Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Exporting our worst educational practices

I just returned from six weeks in Toronto where I taught a course on inclusive educatin at the University of Toronto/OISE. Teaching at OISE gave me a chance to re-immerse myself in the Canadian educational scene. I had taught at York University in Toronto from 1984-1998 before moving to Boston College. When I moved to Toronto in the mid-1980s Ontario was a leader in progressive education, particularly holistic literacy practices. There were no US-style basal readers in Canadian classrooms. Students were not subjected to frequent standardized testing. Teachers exercised considerable professional discretion and most elementary teachers were generally familiar with Frank Smith, Ken and Yetta Goodman, Jerry Harste and other progressive literacy theorists. What was particularly impressive is that this stance toward teachers, students, and literacy theory was emphasized in Ontario Ministry of Education documents and policy.

But things have changed as educational policy in Ontario and the other provinces looks more and more like educational policy in the US. Students are now tested regularly in reading and math and many teachers emphasize the literacy test over broader notions of teaching students to read and write. One of my former colleagues at York University told me that her daughter’s third-grade teacher devoted at least two reading periods a week to having her students take practice tests. My students at OISE indicated that this is no longer uncommon. Increasingly teachers and administrators focus on test scores as schools across Canada are ranked by the Fraser Institute on the basis of their test scores. Canadian literacy education is looking more and more like literacy education in the US as the Canadians emulate many of our worst practices.

Being more like the US in this regard benefits neither Canadian school children nor Canadian teachers. In this environment Canadian teachers find it more difficult to address the needs of individual students. They also find it more difficult to find professional satisfaction in their work as their ability to exercise discretion has been diminished. This is a concrete example of the negative effects of globalization in which education is just another product.

How I yearn for the good old days….

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