Education, Mental Health, and the Need for Discpline

There are many well-traveled education issues, but mental health remains one of the most difficult ‘invisible disabilities’ for the school system to deal with. I had the opportunity in the fall of 2007 to listen to a Vancouver DPAC sponsored talk by Dr. Kim Schonert-Reichl (UBC Faculty of Education) about youth resiliency. One of the most striking things that she discussed was the high level of clinical depression and anxiety facing adolescents in our schools today. Sadly, little is being done to address this problem and every day one hears stories of young people who fall through the cracks in a school system focused more on the management of discipline than the education of our youth.Our schools, particularly our secondary schools and universities, are large institutions that often function more like a factory than a place of learning. It is easy for young people to become lost, ignored, or simply overlooked in these institutions. Only when a child violates a specific social norm or code of conduct will they catch the attention of school authorities. And, then it is more often that hand of discipline rather than the arms of care that is extended.

Research on the subject of the type of disciplinary approaches typically used (i.e. restriction of access to school via suspension, transfer, or expulsion) tends to demonstrate that they are ineffective in correcting inappropriate behaviours. One UBC study by Cheryl Amen found that each time a student was transferred their likelihood of school completion diminished. The effect was magnified for aboriginal students. Yet school districts like Vancouver’s still uses administrative transfers as a means of discipline.

What is needed are approaches to students that work with their disability –not punishes the student for a symptom of their illness. Yet one school administrator recently said to me that disciplinary consequences are important mechanisms to ensure that a student understands that inappropriate behaviour is not tolerated. Most reasonable people would agree that inappropriate behaviour should not be tolerated. However, a discipline first approach that penalizes a youth for their illness does not make sense. Nor will it likely be effective in achieving a durable solution. Study after study has demonstrated that punitive approaches to discipline do not work. In fact, such approaches will allow a child to escape the real consequences for their actions and leaves the underlying health problems to continue.

We need effective mental health supports and programs in our schools. We need approaches to discipline that take a compassionate and evidence-based approach toward inappropriate behaviour. We need administrators, counselors enrolling teachers to have more effective training and support so that they can work with, rather than against, the learning needs of children with invisible disabilities.

Some related articles:
Depression: illness, not weakness
Better mental-health services needed for youth, group says
Mental-health services earn a positive review
Children, Youth and Mental Disorders | Here to Help, A BC Information Resource for Individuals and Families Managing Mental Health or Substance Use Problems

UBC Schools


What follows is an update on plans for accommodating student growth in the UBC area, provided by Charles Menzies. The Vancouver board of education is expected to present a business plan to the government before the end of January in the hope of getting approval for construction/conversion to begin this summer.

U Hill Network of Schools to be Rebuilt -Update

The University Hill area school issue has been developing these past few days. As per the VSB announcement in the last week of classes in December they are planning to present a business plan to the ministry of education by the end of January 30th with the hopes of receiving approval to begin a set of construction/conversion projects this summer.

There are a number of hurdles in between, not the least of which will be the provincial election. I think that it would be a fair comment that most, if not all, of the parents and community members connected to our two area schools are hoping beyond hope that the entire project goes through with provincial approvals without a hitch. To date there have been a series of meetings for parents, staff, and community. Last week both Parent Advisory groups (elementary and secondary) held meetings with parents to hear about the plan details. At the Secondary PAC we passed a motion in support of the proposal (full text of motion can be found here. The one major concern raised was with the transition period during which our only athletic field will be turned into a construction site and potential safety issues will emerge. Our motion passed unanimously to support the plan that will see two K-5 primary schools (350=38- student each), one 6-8 middle school (400-45- students) and a 9-12 secondary school (800-850 students). The completion date for the new 6-8 school (built on the field at the current high school) and the new 9-12 school (the reconverted NRC Building) is March 2011. The second K-5 school would be completed within a year and a half of that date, fall 2012. This should be able to handle the current students living in the university hill area with some potential for modest growth. (The housing slowdown will actually help relieve some of the pressure as it is rumored that close to
400 units of housing are sitting on the real estate listing and not moving in our area).

On Monday evening a community meeting was held at the Old Barn Community Centre in Hawthorn Place at UBC. About 50 or so people were there and the general consensus seemed to be that the VSB needs to get on with it. There were construction and design questions related to traffic issues at the current high school but by and large the tone of the meeting was we have waited and waited, let’s not wait any longer -build the schools!

It would seem that all that stands between our community and proper schools is provincial government approval. UBC and VSB have been working out some exciting and interesting educational collaborations, the financial side seems only to need the ministry of end’s contribution and things are up and running. However, as the neighbourhoods of learning debacle shows there will be many who will look at any potential approval as Gordon Campbell handing out political payoffs to his constituents. We hope that this is not the case. For those of us on the ground and who have been involved with the university schools and these issues for almost a decade will can say quite clearly that this is a needed project and while partisan politics are inevitable ingredient in any BC Education story this is one example in which one would hope that approval comes in spite of the politics!

More information about the plan itself can be found here, here, and here.

Some details that we still don’t have include the business plan that is to be submitted to the provincial government; it is not clear whether or not it will be made public (to be honest, I’m not sure of the standard procedure on this). We would be interested in seeing the document, but at any rate staff (including Chris Kelly and Mark Dale of the VSB) assured us at the Jan. 12th meeting that they will not wait to hear back from the province but will beginning the design planning ASAP. There is already an architect involved and thus it is likely that building plans are at some reasonable stage of

We all look forward to a smooth approval and transition to an exciting rebuilt university hill network of schools for our children.

New Math -Again :)

By The Numbers

Arvind Gupta, a leading mathematical researcher, points to his three daughters as examples of what is wrong with math education in British Columbia.

Although his girls do well in the subject, they have no interest in pursuing it as a career.

And that, unfortunately, is typical, says Gupta, chief executive officer and scientific director at a Simon Fraser University centre of excellence known as MITACS — Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems.

“Surprising as it is to me, kids are turning away in even larger numbers than before from mathematical sciences,” Gupta said in an interview. “It’s a huge worry for us because the world is demanding more and more quantitative skills in individuals.”

FSA (Again . . .) MRK III

A report from the Vancouver FSA meeting – Report Card

My commentary in response to the discussion on “The Report Card” about BC’s FSA.

There are in fact a number of ‘real’ issues here. As I see it they can be thought of this way (1) the specific issue of the FSA test itself, (2) the larger more abstract issue around the balance between classroom assessment/evaluation and an externally regulated system of assessment/evaluation, and (3) the differences between assessing and evaluating learning. There are also other issues that, while important, are less critical to me, which I’ll just skip over.

Of the three issues listed above I would suggest that the first and second are the most pressing. (1) The FSA has become a site of conflict between opposing viewpoints on education. For those arguing in favour of market mechanisms a la the late Chicago economist Milton Friedmen, having some kind of universally comparable quantity is critically important. It allows for the comparability of different cases or units (i.e. schools) and the convertibility of divergent variables to a few very easily read and understandable quantities (i.e. the Fraser Institute Report Card). For much of the period from the 1980s to the present the reviewed ideas of unrestrained market mechanisms as the natural’ and ‘best’ approach toward the governance of everything from social services and education and healthcare to art and culture have played a greater and greater role in managing our societies. So much so that even conservative economic thinkers are now saying that the pendulum of regulation has to start sweeping back toward greater government control before our current recession becomes a depression.

In terms of education, and by this I mean teaching and learning, the market mechanism has not proven effective. Just as Ms. T.A. suggests that teachers have identified parents as a powerful block to be used or manipulated to the teacher cause, so too have the anti-union lobby. Education activists who oppose teachers’ unions have championed the cause of parental involvement and parental choice as the lever by which they can unseat unions.

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 attacks” (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 idea that increased parental control over school-based governance can also be used as step toward weakening teacher unionism. This approach has been clear in the current provincial government’s educational agendas. Two of their first education action were stripping the teacher’s contracts and creating an expanded (though seriously limited) form of direct parental governance through the School Planning Councils in 2002.

In all of this has stepped the FSA which then takes on a role far larger then it really is and the test, what ever it may be, becomes a flash point, a symbolic threshold that opposing political agencies and social interests struggle over. Nonetheless, to listen to the Ms. T.A.’s and the Mr. P. Corwley’s one would think that teachers’ unions really run the show. However, the empirical evidence of the last few years clearly shows that the teachers’ unions have been on the defensive and despite what their publicity may say have been losing most every battle that they have taken up.

There is some role for some sort of diagnostic evaluation of students that supports and supplements classroom assessment. The FSA, coming in at grade four is too little, too late. The FSA is more about a system wide control mechanism to ensure the compliance of the labour pool without investing the real resources in terms of in-service training, proper sized classrooms, adequate support aids, appropriate class sizes and in a context in which direct supervision and surveillance is too costly. Despite what the advocates of the FSA say publicly the evidence around the test would suggest that it really has nothing to do with authentic educational practices that work for our children.

(2) This moves me to my second point –finding the balance between classroom assessment and evaluation and externally regulated assessment and evaluation. Many of the debates and arguments in the above section apply here but in this point I want to move to a more abstract level and to try and disassociate the argument from the specifics of BC’s FSA.

Having the capacity to compare across large groups of different students, schools, districts, and regions is a useful tool. It allows us to check and control for socio-economic disparities, to address local problems or errors, and to identify exemplary practices (once one factors out confounding effects).

Having instruments that are independent of classroom assessments and evaluations can be useful (in my opinion) if they are designed to complement in class teaching and learning. If they are designed as a form of incipient or covert surveillance then we will find our selves in a conflict situation.

UHS PAC Votes to Endorse New School Plan for UBC Area

U Hill Secondary Parents Advisory Council

“PAC members voted this evening to endorse the VSB’s proposal for new schools in the University area of the school district. Though parents at the meeting expressed concern with potential problems caused by construction during the transition period all in attendance were in support of the VSB proceeding rapidly with the plan to rebuild our neighbourhood schools.”

FSA (Again . . .) MRK II


A report from the Vancouver FSA meeting

By Janet Steffenhagen 01-08-2009 COMMENTS(0) Report Card

Many thanks to trustee Mike Lombardi for providing the following summary of the Vancouver board of education meeting to discuss the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA). (Thanks as well to Charles Menzies who posted a short summary of the meeting in the comment section of the previous post.)

“The joint meetings of VSB Committee I (Management/Coordinating) and III (Education and Student Services) met for 2 1/2 hours this evening. More than 20 members of the committees were in attendance (trustee, parent, administrator, and teacher reps) The audience consisted of more than 50 members of the public and interested parties.”