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Fix education? First, understand it

Crucial for the future: the success of our schools affects us all, our columnist says

There’s a bit of rule in certain circles that if you send your children to private school, then you have no right to discuss public school. Some of us get branded as traitors or sell-outs for choosing private. I’d even bet that some choose public so as to avoid condemnation from their family and peers.

I’m not one to subscribe to those beliefs for the simple fact that whether you send your child to private school or not, you are still taxed for public school, just like everyone else.

More importantly, the success of public and private school affects us all. For those two reasons, alone, I have every right to comment.

It would be all too easy, and probably unfair, to judge public education solely by vague examination reports, superficial Education Ministry press releases and violent student fight videos posted on Facebook. Therefore, in order to get a better understanding of the state of public education before writing about it, I figured that I’d try out the new “Ask your Premier” e-mail address. Three easy questions were put to the Premier, and three short days later I had a response:

1. Since coming to power, what have been the OBA’s most important accomplishments in public education?

A. Established and implemented the Middle School Transformation Plan.

B. Amended the Education Act 1996 to introduce a legislative framework of three pillars to support parental involvement.

C. Established and implemented a professional development plan for teaching staff based on the Danielson Framework.

D. Introduced a career and vocational technical STEM programme opening more school-to-career options in trades and STEM.

2. What remains to be the most critical challenges in public education?

A. Accountability/setting of rigorous standards.

B. Continued turnaround in student achievement and success.

C. Transformation of the public education culture.

D. Make sure all schools are of a standard to provide the foundation for a safe and healthy learning environment.

3. What are your top three public education goals for the next school year?

A. Continue to work the strategic plan for the Public Education System, and review and improve the plan.

B. Improve achievement and success for all students.

C. Deliver quality programming and services for all students.

I must confess that I was quite impressed that answers were provided so quickly, especially being that they were provided on a Sunday afternoon. Additionally, the Premier looped in the Minister of Education and others who might be able to assist.

Unfortunately, things started to unravel once I tried to research the Ministry of Education website to find information on the initiatives and strategies the Premier wrote about.

Failing to find supporting details online left me with no choice but to follow up with additional questions:

1. Are the plans and strategies listed in item one available for public review?

2. What metrics are being used to measure teacher accountability and standards, and what measurable performance has been seen?

3. Does the Ministry track student performance on an annual basis, and is the public able to review that data? In particular, I’m interested in receiving data since 2012 on:

• Grade level performance

• O-Level performance

• Graduation rates

• Attendance/Absenteeism

• Detention and expulsion rates

• Dropout rates

4. Does the Ministry track the number of students who are working towards, get accepted and actually depart for tertiary education? And, do we know how many have been accepted but cannot attend due to finances?

In my mind, questions such as these are the bare minimum we should be asking if the intent of the public education system is to ensure the best possible outcome for students. Surely if your sincere objective is to improve the public education system, you would be tracking these things, wouldn’t you?

To put matters into perspective, I left high school more than 25 years ago. So it is with a sense of great anger that I‘ve been advised that this data is either unavailable for one reason or another.

One would think that after 14 years of the PLP “standing strong” for Bermudians that the OBA would have inherited an education system that monitors this data. Failing that, one would expect that with the OBA having been in power for almost four years, they would be collecting this data by now.

Upon further reflection, a very big question dawned upon me:

How on Earth are you supposed to come up with an effective public education strategy if you haven’t collected, analysed, and discussed the most basic public education data?

The painfully obvious answer to me is that you can’t. And, it would also seem painfully obvious that the OBA has been no more effective at reforming public education than the governments that preceded it.

To contact Bryant Trew, e-mail: bryanttrew@mac.com