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Vancouver School Board’s Phase-Out of High School Honours Courses Axes What’s Best for Students

Commentary

Sergio Valdez is the son of Mexican immigrants who attended public school in East Los Angeles in the 1980s. He took Advanced Placement Calculus taught by the exceptional math teacher Jaime Escalante and was an integral part of NASA’s Mars missions. Had Valdez attended high school in Vancouver today, however, none of this would have been possible, due to equity and inclusion policies that have now led to the cancellation of all accelerated math programs in their district.

Think about that.

Trustees at the second-largest school district in British Columbia—the Vancouver School Board (VSB)—hired an educational consultant who recommended that accelerated math programs be cancelled because, according to her, gifted programs were racist, elitist, and had to go, reported the Globe and Mail in an article on June 16.

This stands in stark contrast to the over 500 comments that bombarded the Globe’s news site hours after the article was posted, with many readers offering strong arguments that such programs for students with advanced learning needs are, in fact, what’s best for both our students and teachers in our schools.

For those of us who’ve been advocating for better math instruction for close to a decade, it’s hardly surprising. We’ve been on a long downward trajectory of dumbing down our kids in this province for over 20 years. We’ve seen tutoring rates explode while our ED leaders fully support implementation of the weakest math standards in Canada, a cancellation of ALL provincial exams, and no letter grades until Grade 10.

Assessment data has overwhelmingly suggested that B.C. students were further ahead with less funding and fewer equity and inclusion policies 20 years ago than they are today. In fact, since the BCEd plan was implemented in 2015–16, our kids’ academic performance has dipped even below the Canadian average in all three subject areas: reading, science, but most significantly, mathematics. It’s at the lowest level ever recorded in the province.

When examining the data even further, we also see that the equity gap between the high- and low-performing students has also grown significantly, which means even fewer kids will be able to compete in our expanding global economy than they did at the turn of the last century.

What was equally troubling was the silence when the Globe reporter contacted the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) for comment. It should be noted that the original suggestion to cancel all advanced math programs as part of the BCEd plan was made by BCTF committees, as the BCTF co-wrote the new curriculum in partnership with the B.C. Education Ministry. This was despite the union’s own math teachers being adamantly opposed to such a nonsensical idea.

With teachers’ concerns being ignored through the silence of their own BCTF executive, it’s hard not to be cynical about the organization. It consistently uses children and teachers in advertising campaigns, and yet, when push comes to shove, it conveniently loses its voice.

The British Columbia Confederation Parent Advisory Council (BCCPAC), who represent parents, would have been part of this consultation, but once again, deafening silence. The group has approved two math resolutions in 20 years, but both have gone nowhere. It’s nothing more than a rubber-stamp organization that receives government funding while ignoring its own mandate to advance parents’ concerns through its resolution process.

Parents have always been and will always be the only ones who can and should advocate for children—not teachers, politicians, union executives, and certainly not the BCCPAC. And it doesn’t have to take very much to enact change or reverse outrageous decisions like the VSB’s. Similar measures to cancel advanced math classes were attempted in New York City, and it only took a few days to have the whole decision overturned by concerned parents who demanded better for their kids. Why can’t the same thing happen here?

We—parents, taxpayers, and citizens—must be the ones who run the schools, not the other way around. I cannot think of a better battle to pick than one around the education of our children. If this is what representational democracy and effective public policy-making look like in the current public school system, maybe it’s time to rethink what public education should look like. We deserve more publicly funded choices if those running the current system ignore facts, research, data, and parents and resort to labelling us as racist for wanting what’s best for our kids.

In response to the VSB’s decision, a reader wrote in the Globe article’s comments section: “To take these opportunities to learn and grow faster from students is abhorrent. If anything, these programs *help* diversity initiatives by creating additional opportunities for kids from underprivileged backgrounds who are moving at an advanced pace. This is a tragic, stupid, ham-fisted move.”

I urge VSB parents to end this monstrosity by contacting your school trustees. Do it today.

Tara Houle is a parent advocate, the founder of WISE Math B.C., and publisher of a provincial math petition.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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