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Alberta government brings back 8 curriculum advisers to work on higher grades

Eight advisers who helped craft Alberta’s controversial new elementary school curriculum drafts are back to work on Grade 7 to 10 material, CBC has learned.

None of the advisers are yet identified as providing expertise from Indigenous or Black perspectives

Associate dean and associate professor of education Richelle Marynowski is a specialist in teaching future math teachers. She says there are several problems with the draft elementary math curriculum and is concerned to see the government bring back the same consultants to work on the higher grades. (University of Lethbridge/Submitted)

Eight advisers who helped craft Alberta's controversial new elementary school curriculum drafts are back to work on the higher grades, CBC News has learned.

The provincial government initially refused to disclose which "subject matter experts" were contracted to provide advice on the development of a new junior high and high school curriculum.

A list, obtained by a freedom of information request, shows eight prior elementary curriculum advisers were hired for work on the upper grades as of March 29 — the day the elementary drafts were publicly released.

Each will do a maximum of 40 days work on the curriculum until Aug. 31, and be paid $400 a day for their efforts, according to the information released.

None are yet identified as providing expertise from Indigenous or Black perspectives.

"The current list of subject matter experts is not final, and more areas of expertise will of course be added as the work progresses," said Eliza Snider, acting press secretary to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, in an email.

She would not say whether the government has hired additional advisers since May, when the freedom of information request was filed.

On the list to consult on crafting the Grade 7 to 10 curriculum are:

  • Paul Bennett, Halifax educational consultant and past private school principal, social studies
  • David Chorney, University of Alberta secondary education professor, wellness
  • Melissa From, CEO, Junior Achievement of Southern Alberta, financial literacy
  • Donna Holstine Vander Valk, life coach and oral communication coach, English language arts and literature
  • Cameron Macdonell, computer science professor at MacEwan University, science
  • Annie Prud'homme-Généreux, director of continuing studies, Capilano University, BC., science
  • Srilata Ravi, Campus Saint-Jean francophone literature professor, French and francophone literature
  • Vladimir Troitsky, University of Alberta math professor, mathematics

Advisers contacted by the CBC either did not respond or referred questions to the government.

Absent from the list is Chris Champion, a former social studies curriculum adviser who has minimized the harms of residential schools and called First Nations education efforts a "fad."

Some educators with curriculum and subject-specific expertise say they are frustrated to see the government bring the same advisers back.

"What it also shows is that they're unwilling to change the current draft," said Richelle Marynowski, an associate dean and associate professor of math education at the University of Lethbridge.

She has concerns about the accuracy and age-appropriateness of the draft elementary math curriculum.

"They're unwilling to make adjustments and they want those people to carry on what they've been doing. It shows me that there's been no listening to what people have been saying about the curriculum," she said.

She said the input of math experts is important, but they do not have training in how children learn, or how best to build children's comprehension over the years.

Angela Grace, a psychologist with expertise in school wellness and eating disorder prevention, said some of the draft elementary school wellness curriculum could be harmful to students.

She said it takes an outdated and inappropriate approach to body image, weight, and food choices.

"If the elementary curriculum is so tremendously flawed and the same people are writing the junior-senior high, then it is going to get exponentially worse," she said.

Snider said Alberta Education is "committed to listening and working with parents, education partners and Albertans to make improvements on the draft curriculum."

Feedback gathered in an online survey and at engagement sessions will "be critical before we finalize content" and will inform development of future grades, Snider said

Government should abandon entire draft: expert

Grace and Marynowski are among a chorus of educators opposed to the United Conservative Party government's direction on curriculum.

The Association of Alberta Deans of Education have started a website for scholarly analysis.

Dozens of teachers in the Black Gold School Division reviewed the drafts and found problems with every subject. 

Elk Island Public Schools hired retired curriculum consultant Janice Aubry to review the drafts. She wrote and designed curriculum for both Alberta Education and Edmonton Public Schools.

Her report said the drafts are fatally flawed in both content and structure, and will not achieve the province's goal of improving students' international test scores.

"It is strongly recommended that the Ministry of Education abandon this curriculum, return to the 2018 draft curriculum [or a refined version of that draft], and commence the pilot of that draft," Aubry wrote.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janet French is a provincial affairs reporter with CBC Edmonton. She has also worked at the Edmonton Journal and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. You can reach her at janet.french@cbc.ca

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