‘Action’ plan to improve N.B.’s anglophone schools short on clear targets

The Higgs government has released an “action plan” for improving the province’s anglophone school system, but specific actions and measurable targets are still to come.The plan unveiled Tuesday includes timelines for tackling thorny issues, including classroom composition and students who frequently miss school, but it doesn’t set out precisely how progress will be assessed.For example, it says success will be measured by improved literacy and numeracy scores — but doesn’t set out a target for how much they’ll improve.Project teams in each area will establish measurable goals, said Tiffany Bastin, the assistant deputy minister for education services in the anglophone school sector. “Once the work is underway, that’s where the evolution of the [measurements] will come,” said Bastin, who co-chaired a steering committee that developed the ideas. “It will come quickly.”Nor does the plan set out how the system will change.The report says a model “will be developed” on how to intervene with students who miss school often, and that the existing classroom composition model will be “reviewed.”The action plan builds on a report by the steering committee that examined how to improve anglophone schools after the cancellation of the government’s plan last year to replace French immersion with a new French-second-language program.Public consultations on that plan revealed widespread concern among parents and teachers on a range of issues, including classroom composition — how a large number of students with special learning needs can affect or disrupt classrooms.WATCH | Education Minister Bill Hogan says ‘exact’ timelines still being developed: Education ‘action plan’ short on specificsEducation minister won’t say if he agrees with premier that more change is needed.The steering committee report last November urged a rethinking of social promotion, the practice of “moving students forward” to the next grade level “without the necessary foundational skills.”Bastin acknowledged that a lack of resources in the system can make it difficult to intervene to help those students.”That would be our first aim, to intervene immediately and urgently to get those students caught up, and at times that isn’t always possible where there’s a lack of resources,” she said.”So part of this improvement is looking at how do we get those resources working right away with those learners that are behind.”Ardith Shirley, the executive director of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association, says the government has released a solid plan. (Ed Hunter/CBC)Ardith Shirley, the executive director of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association and the other co-chair, agreed that resources — including staffing — will be key.”The plan is in place. It’s a solid plan. The trick will be actualizing it.” Last fall’s report called for the province to balance class sizes so that schools can support students with extra learning needs, while minimizing the potential disruptions for other students.But the action plan doesn’t set out how the province will overcome a potentially major obstacle: maximum class sizes set out in the labour contract with the New Brunswick Teachers’ Federation, an agreement renegotiated last year that runs to 2026.Education Minister Bill Hogan said the government will talk to the union to look at what flexibility is possible within the existing agreement and “to see what we can embed in the contract, if anything” the next time it is renegotiated. Minister promises ‘specificity’Last December, Premier Blaine Higgs said in a year-end interview with CBC News that the school system was “a mess.”He complained again about French immersion not producing enough bilingual graduates and implied the steering committee’s recommendations were not enough.”It needs to be more than that,” he said.Hogan did not say Tuesday whether he agreed with Higgs, instead describing again the report’s proposals for French-second-language education and echoing Bastin by saying “implementation teams” would develop “more specificity” about the plan. 

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