By Maureen Wilkinson
At a time when education is the focus of debate, I find myself, a retired special education resource teacher from the York Region District School Board and a tutor for a student in the York Catholic District School Board, asking a very disturbing question.
Is there a difference between the two boards in teacher accountability?
In January 2009, I started tutoring a separate school Grade 6 girl I will call Amanda. Her mother was concerned because Amanda’s grades were consistently falling to the D range by the third term each year since Grade 4. Requests for help were unsuccessful.
I started with her first term report card. It was clear that her learning skills needed work, so we focused on those. Although her learning skills improved by end of second term, her grades didn’t. A school interview was arranged.
I went with Amanda’s mother to the interview, viewing it through my public school experience.
In the public board, a student is at risk when report card marks are in the D range. Parents are usually notified before the report card goes home. If the marks have not improved by the next term, the student is brought to the in-school team, which suggests strategies to help the student improve.
It took several meetings before I realized that in the Catholic board, Amanda’s marks did not seem to be a concern, so a case conference was not necessary.
My next strategy was to request an individual education program plan (IEP) for Amanda. The ministry IEP document (2004) permits non-identified students to have an IEP. In the Education For All panel report, accommodations are a right, not a privilege. In the public board, many students have IEPs.
My request, however, was denied, because in the Catholic board, the teacher decides when to initiate an IEP.
I continued to advocate for Amanda until her learning needs were met, but the experience concerned me.
In the public board, teachers are accountable through professional development, annual learning plans and an evaluation every five years. In addition, the principal does so-called walkabouts and goes into classrooms to observe.
If the principal has a concern, the teacher and principal meet regularly and an improvement plan is started. For those teachers who still have difficulty, additional steps are taken to ensure that current instruction and assessment practices move toward board and ministry standards.
In the York Catholic board, when a principal told me that current teaching and assessment practices are “encouraged, but not required” and that walkabouts are prohibited because the union considers them “harassment”, I smiled in polite disbelief and contacted the school’s trustee.
I was shocked when the trustee agreed and added that the teachers’ union is very “powerful”.
My limited and personal experience suggests there are differences in accountability between the two boards, leading to questions.
Why is it that teachers in the public board are held to a high level of accountability for implementation of current teaching and assessment practices and Catholic teachers do not seem to be?
Second, how is it that the teachers’ union in the Catholic board has enough influence that the implementation of teaching assessment practices seem to be encouraged but not required and that classroom visits by principals can be considered “harassment”?
Finally, what is the impact on students like Amanda as teachers in the Catholic board can fall further behind in using current teaching and assessment practices?
Do they continue to get Ds, feel stupid and aim low in their future because of learned failure? Who is accountable to them?
Maureen Wilkinson is a retired special education resource teacher from Richmond Hill.