Is the CBE all about students?

The Calgary Board of Education always says they put students first. The ends, the organization’s mission is all about learning. And if you watch a board meeting, you’ll see both administration and trustees talk frequently about how student learning is always the priority.

That’s what  you’d expect to hear from a school board.

Is it the reality?

I’d like to get a discussion going.

I have three kids, in three different schools. I will tell you about experiences with each one where, I think, the CBE has put the bureaucracy ahead of my kids. They may not be huge, or life changing, but they impacted our school experience.

Example A: High School student taking course from CBE Learn.

CBE Learn is the CBE’s online junior and senior high school. It offers what it calls flexible learning. “Any time, any place and any pace,” touts the website. Well, not really.

My daughter, like many strong students, wants to graduate with three 30-level sciences, math and calculus. She’s also taking French Immersion social studies and French and loves Phys Ed. How to get all those courses in her schedule? She decided that she would take English 20 online as a 5th course this past semester. She wanted to get it done on her own schedule.

Well, CBE Learn doesn’t quite work that way. She hit the panic mode when she found out that she couldn’t get any work done over the Christmas holiday break because there are no teachers working. Then, she was given a 10-day window to write her final exam – at the exact same time as when she was writing her four other exams, including a diploma exam.

I called to speak to principal to see if she could wait and write it later. I was told no, that they had the same reporting deadlines as traditional classes. Basically, the assistant principal I spoke to blamed Alberta Education. (He did however, allow her to come in and write on a Monday, despite the test centre being closed on Mondays. It was the only day that week when she didn’t have another exam.)

So why call it flexible learning? Why say you can work at your own pace? Why are these deadlines imposed?

Bishop Carroll High School has built a whole school around flexible learning. Aside from diploma exams, students can take as long or as little time as they want to finish courses. There are no windows where final exams have to be written. If they can do it, why can’t CBE Learn?

I think this is an example of a system that has been set up around an administration model and that’s what directs learning. Student needs are secondary. She is looking at taking English 30 online. We will try Alberta Distance Learning, online classes offered through a school set up by Alberta Education. Maybe it’s actually flexible. (And maybe the Education Minister will follow through on his twitter speculation about “anytime diploma exams.” )

Example B: Grade 3 bus stops

Last year, my son rode the bus. He had to walk about 700 metres from home to the stop on a fairly major road through our community. There was another boy, in Grade 4, at the same stop. We both lived along the main road, but about 500 metres south from the assigned stop. They were on the only two kids at the stop, and the bus picked them up, then literally drove by both of our houses on its route.

We asked if we could move the stop closer to our homes. We filled out forms, and then wrote appeals. We were refused. We were told, at some point, there may be other kids who would access the stop from the north. We understood. Agreed that it could easily be changed back if required. We both pleaded. Why make our kids walk an extra 500 metres in -30 degree weather for some hypothetical kids that may arrive at some point in future? We were told, in a nutshell, it would be too much work to change the bus stop.

The driver sympathised, however he said he couldn’t break the rules. We agreed. But it was kind of comical.  If the boys were late, the driver had to wait and watch them run down the street. He couldn’t drive ahead to pick them up.

Now, I drive my son to school in the winter, and he rides his bike in the summer.

Example C: Supporting extra-curricular activities

My younger daughter is very lucky to attend a school with a large group of dedicated parents who want to volunteer in the school. One dad, an accomplished engineer, wanted to set up a science club and take a group of about 20 interested students to Science Olympics, an event put on by APEGA (Association of Engineering and Geoscience in Alberta).

It’s all great. One lunch hour a week, this dad comes in, often with guests, and they do special projects to prepare for the Olympics. Students are given problems and tools to solve them. But it’s hard to fit in things like building an electric car in a lunch hour. So this volunteer asked to be able to plan an extra-long session after school on a Friday. Kids are dismissed at noon, so it’s not hard to stay for an extra couple of hours.

But the school administration said no. I have no idea why. Parents of students in the club weren’t asked their opinions or it transportation would be an issue. Instead, kids were taken out of class for  a three-hour stretch so they could do this extra-curricular work.

So missing class is somehow OK, but staying later on a Friday afternoon can’t be managed? Again, this is an example of inflexibility that is a detriment to students.

Do you have examples of administration putting its needs before students? Please share in comments.

As we move to a school board election, I’d like to see a good discussion of what student-centred learning really means.

Tomorrow, I’d like to share some of the wonderful experiences my children have had at school. (I’ll give a hint:  It all happens in the classroom.)