Tuesday October 22, 2013

Are we measuring what matters in education? That’s the big question we’re asking at this year’s People for Education conference on November 2 at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

We know how Ontario’s kids are doing in reading, writing and math, but aren’t there other important aspects of school? What about students’ health? Or their sense of citizenship?

Every year, I look forward to our conference (hard to believe that this is the 17th year!) because I meet so many people from across Ontario, and because the attendees bring so many different perspectives. Some are parents who come wanting to learn how to make their school councils work better, some are trustees wanting to network, and many are just there to learn and to wrestle with some big questions. Everyone who comes cares passionately about our schools.

I always wish I could go to all the workshops and hear all the speakers, because these conversations re-energize me. And sometimes I go to a speech or workshop sure that I believe one thing, and come out with my mind changed. I love books and I’ve always thought that textbooks were incredibly important – whether they’re online or in print. But are textbooks dead? And if so, what are we replacing them with? There will be a lively debate at the conference, between publisher Paul Emond, on the pro-textbook side, and a tech guru. The tech side says teachers have the skills they need to develop their own learning materials. They say the wide world of the web is the textbook of the future. I don’t think so, but I’m willing to be convinced.

This year, I’m particularly excited about two speakers who are coming from the U.S.

At People for Education, we think it should be easier for schools and communities to work together, but no one seems to have figured out an easy way to make that happen. Pedro Noguera, a professor and former high school teacher from New York, thinks it’s time we recognized that if we want all kids to succeed we have to do more to support them outside of school. He helped start a new initiative in the United States called the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education. In the broader bolder approach, schools work with community organizations to make sure all kids succeed, and success is about more than test scores in literacy and numeracy.

Susan Shaw McCalmont is also from the U.S. She will help us explore the role of creativity in student success, and answer the question, is it possible to measure “creativeness?” Susan is the founder of the National Creativity Network and the vice-chair of Creative Oklahoma. She says, “Any place can be creative if you pay attention to it, and cultivate it. And creativity can be suppressed, in business and learning.” I’m particularly looking forward to hearing what she has to say, because it’s going to help us in our new initiative to broaden the measures of success in our schools.

There are two plenary panels, and each one will mark the beginning of new conversations we’re going to be having over the next few years at People for Education.

In Re-defining School Success, Alison Loat from the Samara Institute will talk citizenship; Susan McCalmont will focus on creativity and Dr. Bruce Ferguson from SickKids Hospital will explain why mental, physical, social and emotional health are all part of a strong education. I’m going to lead the discussion and explain how People for Education is changing how we define and measure success in education.

This week, we’re releasing a new report on Aboriginal education and members of the advisory committee who worked on the report will be speaking on a plenary panel that we hope is going to transform everyone’s thinking about First Nations, Métis and Inuit education in our schools. Wanda Botsford from the Métis Nation, Peter Garrow, First Nations trustee and the amazing Pamela Toulouse from Laurentian University will be led by CBC’s Jesse Wente in a conversation that might be controversial and will for sure be challenging.

We’re also happy that TVOParents is participating again this year. Producers will blog on many of the workshops and post video interviews with many of the presenters, including the Minister of Education. So be sure to check back at TVOParents.com after the conference.

I hope lots of you can join us. There’s still time to register; just click here.

See you on Saturday, November 2 at the Rotman School at U of T.


  • Annie Kidder is the Executive Director of People for Education, a parent-led organization focused on public education in Ontario.