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LaGrange unveils changes to spur more charter schools, unfunded homeschooling option

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Alberta’s education minister, Adriana LaGrange, says she’s making good on an election promise to safeguard parent choice in education. 

On Thursday afternoon, LaGrange introduced Bill 15, the Choice in Education Act.

She said this strengthens the idea that parents have the right to choose the type of education their children receive, through amendments to the Education Act.

Premier Jason Kenney said this proposed legislation is important because there continues to be special interest groups and political parties in Alberta who “undermine” this right.

“This legislation won’t let them do so in the future,” he said. 

“This legislation enshrines the belief of Albertans in freedom, diversity, pluralism and choice as well as parental responsibility. Because we believe that parents know better than politicians or bureaucrats about what’s in the best interests of their kids.”

LaGrange said that when she was in “election mode,” something she heard at doors across the province was that parents really valued the choices that they had in Alberta, and they wanted it to be something that was highlighted.

“That’s how it became a platform commitment that we would be bringing forth a piece of legislation that would strengthen that.”

‘Unsupervised, non-funded’

Among the proposed changes, Bill 15 would amend the home education programs section of the Education Act, allowing for “unsupervised notification-only, non-funded home education program,” meaning those choosing that option would no longer need to be supervised by an Alberta school board.

Parents who pick this option would have to notify the ministry annually of their intention to home school their kids, and they would have to submit an education plan that shows the ministry that the student would have the opportunity to achieve appropriate learning outcomes.

“We heard very loudly from that community that they wanted an option that was unsupervised, notification only, non-funded home education programs,” she said.

But LaGrange said that doesn’t mean they get a carte blanche.

“[The plan] is not there to be approved, but on the other hand, we would also have that dialogue with the parents to ensure proper oversight and the proper outcomes would be looked at,” she said. 

The minister said at home school programs don’t necessarily all adhere to the Alberta Education guide or program of studies, but if they were adhering to the Alberta program of studies, then they would have to follow all of the required course content material as well as the examinations for those particular programs.

“There are home school parents and authorities that choose other programs from other areas, and then they have different outcomes as well as different assessments that they follow,” said LaGrange.

She said that when parents choose not to follow the Alberta program of studies, they are made aware that their children will not receive an Alberta diploma.

Charter schools applications 

The bill also proposes changes to how charter schools can be established. 

Current laws say that those wishing to establish a charter school have to go to the school board in the area they want the school to be in and request that the board establish an alternative program before considering the charter application. 

Under the proposed changes, those wishing to establish a charter school would go directly to the minister. 

It would then be up to the education ministry to reach out to all school divisions in that area and ensure that proper consultation takes place, to find out if a program similar to the proposal is already in place, has been considered or is waiting to be considered by the public school division.

“It takes a little bit of the angst out of the situation in terms of individuals going to the actual boards themselves and having conversations about it, whereas the department can do this and it eliminates one of the steps,” said LaGrange.

Despite not one application for a charter school since Kenney took office, he said his hope is that these changes encourage more people to consider establishing charter schools to meet public demand.

“The waiting list for charter schools is unacceptably long. Last I heard, there were 14,000 students provincewide waiting for a position in a charter school,” he said.

He said that since the creation of charter schools in Alberta in the mid-1990s, there’s been a statutory requirement that they take kids from all backgrounds.

“It’s not like independent schools, though — there’s not a screening process. They are inclusive schools and there are children from all different social and economic backgrounds who attend charter schools, which have great outcomes. And so that’s exactly why we hope to see a growing number of charter schools to respond to the demand that exists.”

‘Valued and integral’

In addition to these changes, there are also a number of smaller changes, including two additions to the preamble — the introductory part of the statute.

The first would add a new whereas statement to the act: “whereas parents have the a priori right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children” — which is also the language used in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The second addition recognizes all of Alberta’s current choices in education as “valued and as integral” in providing choice in education to students and parents.

Included on this list are public schools, separate schools, Francophone schools, private schools, charter schools, early childhood services programs and home education programs.

A few of the changes proposed to the Education Act. (Alberta Education)

No changes to private school funding

A similar new statement in the bill would recognize private schools as “being important in providing parents and students with choice in education.”

“Private or independent schools have played a very important role in choice for parents in this province and I do believe that they felt that they were not valued but threatened under the previous government,” said LaGrange.

LaGrange said the proposed changes would not lead to any financial gain for independent schools, and that their funding formula would remain the same.

“They still only receive 70 per cent funding and they do not receive any capital funding,” she said. 

“This is strictly true to give them the comfort and to reinforce what we heard from parents … that they value the choice and that they see independent schools as a very real choice that they want to make for their children.”

Administrative changes

Other administrative changes include amendments to the Education Act so it specifically references the ability to establish vocational charter schools. Another change would exclude charter school operators from being subject to the Board Procedures Regulation as they are actually considered societies or companies registered under the Companies Act.

The minister said Alberta Education engaged with several groups through in-person meetings and webinars to find out what they would like to see as part of the Choice in Education Act. Consultations included the education system partners, interest groups and students through the Summer Student Advisory Panel and the minister’s Youth Council.

Alberta Education also held a month-long online public survey offered in English and French. It generated more than 50,000 complete responses.

The survey found that 61.6 per cent of those responding were satisfied with the amount of educational choice in Alberta, and 59.1 per cent were satisfied with the information available about school choice.

The minister said an additional 2,357 surveys arrived via email from people associated with Support Our Schools, a public education advocacy interest group.

These completed surveys were “very similar,” contained no demographic information, and answered two questions with the exact same answers, she said.

LaGrange says a special interests group, Support Our Students Alberta, attempted to ‘hijack’ the survey by submitting 2,357 responses that were virtually the same. (CBC)

The ministry said it analyzed these surveys separately as it did not want to impact the demographic components of the overall analysis, as it’s important to show how people experience education differently in Alberta.

“When you have a special interest group that wants to hijack the survey, I found that a little disconcerting,” said LaGrange.

“I find it strange that as an advocacy group they have never reached out to myself or my department for a meeting or to have a conversation, and I would welcome that opportunity.”

Bill 15 will be debated and voted on in the coming weeks.

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Education

B.C. high school drops Rebels sports name linked to American Civil War

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The search is on for a new team name for a high school in B.C.’s Southern Interior.

This week, School District 58 announced that Princeton Secondary School has dropped its longstanding Rebels name, stating it was outdated and “had nothing to do with Canada, for one thing, or our school.”

The reasoning, said the school district, was that the team name was directly linked to the American Civil War.

Read more:
Simon Fraser University athletics commits to dropping ‘Clan’ team name

In an interview with Global News on Saturday, board of education chair Gordon Comeau said new staff “were researching everything out and they came across the fact that the name the Rebels had, at one point in time, been associated with the Confederate flag and the Confederate uniform, and ties, really, to the Confederate cause during the American civil war.

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“And the board felt that these images, although they were used recently and had been for years, they just have no relationship to Canada, for one thing, or our school.

“And nowadays, it’s just not an appropriate thing. We see it all over the news, and we have a policy that’s pretty clear — it’s to raise awareness and improve the understanding of the human race and lives of all people.”






Washington Redskins to undergo review of team name


Washington Redskins to undergo review of team name

Gordon said parents and students were informed of the board’s unanimous decision to drop the name.

The announcement follows recent news that the NFL’s Washington Redskins are looking at changing their name, along with Simon Fraser University committing to dropping its “Clan” team name.

Comeau said the name had been looked at a number of times over the years, but never at the board level, until the past month, adding “with SFU being a good example.”

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Comeau told Global News that the school district is committed to addressing issues when it finds them, “and we found this one.”

He continued, saying “they did find pictures that indicated that some of the uniforms, they did wear a confederate flag as a symbol on their uniform.”






Edmonton Eskimos to keep team name


Edmonton Eskimos to keep team name

Comeau said some school symbols had a cartoonish-style Civil War character carrying a gun, with another being a Confederate hat in front of two swords.

“It’s just not appropriate in this day and age to have that,” said Comeau.

He said the name change will take place in the fall, and will be done through the school, students and stakeholders.

“We’re a very strong mining and lumber community, and there’s lots of wildlife around us,” said Comeau.

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“I’m sure they’ll come up with something that will be very appropriate for their school.”




© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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Education

Lester B. Pearson School Board promises immediate action on racism

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Speaking at a West Island rally against racism, the chair of Lester B. Pearson School Board promised immediate action in light of several racist incidents involving students.

“These incidents were a wake up call for us and a call to action,” said board chair Noel Burke.

Burke spoke to the assembled crowd of young people and community members, saying that the school board would immediately form an anti-racism task force, composed of staff, students and people of colour.

He said the task force’s first report will be ready by Sept 1.

Burke said the Quebec English School Board Association, of which he is a member, will be calling on the Education Ministry to do a curriculum review in order to better represent diversity in all subjects, not just history.

“The Lester B. Pearson School Board acknowledges that systemic racism exists in society, in our communities and in our schools,” said Burke.

“We must take an active role with addressing racism with students and staff.”

More than a hundred people attended the rally outside Pierrefonds Community High School on Saturday afternoon. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

More than 100 people attended the rally outside Pierrefonds Community High School on Saturday afternoon.

The event was organized by Youth Stars, a Montreal non-profit organization serving youth. They said it was a chance for young people to speak out about racism and what changes they want to see.

Malik Shaheed, a director at Youth Stars, spoke to the crowd, saying: “The goal of today’s event is for you to meet your local stakeholders. To let them know how you feel.”

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U.S. immigration to Canada is skyrocketing

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As the U.S. celebrates Independence Day, on the fourth of July, it is worth taking a look at immigration patterns from the U.S. to Canada in recent years.

Over 10,000 U.S. residents immigrated north in 2019 through Canada’s Express Entry system.

This represents a significant increase from the 600 U.S. residents who immigrated through Express Entry in 2015.

Express Entry is the main way that Canada manages skilled worker applications.

Those who are eligible under one of Express Entry’s three immigration programs are graded on their human capital characteristics such as their age, education, language skills, and work experience.

The grading scheme is known as the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS).

Every two weeks, the federal department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) holds Express Entry draws inviting candidates with the highest CRS scores to apply for permanent residence.

IRCC then aims to process the permanent residence applications of successful candidates within six months.

Express Entry draws have remained ongoing throughout the coronavirus pandemic and Express Entry is off to its fastest start this year since 2017.

Find out if you are eligible for Express Entry

A look at U.S. skilled worker immigration to Canada

The staggering growth of immigrants moving from the U.S. to Canada is likely actually under-stating the extent of the growth.

While Express Entry is the main way for skilled workers to gain Canadian permanent residence, there are other prominent options which are also attracting skilled workers from the U.S.

The most notable is the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP).

Under Canada’s Constitution, immigration is an area of shared federal and provincial jurisdiction, although the Constitution gives the federal government more power.

Twelve out of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories operate their own immigration programs. Quebec has its own skilled worker system due to its special status within the Canadian federation. The remaining provinces and territories welcome skilled workers through their own PNP streams.

Each province and territory designs their own PNP selection criteria and administer their PNP streams based on their local labour market needs.

Skilled workers arriving from the U.S. also obtain Canadian permanent residence through the PNP.

While some of these individuals are captured in IRCC’s Express Entry data, since a portion of PNP immigrants are processed through Express Entry each year, the available data does not capture all U.S. skilled workers who come to Canada through the PNP, as well as the other federal immigration pathways that the country offers.

Hence, there is a strong chance that the actual number of skilled workers who came to Canada from the U.S. in 2019 is markedly higher than the 10,000 who came through Express Entry.

Find out if you are eligible for any Canadian immigration programs

Why immigration from the U.S. is rising

Skilled worker immigration from the U.S. is rising for the following reasons.

First, Express Entry has played an increasingly important role in Canada’s skilled worker system since it first launched in 2015. Whereas only 26,000 individuals received an Express Entry invitation to apply (ITA) for permanent residence that year, the figure now stands at over 85,000 annually.

Given that skilled workers from the U.S. have a competitive edge when submitting an Express Entry profile since they are fluent in English, have high levels of education and work experience, a larger number of them in absolute terms are gaining PR through Express Entry.

Canada also launched its Global Skills Strategy in 2017 to help employers in Canada bring foreign tech talent to the country more easily. A key component of the strategy is the Global Talent Stream which enables employers in Canada to bring foreign tech workers in about one month (compared to longer processing times for non-tech workers).

Among those arriving to Canada through the strategy are workers from the U.S. who are then going on to transition to Canadian permanent residence through the likes of Express Entry.

The third major reason is likely the uncertainty surrounding U.S. immigration policy. While the need for foreign workers in the U.S. has continued to increase, political gridlock has made much needed U.S. immigration reform difficult to achieve. As such, many foreign nationals working in the U.S. have made the choice of pursuing permanent residence in Canada.

How to submit an Express Entry profile from the U.S.

If you wish to consider immigrating to Canada, Express Entry is a fairly straightforward process:

Step 1: See if you are eligible for one of the three Express Entry programs. The Federal Skilled Worker Program is likely the most viable option for you if you have not lived in Canada before.

Step 2: Submit an Express Entry profile. As part of this process, all applicants (even if they are native English speakers) must complete an English language test accredited by IRCC. Another key component of this process is obtaining an Educational Credential Assessment.

Step 3: Once you have entered the Express Entry pool, wait to see if you get an ITA for permanent residence. Express Entry draws happen bi-weekly. Another major benefit of entering the pool is you increase your immigration odds since provinces and territories can review your profile and provide you with an invitation through their PNP.

Step 4: If you obtain an invitation, submit your permanent residence application. IRCC aims to process PR applications within 6 months.

Find out if you are eligible for Express Entry

Kareem El-Assal is the Director of Policy & Digital Strategy at CanadaVisa.

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