ATHABASCA - Aspen View Public Schools will not be piloting Alberta Education's new draft K-6 curriculum, citing concerns with both the "fundamental changes" it makes, and the timing of those proposed changes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At Aspen View's April 15 board meeting, deputy Supt. Dr. Karen Penney informed trustees on the history of the proposed curriculum, noting it had started with the Progressive Conservative government and was slated for a 2014 release, which was stalled when the New Democratic Party formed government that same year.
The NDP revised the curriculum intending to release it for the 2019 school year when the United Conservative Party won the 2019 election, which delayed it again.
“We were ready for release of that curriculum in September 2019. Teachers were already looking at it, it was a transparent process. There was lots of opportunity to play with the curriculum, as we say, to get to know the curriculum and again, having input into the curriculum,” said Penney. “However, when the new conservative UCP government won the elections in 2019 the new Minister of Education (Adriana LaGrange) was charged with the responsibility of coming up with a new curriculum.”
Penney added only 100 of the 35,000 teachers in Alberta were involved in reviewing the document and providing feedback and were sworn to secrecy.
“The recent release of the new curriculum along with a call for piloting of the new curriculum has caused a stir in the province, due largely to secrecy of the process, as well as a complete overhaul of the curriculum — a curriculum that already had the support of all sectors of Alberta,” she said.
Penney said changes to the curriculum were previously rated based on how extensive the changes were.
“We used to say that the curriculum changes were a one-, two- or three-star — with three stars being an overhaul — this would be akin to a five-star overhaul,” she said. “This is completely different than anything we've ever seen in education, just so you're aware.”
Penney added while the NDP government only slightly changed the curriculum started by the PC government, this curriculum is “a fundamental change.”
“Education has to be prepared to accept the fact that this is a fundamental change in curriculum direction. It is based on a United Conservative Party ideology,” Penney said. “In the past, curriculum has not had such a political face to it.”
Another concern raised by trustee April Bauer was the lack of information around resources for the proposed curriculum.
“We have no knowledge of resources that have been developed for the new curriculum, not to say they're not there, we just were not aware of it,” said Penney.
And while the proposed curriculum can be done as a whole or in specific parts, math for example, can be pulled out to pilot on its own, AVPS felt it was not worth doing.
“It's my understanding that if we pilot, we can refine parts of it. I've read the word ‘refined’ more than a few times,” said Penney. “I’m not sure this is a curriculum we want to refine.”
Penney also raised the concern of piloting the curriculum during a pandemic.
“This will allow more time for schools to recover from the COVID pandemic, which has drastically taxed their resources and offering quality programming to K to 12 students in the district,” she said. “Furthermore, despite the best efforts of teachers and school leadership, students will inevitably return to school with gaps in their learning, caused primarily by the complete shutdown of schools in March of 2020 and the continuing challenges faced with intermittent moves to online learning classes as COVID cases escalated within the province during the 2021 school year.”
Supt. Neil O’Shea added it is a lot of work to implement a new curriculum and it’s more than just opening a new text book.
“So, I as well don't believe this is the right time for a new curriculum,” he said. “And if this was a curriculum that came with a gold star on it from everybody, I'm still not sure this is the right time.”
Trustees decided to write to Minister LaGrange telling her AVPS will not be piloting the curriculum, but would still like the opportunity to give feedback.
In a media release from the school division later in the day, Aspen View chair Candyce Nikipelo spoke about how important a school curriculum is.
“A school curriculum is incredibly important, as it guides the education of future generations of Albertans,” she said. “Our board believes that the draft K-6 curriculum, as presented, isn’t ready to be put in front of students. We believe it requires comprehensive analysis and feedback from a broad spectrum of key stakeholders, and we urge the Government of Alberta to provide the appropriate time and opportunity for that feedback to be received, evaluated and reflected before a new curriculum is launched.”
Supt. O'Shea added: “While Aspen View Public Schools will not participate in piloting the new draft K-6 curriculum, we will engage our school administrators and teachers in comprehensive review and analysis of the new draft curriculum, generating meaningful feedback which we will provide to Alberta Education. We encourage all our division stakeholders to provide their feedback as well.”
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