Monday, January 29, 2007

Fencing @ U of T

My sister was among the competitors at the University of Toronto for the OUA fencing tournament. Sis decided to take up fencing earlier this year and seems to be doing somewhat respectable. She didn't make the first cut but also wasn't the worst one there either.

Here is a video sample:

All in all, I learned alot about fencing (including that fencing doesn't necessarily mean a hammer and nails :)

As my brother says "SABRE!"

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Is This "Public" Education?

Re: York tutor fee spurs debate

In York Region the public school board has decided to provide an afternoon tutoring program for students to attend. Normally this does not cause an uproar amongst educators, parents and teachers. However, this time the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) is charging $190.00 for a sixteen hours of tutoring called “Learning Advantage.”

The students for “Learning Advantage” are recommended by classroom teachers. So, Parents believing the teachers know what is best in terms of education, fork over the extra $190.00 for their child/student to take the extra tutoring sessions.

The main question in this situation is this: Should Public Education boards be charging for providing tutoring services?

There are two views for this answer:

York Region Department of Education trustees, with the exception of Board Vice-Chair Diane Giangrande, supported charging parents for this type of service. They claim it provides a pretty valuable service at abouth a quarter of the cost than than commercial tutoring services like Oxford & Sylvain tutoring services. The Board also points out the program they provide to after students after school is in line with the Ontario curriculum.

The program sounds like a positive step for students looking for more assistance in gaining the skills and concepts within education. But the problem lies with how the students are selected by the Board for the program.

The classroom teacher recommends the student to be in the program. At this point the teacher doesn’t mention that other agencies are available (i.e. Oxford or Sylvain), but recommends the Board sponsored “Learning Advantage” program. The parent, believing the student’s teacher knows what they are doing as a professional in the field of education and, thus, knows what is best for my child. Thus, the parent forks over the money to the board instead of investigating places like Oxford or Sylvain. The classroom teacher seems to be in a conflict of interest in this case.

The classroom teacher must recommend the Board’s own program through fear. It is probably not a stretch to believe there is some pressure from the school’s administation and fellow teachers to recommend a large number of students to tutoring sessions. This is probably because there is pressure from the board to make this program a success by showing there is a demand for after school tutoring services like the “Learning Advantage” program. Therefore, if a teacher fails to recommend this program there might be outside factors that might want to shuffle this said teacher towards the door in terms of employment. Of course the administration of the school would never admit to shuffling the teacher towards the door for not recommending students to the “Learning Advantage” program, the Administation of the school would classify the teacher with having “poor classroom management” or some other questionable reason to dismiss a teacher. So the impression the teacher is left with is either “tow the line” or get out. Its pretty easy to see which option the teacher will choose.

That is what happens when the edict comes from above. The teachers in York Region seem to be stuck because the trustees will want this program to work in order to be re-elected in the next election. If the program fails then it will be the trustees’ heads who will roll. So hence, the pressure from above will be extreme on the classroom teacher to make this program succeed through recommending the students to the program and then executing the program. If the program fails, you can bet the Trustees will blame the teachers for the problems.

Now back to the original the question for another view: Should Public Boards be charging for tutoring services?

The Public Board should not be providing tutoring services to those students who are doing well. That is what is the problem with the “Learning Advantage” program. The students taking the program are at or above the academic levels they are expected to be at. The system should be concentrating these services to students who are considered to below level or “at risk”.

That is what is occurring in schools in New York City. In the New York City Department of Education schools receive funding to provide Saturday classes for students who require extra assistance in order bring their grades up. Unlike the York Region Board’s program, the students attending the New York tutoring services would likely fail their school year if not for the extra help. What does the City of New York charge for these services? Nothing. These are the students that the York Region Board should be focusing their efforts on.

The other students should be encouraged to study with their parents as much as possible. What should parents of students be doing if their students are doing adquately in school and still want more education? The parents can easily hit the libary with their child for new reading material. How can the children learn more in that library? By applying the skills and concept they learned in class to the new reading material in the classroom. What skills and concepts to investigate with the child? The ones from the Ontario Curriculum that the child is learning of course. Where to find that? The Ontario Ministry of Education has the Ontario curriculum downloadable from their website for free. So for the price of library card a parent can re-enforce what is being learned in the classroom with their child.

The students that are reading at grade level should be encouraged to read and write with their parents. Parents should be settling down with their child at night to investigate a good book from the library and trying out the skills their child is learning at school. This will show their student the skills learned at school are important and are being done at home. Parents should also be involved in helping out with the homework. This helps the student to know that if there is a concept they don’t quite understand they can inquire with the parent. If the parent doesn’t know what to do, an inquiry with the teacher can be followed up with the next day by the student. This also allows the student to teach the concept to the parent the next time at home. There is an old adage in education “if you can teach it, you gotta know it.” So the student is more likely to understand the concept if they are able to teach it to the parent.

Parents should have responsibility for their child’s education. The tutoring services that the York Region District School Board is piloting seem to replace the above. Do all parents have to time to sit down with their child and read a book? No, but the school system should not be forced to be “parents”. The idea of parents not being parents anymore and the school system being forced to replace the parental responsibilities is a whole other issue for another blog entry.

Every parent wants their child(ren) to succeed. With that in mind, parents need to make time for their children and their education. Otherwise, the school system seems to think it can replace parenting bit by bit as parents fail to assume their responsibilites. In the case of the “Learning Advantage” program, the parents seem to fail to take the time to sit down with their children and read a simple book and do some math.

Should the Public School system be providing tutoring services? No they should not as it only puts pressure on classroom teachers to make the “program via edict” succeed as well as letting parents not fulfill their roll in their child’s education.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Back from Vacation in Ottawa

From Wednesday January 10th until the following Monday I was on vacation in Ottawa.

It was nice to be able to take some time off and relax in a city that I used to live in but was able to return and visit too.

However, Ottawa was cold and snowy. Some might ask "Ottawa in January = Cold & Snowy". Not so a week earlier when the temperature was above zero and walking outside didn't seem like such a chore.

On this trip I took my new digital camera with me and took some fabolous pictures of Parliament Hill, Museum of Civilization, Wakefiled (Quebec) and much more. Check the Ottawa section of the scrapbook section of my website over the next little while as I add pictures from my trip.

What did I see? Lots of things like taking a tour of the Centre Block of Parliament Hill (the Parliamentary Library is reopened after four years of renovations and restoration!), the Museuam of Civilization which tells the history of Canada, the National Art Gallery and met up with Bill and his wife as well as another university friend.

However, there was a bad time...having to go back to work after a week off!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Adscam Again?

Within the Canadian media there has been a swirl of possibilities a federal election may be forced. Here are the options so far:

1. The Bloc Quebecois were going to bring down the Conservative minority government with a non-confidence motion over the government’s handling of the war in Afghanistan.

2. The Conservatives were going to end the current parliament by forcing the opposition parties to vote against the current upcoming budget.

Well, now there seems to be another weapon that could be used by a party to create the likelihood of a federal election: Adscam.

We interupt this political pontification for a quick Question & Answer period:

Question:”Hasn’t the country been through this before in the previous election as Paul Martin and Liberals were decimated over the handling of Adscam?”

Answer: Yes, they were soundly defeated and Martin resigned causing the Liberal party to go into disarray.

Question: “Isn’t Adscam over with since the Gomery inquiry has been completed?”

Answer: Not so says Sun Media columnist Greg Weston:

“We recently received an unusual call from a member of the RCMP commercial crime squad in Montreal, seeking our assistance in the feds’ ongoing criminal investigations of the sponsorship scandal." — excerpted from this column.

In other words Weston believes that the RCMP are really close to laying more charges against even more people involved in the ‘sponsorship scandal’.”

Weston continues:

Of specific interest to the Mounties was our investigative piece in 2004 that exposed an apparent shakedown of federal contractors in the 1990s, a fleecing operation run through one of the Liberal-friendly advertising companies at the centre of the AdScam fiasco.

Our report detailed how one communications consultant with a $200,000 Health Canada contract had been ordered by a senior federal official in Jean Chretien’s government to invoice the feds through the Montreal ad company.

In turn, the ad firm extracted $50,000 from the consultant for doing nothing but passing along the bills to the Liberal government for payment. What happened to all that easy money remains a mystery, and is presumably a focus of the RCMP probe.

In the meantime, the RCMP investigator asked us to share whatever other information we might have in our files on the incident, and any others like it.

(While we wish the Mounties every success in their investigation, they also accepted with utmost professionalism our long-standing journalistic rule that we don’t disclose what we don’t print, and the conversation ended there.) Aside from providing a brief interlude of intrigue, the phone call also serves as a timely reminder that AdScam is anything but a dead issue. Far from it.

For several months now, sources have been telling us the Mounties are “only weeks away” from laying a slew of new criminal charges against individuals other than the three AdScammers already doing jail time. With the next federal election expected by spring, the likely return of AdScam to the front pages any day now can’t be good news for the federal Liberals and their newly anointed leader, Stephane Dion. “

Now back to the regularly scheduled political pontification:

The arising of further Adscam charges, that Weston notes above, and Stephane Dion as Liberal leader might present the perfect storm for Stephen Harper to force an election.

Here is what could happen over the next couple of months in Ottawa:

1. Stephen Harper has a spring budget released that he knows the opposition parties simply will not stand for but will be pretty nice looking to tax weary voters (i.e. a budget full of tax cuts).

2. The opposition parties bring down the government following days (weeks?) of political bashing over the government’s tax break budget.

3. Meanwhile the RCMP have held a press conference to announce more people connected with the Liberal party have been charged with fraud in association with the federal sponsorship program.

4. Harper visits the Governor General to get the rit for the election.

A perfect storm has been brewed in Stephen Harper’s favour for a spring election:

-Stephane Dion and the Liberals are not ready for an election yet because Dion has not had the chance to re-unite the party following years of political infighting between the former Chretien and Martin camps as well as the damage done to the Liberal name following the sponsorship scandal (even funnier is the chain of events during the sponsorship scandal that I highlight here).

-Harper can lambaste Dion, just like Harper did to Paul Martin in the last election, by pointing out that Mr. Dion is more than willing to take credit for creating The Clarity Act, but refuses to acknowledge he knew anything about the workings sponsorship program.

-the budget will be the tool used by the Conservative team to sell to Canadians the idea they are going to receive even further tax relief. This seemed to have worked in the last election with the promise of the GST cut. The Conservatives will also point out that all the other parties voted against tax relief for Canadians by bringing down the government over this very budget.

Now with this scenario in mind, Harper has to be wondering if this will be enough to finally return a Conservative majority back to government since The late 1980′s and early 1990′s when then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney held the last Conservative majority government.

Only time will tell if Harper’s dreams come true in launching a political drama. Watch your television folks: This spring in Canadian politics could get interesting!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

On the last night of 2006 and the early morning of 2007 I was at Toronto's Nathan Philips Square New Year's Eve celebration!

It was a cold and rainy night. I spent most of my time keeping dry under the raised walkways of the square. The only downfall was I was stuck behind the people standing on the benches and trash cans near the skating rink. Thus, I couldn't see much of the action on the stage and the performances of George, Ashanti and Hedley. But at least the fireworks at midnight were up high and could be seen! (And also provided me with my first opportunity to upload my first video):

There is also a variety of pictures found in the Toronto page of the Scrapbook section of my website.

Best wishes for the New Year!

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