Fresh Mandates, Fresh Opportunities
The Minister of Education has been given his marching orders, and here's the details.
Let me explain: the Premier of Alberta, Danielle Smith, issues letters to each of her cabinet ministers outlining what she expects them to accomplish over the course of this electoral term.
These are called “mandate letters”.
Parents were eagerly awaiting the mandate letters for the Ministry of Education, to ensure that the promises made during the campaign surrounding school choice were reflected in the priorities of the government.
After all, parents are the real experts in our own kids, and our voices are critical to make sure our kids are the real focus of K-12 education policy.
Let’s take a look at the highlights of the letters, and then we’ll break the most important items down further:
The mandate letter calls for Minister Demetrios Nicolaides to:
- Promote greater choice in education
- Review the role of parent school councils
- Explore ways parents can provide more input into school policies and learning options
- Significantly increase the number of schools in communities that need them
- Exploring incentives for front-line education staff in underserved areas of the province
- Address learning loss and the increasing complexity of learning needs
- Review and strengthen Program Unit Funding (PUF)
- Continue to implement K-12 curriculum
- Implement more basic life skills and financial literacy training in high school
Interestingly, the mandate letter given to the Minister of Advanced Education, Rajan Sawhney, also contained plenty of calls for extensive shared responsibilities for K-12, including:
- All manner of ways to strengthen pathways for K-12 students into skilled trades
- Promotion of skilled trades and professions at younger ages
- Create an expedited teaching certificate for instructors with specialized skills
That’s a lot, so let me quickly focus on the handful of issues that most require our advocacy as parents.
Parent School Councils and Parent Input
This is obviously one of the central points of advocacy the Alberta Parents’ Union exists to advance.
Far too many parents feel there is no real way for their input to be heard on the issues that are most important to them in their kids’ education.
The Alberta Parents’ Union has been the only organization shining a light on the massive problems with the Alberta School Councils Association (ASCA).
ASCA has run a massive advertising campaign with the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) against independent schools.
They have advocated for the abolition of charter schools.
They have consistently represented the interest of the ATA - in whose offices they reside - over those of the parents they supposedly represent.
Fortunately, the government appears to be open to our advocacy here, even while other prominent parent organizations have criticized it.
We will be advocating for alternative organizations to ASCA to perform the same functions, and for local parent councils - the majority of which do great and important work in service to families - to be able to choose the group with which they prefer to affiliate.
Greater Choice in Education
Since we have referenced ASCA’s opposition to choice in education, this is a good place to make our pitch for it.
Children are not one-size-fits-all, so their education can’t be either.
Educational pluralism drives innovation and keeps children at the centre of the system’s focus.
Genuine and robust choices make the public education system stronger.
No family should be forced into having their values undermined by their school.
Since Albertans have a great diversity of values, this can only be addressed by great diversity within the K-12 education system.
We will be advocating for legal recognition and funding of high-innovation learning pods, as well as a host of regulatory reforms removing barriers to new and growing schools of choice, including in rural areas.
This one’s quick: we will be advocating for genuine, accessible, in-person consultation of parents before any more of the curriculum is rolled out.
Expedited Teaching Certificates
No one wants less qualified professional teachers to drive out more qualified professional teachers, and this is not the aim of this initiative.
But we have the opportunity - and a growing necessity - to introduce more education and skills into our classrooms.
For instance, Alberta has a desperate need for more young people in the skilled trades.
The construction trades alone already have a record-high 800,000 vacancies, and 21% of the vocation is expected to retire by 2030.
It’s why so much of the Education and Advanced Education mandate letters focus on this problem.
We currently have a “Bridge to Teacher” program to attract highly skilled tradespeople to Alberta classrooms, but it requires two years of training.
How many tradespeople - with the demand for their services higher than ever - are going to take two years to qualify for a teaching certificate?
We thought that question was rhetorical, but Minister Nicolaides had the answer: only 20 per year.
Likewise, the increased popularity of classical education is yielding a higher demand for teachers with training in the classics and especially Greek and Latin.
Many imminently qualified teachers want to come to Alberta from other provinces and even other countries... until they find out that, unlike their current location, Alberta has no accelerated path for them to prove their classroom qualifications.
As frankly as we can put this: our current problem is that a literal rocket scientist is considered two years less qualified to teach middle school science than a C-student with a B.Ed. in Music Education.
To put it mildly, neither research nor practical experience support such a preference.
We will be advocating for these pressing classroom needs to be filled as quickly as possible, without a reduction in the quality and professionalism of Alberta teachers.
We Need You!
Thousands of parents demanded the Alberta Parents’ Union because the K-12 education system has become too big, bureaucratized, and distant from regular parents for us to make our voices heard.
Groups like ASCA, which were supposed to help bridge that gap, have instead devoted themselves to advancing policies that favour the teacher union.
Parents are the only voices that can keep the K-12 education system focused on the kids it’s meant to serve, rather than the adults employed by it - whether that be the politicians, the educrats, or the union bosses.
But we need your help!
To ensure we can act on the issues in these mandate letters and continue pushing the government in the right direction, please consider signing up as a $10 a month supporter of the Alberta Parents' Union, or making a one-off donation here.
Alberta Parents’ Union