Virtual School Meanderings

January 14, 2022

Nova Scotia Report – What We Heard: A summary of results from parent and student learning at home surveys

A colleague brought this report to my attention.

What We Heard: A summary of results from parent and student learning at home surveys (2020)

In June, Nova Scotia parents and students were asked to complete an online survey to share their experience with at-home learning during the pandemic. The survey asked a series of questions and respondents were also given the opportunity to provide written answers.

More than 20,000 parents of students in Pre-primary through to Grade 12 and over 8,300 students from Grades 7 to 12 completed the survey. Of the student respondents, 530 identified as Mi’kmaq/Indigenous and 433 identified as being of African descent, with 317 of those students identifying as African Nova Scotian.

Below is a summary of the initial findings from the survey that were used to help inform the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s re-opening plan for September. The department will continue to analyze the survey results and along with the regional centres for education and Conseil scolaire acadien provincial will use the findings as we work together to further plan for the coming school year.

When I started poking around on the Government of Nova Scotia’s website, I also came across Disrupting the Status Quo: Nova Scotians Demand a Better Future for Every Student (a Report of the Minister’s Panel on Education – November 2014), which included the following references that may be of interest to readers.

Minister’s Panel on Education Consultation Survey

Students have the right opportunities to learn with technologies (for example: access to computers and devices, integrated with learning, distance education courses, Virtual school). – Agree / Somewhat Agree / Somewhat Disagree / Disagree / Don’t Know

(p. 16)

Sample Quotes


The cuts being made. More and more teachers are being cut and being replaced with online courses, causing a decline in grades. It isn’t right. – Student

(p. 58)

Students need more options in high school, especially those not heading for University

Equity of access to programs and courses need to improve:

– Many respondents said that the right course options are available in high schools but access to them depends on where you live in the province. Small rural high schools are unable to hire enough staff to offer the full range of high school courses and while students now have access to more options through the Provincial Virtual School, not all students feel they learn well in online courses

(p. 195)



More diversity needs to be shown amongst teachers hired and school curriculum – also, the extent to which these issues are promoted/ addressed varies based on the teacher and school/community.

• Additional language courses should be available (could be online).

(p. 235)


More resources are needed to build partnerships – comments relate mainly to teacher-parent relationships.

• More supports are needed to help parents understand reporting measures, how to access online resources, etc.

(p. 285)



System-level change is needed for how funding is distributed – organizational changes should be made to facilitate better funding allocations.

• Schools need greater flexibility (alternative programming, online opportunities).

(p. 303)


SECTION 1: Climate

Bullying continues to be a problem that affects everyone.

• Seven in ten (71%) comments related to bullying came from parents or students.

• There are concerns that a culture of bullying and inaction exists in some school environments (school grounds, buses and by extension online). While most comments relate to bullying of students by other students there are perceptions that bullying or intimidating behavior occurs in parent‐teacher interactions and administration‐teacher interactions. How pervasive these other forms of bullying are is uncertain as the survey didn’t specifically address bullying as a primary topic area. What is clear is that those who took the time to mention bullying in all its forms feel passionately about the issue.

(p. 326)

Drop the 19th century teaching model. Teachers should facilitate learning.  Change classroom spaces into learning spaces with options for students to engage with content in meaningful ways. More problem based and experiential learning with a high degree of technology integration. More online and blended learning options and more self‐paced individualized learning.

(p. 334)



Course Options (191)


‐ There needs to be a wider range of courses offered to students, especially core courses like science, math, etc.

‐ There must be less of a reliance on online courses, especially for core courses like science, math, etc (these should be offered in school)

(p. 344)

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

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

104 Tate, E.(2020, September 10). Schools drop Acellus learning platform over ‘glaring’ offensive content. Ed-Surge. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from

105 Koh, Y. (2020, September 22). ‘G is for gun’: Online curriculum outrages parents. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from

Lee, S. (2020, November 9). DOE report: Acellus online curriculum violated religion, discrimination policies. Honolulu Civil Beat. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from

106 Herold, B.(2020, August 31). Complaints over offensive content lead schools to drop online learning provider. Education Week. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from

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

Taken from pages 61-62 of

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.

April 1, 2020

Global News: Nova Scotia Schools To Be Closed Until May 1

This news scrolled through my inbox yesterday.

Nova Scotia schools to be closed until May 1

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil makes an announcement in Halifax, Friday, Friday, Dec 20, 2019. Nova Scotia is requiring public sector workers and public school children who travel abroad to isolate themselves for two weeks when they return to Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ted Pritchard.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil makes an announcement in Halifax, Friday, Friday, Dec 20, 2019. Nova Scotia is requiring public sector workers and public school children who travel abroad to isolate themselves for two weeks when they return to Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ted Pritchard.

Students in Nova Scotia won’t return to their schools until at least May 1 as announced by Premier Stephen McNeil Monday.

McNeil was providing a COVID-19 update when he advised of the extension that moves the proposed return date of April 6 back nearly a month.

The decision follows the advice of the province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang and extends to licensed child care providers as well.

To continue reading, click here.

At this stage, I believe we have Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, and now Nova Scotia that have formally announced some plans for providing either online materials for teachers and/or remote instruction.

December 13, 2011

VSM Podcast – Maritime Morning Interview Introduction

Yesterday morning (i.e., 12 December 20122) I did an radio interview with Jordi Morgan of Maritime Morning on News 95.7.  We talked about K-12 online learning in Nova Scotia, Atlantic Canada, and Canada in general.  Much of the information came from my recent State of the Nation: K-12 Online Learning in Canada report.

As always, the actual podcast is in the entry that immediately follows this one.

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