Will Canada’s Ministers of Ed discuss “no-zero” policies in Halifax?

Symbolic of no-zero policies.

Everyone knows the “no-zero” grading policy in our schools is counter-productive and failing our young people, but do Canada’s Ministers of Education realize that?

Well, given the publicity on this topic in the last few weeks, I don’t see how they can ignore it when they meet in Halifax tomorrow and Friday (July 5th and 6th, 2012).  

Yet, ignore it seems unfortunately likely given the St. John’s Telegram is reporting that the only topics up for discussion are anti-bullying initiatives, the impact of technology in the classroom, progress on early child development and Aboriginal education. Important topics for sure, but hopefully there is also room for debating the “no-zero” policy, which I have no doubt has been implemented clear across the country.

Look, there is a lot right with our public education system(s) but, clearly, there is also a lot of room for improvement. But before anyone can improve whole systems, the politicians at the top of the chain have to at least acknowledge what is wrong. And, make no mistake about it, the buck stops with the Ministers.

One thing is for sure, however, what is wrong is definitely NOT the fault of those who are expected to implement the policies —  the classroom teachers. Why not?  Because, like nurses cannot change health care systems, teachers cannot initiate education system policy changes either.

Yes, individual teachers can and do modify curriculum guidelines and classroom management practices to suit their own style of teaching, but they cannot throw out entire documents and ignore policies that are mandated by the administration of their schools, their school boards, their School Board trustees and/or their Minister of Education.

I mean, we only have to look to what happened to Edmonton Physics teacher, Lynden Dorval — the very public incident I hinted at earlier. He did everything within his power to get his high school students to complete their work or do make up assignments, but when they didn’t hand something in, he gaves them a zero. Which makes sense since they didn’t do the work.

Nevertheless, the powers that be at the Edmonton Board of Education suspended him and he may yet be fired, because, in spite of the fact that the students and their parents want him back, he ignored Board policy!!

However, as we all know by now, the trustees of the Edmonton Board met in late June and agreed to revisit the policy in September. Whatever happens, whether the Board  maintains a policy that fails our kids or reverses it, teacher Dorval would have made the discussion possible because he went public.

But, we mustn’t lose track of the fact that the only reason Dorval could do that is because he has enough years teaching under his belt to retire. Perhaps more telling, and indicative of why you rarely hear of teachers going public,  is the fact we have heard little from other teachers who might quietly support his point of view.   

And, there is a very important reason for that. When prospective teachers are being trained, they have “professional ethics” drilled into them. And, those ethics say that a teacher can never speak publicly against another teacher, their principal, their school board or their government — which is actually no different than it is in other professionals like nurses, doctors, lawyers and accountants. I mean, if hundreds of teachers went about mouthing off about this or that policy, there would be chaos and it would be the kids who would suffer.

Anyway, let’s wait and see what Canada’s Ministers of Education actually talk about. If all we hear are platitudes and nothing changes following the meeting, then it, like so many other gab fests,  would have been a complete waste of time and taxpayers dollars.

Update Friday, July 6th: Good grief, two days and the Ministers couldn’t even reach consensus on anti-bulling approaches and programs.