Jonathan Crowe

I’m a blogger and writer from Shawville, Quebec. I blog about maps at The Map Room, review books for AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, and edit a fanzine called Ecdysis. More about me.

My Correct Views on Everything
↳ Education

WQSB Contracts Audited

The Pontiac Journal reports the results of an audit the Western Quebec School Board commissioned into its own procurement and contracting policies, this done in the wake of allegations of impropriety involving a WQSB director and a construction company. (More from the Journal here and here; a newspaper website should really timestamp its articles, you know?) But buried in the lede, and apparently unrelated to the O’Shea allegations, are revelations that contracts were done rather sloppily: non-compliant contracts, single-bid contracts without price verification, that sort of thing. It smells of incompetence rather than malfeasance. Take, for example, a surprising amount of money that had been spent on contracts for cleaning services:

For example, for the 2001-2002 school year, the cleaning contract for South Hull Elementary School was $40,131 and in 2012-2013 it reached $83,665, but for 2013-2014 the contract dropped to $37,098. For Eardley Elementary, the cleaning contract was $20,713 for the 2001-2002 school year. In 2010-2011 it jumped to $156,563 from $36,432 in 2009-2010. In 2011-2012 it reached a staggering $173,668. For the 2013-2014 school year the school board changed service providers and the price dropped to $23,144.

That’s astonishing: cleaning services for just two of the WQSB’s five urban elementary schools had ballooned to nearly a quarter million dollars a year. But those services now cost $60,000 a year — a savings of $180,000. How could one contractor justify $173,668 for a job another contractor could do for seven and a half times less? Anyone who recalls the stress and angst over the Board’s proposal to close schools (such as Shawville’s elementary school) to make up a million-dollar shortfall last year should be shaking with rage right now.

Shawville’s Elementary School May Stay Open

Reports through the local grapevine and in the local media suggest that Shawville’s elementary school may remain in its present location, rather than moving to share space with Pontiac High School. From what I understand, nothing is final or official yet, but there is a proposal to shuffle several other programs around (e.g. adult education) to fill the elementary school’s vacant wing, and sell a building in Campbell’s Bay. At the same time, there is a plan to start up a French immersion program that could bring back English-eligible children whose parents enrolled them in the French system to get a good grounding in French (because this is Quebec, silly). I also suspect that the logistics involved in making two schools fit in one building were more complicated than the Board initially expected, making it easier for them to consider this option.

Previously: Will Shawville’s Elementary School Be Relocated?

Will Shawville’s Elementary School Be Relocated?

A committee of the Western Quebec School Board has proposed relocating the local elementary school, Dr. S. E. McDowell School (which is right across the street from us), to the Pontiac High School building. The two schools would operate in a shared/combined facility. There will be public consultations on this and other cost-cutting measures, so it’s not yet a done deal (here’s a copy of the letter to parents).

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The Boy Who Played with Fusion

Go read Popular Science’s profile of teenager Taylor Wilson, who became, at age 14, “the youngest individual on Earth to achieve nuclear fusion,” and who’s already generated new ideas in nuclear medicine and dealing with nuclear terrorism. When hyper-smart kids aren’t held back, as too often happens, amazing things can happen. Via Tobias Buckell.

Access to Education in Quebec

Students have been protesting tuition hikes in Quebec, which incidentally has the lowest tuition fees in the country (and still will, after the hikes). The CBC’s Sheila White examines the argument that raising tuition reduces accessibility. What’s interesting is that Quebec has lower university enrolment rates than provinces where the tuition costs twice as much: 30 percent versus 51 percent in Atlantic Canada and 46 percent in Ontario.

There’s something else at play here, in other words, that keeps Quebec kids out of higher education. The student federation president argues that tuition has to remain low because Quebec doesn’t have “a culture of education”: dropout rates are as high as 35 percent in poorer areas, and 40 percent don’t attend CEGEPs, our unique system of junior colleges, even though they’re practically free (though you often have to move away to attend, so: room and board). The problem isn’t tuition; the problem occurs long before university.

Finland, Education and Equality

The astonishing results achieved by the Finnish education system defy North American assumptions. There’s less homework and no standardized testing. But above all, the Finns built an education system based on equality, not on achievement: there are no private schools at any level; everyone, regardless of wealth, gets the same education. Achievement was a surprise side effect. I have two thoughts about this. First, ability isn’t genetic: brilliant children don’t just come from privileged parents; an unequal education system means wasted potential — gifted kids who can’t get a higher education. And second, elites can safely ignore the public education system’s problems if their own children aren’t affected by it.

Science Outreach Fail

Chad Orzel on promoting science and science education: “If we had a grass-roots movement in support of science, that would be a Good Thing. What we have, instead is a small and scattered collection of mid-level organizations working against elite opposition and general public apathy. And we have no-one to blame for this situation but ourselves.” He fingers academia’s active disdain of popular science writing, public education and outreach: those who could be standing up for science, aren’t, because that’s seen as a distraction from “real” work. Via Emily Lakdawalla.

Where a Catholic Education Is the Only Option

Welcome to Morinville, Alberta, where, thanks to a quirk of history, all public schools are Catholic schools, despite the fact that less than a third of its residents students are Catholic. Some local parents have been demanding a secular option, and at least one family is leaving because that option is not available. The school board outlines its secular option tomorrow.

No Dinosaurs in Heaven

No Dinosaurs in Heaven is a documentary that looks at “the hijacking of science education by religious fundamentalists” in the United States.

The documentary weaves together two strands: an examination of the problem posed by creationists who earn science education degrees only to advocate anti-scientific beliefs in the classroom; and a visually stunning raft trip down the Grand Canyon, led by Dr. Eugenie Scott, that debunks creationist explanations for its formation. These two strands expose the fallacies in the “debate,” manufactured by anti-science forces, that creationism is a valid scientific alternative to evolution.

No recent information on its release date or availability that I can find, but there’s a free screening in New York on March 15. Via @Laelaps (1, 2).

When Biology Teachers Don’t Teach Evolution

As the spousal equivalent of a high-school biology teacher, I find this depressing: a survey of U.S. public school biology teachers found that only 28 percent consistently taught evolution without qualification, while 13 percent actively advocate creationism or intelligent design — in public schools, where that’s supposed to be illegal. Rod Dreher interviews one of the survey’s co-authors. Via Andrew Sullivan.