Feedback on Alberta’s K-6 curriculum shows low levels of support, frustration over process

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Alberta’s government has released hundreds of pages of reports from stakeholders and public survey feedback on the draft K-6 curriculum, showing a low level of support and a high degree of dismay over the process.

Education Minister Adrian LaGrange announced the release of the reports Tuesday on Twitter, writing that the feedback was used to update subjects from the original draft, first released in March 2021.

“We are listening to experts, educators and all Albertans as we work to finalize a new K-6 curriculum for our students,” LaGrange wrote.

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One report summarizing more than 34,000 results of a publicsurvey, noted general responses rated “positive” hit a peak of 21 per cent by the end of February, compared to 62 per cent deemed “negative.”

When asked to describe the strengths of the controversial draft social studies curriculum, a significant number of respondents said they didn’t have any.

In another report that dates back to Januarythe Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) cited engagement session participants who worried the government just wasn’t listening.

“Our feedback is being asked, but that’s not what’s being heard,” the report said.

Maren Aukerman, associate professor at the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education specializing in curriculum and learning, said the feedback is “overwhelmingly negative,” and it’s pretty clear the curriculum is not popular.

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“I am not surprised that people don’t feel heard. And I’m not surprised that there is a huge level of discontent,” said Aukerman.

The ASBA included feedback that said the curriculum needs to be de-politicized, as well as that the revised social studies blueprint provided some changes, but they were “minor and vague.”

Much of the feedback contained in the documents echoes the same concerns critics have had since the draft curriculum was released more than a year ago, including that it is not suited for different age groups, and had a lack of proper First Nations, Métis and Inuit perspectives and ways of knowing, and a content load that is unrealistically heavy and too focused on the memorization of facts.

It also stressed the need for more consultation with teachers. No specific feedback from teachers, nor school divisions on the piloting of subjects starting last fall, were released Tuesday.

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The government noted on its website that 360 teachers piloted content in classrooms with about 7,800 students. That represents about two per cent of students and one per cent of teachers in Alberta.

“Their insights were addressed through revisions that informed the updated K-6 curriculum that was released in April and May 2022,” the government website said. Those insights are not summarized, nor does the government point to any subsequent changes.

Teachers who participated in a working group in late 2020 to look at the curriculum, wrote an open letter in December calling it a “performative” exercise that didn’t take their input seriously, but the feedback from that group was not included in Tuesday’s release.

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The ASBA report also flags the impact of COVID-19 on student and teacher mental health, noting that teachers are burnt out, the proposed implementation timelines are rushed, and the curriculum needs a “comprehensive rewrite.”

The Association of Independent Schools and Colleges of Alberta (AISCA) wrote in its report that “the strengths identified were outweighed in all of the subject areas by the views of participating teachers who recognized and described multiple areas as problematic.”

The provincial government has tweaked many of the subject areas, and there has been support for the inclusion of more financial literacy and a focus on early reading skills, but the government plans for the new curriculum in its entirety to be in classrooms for the 2023- 24 school year.

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The Education Ministry has said feedback prompted it to shift some concepts among grades to make sure material is more age-appropriate, include more representative First Nations, Métis, and Inuit content, and par down content.

However, Aukerman said a truly transparent process would involve going back to stakeholders, outlining the changes, and asking if they are adequate, but major concerns haven’t really been addressed, and substantive changes haven’t been made.

“There is no listening to feedback that I’ve seen,” said Aukerman.

Aukerman said she would expect, and hope for, public support of between 70 and 80 per cent for a curriculum, and the typical timeframe for developing a curriculum is five years, while some subjects hitting Alberta classrooms will have been developed and implemented in less than two years.

Updates, released in April to K-3 math and English language arts and literature as well as K-6 physical education and wellness will be required starting this September. Final drafts for Grades 4 to 6 math and English will be optional for schools in the fall.

In May, the government released the K-6 curriculum for science, French first language and literature and French immersion language arts and literature. Piloting the three updated subjects this fails is optional.

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