Test Often, Raise Standards, Manitoba Educator Urges

Media Appearances, Education, Frontier Centre

So what’s wrong with our schools?

Manitoba teacher and author Michael Zwaagstra was in Regina on Monday to address that question and to promote his book, What’s Wrong With Our Schools: And How Can We Fix Them.
"The main thesis is that we need a stronger emphasis on academic standards and the book is about, ‘How do we get there?’" Zwaagstra said.
Zwaagstra, along with his co-authors of the book, spoke to teachers and school administrators about the problems with existing problems in North American public school systems, including Saskatchewan’s.
"We wrote the book because we believe in public education," Zwaagstra said. "We want to see academic standards — we want students to actually learn and we want every Grade 12 graduate to be effective readers and understand math and to pick up a newspaper and understand it."
Zwaagstra said he takes a traditionalist approach to education and believes our education system should include having clear curriculum content, consistent structure in schools and knowledgeable teachers in their subject areas.
"The primary purpose of schools is that we must ensure that students are knowledgeable and skillful in specific content areas and are educated to be successful in a complex modern society," he said.
Zwaagstra believes that curriculum content isn’t specific enough, academic standards in schools are not strong enough and that schools shouldn’t possess a no-fail policy. He went on to say that our school system has an anti-testing bias and that there isn’t a balance of standardized testing and teacher-created assessment.
"When you shift away from measuring what students actually know to process-based assessment, which goes along with the content in the curriculum, you’ll see that it is very hard to say ‘Where are our students at?’," he said.
Zwaagstra also believes principals and parents don’t have enough power in terms of choices made in school.
"Principals set the tone for their schools, so let them make the key decisions," he said. "Let them decide what ratio of teachers to educational assistants they need and how the day is structured."
To avoid the argument that his ideas conflict with one another, Zwaagstra concluded that standardized testing and empowering principals can co-exist in a manner that would benefit the system.
"We need more accountability in regards to student achievement, but we need more autonomy in regards to how schools get there," he said.
"Right now, it’s reversed — principals and teachers are micro-managed to introduce a fad, but they don’t know where the students are at because there isn’t standardized testing."