Fraser Institute is Flat Wrong

Earlier this year, I wrote about the Manning Centre for Democracy’s conference on Alberta’s future. What I didn’t discuss in that post was how I spent an hour in the afternoon in the foyer outside the conference room talking about education with Fraser Institute economist Peter Cowley. Cowley is the author of the Fraser report cards on education and is trotted about as their educational expert, although he has no credentials in the field. The useless and over-normalised ranking of Alberta’s high schools appeared in the Calgary Herald last weekend. Along with an exceptionally well-written and referenced (especially given the rotten assignment) article from Sarah McGinnis, the feature included a fallacious and ignorant editorial from Cowley.Most of the fallacies in his argument can be accounted by the fact that he is an economist from BC and not an educator in Alberta. What is most reprehensible is that I pointed out these fallacies to him in January and he chose to ignore them and propogate the myths.Fallacy Number One: “there is no provision for the routine expansion of successful operations.” For 10 years, educational partners in Alberta have been engaged in a process specifically designed to expand successful operations called the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement. It is a highly successful model that is based on collaboration between a number of stakeholder organisations, including the ATA. It is the exact opposite of competition and it is having profound impacts on learning in Alberta that would not be possible under Fraser’s preferred models for education.Fallacy Two: “professional autonomy in the classroom inhibits the adoption of more effective teaching practice.” Once again, this is completely opposite from the truth. As a teacher I had many strategies for delivering curriculum. Some of them were safe, tried and true. Others were innovative, off-the-wall and risky. Some of the practices I tried worked and others did not, but it was because of professional autonomy that I felt I could try them out, evaluate their effectiveness and adjust my practice accordingly. Without autonomy, I would have continued to deliver the safe, tried and true methods day-in and day-out.Fallacy Three: “professional autonomy limits the principal’s role as head teacher and mentor, making classroom level improvements more difficult to establish.” Autonomy means that I, as an educated professional, can choose which practices I will use in my classroom. If my principal wants me to use a different strategy he would need to make the case for it. He needs to convince me of its merits and we would have to engage in academic discourse over its pedagogical value. As a result of this collegial environment, we have better educational outcomes for students. The alternative is that the principal comes in and dictates practice without discussion and without debate over what is best for the individual students in the individual classrooms (this is mentorship?).Fallacy Number Four: “limitations on hours of work make it difficult for individual schools to extend the school timetable.” Interestingly, in Alberta, the school jurisdictions with the most flexible timetables are the same jurisdictions that have hours of work clauses in their collective agreements. These agreements simply mean that the boards must achieve such changes in consultation with teachers. In many cases, the flexibility that allows for these innovations is because of these clauses. By spelling out the number of hours of assignable and instructional time for a teacher, it becomes easier to allocate those hours outside of the traditional teaching day.Fallacy Number Five: there is “no evidence that any BC teacher had ever lost his right to teach due to incompetence.” I don’t have expertise in the BC education system and so will not comment on that aspect, but this is not the case in Alberta. Until last year teacher competency was enforced by the Council on Alberta Teaching Standards, who have removed certificates from teachers deemed to be not competent. Alberta’s teachers are committed to upholding the honour and integrity of the profession, they have enforced professional conduct for decades and last year took over the role of policing competency as well. Simply put, Cowley is an economist from British Columbia who has made no significant efforts to truly understand the education system in Alberta. He is advocating a tired mantra of privatisation and using falsehoods and data manipulation to advance his cause. I’m less dissapointed in him than I am in the Calgary Herald for publishing the tripe.