Students Against BC Graduation Portfolio

To: To the BC Ministry of Education

Every student in BC has heard of the new graduation program introduced by the BC provincial government for students graduating in 2007 or later. Within the new graduation program is the graduation portfolio, officially defined as “a collection of carefully selected items that reflect on one’s experience both in and out of school”.

One of these items is forcing students to take Socials 11, despite the fact that some students are in special programs which simply can not fit the extra course in their schedule. Students are then required to take the courses online or during summer school.

The graduation portfolio might fit its definition if anybody knew exactly what is going on. The administration and teachers are not even finished planning the methods of evaluation and presenting the portfolio. Often, students have tried to ask their teachers for help, only to receive an “I’m not sure” for an answer. Is it fair that some teachers themselves don’t understand the portfolio clearly?

Make a difference and sign the petition below. After we have obtained 1000 (or more) signatures, we will present this petition to the BC Minister of Education Shirley Bond.


Sign the petition here.New grad rules stump students: Some requirements conflict with course work

Elaine O’Connor, The Province
Published: Friday, January 27, 2006
More than 7,000 B.C. students are protesting new provincial requirements for graduation — which they say conflict with existing programs and are confusing.

Vancouver Grade 10 student Phoebe Yu began an online petition two weeks ago that thousands of students from Dawson Creek to Delta have signed.

Their main concerns are portfolio requirements that they say are poorly defined and, in some cases, conflict with their specialized programs.

“We must take Socials 11 in summer school or online during our Grade 11 or 12 year, [because] the course conflicts with the [international baccalaureate] syllabus,” says Yu, a pre-IB student at Sir Winston Churchill.

“IB itself is already a very challenging program. We really don’t need another course on top of everything.

“Even our teachers encouraged us to write to [Minister of Education] Shirley Bond about the conflict,” Yu says.

IB students already complete a similar Creativity, Action, Service program and should be exempt from the portfolio, she says.

The Ministry of Education introduced the B.C. Graduation Program for students starting Grade 10 in 2004. It requires students to complete five provincial exams, to complete 80 credits in specific courses and to complete a three-year, four-credit self-directed graduation portfolio to display skills beyond the curriculum in the areas of computers, career planning, physical activity and volunteering.

Yu plans to send the petition ( petition.html) to Bond.

Ministry spokeswoman Corinna Filion admits that there have been some conflicts with the IB program.

The International Baccalaureate Organization branch in B.C. has contacted the ministry with concerns.

A review is under way and if changes are needed, they will be implemented in the 2006/07 school year, Filion says.
© The Vancouver Province 2006

Teachers’ strike paying off for city schools

By Naoibh O’Connor- Vancouver Couier Staff writer

Millions of dollars in unpaid wages saved during last year’s teachers’ strike are being given to B.C.’s schools.

During the October 2005 strike, the B.C. Ministry of Education reduced operating grants to schools as teachers walked picket lines. Now the ministry has decided to put the money saved back into the education system.

Source: Vancouver Courier, 01/20/2006 (Read Story on

Download pdf copy of article

School Planning Councils and Democracy

In 2002 the provincial government introduced legislation to place a School Planning Council (SPC) in every public school in British Columbia. Membership in each SPC was to include 3 parents elected from the parents advisory council, 1 teacher elected from school-based staff, and the principal of the school. Any parent who was employed by any school district was banned from being elected as a parent rep and, initially, students were excluded. Later a single student rep, appointed by principals in consultation with students, from amongst grade 10, 11, or 12 students was added. The publicly stated reason for legislating SPCs revolved around ideologies of parent involvement in education and was promulgated as an effective mechanism for placing the education of children at the front of our provincial agenda.

I have sat as an elected parent rep on a SPC since the councils were first established; first as a parent rep in an elementary school and, for the last two years, as a parent rep on a Secondary SPC. Through out this process I have been able to see first hand the ways in which the SPC functions. I will of course caution readers that I am drawing here from my particular experience as a parent who, like many, was less than enthused about the prospects but recognizing that they were in place and would not be withdrawn jumped in to try and play some role in the way in which these councils function.SPCs are thus charged with the responsibility of drafting a school growth plan. The Ministry of Education guidelines, regulations, and the enabling provincial legislation describe a clear demarcation of roles and responsibilities, even anticipating the possibility that partner groups might boycott the proceedings or that the plan may not conform to expectations at the school board or ministry levels. The legal authority to appoint members to the council, to require the principal to draft a plan if the SPC’s plan deviates from the Ministry’s terms of reference, or for the school board to step in itself and write the plan is clearly inscribed in the legislation.

The school growth plan strikes me as a rather strange document that is explicitly based upon an ideology of constant improvement and steady increases in achievement (typically measured narrowly). Drawing upon an array of statistical data that summarizes standardized test scores (provincial course exams and Foundation Skills Assessment ), measures of social responsibility, safety , and satisfaction , and assorted other pieces of information that lend themselves toward quantification the school growth plans are supposed to set goals, objectives, and ways to evaluate them that will lead to constant improvement in all areas of the school. Qualitative data could be incorporated but few SPC members, School Board or Ministry staff appear fully aware of the possibilities and ways to move from anecdote to effective use of qualitative data. The end result can end up being plans that identify ‘trends’ emerging from statistically insignificant changes in descriptive data: i.e. test scores increase by 1% over a period of two years. This is not, of course to say, that useful and important dialouge does not occure -it does-. Rather, it is to suggest that a vision of education that is focussed simply on increasing student achievement is a narrow and bereft approach to learning and teaching.

So, how does a SPC contribute to democratizing our schools? Unfortunately I would suggest not at all. Under the previous system school based Parent Advisory Councils combined with district confederations had in many areas of the province established a reasonably effective network and process of consultation and inclusion of parents at school and district levels. This is not to say that there were no problems or that everything worked well as some magical point in the pre-SPC past: far from it.

A number of features mitigate against SPCs being agents of democratic reform. First, there are restrictions that prohibit any parent who works for a school district to participate. Second, the is a mix between legislatively appointed members (principals) and administrator appointed members (senior grade students). I should make very clear before anyone I know feels offended by pointing to the democratic deficit of appointed SPC members. This should in no way be taken to imply or suggest that appointed members do any less of a job than do elected reps. However, if we are focused on democratic participation than membership on a democratic body should –I would argue- be based on a democratic as opposed to a delegation of authority process. Third, there is a complete exclusion of other school-based staff (educational support workers, clerical, and physical plant) and no effective mechanism to include wider community involvement (aside from tri-annual trustee elections). Finally, there remain a large number of professional educators who remain unconvinced that SPCs are anything more than an attempt to undermine their teaching and working conditions through a backdoor process that proclaims to advance parental involvement.

There is a body of academic and popular writing that juxtaposes parental involvement in decision making against teacher unionism. Writers such as Mark Holmes and Edward Wynne are explicit in being “unsympathetic to strong union structures in schools” (Making the School an Effective Community. New York: Falmer Press, 1989:135). Members of this school of thought conceive of unions as using collective agreements “to advance a barrage of complaints, grievances and even personal attacts” (Holmes and Wynne 1989:134). Writers like Holmes are clear that their goal is to weaken unions and that one of the best ways to do it is through “the growth of private schools, particularly in combination with some form of state aid or voucher system” (Holmes and Wynne 1989:135). The same school of writers also advance the ide that increased parental control over school-based governance can also be used as step toward weakening teacher unionism. In this way SPCs can potentially be understood as part of a wider processes that involves drawing parents into the administrative stream of control in a school and thereby is one attempt to transfer control over local level managerial decisions from school administrators and staff committees to parent dominated school-based management boards.

Many parents do want to be involved. Many of us argue strongly for an effective and democratic role for us in the decision making processes. But at the same time most of us do not wish to displace the role of teachers as professionals in the pedagogy of teaching nor are we really interested in micro-managing the technical side of school-based administration. SPCs have in fact pulled us away from democratizing schools through the limited focus and relative absence of authority and power to make meaningful decisions. Whereas PACs have the capacity to include all parents, the limited membership of the SPCs (both in terms of who may participate and the number of people who are allowed to) works to undermine broad participation. When one takes into account the mandated focus on a school growth plans and the attendant problem inherent in any plan focused completely on constant growth one might be excused for thinking that the SPCs are part of a large scale training programme to get parents and school communities ready for taking over more types of narrowly defined management measures and that our capacity to engage the wider issues involved in educating citizens will ultimately be undermined through a corporatist agenda that places more value on training workers than in educating citizens.

At the end of the day I would argue strongly for parent/teacher/student(where age and maturity allow it) councils based in schools that engage in real learning issues and approaches that place the process of education understood broadly at the center of deliberation.

A Selection of BC online resources related to School Planning Councils

BC Government School Planning Councils web page

Summary of School Act that pertains to School Planning Council

BCCPAC web resources related to School Planning Councils

BCTF web resources on SPCs

Hot topics bulletin from the BCTF web site

BCTF Jan 2004 survey results regarding SPCs

BC School Superintends Association web resources related to School Planning Councils.

Society for the Advancement of Excellence in Eduation SPC web resources

News Articles
COPE opts to leave school planning seats vacant (Van Courier, August 2004)

Trustee fears loss of control (Georgia Straight, November 2005)

Government Education Plan Threatens Democracy, say Trustees (Columbia Journal, November 2005)

VSB adds 66 new French Immersion Spaces: Anticapted waiting list to drop from 250 to 184

VANCOUVER/CKNW(980) – The Vancouver School Board has approved the recommendations of a task force, on how to deal with increasing demand for french immersion. The board has voted unanimously on the interim recommendations. The lottery system approved for the next school year means it’s ‘the luck of the draw’ for parents trying to get their kids into french immersion. Board Chair Ken Denike admits it’s not the best method of determining who get in [That is an understatement, ed]. “We need to discuss the whole matter of whether french is an entitlement or as a choice, as it’s currently being practiced. and that’s to be done, it comes to the next committee meeting with a terms of reference.”

There are 66 new early french immersion spots in kindergarten, and an extra 30 spots for grade 6 students.

Yes indeed – new spaces. When the waiting list from last year was 250 a mere 66 is, in my opinion, insignificant. When one takes into account more than a third of those spaces were already in the system -that is they were temporary approvals for the last several years at Trafalgar and Tennyson Elementary Schools– that have now been fixed in place with continuing support, it means that we have added next to nothing for French Immersion. I say this from my perspective as one of the two parent reps who sat on the taskforce that VSB set in place last March that made these recommendations. The taskforce spent many hours attempting to identify spaces and initially seemed to find about 121 – enough to accommodate half of last year’s waiting list. Bye the time January 2006 rolled around we were down to the 66 spaces for early French immersion that have now been established.

If we are going to be able to respond effectively to the growing need for French language instruction in our schools than there will need, I believe, to be an attitude change amongst the administrators and other players. French Immersion is not an elitist program, it’s not a haven for reactionary white middle class professionals. French Immersion is more and more the option preferred by many people in the system who are interested in having their children able to meet the realities of our global society that is a world in which speaking more than one language is a norm ( Dr. Diane Dagenais of SFU has done research on this subject that is very informative).

For background and addition information see the following links:

French Immersion Taskforce report to School Board

Vancouver School Board info related to new French Immersion spaces

In early Novemeber it looked like we would have 121 spaces. What happened? Read the article in the Vancovuer Courier about the 121 spaces.

Canadian Parents for French: VSB taskforce archives

See also info on Quilchena Parent Advisory Council webpage.

Judge slams activist Courtenay mom over e-mails

Teachers, others attacked in Internet campaign, awarded $700,000 in damages

Jeff Rud, Times Colonist
Published: Friday, January 13, 2006

A Courtenay woman whose campaign of highly critical e-mails and Internet postings defamed nine teachers, a former school trustee and a parent, has been ordered by the B.C. Supreme Court to pay nearly $700,000 in damages.

Madame Justice Jacqueline Dorgan ordered Sue Halstead to pay 11 plaintiffs a total of $676,000 after Halstead published defamatory statements “in the context of a prolonged and sustained campaign of character assassination against each of the plaintiffs.”

See original web posting of this story.

See also, B.C. court awards thousands to defamed teachers.

BCTF School Alert on this subject

Daphne Bramham’s column on the subject in today’s vancovuer Sun

Article from The ProvinceThe judge acknowledged that it will be difficult to collect the damages, given Halstead’s financial circumstances, but also ordered her to stop publishing comments about the plaintiffs on the Internet or any other medium.

“Her conduct was clearly motivated by malice and was oppressive. Ms. Halstead’s shockingly vicious attack upon, and her manifestly fictitious account of, each of the plaintiffs’ character and conduct is deserving of rebuke …,” Dorgan wrote in her reasons for judgment.

Halstead, a mother whose five children attended public school in the Comox Valley, has a long history as a volunteer activist with a focus on education and prevention of bullying. But the judge ruled that she defamed these educators by sending out mass e-mails and postings in chatrooms in which she “regularly made allegations of teachers’ misconduct and allegations that the school board mishandled or covered up the behaviours she referred to.”

Halstead also created a website in 2003 that included a page entitled “B.C.’s Least Wanted” which the judgment described as a “rogue’s gallery.” It included a display of names and photographs of people whom Halstead contended had “engaged in wrongful conduct within the education system.”

The “Least Wanted” page was divided into sections, including those who had been disciplined by the B.C. College of Teachers; “Educators in Court,” which included names and photos of teachers involved in litigation; “Bully Educators,” whom Halstead alleged to have committed “acts deserving of rebuke, or deserving of the description ‘bully;'” and “School Board Bullies,” a number of boards alleged to have used bullying tactics against parents and students.

In cases where photos of teachers were not posted, cartoons of an apple with a worm in it were displayed in their place.

Edmund Newman, a teacher at Cumberland Junior Secondary, was awarded the greatest individual damages, getting $150,000. Other individual awards ranged from $1,000 to $125,000 and the judge also ordered $50,000 in punitive damages to be split among the plaintiffs, nine of whom live on Vancouver Island and two in Prince George.

Halstead released a brief statement by e-mail Thursday in response to the judgment.

“The judge has ordered me not to discuss these issues and I can’t or I would be in contempt of court,” she wrote. “I took these [defamatory] statements off the website in November 2003 when the union demanded that I do so. That is over two years ago. I have no intention of ever publishing them again.”

Provincial Math Exams: Online tutors to help students prepare

Here’s another project being done ostensibly with money ‘saved’ by the teachers’ strike. Am I being too cynical if i imply that the government seems bent on showing how much better our education system would be if we paid teachers’ less? or are they campaigning for a shorter school year with enforced furloughs? If I were I teacher I think that by now -if I weren’t already- I’d be getting rather frustrated by the way the government is throwing money and then telling everyone that they got it from me. As a parent I stand with many others who are getting tired of fund raising for essential learning resources and having budgets as large of the principals’ to distribute. Something’s not working. I can see the teachers working; I can see my fellow parents working. Perhaps the government isn’t working? Not a new thought of course.

Here’s the press release on online tutors for Provincial Math exam prep.

VICTORIA – B.C. students enrolled in Principles of Math 12 will be able to get help from online tutors to prepare for the Feb. 8 provincial exam, Education Minister Shirley Bond announced today.

“We want to maximize opportunities that allow our students to reach their full potential,” said Bond. “That’s why we’re introducing a pilot online tutoring program that will give students writing the Principles of Math 12 exam the extra help they need to achieve their best.”Any Principles of Math 12 student in B.C. can use the tutoring service by visiting online. Students will have access to online lessons, practice exams and tutoring sessions with B.C.-certified teachers. Between Jan. 18 and Feb. 7, teachers will be available in an online classroom Monday through Thursday from 7-9 p.m. Tutoring will also be offered from 1-5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 4 and Sunday, Feb. 5.

“Today’s students are as comfortable using a computer as they are using a pen and paper,” said Bond. “This online tutoring program is recognition of that fact, and is an exciting opportunity for all students – no matter where they live in B.C.”

The program will be offered through BCEd Online, an e-learning consortium made up of 41 school districts that partner with post-secondary institutions, online learning organizations, teacher groups, private
industry and government. BCEd Online supports online learning for students who learn in the classroom and at a distance.

“The Ministry of Education and BCEd Online are using interactive technology to provide students – particularly in rural communities – with more options,” said Barry Carbol, executive director of BCEd Online. “The tutoring program is one of the many ways our member school districts are using technology to help students do better on exams and in school.”

The online tutoring program will cost $13,000, with funds coming from the $126 million in savings reported by school districts due to the teachers’ job action. The Province has also adjusted the provincial exam schedule to allow students more time to study and prepare for their January exams. The exams will start one week later, on Feb. 6.

Over the last year, the Province has provided more than $6 million to improve technology in B.C. classrooms. The funding includes $1 million to put almost 12,000 additional computers in schools, and $2.1 million to launch pilot laptop computer projects in 12 school districts and support electronic learning in rural schools.

BCCPAC Survey on One Time Funding Process

BCCPAC seeks feedback from PACs and DPACs on their involvement in deciding how to spend the Ministry’s grants of $50 per student per school and school district. Feel free to share.

On December 8, 2005 the Ministry of Education announced that grants of $50 per FTE student would be distributed in schools and districts throughout the province:

“The Province will provide one-time funding of $50 per student for each public school. In addition, all 60 school districts will receive one-time funding of $50 per school-aged student. Schools and districts will work with education partners to decide how to spend the funding”
– Ministry of Education News Release, “Province Provides $126M for Education from Savings”, December 9, 2005

The objective of the BCCPAC survey is to collect data on the consultation process that took place, which involved parents from across the province. This data will be used as an important reference tool for future discussions with provincial Education Partners.


A Mad Way to Spend Money

Vancouver Sun, Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Catherine Evans, Chair, BC Society for Public Education

“March Madness” struck early this year in every public school and school district in the province. All are scrambling to spend $56 million before the province closes its books on March 31. This money, clawed back in November as savings from the teachers’ job action, was quietly made available a week before classes ended in December on condition that spending plans be submitted by January 10 and the money actually spent by March 31.

Even in an age of instant communication, it takes time to sort out this kind of announcement. For schools – on holidays for half the time available – there were really only four days in January to draw up plans and get them to the districts. Parent participation within this timeframe – a supposed requirement of the government’s action – was next to impossible.

In Victoria, this kind of frenzied behavior is usually confined to late in the fiscal year when ministries know whether or not they have leftover funds. It’s the crazy way government budgets work – hence “March Madness.”

The Ministry of Education already knows it has extra cash – lots of it – courtesy of the salaries that teachers and others gave up to make a point. Unfortunately many the items schools most urgently need cannot be paid for with this money. The one-time nature of the money coupled with the short timeframe means that it cannot be used for seismic upgrades, new playgrounds, or salaries for any of the people that are in short supply, e.g., teacher-librarians, special education assistants, and playground supervisors.

So how will the money be used? The intent is that most of it will go to textbooks, learning materials, computers and library books. These are very necessary and very expensive. In fact, pent-up demand from more than 12 years of budget constraint could easily absorb many more millions in spending.

But is throwing one-time, short-term money at schools really a good way to run a healthy school system? Most would say, and I would be forced to agree, that having this money is better than not having it. But are they also saying that schools only get money to buy books when there is unexpected cash available? What happened to long-term, stable funding that allows schools to purchase new textbooks and other resources in an orderly and predictable manner? Teachers should not have to strike in order for students to have books. Our students deserve better.

BC Society for Public Education

Southland PAC Comments on “Parachute” Funding

Extract from letter to Colin Hansen from Southlands PAC. The bulk of the letter is a follow-up to Colin Hansen’s visit with the PAC. The section quoted is only that dealing with the one time funding.

“Since our meeting, we do note that the Minister is honouring her commitment to keep the school strike savings in the education system. We certainly agree this is where the funds belong but have, frankly, scrambled to meet the requirement for consultation among parents and others within the confines of an extremely tight deadline.

This type of “parachute” funding is an example of a critical flaw that seems to have become routine for public education in British Columbia. [emphasis added] A series of special funding “announcements” does not reflect our stated concern that it is difficult, if not impossible, to conceive and implement long-term plans and goals without, on balance, long-term, stable funding. One-time grants and “saved” funds may ease certain deficiencies in classrooms but do little to eradicate the systemic problems leading to these deficiencies. After years of eroded services and resources, combined with higher costs, many children’s needs are still unable to be met.

Please reiterate to the Minister that we need the Government and Ministry staff to allocate, on a long-term basis, adequate, sustainable and proactive funding because we know funding reactively does not serve our children well. While all of us are committed to investing in the future of British Columbia, we will not be making good decisions if we see public education, and our children, as short-term expenditures.

We look forward to seeing a willingness on the part of Government to make this investment, at which point we will happily assure concerned parents that their stated commitment to a quality public education system is well founded and their tax dollars are well spent.”

Download full text of letter.