor

Guest Editors:
Mark Stern, Colgate University
Amy Brown, University of Pennsylvania
Khuram Hussain, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

I can tell you with confidence, one year later [from the Measure of Progress test boycott in Seattle schools], I know where our actions will lead: to the formation of a truly mass civil rights movement composed of parents, teachers, educational support staff, students, administrators, and community members who want to end high-stakes standardized testing and reclaim public education from corporate reformers.—Jesse Hagopian, History Teacher and Black Student Union Adviser at Garfield High School, Seattle

As many of us have documented in our scholarly work, the past five years have witnessed a full-fledged attack on public school teachers and their unions. With backing from Wall Street and venture philanthropists, the public imaginary has been saturated with images and rhetoric decrying teachers as the impediments to ‘real’ change in K-12 education. Docu-dramas like Waiting For ‘Superman,’ news stories like Steve Brill’s, “The Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand,” in The New York Times Magazineand high profile rhetoric like Michelle Rhee’s mantra that students, not adults, need to be “put first” in education reform, all point to this reality: teachers face an orchestrated, billion dollar assault on their professional status, their knowledge, and their abilities to facilitate dialogical spaces in classrooms. This assault has materialized and been compounded by an austerity environment that is characterized by waning federal support and a narrow corporate agenda. Tens of thousands of teachers have suffered job loss, while thousands more fear the same.

Far from being silent, teachers are putting up a fight. From the strike in Chicago, to grassroots mobilizing to wrest control of the United Federation of Teachers in New York, to public messaging campaigns in Philadelphia, from boycotts in Seattle to job action and strikes in British Columbia, teachers and their local allies are organizing, agitating and confronting school reform in the name of saving public education. In collaboration with parents, community activists, school staff, students, and administrators, teacher are naming various structures of oppression and working to reclaim the conversation and restore a sense of self-determination to their personal, professional, and civic lives.

This special issue of Workplace calls for proposals to document the resistance of teachers in the United States, Canada, and globally. Though much has been written about the plight of teachers under neoliberal draconianism, the reparative scholarship on teachers’ educating, organizing, and agitating is less abundant. This special issue is solely dedicated to mapping instances of resistance in hopes of serving as both resource and inspiration for the growing movement.

This issue will have three sections, with three different formats for scholarship/media. Examples might include:

I. Critical Research Papers (4000-6000 words)

  • Qualitative/ethnographic work documenting the process of teachers coming to critical consciousness.
  • Critical historiographies linking trajectories of political activism of teachers/unions across time and place.
  • Documenting and theorizing teacher praxis—protests, community education campaigns, critical agency in the classroom.
  • Critical examinations of how teachers, in specific locales, are drawing on and enacting critical theories of resistance (Feminist, Politics of Love/Caring/Cariño, Black Radical Traditions, Mother’s Movements, and so on).

II. Portraits of Resistance

  • Autobiographical sketches from the ground. (~2000 words)
  • Alternative/Artistic representations/Documentations of Refusal (poetry, visual art, photography, soundscapes)

III. Analysis and Synthesis of Various Media

  • Critical book, blog, art, periodical, music, movie reviews. (1500-2000 words)

400-word abstracts should be sent to Mark Stern (mstern@colgate.edu) by May 15, 2014. Please include name, affiliation, and a very brief (3-4 sentences) professional biography.

Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by June 15. Final drafts will be due October 1, 2014. Please note that having your proposal accepted does not guarantee publication. All final drafts will go through peer-review process. Authors will be notified of acceptance for publication by November 1.

Please direct all questions to Mark Stern (mstern@colgate.edu).

BC govt driving more into debt and poverty #bced #bcpoli #idlenomore #yteubc #ubc

As if two recent reports that the government of British Columbia was failing aboriginal and poor children weren’t bad enough, this week’s Housing Trends and Affordability report from the RBC confirms that the Liberals are driving more and more into debt and poverty.

In bankster speak, BC offers “two-tiered affordability.” In everyday speak, it’s a province divided: rich versus poor. And guess which ones the Liberals are backing and picking to reach the finish line?

First Call and Campaign 2000’s British Columbia: 2013 Child Poverty Report Card tells it like it is:

the BC government cites the importance of capitalism and free markets to poverty reduction… But the child poverty statistics in this report tell another story — even a growing economy can leave many people behind when we allow inequality to grow. BC has seen growing wealth for a few, while more middle and low income families struggle to make ends meet on poverty level wages.

The BC government has managed to remake and maintain the Province as the most unaffordable in the nation. The RBC Report goes on to say

Across the country, housing affordability continues to be the poorest, by far, in the Vancouver area, where the latest RBC measures are significantly above their long-term average.

And the link between unaffordability and child poverty?

In 2013, the BC government cannot claim to be ignorant of the abundant evidence of the harm done to children’s health and development by growing up in poverty, nor of the huge additional costs in health care, education, the justice system and lost productivity we are already paying by keeping poverty rates so high (2013 Child Poverty Report Card).

It is enough to generate a recall vote for a government seized by power. If you feel and think things are bad, they are.

Working toward tuition free post-secondary education in BC and Canada

I was interviewed for this story in The Georgia Straight, which raises the question of free post-secondary education in British Columbia and the lack of uptake on the topic in the current BC election discourse.

In my interview with The Straight, I highlighted the staggering debt load post-secondary students currently face. In Canada, student debt (not including provincial and private loans) is over $15 billion according to the Canadian Federation of Students. The high cost of post-secondary education in BC is a significant barrier to attendance by lower and middle income students. At least one in four non-attendees identify financial issues as an obstacle to further education.

The CFS notes that “Canadian research suggests that debt levels have a direct impact on success in post-secondary education. One study found that as student debt rose from less than $1000 to $10,000 per year, program completion rates for those with only loans (and no grants) plummeted from 59% to 8%. Similar conclusions can be drawn from Statistics Canada’s Youth In Transition Survey (YITS), which found that of those who cease their studies early, 36% cited financial reasons.”

Tuition at Canadian universities is rising faster than inflation, climbing 5% in 2012 (compared 2% inflation rate).

Neoliberal social policies have exacerbated the problems with student debt and access to higher education. Christy Clark’s BC Liberal government cut higher education by $46 million this year. In Alberta, higher education took a $100 million cut at the hands of the Alison Redford’s governing Progressive Conservative Party. As budgets are cut, colleges and universities (as well as K-12 schools) are encouraged to look for market-based solutions. BC colleges and universities are now ramping up efforts to recruit international students, who will pay five times the tuition charged to BC residence, in an effort to increase revenue. These recruitment efforts further restrict access to BC residents when there are already too few seats available in colleges and universities.

The ever increasing cost of higher education ultimately threatens existence of education as a public good in Canada (and the USA) and has deleterious effects on career choices and financial futures of millions of students as they face debt bondage. And this is not a circumstance limited to young people as many baby boomers who have gone back university are now struggling to repay their loans.

Lastly, student debt works to dampen critical thought and actions aimed at resisting the status quo. Noam Chomksy argues that “students who acquire large debts putting themselves through school are unlikely to think about changing society. When you trap people in a system of debt, they can’t afford the time to think. Tuition fee increases are a disciplinary technique, and, by the time students graduate, they are not only loaded with debt, but have also internalized the disciplinarian culture. This makes them efficient components of the consumer economy.” Exactly the kind of results neoliberal education policy makers are looking for.

Read The Georgia Straight article here:

Candidates should discuss free postsecondary education, say critics

by Carlito Pablo on Apr 25, 2013 at 3:11 am

Politicians on the campaign trail always say that education is a good thing. Yet many are silent about free university and college education.

Perhaps that’s because making this suggestion inevitably invites the question about money. What would it cost?

It doesn’t seem much, really. For fiscal year 2013-14, the B.C. government expects to collect about $1.4 billion in tuition and other fees. That’s only a small fraction—three percent—of a provincial budget totalling $44 billion.

The fact that many candidates don’t talk about free postsecondary education as a goal worth pursuing—one practical step at a time—indicates two things to Enda Brophy, an assistant professor of communications at SFU.

“On the one hand, I would argue that it demonstrates a lack of vision on their part,” Brophy told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “On the other, it quite obviously underscores their lack of commitment to a genuinely public education system. In other words, they can talk the talk regarding their commitment to public education, but walking the walk would mean taking concrete steps toward a free, public postsecondary system.”

According to the academic, there is an ethical argument to be made that “education should not be a commodity that is bought and sold.”

“In other words, that education and the production of knowledge, like health care, need to be accessible to anyone who wants it,” Brophy said.

As a nation, Canada committed to this ideal when it ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in 1976. The treaty states: “Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education.”

A study released in January 2012 by the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives demonstrates that university-educated people pay, on average, $106,000 to $159,000 more in income taxes over their working lives than those with only a high-school diploma.

In Paid in Full: Who Pays for University Education in BC?, author and economist Iglika Ivanova notes that in contrast, a four-year degree costs $50,630, of which 40 percent is paid by students in tuition fees.

Ivanova concludes that “undergraduate education stands out as a profitable investment for the public treasury when all students’ payments for their education—both up-front tuition fees and additional income taxes paid over their careers—are compared with the costs of providing university education.”

In many countries in Europe and elsewhere, like Algeria and Cuba, free postsecondary education is more a rule rather than the exception, according to Simon Tremblay-Pepin. He is a researcher with IRIS (Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-économiques), a Quebec-based think tank that argues that the abolition of tuition fees is economically viable and socially just.

“If we’re talking about a progressive way to free education by lowering the fees year after year, it could be a good way,” Tremblay-Pepin told the Straight by phone when he was in Vancouver for a speaking engagement. “It’s not something that you need to do overnight. Still, you must have the objective in your head that you’re going to a free education and not just lowering fees for electoral reasons because you want to have the youth vote. That’s the difference between having a plan for society and trying to collect votes.”

B.C.’s Green party has declared that “universal and free” education at all levels is one of its long-term goals, promising an immediate reduction of 20 percent in tuition fees.

“The Green party is really out in front on this issue, much more so with a greater vision than either the [B.C.] NDP or the Liberals have offered at this point,” UBC education professor E. Wayne Ross told the Straight in an April 19 phone interview.

The ruling B.C. Liberals have pledged to cap tuition-fee increases at two percent. But with tuition fees having doubled since the Liberals returned to power in 2001, Ross noted that education is already “unaffordable”.

New Democrats have talked about a $100-million needs-based grant system. “That’s important because those needs-based grants have disappeared under the Liberals, but that’s a Band-Aid,” Ross said. “It doesn’t really address the overall problem that we face with student debt and the impact of the lack of access to higher education because of the tuition levels.”

Although the Greens are an “outlier” in the mainly Liberal–New Democrat contest, that’s a good thing, according to Ross. If their idea of free postsecondary education gets traction during this election campaign, the Greens may “pull parties like the NDP, in particular, maybe back towards the left side of the spectrum a little bit more”.

But Ross also noted that because neoliberalism, or the belief that the supremacy of the market trumps public good, is dominant in this age, perhaps the Greens might have a different message if their political fortunes were somewhat different: “If the Green party was more competitive, would the Green party ever say that? And I’m not trying to knock the Green party. I’m also trying to say that [as] the NDP moves towards what they see as the electable centre the closer, the better their [electoral] chances get.”

Source URL: http://www.straight.com/news/375006/candidates-should-discuss-free-postsecondary-education-say-critics

B.C. need not rely on the much-maligned FSA tests to gauge students’ skills

It is testing season in British Columbia. As thousands of students are being subjected to the BC’s Foundation Skills Assessment, ICES co-director Sandra Mathison has offered up alternatives to the much-maligned test.

Vancouver Sun (January 16, 2013)
B.C. need not rely on the much-maligned FSA tests to gauge students’ skills

As schools prepare to give the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) tests next week, it may be the last time they are administered, at least in their current form.

The discussion about alternatives to the FSAs is a sign of a healthy education system, where its constituents continually consider how best to know how schools are doing.

This is an excellent opportunity to examine alternative means to getting the snapshot of students’ literacy and numeracy skills that the FSA provides, but at great expense and with negative consequences for schools, teachers and students.

There are two viable sources of data that provide such a snapshot with significantly less disruption to teaching and learning, and that use high-quality tests administered to samples of students. These are the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program (PCAP) and the Program of International Student Assessment (PISA).

The PCAP is administered by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), an intergovernmental group formed in 1967 by the provincial ministers of education. This is an assessment of reading, mathematics and science achievement administered to eighth-graders every three years. All three areas are tested in each administration of the test, although during each test administration one subject is the primary focus.

The other large-scale assessment that provides a snapshot of student achievement in basic skills is the PISA, an international assessment instituted in 1997 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students. Seventy countries, including Canada, participate in the PISA.

The test alternates its focus on reading, mathematics and science achievement on a three-year cycle. Both of these testing programs recognize that school programs and curriculum can vary considerably, both across Canada and around the world. Neither assessment is tied to a particular curriculum, and the tests focus on the skills that would be considered basic for students across educational jurisdictions.

Both the PCAP and PISA include data about the context of learning, through surveys of teachers and students. Both assessments have been developed to answer big questions we all have about the quality of schools and student achievement. For example: How well are young adults prepared to meet the challenges of the future? Are they able to analyze, reason and communicate their ideas effectively? Do they have the capacity to continue learning throughout life? Are some kinds of teaching and school organization more effective than others?

Both the PCAP and PISA achieve the goal of providing comprehensive and comparable results on student achievement through the use of sampling procedures — testing a carefully selected sub-group of all students.

In 2010, 32,000 Grade 8 students from 1,600 schools across Canada took the PCAP. In 2009, 23,000 students from 1,000 schools across Canada took the PISA.

This strategy provides trustworthy evidence of students’ basic skills, and does so with less burden to schools, teachers, students and taxpayers.

In the discussion of alternatives to or re-inventions of the FSA, careful consideration ought to be given to whether its primary intended purpose may already be met by other well-established, regularly administered assessment programs that allow us to understand student achievement in B.C. in relation to other provinces and countries.

It may be that much of what we wish to capture in the snapshot of how well B.C. students are learning foundational skills in reading, writing, and numeracy is already available.

If something other than a snapshot is the goal of a provincial student assessment program, then we need to think carefully about how to meet those other goals appropriately.

Sandra Mathison is a professor in the Faculty of Education at UBC. She is an expert on educational evaluation and her recently published book, The Nature and Limits of Standards Based Reform and Assessment, examines many issues related to government-mandated testing programs.

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Opinion+need+rely+much+maligned+tests+gauge+students+skills/7824430/story.html#ixzz2IA8f5vo7