Province to unroll education reform blueprint Monday

·3 min read

The province is set to release its long-awaited K-12 education review, alongside lessons learned from the last 12 months in pandemic schooling, nearly one year after the grand reveal had been postponed indefinitely.

“With COVID-19, we learned so many valuable lessons about how valuable education is and how important education is — but we also saw many challenges in our system, amplified,” Education Minister Cliff Cullen said in his opening remarks at a news conference Friday.

He announced the review, and a provincial strategy to improve student outcomes, will be revealed Monday.

Cullen later told reporters two takeaways from the pandemic are how adaptable the school system is and how difficult it has been for the government to manage upwards of 30 school boards.

When pressed about the contents of the K-12 commission’s recommendations, Cullen repeated generic statements about how the public will get answers next week.

The minister said the education system needs to be focused on outcomes, citing Manitoba’s poor standardized test scores in comparison to other provinces, despite high investment.

He called Friday’s announcement a “courtesy” heads-up, while noting parliamentary privilege prevents the education department from releasing information about Bill 64 (the Education Modernization Act) before MLAs see what is inside it.

The second reading of Bill 64, which has remained under wraps since it was introduced in autumn, is expected in the coming weeks.

Since the K-12 commission was established in 2019, there has been widespread speculation school boards will either be amalgamated or abolished.

Avis Glaze, lead consultant for the commission, authored a report in Nova Scotia that recommended its government consolidate school boards and create a centralized education authority.

“Whether it’s elimination or forced amalgamation, all this is about is centralizing control so it’s harder to be accountable to the taxpayer,” said Alan Campbell, president of the Manitoba School Boards Association.

Campbell said there is no evidence changing the school board set-up will affect student outcomes, noting jurisdictions that lead the country’s standardized test scores have boards.

Friday’s announcement — which “poured gasoline on a fire that’s been burning slowly for over a year now with every front-line education worker overcome with anxiety” — was a perfect example of what happens when local voice and choice is disregarded, he added.

Limited details during the news conference came as a letdown to educators anxious about what is in the K-12 review, said James Bedford, president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, who echoed member frustrations on Friday.

School divisions and the teachers society have been invited to a technical briefing at 1:30 p.m. Monday.

Bedford said he was dismayed the minister did not assure Manitobans the recommendations will address the high rates of child poverty, which affects test scores.

“This government seems to be focused on outcomes and not focused on… inputs along the way that get us to those outcomes,” said Bedford, who represents upwards of 16,000 public school teachers.

The province received more than 2,300 written submissions, 62 formal briefs, 9,000 public survey responses, and 1,200 teacher survey responses as part of the K-12 review process.

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press