Every Kid Counts: BCTF Sponsored Education partners Conference


Over 300 parents, teachers, support workers, MLAs, Trustees, and community members met in Richomnd BC this past Friday and Saturday (Feb. 10-11, 20065) to discus the issue of class size and composition in our public education system. Parent reps from a wide range of PACs, DPACS, and also the BCCPAC joined in workshops and plenury discussions that explored the peer reviewed academic research that sheds light on the question of whether class size matters.

Webcasts of keynote addresses.
The opening plenary session on Friday featured a research presentation by UBC Education faculty member Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl and a personal refelction of a vetern teacher, Kate Noakes, from Fernie Secondary.

Dr. Schonert-Reichel drew upon her own research and that of colleagues through North America to make the case that smaller class sizes (less than 25 or 20 depending upon grade level) is a critical factor in creating positive learning outcomes for children in the K-12 system. The important question, according to Dr. Schonert-Reichel, is why? What is it about smaller class sizes that leads to better learning outcomes?

Drawing upon her research at hasting Elementary in Vancouver Dr. Schonert-Reichel has found that it is the relationships between students and significant adults in the school that is the special ingredient. And, by a significant majority these are caring relationships between teachers and students. The smaller the class size the more caring the teacher-student relations and the better the learning outcomes. Larger class sizes lead to a distancing of teacher from student as the teachers attempt to meet the core learning goals as prescribed by standardized tests and the stress of doing more and more with less and less. It is in this context that the composition of a class –i.e. the racial, linguistic, learning, and health needs of the students- come into play. In crease diversity of the students, increase the class size, and the learning outcomes plummet like a lead balloon.

Kate Noakes, a vetern BC teacher gave us the personal experiential view as a teacher in the public system. In a moving and sincere presentation in which the speaker seemed to be on the verge of tears, Ms Noakes outline the progression of teaching and the face and shape of her classes since she started teaching over twenty years ago. Taken together, the ‘objective’ presentation of the researcher and the moving testimonial of the teacher left no doubt in the audience’s mind that this would be a memberable event.

Overall the conference provided a useful opportunity to meet with parents, teachers, and other community members from across the province. It was refreshing to have an opportunity to actually engage in discussion and to hear a real diversity of opinion being expressed in a constructive and positive fashion. At the end of the conference I was left with a feeling of optimism that parents and teachers share an important concern and have the combined capacity to make a real difference for our children.

3 thoughts on “Every Kid Counts: BCTF Sponsored Education partners Conference

  1. I was at the conference — my first BCTF conference and I was surprized at the number of parents present. We did a panel on parent advocacy — lots of new contacts with PAC & DPAC reps from around the province & interesting discussions re their issues and advocacy efforts — certainly lots of common ground! I encouraged several to get in touch and join the SOS list, because many were looking for support from other parent advocacy groups via networking.

    I heard from someone there that at the Learning Roundtable, BCCPAC as “the voice of BC parents” is advocating class size caps in legislation, but ONLY for K to 7 — they don’t want any caps for high school classes! Is that true? Where would they get the mandate to take that position? Has anyone heard consultation on this? If PACs and DPACs disagree, they may want to investigate this and perhaps make their views known publicly.

    The other interesting part for me was the group discussions on how to address class size and composition in ways that address the realities of student diversity. Most participants I spoke to agreed on the need but I didn’t see consensus yet on how to achieve it (our group was about 50/50 parents/teachers + 1 trustee). There were competing takes on “flexibility,” partly, I believe, because we’re defining it in different ways. Some teachers want firm class size/ composition limits in the employment contract (vs in legislation), but I suspect this could become a wedge issue between parents and teachers if BCTF were to take that position (it wasn’t clear to me what position they’d taken, if any). For example, firm class composition limits (vs. more flexible approaches that might allow more kids if it’s workable with extra supports) could end up discriminating against kids with special needs or ESL kids and could be a nightmare for schools in Vancouver that have high numbers of both groups. Small rural schools also seem to favour some sort of flexibility to address low enrolment issues.

    If we’re teaching to diversity, that implies a need for some form of flexibility. I think the problem is that the current “flexibility” is controlled by the bean counters, not the teachers, which is why it’s been just about maxing out limits to stretch inadequate budget dollars. Size limits with some built-in-flexibility, i.e. room for consensus on localized adaptations, plus a veto voice for the classroom teacher in any decision where stretching an individual class is seen as the best solution, plus a voice for parents somewhere seems, in my opinion, to be the sort of answer that might generate broad support.

    Any thoughts on this?

    Finally, SFU Education Dean Paul Shaker was inspiring as the closing speaker. He made a strong appeal for bringing stakeholder groups together to try to find consensus solutions and get the politics out of the education debates. Right on!


  2. Hi folks: just returned from a very successful BCTF weekend conference in Richmond ,entitled ” Every Kid Counts- a call to action on class size and composition”.Some thoughts on this topic:
    1. the release of the Ministry of Educ.
    stats on the eve of this conference was quite intentional by the MOE in
    order to mute the impact of this conference .As this report was ready a long time ago the MOE is once again spin doctoring.
    2.The effusive response by Shirley
    Bond was designed to mask the fact that over 9,OOO classrooms had 31( not 3O as stated in Friday’s SUN) kids in them.
    4.I will post the BCTF Backgrounder
    BCTF backgrounder for you .It provides some very interesting info and you will notice that once again Bond is blaming school boards– the standard response from Victoria and one that BCSTA should firmly reject.
    4.Lastly ,view the MOE stats with considerable caution.Victoria has a long history of NOT keeping stats for fear of embarrassment.Remember, this is a ministry which is unable to provide an accurate count of the number of schools closed over the last four years.
    Sincerely, Noel Herron

  3. I attended this informative conference too. One interesting point made by Dr. Schonert-Reichel is that larger class sizes create in-groups and out-groups. Unfortunately, cliques in a class don’t contribute much to social responsibility, nor to the social and emotional well-being of children, which is key to their learning success.

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