As school resumes for 2009, a number of education related issues are quickly grabbing the attention of local residents as they examine the state of education in Prince Rupert.
The first item that has popped up on the radar is the rather disconcerting completion rate for high school students, as a provincial study released in December shows that Prince Rupert's rate of completion is among the worst in the province.
At just 63.2 per cent, Prince Rupert is well below the provincial average and when the numbers are broken down to highlight the status of aboriginal students in the district the completion record drops even further and rather dramatically to 39.3 per cent.
Numbers that suggest that there is a disconnect between students and the educational system in the region, whether it be from any number of socio and economic factors, or failures in the system as a whole, there clearly needs to be some kind of new engagement required before the trend continues on a downward spiral any further and more students fall through the cracks which seem to be growing larger by the day.
The Daily News outlined those numbers in a story in Tuesday's paper (see below).
It's a timely bit of information, coming as it does with the debate over the Foundation Skills Assessment testing once again starting to heat up as the testing period of February 2 to 27 fast approaches.
The first two weeks of January have seen a number of debating points pop up over the controversial testing of grade four and seven students, tests which can divide parents from teachers and school boards from their communities.
The Vancouver School Board has taken a rather unorthodox approach to the testing, in effect providing a letter for parent's suggesting ways that they can avoid taking the tests, it's a move that has raised more than a few eyebrows, considering the fact that the School Board is in effect going against the instructions of the Minister of Education Shirley Bond, who is in favour of the testing.
By offering up ways for parents to withdraw their children from the province, the School Board has moved away from the position and responsibilities of an employer, at least that's the position of CKNW Radio talk show host Christy Clark, a former Minister of Education herself, Clark has made the FSA's one of her main causes on her open line show at CKNW.
This week she has featured the debate regularly, taking the Teachers union to task for its position and recently blasting the Vancouver School Board for its actions. Ms. Clark certainly doesn't seem afraid to take on the Teachers Federation, and her commentary no doubt became the topic of many a coffee room conversation this week in Vancouver we are sure.
You can listen in to that debate through the CKNW Audio Vault or listening to podcasts of the show, selecting the hours of 12noon through to 3pm for samples of the tone of the discussion, which at times can get quite heated.
While the process carries on in Vancouver, locally the debate has also been taken up on the chat boards of hackingthemainframe, where a link to a recent Tyee article has been providing the spark for debate over the issue.
Part of the Tyee article included some background information from Prince Rupert teacher Joanna Larson, who outlined how the testing has impacted classrooms in this city. Her contribution provided some fascintating insights into the situation in Prince Rupert and how the tests impact the local community. Those results of the past faced by School District 52, were made famous by a CBC documentary a few years ago which focused on Roosevelt Park School and its standing in the Fraser Institute rankings, which are tabulated from data taken from the FSA's.
It's those Fraser Institute rankings that seem to rankle the opponents of the FSA's the most, the cold comparison of statistical data without the interpretation of events and unique troubles in some rural areas where the system seems to be near a breaking point, and where as we have seen in the completion rates, just finishing school seems to be a challenge let alone excelling at it.
The fixation on the use of the rankings by the Fraser Institute is something that SFU professor John Richards says needs to be put aside, instead he suggests that parents, educators and school board officials use the data as it was intended, as a valuable innovation in reviewing if students are reaching or not reaching required levels in their educational progress.
While the the Tyee article provides some good background on those challenges that the FSAs provide to local teachers, it did not mention that Ms. Larson as President of the PRDTU, introduced a motion at last years BCTF conference to boycott the 2009 version of the testing.
Not disclosing that the teacher being interviewed was also a labour leader and the moving force behind the boycot plan, is probably an oversight which critics of the teacher's federation stand probably would find interesting and would more than likely challenge and will no doubt add to the rhetoric around the controversial move.
It doesn't detract from the overall picture of the debate, but some would suggest that it colours it in shades tilting towards the federation position and in this debate every angle is going to be examined for intent.
As the conversations over the status of the FSA's and their importance or negative impact goes on, the need to re-engage students locally also progresses. One final topic of discussion as this new year gets underway in School District 52 is the much discussed, since forced relocation of the proposed Pacific Coast School, the alternative program that is designed to try and recapture those students that make up the 36.8 per cent apparently at risk of not completing high school.
The project got sideswiped in the last few months of 2008, as local businesses in the Cow Bay area objected to the school being located in their district, but now seems to be back on track.
Since those emotional days at Prince Rupert City Council, the planning for the school has continued all geared towards its February opening.
With a new location apparently scouted out, the neighbours reportedly agreeable to their presence it appears to be ready to open and provide a place to learn and while it would seem it is a smaller location, the School District hopes to make the best it can of the new reality of the situation.
That debate has also been followed closely on the local chatboard, where details of the latest changes of geography and issues surrounding the new school have been debated.
Education is always a lively topic in Prince Rupert, and considering the work that still needs to be done for local students that is a good thing. Hopefully the renewed interest in all things education will translate into better grades, better completion rates and increased hope for success for those that are rolling through the educational system.
Rupert's students failing says ministry
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
High School completion rates for students in Prince Rupert are among the worst in the province, according to a Ministry of Education report released last month.
Completion rates, defined as the percentages of students who graduate with a Dogwood diploma within six years of starting Grade 8 for the first time, for all students in School District 52 were 63.2 per cent, well below the the British Columbia average of 79 per cent.
Of the 59 school districts across the province, only six school districts saw lower completion rates than Prince Rupert.
Stikine School District 87 was at the bottom of the list with a total completion rate of 36 per cent, followed by Nisga'a School District 92 with 41.4 per, cent, Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte with 49.6 per cent, Nicola-Similkameen at 53 per cent, Fort Nelson at 60.5 per cent, and Vancouver Island West at 61. 7 percent.
Prince Rupert also fell short of the provincial average for completion rates for Aboriginal students with 39.3 per cent, way behind the 79 per cent average for British Columbian high schools, both public and independent.
Similar to overall secondary completion rates, fewer than 10 schools fell behind SD52 with specific regard to Aboriginal student populations.
Provincially, completion rates reached a record high of 80 per cent overall and 48 per cent for Aboriginal students in 2006/07, but declined slightly this year to 79 per cent and 47 per cent, respectively.
Prior to last year's increase, overall rates had been holding steady at 79 per cent for four consecutive years. Aboriginal completion rates have been at either 47 or 48 per cent in each of the last five years, and completion rates have increased by five per cent since 2001.
"We are closely examining these results to determine possible causes for the slight decline and are working with districts to ensure that there is fol. low up with each student that did not complete school," said Education Minister Shirley Bond.
"One possible reason we are exploring is whether the change is linked to the booming economy earlier this year that may have seen students moving into the job market before completing secondary school."