'A failure': Teachers overwhelmingly oppose K-6 draft curriculum, ATA reports

·5 min read
Alberta Teachers' Association president Jason Schilling says the government should immediately end its pilot of the draft K-6 curriculum, scrap the draft and start anew. (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)
Alberta Teachers' Association president Jason Schilling says the government should immediately end its pilot of the draft K-6 curriculum, scrap the draft and start anew. (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)

The Alberta Teachers' Association released a report today based on feedback from thousands of members that says the draft K to 6 curriculum currently being piloted by hundreds of teachers and students across the province doesn't measure up.

The association is calling for an immediate halt to the pilot and demanding a new curriculum be developed under the leadership of Alberta teachers, diverse groups and teaching experts.

The report includes survey results from teachers, schools leaders (such as principals) and school district leaders, and the results are overwhelming.

Of the more than 6,000 teachers and school leaders who participated, 95 per cent indicated they do not believe the draft curriculum provides age-appropriate content that is logically sequenced within each grade, and from grade to grade.

Calling for end to pilot

ATA president Jason Schilling said that is just one of many concerns raised by teachers.

"Math, teachers are saying that a lot of the concepts that are taught in junior high have been brought down into the elementary level. Science teachers are saying there's no real look at literacy and numeracy within the four themes that they've identified within science," he said.

"English language arts teachers are saying it's just way too much to teach in the course of a year, and our teachers who are looking at inclusive education, we're seeing that there's no real ability to differentiate instruction because it's just so content heavy in terms of the way that this curriculum has been laid out."

Schilling says the ATA is once again calling for the province to shelve this draft curriculum, and to put together new curriculum working groups made up primarily of teachers, and including diverse groups like Indigenous education experts and universities that train teachers.

The association started collecting this feedback from teachers in late March, immediately after the draft curriculum was released by the province, into late May, when Alberta was experiencing the third wave of COVID-19.

Alberta Education responds

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange was not available to comment, but in a statement, her press-secretary, Nicole Sparrow, said Alberta Education has received the report from the teachers' union.

"And like all feedback on the draft, it will be carefully considered," she said.

"Education partners, including the teachers' union, were encouraged to submit comprehensive feedback on the draft curriculum, and we are pleased their position changed from April 26, 2021, when the president of the teachers' union stated in a letter to the ministry: 'I will note that you have asked that we provide specific comments to improve the content of Draft K-6 Curriculum. We will not be doing that.'"

Sparrow said the working group that drafted the curriculum included about 100 teachers from across the province.

"Additionally, 380 teachers are currently piloting draft curriculum content and will be able to provide valuable in-classroom feedback," she said. "Teachers have and will continue to be involved in every step of the way as we continue the year-long review process."

'This curriculum is a failure'

Retired ATA associate executive secretary, former Alberta classroom teacher and lead author of the report, Jaquie Skytt, said in putting together questions for the study, the ATA relied on the government's own vision statement in its ministerial order on student learning, and mirrored all the concepts in its guidelines.

"There are several examples of where draft doesn't align with the framework," she said. "This curriculum is a failure. On every measure between 65 to 95 per cent of teachers disagree or somewhat disagree that the curriculum has met the guidelines."

Skytt said teacher respondents indicated the draft curriculum reads like it is from the 1950s.

"Teachers were emotional and deeply concerned and fearful of how this curriculum could impact student learning," she said. "This curriculum is lacking foundational elements teachers need to plan. There is no rationale, no goals, no scope and sequence … it doesn't articulate what they need to know and do."

Direct teacher involvement needed

Mark Swanson, ATA co-ordinator of professional development and a former teacher, said the government should have included Alberta teachers to a much greater degree when creating this draft.

"Only three of the 19 advisors [involved in the curriculum rewrite] had a bachelor in education but clearly haven't been classroom teachers for years," he said.

In December of 2020, Swanson said Alberta Education invited 102 teachers to attend a virtual event and discuss the roughly 600-page draft document.

"Participating teachers ran into technical difficulties and were not able to open it," he said. "And they had to sign a non-disclosure agreement that continues until the end of next month."

6,500 teachers participated in study

Phil McRae, ATA associate co-ordinator for research for this project, has a PhD in curriculum studies from the University of Alberta. He said Alberta teachers representing all grades were heavily involved.

He said more than 6,500 teachers and school leaders gave feedback through several online surveys, and that specialists councils made of of teachers with areas of special expertise (like math or social studies) provided written feedback.

Of those specialist councils, 120 teachers were nominated to come for in-person deep-dive sessions.

"They had nuanced understanding of issues and concerns," he said.

Draft ignores diversity

Schilling said teachers were deeply concerned by the way the curriculum represented Alberta's First Nations and diverse communities.

"Indigenous cultures and way of knowing are talked about in the past tense as something that that we used to have. But we have vibrant Indigenous communities within our culture right now, and it fails to address it in the present tense and moving forward in the future," he said.

"Same thing with the Francophone communities. And there's only mentions twice whatsoever, within the curriculum, anything about LGBTQS+. We live in a very diverse, inclusive province, and this curriculum does not mirror who we are right now."

Schilling said it's for these many reasons that the hundreds of students and teachers currently piloting the draft curriculum should stop immediately, and the government should start this process over — with teachers at the helm.

The ATA also sent a letter, outlining many of its concerns and a copy of the report, to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.

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