Webcast across Alberta, Education Minister Dave Hancock proudly released the long awaited Inspiring Education report yesterday. The report was the result of an 18 months process of consultations and study by the process’ steering committee. There are some very good recommendations in this report for the future of Alberta’s education system. Hopefully it will not join the litany of other government reports that quietly get shelved or watered down after the shine wears off.
Will School Boards survive?
The Inspiring Education process raised concerns about the role of School Boards in our education system. It is fairly obvious that for a number of reasons, school boards have become increasingly irrelevant in local and provincial politics. It would be easy to lay the blame solely on the provincial government, who have spent years meddling and restructuring the authority of the boards, but responsibility also lays with the elected trustees. Many districts have lost their connection to the larger community and have become dominated by retired school administrators, who continue to do what they have done in their previous careers – administer – rather than provide leadership and vision. In order for school boards to survive, they need to be relevant to the population beyond just parents, teachers, and administrators. The future of Alberta’s education system will effect our entire population and school boards need to reflect this. School boards need to change.
I would not blame anyone for being weary of the provincial government restructuring how school boards govern. The PC government does not exactly have a friendly track record of respecting local authorities and governance. A trend of centralizing power extends from the dissolution of the regional planning commissions in the 1990s, the dissolution of community lottery boards and the cancellation of elected health boards in the early 2000s, and the forced merger and creation of the appointed Alberta Health Services Superboard in 2008.
Only Hancock could do it.
After observing the Inspiring Alberta process from afar, I question whether another Minister in the current cabinet could have actually see through a process such as this.
With politics within Minister Hancock’s party focusing to match the Wildrose Alliance at what seems like every policy point, it must be increasingly difficult to be the lone Red Tory in the Alberta cabinet. Even for a hardworking MLA and the “Political Minister for Edmonton,” a position which I imagine has much to do with seniority in a competitive political environment such as Edmonton, this process must have cost significant political capital from his more conservative colleagues in cabinet, now apparently led by Premier-in-waiting Ted Morton. After Bill 44: Human Rights, Citizenship, and Multiculturalism Amendment Act tarnished his reputation among many centre-left Albertans (especially educators) as the leader of the moderate Tories, Minister Hancock could probably use this kind of positive attention.
The entire process of Inspiring Education is very reminiscent of a previous project. As Minister of Advanced Education in 2005, Hancock began a process that was very similar to Inspiring Education. The A Learning Alberta process had a similar tone and spirit. Switch keynote speakers Daniel Pink with Richard Florida and School Administrators with University Administrators (and add Twitter) and you effectively have duplicated the process.
The A Learning Alberta process was derailed before it was completed. In 2006, A Learning Alberta was handed off to Minister Denis Herard, whose deepities of building “wisdom bridges” and marshalling “armies of mentors” pummelled the final recommendations document into virtual irrelevance. The final report was a shell of what had been promised after a thorough year long consultation process.
It was obvious that Minister Hancock needed to spend quite a bit of political capital in the closing days of Premier Ralph Klein‘s reign in order to initiate this process and secure much of the major funding increases that the post-secondary education system saw in the last decade. I would argue that A Learning Alberta failed to present a large vision in large part because Minister Hancock’s predecessor did not have the political will or capital. Now that this new process focusing on the Department of Education has reached a milestone, it will be interesting to see if Minister Hancock is able to see the rest of it through.
Legislative Election Agenda
With the new Alberta Health Act expected to be introduced in Fall 2010 and changes to the School Act expected in early 2011, look for Inspiring Education to play a role in the increasingly obvious election cycle that we appear to have already entered.