For months now, we have had tremendous input and insight from thousands of Nova Scotians to help create this Action Plan. This is the product of dedication, passion, debate, research, expertise, experience, and opinion. We have done the studying; now it is time to do the work.
It has been a generation since the last major education review in the province. Consider how society has changed since then, in particular when it comes to technology and information, and our ability to identify student needs. Along with the seismic shifts in society, consider the increased expectations and demands placed on our schools. Simply put, Nova Scotia’s education system has not kept pace with these changes.
Time and again, test results show our students are falling behind in math and literacy, nationally and internationally. Over the years, there have been several different reports and public consultations that reached similar conclusions. Most recently, more than 19 000 Nova Scotians responded to the Minister’s Panel on Education, which filed its comprehensive review of our system in October 2014.
Nova Scotians’ message has been received and understood: we must improve and modernize our school system and that change must begin now.
In the simplest terms, we want to ensure that our students do better, especially in math and literacy, and that they are better prepared to lead productive lives in our changing world. The readiness of students to enter school and their readiness to graduate into a world of employment or post-secondary education are critical.
At every step of the Action Plan, we have one guiding question: Is this decision in the best interest of students? It is that motivation that will move the Plan forward.
It is an unfortunate, accepted truth that we have fallen behind in educating our children in Nova Scotia. And they, in turn have fallen behind their peers, nationally and internationally.
On national and international tests of achievement in literacy, math, and science, Nova Scotia students generally perform lower than their peers in other Canadian provinces.
Adding to these disturbing trends, teachers and administrators are facing increasing demands and expectations-taking on responsibilities well beyond traditional education, particularly when it comes to the mental and physical well-being of students. Schools today are delivering an array of programs and services in cooperation with a variety of agencies and departments. This is in addition to their traditional role of teaching the Public School Program.
The province's action plan will bring several changes for students. A new electronic school file will be created for every child at birth so parents can track development and educators can suggest services. Preschoolers will be screened at 18 and 36 months, as well as six months before starting school to help determine whether supports are needed.
Young students will spend more time on math and literacy, and funding will be targeted for math mentors in grades Primary to 3. Grade 10 students will take a mandatory citizenship course, and Grade 11 academic math will become a full-year course.
The province will create a homework policy, to be developed with input from teachers. Some students "go on to university and get a rude awakening of how much homework they have to do."
The province will develop a student code of conduct that identifies acceptable behaviour, and what the consequences are for unacceptable behaviour.
The auditor general will be asked to examine the governance model of the province's eight elected school boards, including the committee structure, the effectiveness of management structure of senior staff (Central Office) and the efficiency of services, such as payroll, purchasing, transportation and finance.
The report calls for the eight professional development days to be pulled out of the 195 teaching days. Casey will also ask that principals and school board administrators be removed from the union. Roughly 600 of the union's 10,000 members fall into that category. It is uncommon for management to remain members of the same union as those they supervise. These changes will be accomplished through cooperation and/or negotiation with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.
But there are positive aspects to the report, she said, including the increased reliance on teacher assessments rather than standardized tests, and the development of a student code of conduct.
"I like the fact that we're going to do something about student behaviour. Teachers are dealing with a vast amount of violence in the schools," she said. "If we can manage that behaviour, I think learning outcomes will be easier for students to achieve."
Among other changes in the offing are:
a new observation survey of literacy at the start of Grade 1
a new class-size cap of 24 students in grades 10 and 11 academic math
by 2020, students will be required to complete three high school math courses before graduation
new requirements for teacher certification
school boards will be encouraged to make more opportunities for new teacher graduates
new provincial criteria for placing a student on an individual program plan
a review of efficiency of the Education Department.
Nova Scotia is a small province filled with enormous potential. At one time, our province had a reputation of innovation in the classroom and for leading the way in education. We can be leaders again by building upon the tremendous potential that we have right here at home. We have talented students, supportive parents, and skilled teachers who are all committed to student success. The cooperation of everyone involved will be fundamental to the successful implementation of the Action Plan. Starting now, we will renew, refocus, and rebuild. Thank you for your anticipated support.
Karen Casey, MLA
Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development