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Local school divisions opt out of curriculum pilot

Friday, 30 April 2021. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Local school divisions opt out of curriculum pilot

Local school divisions opt out of curriculum pilot
By Sean Oliver
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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As of April 27, the Fort Vermilion School Division is the only school division in Alberta that has committed to piloting the province’s new kindergarten to Grade 6 curriculum this September.

Since releasing the draft curriculum almost one month ago, the Alberta government has faced increasing criticism from parents, teachers and the general public.

Many have expressed concerns the curriculum excludes indigenous and francophone content while introducing content that is developmentally inappropriate for elementary-aged students, such as having Grade 2 classes learn about the founding of Rome or Newton’s first law of physics.

Forty school divisions have indicated they will not participate in the curriculum’s pilot, while 22 are still in the review process. Livingstone Range School Division and Holy Spirit Catholic School Division have both announced they will not participate in the curriculum’s pilot.

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“We didn’t want to paint the curriculum all with one brush,” says Carmen Larsen, Holy Spirit’s director of learning, “but given the timing and some of those concerns that we had, we just felt like it wasn’t in our students’ or teachers’ best interest at this time to pilot.”

While supporting some aspects of the curriculum, such as an emphasis on student competencies throughout the learning process or focusing on phonological awareness in the early English language arts curriculum, both divisions say a lot of the material needs to be revised or removed altogether.

Timing, Ms. Larsen adds, was a major factor in Holy Spirit division’s decision.

“I think that our schools just need a year of getting back to normal before we jump into anything new,” she says.

“This curriculum is very robust; there’s a lot to it. To roll out eight subjects for K-6 at one shot, considering that we’re just on the heels of this pandemic, is a lot to put onto our teachers that have already had a very difficult year.”

Implementing new material while both students and teachers remain unsure if the pandemic will necessitate a pivot to at-home learning was also seen as an issue by LRSD.

“We believe the timing of piloting and implementation of new curricula is problematic,” says Chad Kuzyk, associate superintendent of curriculum and innovation.

“At present, there are increased mental health and wellness concerns with students, staff and families across the province. We believe we need to focus on providing a stable learning environment next year with a focus on wellness and academics, with minimal interruptions or distractions.”

And while having some positives, Ms. Larsen says, the curriculum carries enough significant flaws that the division feared participating in the pilot would send the wrong message.

“If we jump into it and go with the piloting, we’re afraid that tells our stakeholders that we’re OK with most of it and there’s only a few things that need to be tweaked, whereas we’re kind of in the opposite boat,” she says.

Though not participating in the pilot, both divisions intend to work with the province and provide feedback to help develop the curriculum.

While school divisions’ participation is voluntary, deciding not to pilot the curriculum would limit their ability to provide meaningful input down the road. 

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“If some school divisions do not wish to pilot, they simply will not be able to provide direct in-classroom feedback on potential changes,” says the education minister’s press secretary, Nicole Sparrow. “The entire point of a pilot for the draft curriculum is to provide in-classrooms feedback to affect potential changes for the final documents.”

Conducting the pilot, she continues, does not mean a school division is required to implement the curriculum in its entirety.

“School divisions can opt to pilot all or some of the draft curriculum subjects, such as math, language arts, etc. Alberta Education is working with divisions who have questions or have expressed interest to help them determine how best to be involved in the pilot. We expect to hear back from divisions regarding their decision by mid May.”

The Alberta Teachers’ Association has voiced its opposition since the draft curriculum’s release and also encouraged school divisions to forgo the piloting process.

“We support these boards in this decision, and we also call on all school authorities to refrain from participating in or directing their teachers to participate in the curriculum pilot,” said ATA president Jason Schilling during an April 15 press conference.

“Teachers who believe this curriculum is flawed and potentially damaging to student learning have the professional responsibility and moral right to refuse to participate in any volunteer piloting,” he continued. “Government and school boards must respect the decision of individual teachers not to participate.”

Part of the issue, Mr. Schilling said, was the lack of meaningful input from teachers. Only 100 teachers were invited to meet for two days under a non-disclosure agreement, making it impossible to determine what recommendations were given and if they were even considered.

By comparison, Mr. Schilling said, 400 teachers were involved throughout the entire drafting process on the current curriculum.

Ultimately, he added, the onus was on the government to ensure its curriculum best met the needs of teachers and students.

“They need to make sure that the curriculum going forward is modern and acceptable to Albertans,” he said.

The full curriculum can be viewed online at curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en. 

An overview of the curriculum, as well as an online public survey, can be found at www.alberta.ca/curriculum.

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