How Is Our School System Doing?

How is our school system doing? TE0925Nelson.jpg

Editor’s note: This is the last of three back-to-school columns written by retired teacher and principal Jim Nelson, and it’s about our school system.

According to (shudder) standardized measures and expert studies, B.C.’s school system is doing fine.

Why wouldn’t we?

Our children have universal access and our schools have generally equality of funding. In addition, B.C. schools are not insular but outward-looking in their perspective.

Educational experts and researchers pretty much agree that Finland has the best school system in the world, followed by South Korea and Canada. B.C. school districts are routinely considered as among the top in Canada. In short, the B.C. school system is among the best in the world.

But it’s not our fault.

In B.C., we spend less on education each year. “Increases” touted annually do not meet inflation. Fixed costs rise twice as quickly as the modest funding increases offered. The downloading of costs from government to local districts has been staggering in the past few years. Per-pupil “increases” are just enough to allow the latest education minister to feign government support for public education.

If public schools are important, we need to fund them adequately — and we’re not.

Teachers’ salaries are too low — at least 20% too low. We need to value the teaching profession.

We need scientists and computer specialists and brilliant mathematicians to be able to go into the field rather than not even considering it as an option.

If we treat and pay teachers like clerks, they will feel and act like clerks.

After six years of university, we pay beginning teachers $36,000 or so annually to start. After 11 years experience and another two years of education, a top salary is about $75,000.

This is not enough.

Teachers don’t like to focus on salary but they should, and we should help them.

If anything will negatively affect our school system, it is the paltry salaries we offer these important people.

We also apparently haven’t learned from the U.S., which ruined its public schools in 25 years. Americans accomplished this with chronic, referendum-based underfunding. It went something like this:

• Failing referenda were rationalized by using “test scores” as a measure of public school failure.

• Poor test scores were used to rationalize low teacher salaries.

• Low teacher salaries resulted in the most talented avoiding the profession.

• Poorly paid and poorly motivated teachers allowed test scores to go even lower, which rationalized even lower salaries.

• The American public could be counted on to defeat education ballot initiatives, which allowed governments to avoid the blame for the serial underfunding of American schools.

• Because the public schools’ test scores were so low, private schools were encouraged. Charter schools, voucher systems and merit pay became buzzwords of the day.

The aggregate effect of its dependence on test scores as a measure of school effectiveness, is that the American school system is now one of the worst in the Western world.

And we have not only not learned from the American accountability failure but, in B.C., we are copying it. We are educational lemmings approaching the accountability cliff.

I’m sorry, but there is no test that will accurately assess your local school’s effectiveness. It cannot be done and should not be attempted. We need to get over it.

There are too many variables involved in our children’s school experience. These variables can only be assessed by you, your child and your child’s teacher — the one who works with your child daily. We should not accept any number that someone else gives us to describe our children or their school.

The B.C. school system is doing well. Our children are still well served and educators are still working hard for our children. Other than chronic underfunding, low teacher salaries and a misguided , dangerous preoccupation with American-style “accountability,” things are just peachy for our children and teachers.

I urge you to support your local, public school system. Although we’re trying hard to screw it up, it’s still one of the best in the world.

About jimnelson806

Educational consultant from Port Moody. "The Stuff Isn't What's Important" " School Wide Discipline Programmes Don't Work" " Vice Principals are crucial towards setting direction"
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5 Responses to How Is Our School System Doing?

  1. elainewillis says:

    And now we’re back to merit pay?
    But at least we have some good writers in the local paper!


  2. Kim Fabbro says:

    Hello Mr Nelson

    I hope that I am contacting the right Jim Nelson. You were my PE teacher in Junior High School in Port Moody. I played for you as a left guard and defensive end in football number 60. I played with Gubby Schowser, Tim Lebrun, Jamie Kazmerick, Bill McDonald, and others. The years were I think 1976, 77 and 78. Your assistant coach was Mr. Caruthers. You married around that time a hot teacher Mrs Moore. I had coke bottom bottle thick black framed glasses. You were a very strong and positive influence in my development years. I would like to meet up with you some time to personally thank you for your efforts. Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Best Regards

    PS Thank God for spell check English was not my strong subject.


    • jimnelson806 says:

      Hey Kim:
      You got the right guy.
      What a treat to hear from one of the old guys from Moody. I have fond memories of Moody and I was proud of the work I did there in developing football and rugby and working with great young kids like you, Gubby,Jaimie K. and Bill McDonald.12 years at Moody, before moving to coach at Centennial and then to vice principal at Mary Hill, Centennial and Charles Best. I finished my career as principal of Montgomery. I’ve been retired for five years now and that hot Socials teacher and I are in Palm Springs for November, playing golf and sitting in the sun. I’m an old guy now, but only in years.

      I remember you well – a young enthusiatic guy who grew so much in confidence ( and muscle) and became one of our toughest linemen that year. “35 Power”,off Gubby, Kim, and Jamie,
      (or maybe I’d moved Jamie to the right by then.)
      Loved the mud runs, the “cutaways” ,and beating Banting… and the Zemi machine in the caf.
      Having coached and taught school for thirty- five years, I know what a golden time you guys had at Moody – you believed in what you were doing and your self esteem soared through those years. Still, for you to let me know you “got it” is nice to hear… thanks, Kim

      Send me your email and I’ll buy you a beer when I get home….
      Ms.Moore ( Mrs.Nelson) says hi.

      Cheers, Jim Nelson


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