'Critical, provoking document' guiding discussions in reform of Manitoba's education system

A clearer picture has emerged on how the commission reviewing Manitoba's kindergarten-to-Grade-12 school system will gather input from the public. 

Province will gather input at workshops in Winnipeg, Brandon, Steinbach and elsewhere

Clayton Manness, co-chair of Manitoba's Commission on Kindergarten to Grade 12 Education, presents a discussion paper that will guide conversations about how to improve an education system the provincial government believes is sagging. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

A clearer picture has emerged on how the commission reviewing Manitoba's kindergarten-to-Grade-12 school system will gather input from the public. 

The commissionaires released a discussion paper to steer those discussions, co-chair Clayton Manness said.

"Some could call it a guide. Some may want to call it a critical, provoking document that will try to elicit input from Manitobans of all description, living in all areas," he said at a media conference Friday in Winnipeg.

"We are now ready to receive en masse their input," Manness said.

The paper highlights six focus areas: long-term vision, student learning, teaching, accountability for student learning, governance and funding. 

Student scores dismal

The commission has been tasked with improving Manitoba's beleaguered school system, which has produced students with dismal scores in reading, science and math. They are expected to release their findings in February 2020.

The first public consultation meeting will take place on April 24 at the Caboto Centre in Winnipeg.

Additional meetings are scheduled for Brandon, Steinbach, Thompson, The Pas, Dauphin and Carman. 

Opinions can already be submitted to the commission by email, fax or mail. 

Clayton Manness, centre, is flanked by Denis Robert, left, and J.D. Lees, right, at a media conference on Apr. 12 revealing details of the public consultation sessions that will inform the findings of Manitoba's Commission on Kindergarten to Grade 12 Education. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Manness said the committee sought to produce a factual document illustrating where the province's education system is at.

On the performance of students, although graduation rates are rising, the document said "there are still persistent trends that indicate little or no improvement over time."

It says only around half of early- and middle-years students are meeting provincial expectations in reading and writing.

The report framed the province's education system as "largely anchored in its industrial model roots" and said Manitoba should develop a stronger sense of accountability over student learning.

The province will not change the funding model for education through its review, but the document acknowledged that other provinces have moved away from jointly financing K-12 education between the provincial government and school boards.

"It is an approach that has drawn some criticism and has been characterized as uneven in application and inequitable," the paper said.

The year-long review of the education system is expected to cost $750,000.

Trustee model hasn't changed

The topic of governance changes aren't lost on Manness, who said the subject is personally interesting to him.

"I look at some of the old minutes of the one-room schools, and you look and you see what the trustees are trying to deal with at the turn of the century, and we still, more or less, have that same model," said Manness, who cut school funding as education minister in the 1990s. "And so the question is: should there be change or not, and we will reflect on that."

Manness said his comments shouldn't be taken as a sign that change is imminent.

"It's something I asked myself long before I was put on this commission," he said.

Avis Glaze has been hired as lead consultant for Manitoba's review of the Kindergarten to Grade 12 system. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

For the first time, the commission was asked to respond to criticisms for hiring Avis Glaze as their lead consultant. She recently prompted Nova Scotia to eliminate elected school boards, and some Manitobans think she's predisposed to do the same here.

Manness insists that Glaze isn't tied strongly to any viewpoints.

"I asked her in the interview, how would you react if … you come up with a suggestion that the commission, in consensus, does not agree with. She says, 'I work for you,'" Manness said. "I'm telling you, I believe there will be no difficulty."

Unlike in Nova Scotia where she penned the final report, Manitoba commissioner J.D. Lees says Glaze is providing an expert opinion but won't have the final say. 

Consultant isn't biased: Lees

"She seems to be very interested in and looking at the local issues and finding local solutions," Lees said.

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union has warned its counterparts in Manitoba about Glaze's involvement.

Her review in the Maritime province suggested that school principals and vice-principals be booted from the teachers union and a new licensing and governing body for the teaching profession.

"You could predict with startling accuracy what exactly Dr. Glaze is going to say," president Paul Wozney told CBC News in an interview last month. "Inevitably those tones strike, here's how you save money — you amalgamate, you consolidate."

A schedule of public consultation dates are available on the Manitoba government's website.


Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. You can reach him at