Virtual School Meanderings

June 21, 2021

Racist Online Curriculum in Canada

A few months ago, in the National Education Policy Center report Virtual Schools in the US, 2021, I wrote:

Unsurprisingly, vendors have stepped into this void to play a significant role in driving  adoption of their tools and pedagogies. Even as corporations confidently promote internal research on their products, however, their practice shows little regard for the reliability, validity, or independence of their work.101 Experience with corporate-produced curriculum argues persuasively that any measurement tools they produce should be viewed with heavy skepticism.

NEPC researchers have long expressed concerns about the role of corporate vendors in the K-12 classroom. A decade ago, for example, a report on school commercialism for the 2010-11 school year included a discussion of both Shell Oil Company’s “Energize Your Future” curriculum that portrayed the company as a leader in alternative technologies, and the American Coal Foundation’s “The United States of Energy” fourth-grade curriculum that emphasized several states’ use and production of coal.102 In each case, corporate image and interests were prioritized over facts. Eventually, a coalition of advocacy groups succeeded in pressuring Scholastic to stop publishing the latter and to vow to pull back generally from publishing corporate-sponsored materials.  While the benefits of coal may seem like an extreme example, the adoption of vendor-created curriculum prior to and during the pandemic has included equally questionable content.

For example, activists posted the following bits of online curriculum from vendor Acellus.

One lesson . . . depicted one animal character asking a pig in make-up why she’s called “sweetie lips,” to which the pig blushed and replied, “Don’t ask. We’re not even going there.”

Another lesson asked students, “Osama Bin Laden was the leader of what terrorist group?” One of the multiple-choice answers was “Towelban.” Another lesson describing Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery was illustrated with an image of a masked bank robber.103

. . . a first-grade language arts video lesson . . . shows an Acellus instructor teaching about the letter “G.” As she pulls something from the box in front of her, she says, “Watch out! Ooh, it’s a gun,” and removes a silver toy gun. 104

The Hawaii Department of Education had used this curriculum for over a decade, exposing thousands of students to this kind of content, before any objections were raised. 105

In fact, it wasn’t until many school districts adopted the Acellus online curriculum as a response to teachers’ need for online content during the pandemic that these examples were exposed. Many districts stopped using the curriculum following the revelations.106  Given that policymakers typically turn to whatever materials or tools are most readily available, the lack of validated measurement instruments in the field that so badly needs them is a critical concern. Commercial vendors, who have consistently proven themselves to produce only self-interested educational materials, will be only too happy to fill the void—likely making matters worse if researchers turn to them instead of developing valid instruments themselves.

101 Mathewson, T.G., & Butrymowicz, S. (2020, May 20). Ed tech companies promise results, but their claims are often based on shoddy research.

102 Molnar, A., Boninger, F., & Fogarty, J. (2011). The educational cost of schoolhouse commercialism: The fourteenth annual report on schoolhouse commercializing trends: 2010-2011. National Education Policy Center. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/schoolhouse-commercialism-2011

103 Aspegren, E. (2020, September 3). ‘Inappropriate and racist content’: Some schools cancel online curriculum Acellus as COVID-19 back to school kicks off. USA Today. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/education/2020/09/03/covid-online-school-acellus-virtual-learning/3447522001/

104 Tate, E.(2020, September 10). Schools drop Acellus learning platform over ‘glaring’ offensive content. Ed-Surge. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2020-09-10-schools-drop-acellus-learning-platform-over-glaring-offensive-content

105 Koh, Y. (2020, September 22). ‘G is for gun’: Online curriculum outrages parents. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/schools-drop-an-online-curriculum-after-teacher-parent-complaints-11600804539

Lee, S. (2020, November 9). DOE report: Acellus online curriculum violated religion, discrimination policies. Honolulu Civil Beat. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://www.civilbeat.org/2020/11/doe-report-acel-lus-online-curriculum-violated-religion-discrimination-policies/

106 Herold, B.(2020, August 31). Complaints over offensive content lead schools to drop online learning provider. Education Week. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://www.edweek.org/technology/complaints-over-of-fensive-content-lead-schools-to-drop-online-learning-provider/2020/08

Taketa, K.(2020, September 14). One San Diego school district drops an online program over offensive content; another sticks with it. The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/education/story/2020-09-14/one-san-diego-district-drops-online-program-over-offensive-content-another-sticks-with-it

Taken from pages 61-62 of https://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/virtual-schools-annual-2021

Given what I have written above, this article from the CBC from last week caught my attention.

Grade 10 distance course asks about ‘benefits’ of residential schools, calls First Nations alcoholism ‘common’

Nova Scotia course also asks students why poverty is common in First Nations populations

The particular section to highlight was:

When joudry scrolled through to the last unit, she found an assignment where students were asked to read an article, write a personal response and then create a chart based on the article, listing the “benefits” and disadvantages of being placed in a residential school.

Students are asked to create a chart listing the advantages and disadvantages of residential schools. (Submitted by Jennifer Eaton)

She said it “was such a stark moment to be looking at this” coming on the heels of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops, B.C., announcing the discovery of what are believed to be the unmarked burial sites of 215 children at a former residential school.

….

The course also asks students questions such as, “Why are poverty and alcoholism common problems among First Nations populations?” and “Why is unemployment high among First Nations?”

Students in the course are asked questions such as ‘Why are poverty and alcoholism common problems among First Nations populations?’ (Submitted by Jennifer Eaton)

joudry said the material perpetuates racism and stereotypes of Indigenous people.

Since I have called out these kinds of examples in the US from corporate vendors, I also have to highlight examples of the same kind of egregious content that we see back in Canada too.

May 1, 2014

Re-Post: What About the Students? – Open Letter to AANDC SK Region

Another item has been re-posted from 21st Century Constructivist Confabulations.

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What About the Students? – Open Letter to AANDC SK Region

April 30, 2014

Dear Ms. Anna Fontaine,

We recently were doing some background review of funding we received from AANDC (INAC) since our inception. Here is the financial breakdown since 2005 for funding received from AANDC.

Academic year ending 2005 –   $389,000 Start-Up

2006 –   $280,000

2007 –   $280,000

2008 –   $252,200

2009 –   $294,000

$1,495,200  Subtotal

 

2010 – $1,294,596

2011 – $1,240,348

2012 – $1,314,106

2013 – $1,516,539

Projected2014 –    $900,000

$6,265,589Subtotal

$7,760,789Total

AANDC’s investment over the nine years is $1424 per course. That’s taking 5447 course credits over the nine years and dividing it by the $7.7M.  Looking at it another way, a total of 3005 First Nation students, living on reserve, have been positively impacted by Credenda, receiving credits towards their graduation.  We started out in five communities and currently have a presence in thirty-six communities.

Reviewing the history of our first four years of funding, we received New Paths For Education Program funding, however much of our costs were subsidized by the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC).  Each of our Credenda staff were employed by PAGC, and were required to do other duties in addition to Credenda. What is important to note, at the time AANDC did not fund us at a higher level because AANDC was worried that online education would not work.  Credenda was constantly being asked to prove or show that online learning works. We were under considerable scrutiny to prove ourselves. When AANDC finally received assurances that we were providing good results, we were able to secure a CFA for ourselves as a school. Our funding increased because we were no longer attached to PAGC and we were able to access all the funds.  It is interesting to note that at the time AANDC was seeking assurances from us, Credenda was being held up nationally as a flagship project by AANDC.

This is an ethical and moral issue. We have proved ourselves; we have demonstrated results; we have been held to a higher level of accountability than other schools; all to have it taken away because someone or some collective of people decided what was good for Credenda and our students. The challenge we are faced with is that every time we appeal to AANDC’s good nature, we feel that we are being self-serving. But if we don’t speak up for the students, who will? We are getting BCR’s of support from Chief’s and Council’s, but many of them have their own issues, and Credenda hasn’t topped their list of priorities.

In our discussions with a number of Members of Parliament, some have obviously made a call to AANDC to obtain their information and are just saying that AANDC does not provide core funding or base funding for Credenda. They are simply restating the thought that Credenda is a service and not a school. However, there are those MP’s who have raised the question, and a valid question at that. “How can AANDC expect a school to operate without any base funding, since they have to plan and hire teachers, like any other school without any guarantee of student enrollments?” We have been asking ourselves the same question for the past year and a half when all this discussion came to the table. It certainly has not helped when a few bureaucrats seem to have had their own agenda with regard to educating us on how to run a virtual school.  Being told in a meeting by an AANDC individual within the Saskatchewan Region that ‘we do not have to listen to you, we can do what we want’ does not, in any way, seem supportive towards our organization and towards the need to ensure that our First Nation students are able to receive required courses for graduation, wherever they live.  Yes, we have to operate like a business, but we are still a school. Look at any school division in Saskatchewan and the Director of Education is now called the CEO, but it is still a school division totally reliant on government funding to operate.

It is becoming more clear that AANDC does not have the best interest of First Nations students as their primary objective. If they did, this would not be an issue. Just look at Bill C-33, it only references “learning” two times in the entire legislation. We are here to facilitate student learning. That’s why this whole process is so grievous to us as school administrators. We hear the stories of sorrow, sadness, brokenness, addiction, loss of dignity, from our students and we cannot help but care for those hurting students. We are giving them hope to succeed and better their lives and not have to be dependent on the system for their livelihood. All this is lost to save a few dollars? Are not our First Nation students worth and deserving of more?

We really need to hear from someone in AANDC regarding our funding issues, and we hope it will come from you. We have appreciated your public support for us in the past. However, we are frustrated with the lack of communication from other AANDC individuals after we have sent numerous emails, left messages, and scheduled meetings that were cancelled without advanced notice. I hope that we can hear from you very soon, as we have little time to resolve matters before it becomes too late for Credenda to recover from the shortfall of funding.

Thank you,

Vincent Hill

Executive Director

April 14, 2014

Re-Post: Equity First, Equality After

A third item has been re-posted from 21st Century Constructivist Confabulations.

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Equity First, Equality After

 
In my last blog I shared about the importance of equitable access to education. Then I came across this image which described the issue of equity is about fairness, while equality is about sameness. Equity is about justice. We as First Nations are asking for equity, the equality will come later as we take advantage of the opportunities.
Then I came across this image this evening that really challenged me because it spoke of the importance that we take a stand. A couple of weeks ago, I called us to Take a Stand Together. Martin Luther King Jr, who was jailed for his convictions and the stand he took for equity and ultimately equality said:
Will we stand idly by and say nothing about what is happening to our First Nations funding across Canada? Protesting seems so radical, but saying nothing and doing nothing is essentially agreeing with it. Albert Einstein said, “If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.” So we must speak out from a place of truth smothered in grace-filled dignity, because we do not attack the man, we speak out about the injustice of the situation.
Please watch the inspiring story of Kakenya Ntaiya: A girl who demanded school. She took a stand and it paid off.

 

Re-Post: Open Letter to Saskatchewan Chiefs and Councils

Another item has been re-posted from 21st Century Constructivist Confabulations.

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Open Letter to Saskatchewan Chiefs and Councils

March 11, 2014

Dear Chiefs and Councils,
Yesterday, Minster Bernard Valcourt tabled the First Nations Control of First Nation Education Act.  If you didn’t have time to read it yourself, here a few highlights:
It begins with a lot of preamble giving acknowledgment for the needs of our First Nation students, but the following opening statement misses the mark right away with this: Whereas First Nations children attending schools on reserves must have access to elementary and secondary education that allows them to obtain a recognized high school diploma and to move between education systems without impediment… What’s missing from this statement is “equitable access“, without the word “equitable” the government does not have to ensure that all First Nation students are given the same access to education no matter where they live. This is an important distinction because it means students living in Fond du Lac may not be given the same opportunities to access education due to their remoteness as a student from Muskoday that is just outside Prince Albert.   The second highlight is the purpose statement:  The purpose of this Act is to provide for the control by First Nations of their education systems by enabling councils of First Nations to administer schools situated on their reserves, to delegate that power to First Nation Education Authorities or to enter into tuition or administration agreements in accordance with this Act.Last time I checked, we had treaty which recognized us as a Nation, not within a nation, but a nation that reported to the Crown and lateral to the Government of Canada, not underneath. The establishment of First Nation Education Authorities infringes on our jurisdictional right to self-govern because it is being imposed through a legislative act.
Further to that, this Act excludes those regions that have entered into their own agreements for self-government through an Act of Parliament.  Section 5: This Act does not apply to (a) a First Nation that has the power to make laws with respect to elementary and secondary education under an Act of Parliament or an agreement relating to self-government that is given effect by an Act of Parliament, including a First Nation that is named in the schedule to the Mi’kmaq Education Act or the schedule to the First Nations Jurisdiction over Education in British Columbia Act; or (b) the Sechelt Indian Band established by subsection 5(1) of the Sechelt Indian Band Self-Government Act. This clearly excludes our Saskatchewan First Nations.
Then Section 43 (2) The methods of calculation must allow for the provision under sections 32 and 33 of services to each First Nation school and to persons referred to in section 7 attending such a school that are of a quality reasonably comparable to that of similar services generally offered in a similarly sized public school that is regulated under provincial legislation and is located in an analogous region. This means that our First Nations must provide the same level of service as a neighbouring provincial school of a similar size, yet may receive more funding to provide those services. I use the word service, but I think we need to careful with that word, because we offer education and learning opportunities, not a service.  The word “service” is a business or industrial term that moves our primary purpose away from what we do with our students, which is educating them for lifelong learning.
The other issue here is that they are limiting the classes, services etc. to the same level as the neighbouring provincial school.  These rural provincial schools are often no better off than the First Nation school.  They cannot attract teachers or provide all the classes and opportunities a student needs either.  What we need to ensure is equitable access to classes, supports and opportunities, similar to urban school divisions.
The final highlight comes from Section 48 (3) The regulations may incorporate by reference laws of a province, as amended from time to time, with any adaptations that the Minister considers necessary. (4) The regulations may vary from province to province. This section suggests that provincial laws can be, by reference, transferred to and enforced on First Nations. I believe we have the ability to establish our own regulations that are equal or superior to the Province, because from a First Nations worldview, we believe in educating the whole child, “mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual.” Not even the province can do this. But more importantly, they don’t have jurisdiction over our First Nations treaty territory.
So that brings me to our need for help from you, as Chief and Council. At Credenda, we are equally as concerned as you about the educational needs of our students. We have offered courses and classes to First Nation students all across the province who did not have equitable access to course offerings at the local school level.  We were able to have this paid for by AANDC. Now they want to suggest that we are a service provider that does not qualify for core funding.  So who loses again? The students!  Credenda students have a 74% success rate, so they have demonstrated that they can achieve. We have offered 4900+ credits to students since 2005. That is a lot of students getting the necessary courses and credits to supplement their high school program and graduate.
We have been contacting other Chief’s and Councils across the region asking for their support in signing a BCR in support of our program. The AANDC RDG, Anna Fontaine, told us that if we have the support of our First Nations, they will reconsider our funding situation. AANDC wants to cut off our funding and have us establish service agreements with each First Nation and First Nation Educational Authority and have them pay for the classes. But AANDC will not be providing more money to the First Nations to cover these costs. So they are ripping us all off once again.
I’m supplying you with a BCR of Support that has been prepared in advance by us outlining the challenges. We stand with you in this fight for our rights, and we are asking you for your help.
Sincerely,

Vincent Hill Executive Director

Link to Bill C 33 http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=6532106&File=4

BCR of Support
WHEREAS: Credenda Virtual High School is a provincially accredited online First Nation educational institution with charitable organization status; 
AND WHEREAS: Credenda has received approximately $12M in funding from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) since 2005 as part of the New Paths for Education strategic plan for long term investment in education, which has been showing significant results;
AND WHEREAS: Credenda has offered over 4900 student classes to First Nation students across Saskatchewan since 2005 with an average success rate of 75% (low of 68%, high of 83%);
AND WHEREAS: The proposed First Nation Control of First Nation Education Act, scheduled to be introduced into legislation September 2014, has been delayed until 2016;
AND WHEREAS: based upon the upcoming proposed First Nation Control of First Nation Education Act, AANDC has unilaterally determined to terminate Credenda’s funding agreement as of June 2014 and is subsequently requiring First Nations to pay directly for classes; 
AND WHEREAS: No additional funds are being redirected to First Nations to accommodate such costs until after 2016, adding additional costs on top of the shortfall First Nations education is already currently experiencing;
AND WHEREAS: Academic achievement would be impacted negatively creating a wider gap from an already low national graduation rate of 39% among First Nation students (compared to 88% nationally for all students); 
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THATCredenda receive continued funding from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada as per their prior Contribution Funding Agreements (CFA’s) of 2011 – 2013 in order to continue to operate.

AND FURTHER MORE:
WHEREAS: Credenda Virtual High School was first created in 2005 to address the shortage of math, science, and literacy subjects, with accredited, certified teachers able to deliver the necessary courses to northern Saskatchewan First Nations students;
AND WHEREAS: It is abundantly clear the shortfall does not only exist in the maths, sciences, and literacy areas, but in all areas, including the humanities and other core Saskatchewan courses;
AND WHEREAS: The 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 Credenda Contribution Funding Agreements made provision to fund all classes at the Grade 7-12 levels due to the ever existing and increasing need;
AND WHEREAS: The Saskatchewan Regional Office of AANDC unilaterally developed and imposed the VIRTUAL HIGH SCHOOLS MANAGEMENT REGIME for 2013-2014, changing how Credenda was funded and restricting funding to only the maths, sciences, and literacy;
AND WHEREAS: All First Nations students, regardless of where they are located, deserve equitable access to courses and resources to ensure their success as they move forward in life;
AND WHEREAS: AANDC, through various means, funds other virtual high schools across Canada (Wapaskwa Virtual Collegiate in Manitoba, Kewaytinook Internet High School in Ontario, SC Cyber in Alberta);
AND WHEREAS: AANDC does not restrict the funding for other virtual high schools to only maths, sciences and literacy classes;
AND WHEREAS: Credenda Virtual High School is a provincially accredited online First Nation school with charitable organization status; 
AND WHEREAS: All courses offered by Provincial and First Nations accredited schools are funded without restrictions or exceptions; 
AND WHEREAS: To date in 2013-2014, Credenda has offered over 300 classes, without funding, to First Nation students in need of courses that fell outside of the AANDC approved subjects areas;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THATwe request that Credenda, as a First Nation school, be funded by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada for ALL classes provided as per prior Contribution Funding Agreements, as the other virtual high schools are funded and as other First Nation and Provincial schools are funded.

Re-Post: Connectivity Issues + Funding Challenges = Lower Student Achievement

Continuing to focus on funding issues affecting the aboriginal programs in Canada, this item has been re-posted from 21st Century Constructivist Confabulations.

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Connectivity Issues + Funding Challenges = Lower Student Achievement

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