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Leadership and Activism

Are We Gaining Momentum?

For the nearly the past two years now, I’ve been part of the conversation about educational reform on Twitter. In the past two years, I’ve seen little improvement in the American Education system. In fact, everything points toward an even steeper decline than during the Bush administration. This decline may not be something which is currently reflected in the learning of American school children yet, but the effects of RTTT will soon be devastating for those states who failed to win.

What’s interesting about this process is that practically everyone I’ve interacted with on Twitter through #edchat has had the same message. Kids need interactivity, schools should reflect the diversity of our population, technology is an extremely valuable tool (when used wisely) in education, and that standardized testing is eroding the actual learning opportunities in the US. Is this reflected in the schools in the US?

I actually have seen obvious signs of improvement in the Canadian education system even during the past two years. Initiatives across the country are starting at the level of the top education bureaucrats and trickling down into the masses. These initiatives are meeting resistance as they trickle down, but generally any good idea from the top administration is met with resistance from some quarter.

For example, the current push from the BC Ministry of Education is for personalized learning for every student. They want to see educators experiment with technology (what little we have in BC) and are looking at a blend of elearning and traditional classroom learning, partially in a bid to save costs on expensive rural schools. The New Brunswick education department published a video about what they view as an ideal learning environment which very much matches what we’ve been discussing. Even Ontario has gotten into the mix.

Why is one set of innovative reforms starting to work in Canada, when the same isn’t yet working in the US (except in a small number of districts)?

It could be the that the smaller population of Canada allows a message to be delivered more quickly to those with influence. It could be that our adoption of multiculturalism as a nation makes us more willing to adopt change. By comparison, although the US is as much or more multicultural than Canada, there is much less federal and state support for a diversity of population. I doubt this is the issue.

It could be that there is a greater disparity between educational regions in the US because of the very different funding formula which is used there. After all, it is difficult to talk about 21st century learning when nothing in your building is from the 21st century. Many school districts in the US have an almost complete lack of technology in the entire district due to inadequate funding. The major portion of funding in the US is done by each municipality, although some states have managed to change this. By contrast, in Canada nearly all the funding comes from the individual states with very little funding from the federal government.

It is also possible that it has to do with how the administration of education is done in both countries. In Canada we have no top level administrator in charge of education. We have a council of educational ministers from each province. In the US obviously you have serious involvement from the federal government in the form of a Secretary of Education. This switch in educational style allows each province in Canada more freedom to determine the direction of education in our province.

It should be easy for us to poll our schools and determine if what we are doing is working. Instead of relying on a media which wants to portray schools as victims and educators as assailants, we should conduct our own research on some simple questions. It would be nice to know what actual teachers think about education. Some questions to ask:

  • Do you believe in 21st century learning?
  • What does this mean to you?
  • What do you think the future of education will look like?

About David Wees

David Wees is a Canadian teacher with 7 years international experience. He started his career in inner city NYC in a failing school. He met his wife in the spring of 2005 and together they moved to London, England where David taught in a small private school which was David’s first exposure to the International Baccalaureate curriculum. London was too expensive, even compared to NYC, so after 2 more years they moved on to Bangkok, Thailand where David taught for 2 years. David has co-authored a textbook for IB Mathematics, and has his Masters degree in Educational Technology. He is now in Vancouver, Canada, working as a learning specialist in technology. He blogs regularly at


One thought on “Are We Gaining Momentum?

  1. Hey David, This seems like an incredibly important post to me, and I thank you. (I’ve just tweeted it and diigoed it and emailed it to a bunch of folks.) It really echoes the lessons I’ve been learning in Australia, where they also have a ministry system of educational government; many forward-looking reforms around personalization of learning, the use of technology, and greater equity in funding between schools–championed and led by those those ministers. To a much greater extent than here, educators there see themselves as professionals, folks who are inherently invested in solving the problems of their work and capable of doing so in a coherent, meaningful, well-informed way.

    The piece I hear most powerfully here is, if we educators were working like a coherent profession in country, we might simply seize the day and ask the questions you outline. Once we had a sense of where we stood, we would determine what to do about it.

    I also hear the frantic frenzy of downward spiraling repetitive remarks on #edchat, and the sense of embattled bitterness and desperation. Today I got an email from Rethinking Schools organizing for the coming media tidal wave around Waiting for Superman, urging folks to join the NOTWaiting for Superman movement.

    In my work with teachers and administrators now, I try to ask just the questions you describe. After watching Learning to Change/Changing to Learn or Education Change Challenge I ask groups: what does this mean for your work? What is the future of education?

    I’m doing one tomorrow with undergraduates who are considering becoming teachers. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | September 20, 2010, 4:04 pm

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