Response to Article By Paul Bennett (July 7th, 2018 – Chronicle Herald) Regarding School-Based Specialists

I am concerned that you have published yet another opinion article by Paul Bennett that represents a one-sided perspective regarding the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s decision to alter the terms of contracts for school-based specialists.

What this opinion piece would have benefited from is perspective and input from a school-based specialist, such as a speech-language pathologist, school psychologist or school social worker. Since this opinion piece has neglected to do so with the goal of providing yet another outside opinion targeted at damaging the hard-working professionals of the NSTU, I would like to provide that perspective so that your readers can make an informed choice instead of being misled.

I am deeply concerned with a number of quotes from stakeholders taken out of context and applied to this opinion piece. For example, the direct quote from Jan Keddy, regarding “family centered practice”, used in this context, implies that school-based specialists do not follow the family-centered model of support, which is not the case. An author that quotes partial pieces from a statement in order to make his or her point is not following best practices for accurately quoting sources and may be doing so misleadingly. All school-based specialists are deeply engaged with family-centered approaches. During any given week, a speech-language pathologist will make contact with all families through home programming and communication through phone or email; parents attend therapy sessions and feedback meetings with school teams designed to ensure parent engagement is maximized. A school psychologist will be involved with parent communication to ensure strategies for support are able to be used at home, conducting demonstration sessions and engaging in frequent communication. A social worker will meet with families, attend meetings with family physicians and other specialists, and assist students in attending community settings and events. To imply that school-based specialists do not follow a family-centered approach shows the lack of knowledge this piece presents.

To further imply that school-based specialists do not work outside of school hours or during the summer is also false. School program planning meetings and parent meetings are almost always conducted outside of regular working hours to ensure all staff can be in attendance and to not take away from regular programming during the day. Specialists regularly work after hours to prepare materials, programming, update the records system, or write reports for parent meetings. Students are provided with home programming for summer months, with parents meeting with staff before hand to ensure demonstration and adherence to techniques. Most of our specialists participate in professional development over the summer months in order to keep their professional credentials up to date. Furthermore, outside agencies that provide these services do not treat students the entire year. For example, Nova Scotia Hearing and Speech Centers provide parent-training sessions that only run for a certain duration, and treatment blocks are pre-determined in length. It is not expected that these professionals treat the same students for the entire year, why would this be enforced on school-based specialists? Speech-language therapy can be taxing and students require breaks to practice their skills in outside, naturalistic environments. To suggest otherwise shows a lack of understanding by the author of this piece.

Creating a division between specialists in terms of those working full-year and those not will only break-down the flow of support for students. In the process, specialists will seek work elsewhere. One only has to look next door to New Brunswick to see what has happened when these changes were enforced on their school-based specialists – there is currently a lack of trained specialists in the province who have chosen to work elsewhere because of these imposed work conditions.  I question where Mr. Bennett has found data suggesting that there are “48” speech-language pathologists across the province serving school populations, when this is simply not the case. Perhaps he means 48 positions now not under the union, which may be likely. Or perhaps he meant “48 positions that have had job rights taken away from them and can expect overworked job conditions”. There is no mention of the current working conditions for specialists; with caseloads triple the recommended size, moving staff to 12 months will not alleviate these caseloads nor provide more service for students.

In summary, families should be aware that the impression being provided by consultants and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is not an accurate representation of the current situation. All specialists provide family-focused care; all specialists work outside of daily hours and over summer break; all specialists are overworked and have huge caseloads that are not manageable; initiatives to provide additional staff are not working due to the loss of staff because of job conditions. Students will not get better service with these changes; specialists will be further overworked and our most vulnerable populations will suffer.

The Glaze Report: An Illusion of Improvement to Hide McNeil’s Failures

The Nova Scotia Liberal government’s recently-announced reforms are part of a broader, troubling global trend in education.

The recommendations from Dr. Avis Glaze’s report will do nothing to improve the experience of students in Nova Scotia schools. They are a thinly-veiled attack on the teachers union, and an attempt to turn our community-focused education system into the problematic business-driven model prevalent in many U.S. states.

Even if it were true, as Dr. Glaze claims, that Nova Scotia’s students were consistently under-performing on standardized tests – and several observers have pointed out that the results cited in her report do not support this claim – there is no evidence to suggest that any of the proposed reforms will improve test scores.

The Liberal government must recognize that standardized test scores in a handful of subjects are by no means the measure we should use to evaluate how our schools are doing. Academics around the world oppose using large-scale test scores to make drastic changes to education policy. All these tests do are show the powerful effects of economic disparity on student learning.

Stephen McNeil’s Liberals say they want to improve student achievement, yet their proposed reforms do nothing to address the fact that one-fifth of Nova Scotia’s children live in poverty.

The Liberals have dragged their feet on changing rules that claw back child support for families on income assistance.

They stubbornly refuse to raise the minimum wage to anything close to a livable amount, condemning low-income parents and their families to live in poverty.

They have mismanaged the department that oversees the care of our most vulnerable children.

Addressing any one of these issues should be more of a priority than dissolving democratically elected school boards and creating new layers of educational bureaucracy. We oppose the Liberals’ agenda, and urge them to reconsider implementing these reforms so they may instead address the issues that truly have an impact in our children’s lives.

Teacher’s Voices: An Independent Report on Nova Scotia’s Education System

Educators for Social Justice Nova Scotia is collecting information from teachers for an independent report on Nova Scotia’s education system. We are encouraging Nova Scotia teachers to contribute by participating in this survey.

Why do we want to hear from you?

Following a year of contract negotiations which ended with an unprecedented teachers’ strike and an imposed contract, the provincial Liberal government has committed to researching conditions in our schools via the Council to Improve Classroom Conditions. For a variety of reasons, many teachers have expressed skepticism with the partisan interests of the Council. Our goal is to provide an alternate reading of classroom conditions in Nova Scotia through the eyes of teachers and others who work within the school system.

We are not receiving any funding to complete this report, nor are we connected to any governing body, school board, or government department. Through multiple teachers’ perspectives, we want to create a nuanced understanding of education that centers the experience of teachers, and is free from partisan interests.

What we will do with this information?

The collected information will be widely distributed through social media networks and possibly other online local press outlets. Since teaching is a dynamic occupation with a wide variety of experiences, we are open to all perspectives and will take all voices into account. Answers are anonymous, and unless participants choose to volunteer their information, no email addresses will be collected through the survey. We won’t contact you for any follow-up questions or for any other reason.

Thank you for taking the time to complete our survey. Your voice matters to us, and could possibly make a difference in shaping public perceptions of teaching in Nova Scotia. If you have questions or concerns, please contact us at: esjnovascotia@gmail.com.