Page Four: BC Ministry of Education to investigate teacher ed research debacle


The British Columbia Minister of Education has announced an investigation into the research contracts that funded a teenager’s “study” of teacher education programs at the University of Victoria and University of Helsinki.

This story has been floating around since last fall, but the Ministry has had nothing to say about these sole-source research contracts until the Canadian Taxpayers Federation of BC obtained and published the final report. A story by Times Colonist reporter Amy Smart about the research contracts and the student’s report, was also a big nudge (see below).

[Following the initial story about the government funded teen researcher by Tracy Sherlock in the Vancouver Sun last September, I’ve written about the situation on WTBHNN and Janet Steffenhagen has covered it on her blog for the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils. But it was Jordan Bateman and the CTF‘s FOI activity that finally forced the Ministry to acknowledge there is at least the appearance of problem here.]

CBC News Vancouver ran the story this evening, watch their report here:

I’m doubtful we’ll get any real insights into this bizarre episode, at least in the short term, because Education Minister Peter Fassbender indicated that the investigation would focus on contract “procedures” rather than substance of the decision making process. Rick Davis, the Ministry’s “superintendent of achievement,” is the official who gave the contracts to Anjali Vyas, who at the time was a recent high school grad and deejay, she is now an undergraduate student at UBC.

Here’s Fassbender’s full interview with CBC News:

Can there be a rational explanation for funding a high school grad to travel to Finland to study teacher education? I’m interested to know what it was Rick Davis and the BC Ministry of Education were expecting? Did they really believe that funding a 10 month “study” of teacher education conducted by a recent high school grad would produce insights into the professional preparation of teachers?

The Victoria Times-Colonist reports:

Education Minister Peter Fassbender says he is investigating how $16,000 in public funds were paid to a teenage researcher on the already well-researched topic of Finnish teacher education.

Stelly’s Secondary School graduate Anjaly Vyas travelled to Finland in 2013 to interview students about teacher education. She also interviewed students at the University of Victoria and wrote a 14-page report of her findings.

Superintendent of achievement Rick Davis signed two contracts for her work — one in 2012 for $8,000 and another in 2013 for “up to $8,000.” In documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation through a freedom of information request, he said Vyas offered “student eyes” on teacher education.

“I think this young lady, of course, was passionate about education and I really celebrate her enthusiasm. But this isn’t really about her, it’s about our procedures,” Fassbender said Tuesday.

“I’ve spoken with the deputy and we’re reviewing our procedures on contracts like this.”

Fassbender said the contracts are concerning, but also called the awarding process “open and transparent,” since all ministry contracts are posted monthly.

Sole-source contracts under a certain threshold can be awarded without contest, but they are traditionally signed off by the deputy minister, he said.

“The current deputy was not the one who signed this particular contract, that’s why we’re reviewing it,” Fassbender said.

“If there are procedures we need to change, we will definitely look at that.”

James Gorman was deputy education minister from 2008 to October 2013, when Rob Wood replaced him.

Earlier in the day Amy Smart reported the story in The Province newspaper: B.C. blasted for paying teen $1,122 per page for report on teacher education in Finland, to which Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and I contributed commentary.

The CTF filed the Freedom of Information requests that produced 115 pages of background documents and the Vyas report.

Bateman called the contracts “dubious.”

“There’s a difference between gleaning student input and spending $16,000 to send a 19-year-old to Finland on very flimsy pretenses,” he said.

The ministry didn’t get much for its money, Bateman said. At 14 pages, the “thin” student paper released Monday essentially cost taxpayers $1,122.81 per page.

The first $8,000 contract was signed in 2012, while a second one for “up to $8,000” was signed in 2013.

Bateman filed a freedom of information request after reading a story in the Vancouver Sun celebrating Vyas’s achievements. In the story, she said she met Davis when she was DJ-ing at a wedding.

“There’s something weird about the story that just didn’t sit right,” Bateman said. “They hit it off and then she ends up with this $8,000 contract to go to Finland and study, frankly, the most-studied educational system in the world.”

Davis met Vyas “coincidentally” at her teacher Gord Ritchie’s wedding, the ministry said. But Ritchie had already alerted Davis to Vyas’s research interests and they later arranged a formal meeting.

I told Smart that while Vyas seemed “very bright and motivated,” the project was an insult to education professionals.

“At the most basic level, I think giving a sole-source contract to a teenager to study UVic’s teacher education program and to travel to Finland, shows that the ministry doesn’t really take teacher education seriously.”

“I wonder if the Health Ministry would send a teenager to Finland to study their professional medical preparation.”

Vyas apparently didn’t respond to reporters’ requests for interviews, but she submitted a video statement to CBC News Vancouver defending her project.

I agree with Minister Fassbender that Vyas and her work should not be the primary focus here. As I mentioned in previous posts, I’m not interested in picking apart the report or making judgments about her work. That’s really beside the point.

What is at issue is the agenda of the Ministry.

Why create a situation any thoughtful person could easily predict had the potential to blow up in the faces of everyone involved?

Rick Davis and the Ministry are responsible for putting Vyas in an awkward position. Vyas shouldn’t be a scapegoat. And, Davis and the Ministry should be held accountable, not just for the money spent, but the process and product of government decision-making as well as their frivolous approach to teacher education.

When is Davis going to step up and offer a defence of his actions?

The one thing he could really learn from Vyas is having the courage to defend his own work. Would that be worth $16,000.00?

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