Chapter 10 According to Doyle
The Westjet plane touched down in Winnipeg International Airport. VP Doyle was looking forward to being away from Lord Byron Secondary School for a few days. He was attending the National High School Administrators’ Convention. Head of Student Services Bunyon was left in charge of the school. Principal Bunny was away on a Buddhist retreat.
Doyle quickly gathered his baggage and hailed a taxi. At the same time, a woman in a smart business suit tried to hail the same taxi. They reached for the door handle at the same time.
“Where are you going?
“Airport Holiday Inn.”
“You were going to ask me to share this cab?”
“Okay I suppose.” They got in.
“You here for the convention?”
“Sure, but which one? The Airport Holiday Inn is hosting the International Pipefitters, the Canadian Society of Funeral Home Directors and the National High School Administrators’.
Well I’d say you don’t look like a pipe fitter. So it’s a toss up between funeral home director and high school principal. I’m going to go with, mmm high school principal. Right?”
“Very funny, you’re a principal too?
“Sure am.” Doyle lied. He felt like a principal. He ran the show more days than not. He had tried keeping track of all the things Principal Bunny had been at: Safe Schools, Clean Schools, Unleashing the Innerpet in You, Up With Life, Down with Negative People, You Can Read, Managing from the Rear, Zen and the Art of the Modern School, .. after a while Doyle had lost track.
Anyway he wasn’t going to see this woman again, he might as well be her equal.
“Randy Doyle, Principal of Lord Byron Secondary School, Byronville Ontario.”
“Kathleen McEwen, head mistress of St Kilda’s Academy for Girls…”
“Oh look we’re here.” The hotel was across the street from the airport. Listen before we go our separate ways how about dinner tonight? Doyle couldn’t believe how bold he was.”
“I’d like that.”
A couple of hours later, VP Doyle was frantically trying to remember her name: “McGregor, Macpherson, Owen, no wait it’s the same as the woman who teaches home ec “(which hadn’t been offered at LBSS since the 70’s) Fortunately Food Services was offered and taught by Florence McEwen.
“Yes, that’s it McEwen!” He reached for the phone. “Hello front desk can you tell me what room Ms McEwen is in?”
“Which Ms McEwen?”
“I don’t have a Kathy; I have a Catherine and a Kathleen’
“Kathleen, Kathleen, Kathleen”
“Ok sir, one Kathleen will do. Connecting you now.”
“Thank you. “ While the phone was ringing, Doyle tried with only some success to calm himself.
“Hello, I’m Addison. I’ll be your waitress tonight. Can I start you off with a drink?”
“I’d like to try the Chilean Chardonnay.” Ms McEwen has wearing something a little less formal than her business suit.
“I’ll have a beer.”
“Certainly sir. Would you like to hear the specials for tonight?”
“Our appetizer tonight is a calamari cooked in a light Asian-Cajun sauce. Our signature salad is tandoori wild salmon spinach. Our entrée is Szechwan fried chicken and our dessert special is slow death par chocolat.”
“I’d like to try the wild salmon.”
“I’ll just have a burger.”
“Certainly sir. Will that be the Mediterranean burger, the Klondike burger, the Southwest burger or the Cardiac special?’
“Just a burger. With ketchup and mustard and a deli pickle.”
“Certainly, sir. That’s a good choice. I’ll be back in a moment with your drinks.”
“We’ve heard that you guys in Ontario have some pretty strange ideas about evaluation.”
“Really? I wouldn’t say that. We aren’t afraid to try new ideas.”
“The word about Ontario is that it’s become impossible to fail.”
“No, no. It’s quite possible to fail. But we have ensured that teachers do everything humanly possible before that can happen.”
“When, for example a student doesn’t hand in a major assignment, there are several steps that the teacher must take. They have to inform the parents, administer academic detentions, advice the student of his or her rights, and provide another assignment for the student to do.”
“And if the student doesn’t do the assignment in the end?’
“Then the teacher files a report with Administration explaining what they didn’t do to ensure the success of the student. And that report goes on the teachers personnel file.”
“So you blame the teacher?”
“We don’t blame the teacher. We blame the whole system. But the system is embodied in the teacher. That’s who the parents and the community see.”
“But it’s not the teacher who sets this policy.”
“No, but they do as they are told.”
“Why place the report in the teacher’s file?”
“So we can track each teacher’s failure rate.”
The waitress returned with the drinks.
“Caballo salvaje, 2006, for madame and a Coors Lite for sir.”
‘We mark now according to potential intelligence.”
“The student self identifies according to his or her Potential intelligence; high, medium or low. Then we grade them on a sliding scale. Those who self identify as high intelligence, we take away marks on a given test or assignment, those who self identify as low intelligence we give marks to.”
“So you penalize the smart ones?”
“No, no. We just even things out.”
“What’s stopping a student from self identifying as low, so he or she gets the extra marks?”
“Well, students are asked a series of questions designed to best evaluate their Potential intelligence quotient.”
“Potential intelligence quotient; their PIQ. It’s much more accurate than the traditional IQ with all the cultural bias inherit in the questions.”
“What bias is there in traditional IQ questions?
“Well, take this question for example: In baseball there are nine innings. The home team scores 2 runs in each inning and the visiting team scores 1 in each. What is the final score?”
“9 times 2 is 18 and 9 times one is 9; so the final score is 18 to 9.”
“BMMMG,” Doyle tried making a buzzer noise. “The home team doesn’t bat in the bottom of the ninth if they’re winning. There’s no point. So the final is 16 to 9. But only students who have grown up in North America would know that.”
“Grown up in North America and care about sports. But isn’t it just a bad question? How is assessing students on potential better?”
“Research has shown that the PIQ is a better indicator of potential success than any other measuring stick.”
“Where is this research done?”
“In the States, by the Colorado Institute of Learning.”
“Don’t work habits say a lot about the ‘potential’ of a student? Aren’t there more examples of hard working less intelligent individuals becoming successful than lazy, but smart ones?”
“We don’t want to discourage the lazy students by penalizing them for a personality trait that isn’t their fault.”
“What about students who cheat or plagiarize?”
“Again, it’s a personality trait. They are born that way.”
“Isn’t this system unfair? What about honest kids who never cheat or hand in something late?”
“That is where we use the PIG.”
“The PIG? What is that?”
“Potential Intelligence Generator. It’s a formula we use to balance the discrepancy between Potential intelligence and actual intelligence.”
“All this is giving me a head ache. But I want to understand what is going on in public education.” said Ms McEwen, thinking if only to better explain to potential students and their parents why they should enrol at St Kilda’s Academy. “How do you measure the PIQ and the PIG?”
“We have them write standardized tests from the Colorado Institute of Learning. Then we send them off to Colorado and a couple of weeks later we get the results.”
“I don’t get it”
“We get two numbers for each kid. We divide any mark a student earns by the PIQ and multiple it by the PIG.”
“You mentioned ‘actual intelligence’. Why don’t you just use that?”
“Because using ‘actual’ instead of potential is discriminatory. It favours the hard-working, intelligent academic students.”
“You mean the good students?”
“Exactly, for too long they have had it their way. Now we’re addressing the imbalance.”
“What is this Colorado Institute of Learning? I’ve been in education for, well, several years and I’ve never heard of it.”
“They’re leaders in their field. Visionaries. They see the value in all students and know how to get out that potential.”
“By rewarding laziness and cheating?”
“By refusing to discriminate based on those genetic traits.”
“You said that they do the testing. That can’t be cheap?”
“A school board our size pays about $100 000 a year.”
“$100 000 a year! That has got to be bigger than your entire textbook budget!”
“They take it out of the French grant. Totally worth it. Their researchers are working on measurement instruments that will determine when the student enters in grade nine what their marks will be when they leave at the end of grade twelve. That way they will be able to apply to university or college in grade nine and map out their futures so much earlier”
“If their marks are predetermined before they even start, why would they do any work?”
“Our students are intrinsically motivated. They learn because they love learning.”
“ That’s not like most students I know. Even at a private school they have other things on their minds”
“But when you remove the punitive aspect of evaluation, students blossom.”
“What if you get it wrong?”
“Here are you meals folks. The sesame Thai chicken salad for madame. And the Pasadena burger for sir.”
“Excuse me. I wanted the wild salmon salad.”
“And I wanted just a plain burger.”
“Certainly, I’ll be right back.”
“You were asking about mistakes?”
“Yes, what happens if you peg a student as a C student in grade nine. But they’re really quite bright.”
“Well, you have to ask why they didn’t do well on the entry test. But it’s to their advantage to do poorly initially.”
“The Save Them At All Cost team kicks in at that point. We have a special program where they can get all the remediation that they need.”
“So sorry, there was a mix up in the kitchen. Your meals will be a few more minutes. In the meal time have a drink on the house.” said Addison putting the drinks on the table. “A vodka cooler for madame and a Heineken for sir.” And she left.
“Not exactly what we’re drinking is it? Who are these people at your Colorado Learning Institute?”
“Ken Smith, an evaluation guru, is the father of Potential Intelligence. He coined the phrase, did all the research and created all the measuring instruments.”
“Which he now sells to school boards at absurd prices. Has anyone else verified his research?”
“You don’t see a lot of that in education.”
“No, you don’t, do you? Educational research is almost an oxymoron. Someone comes up with a half baked idea and the Ministry or the Board latch on to it like it’s the second coming. At private schools we’re much more conservative, more traditional…”
“More afraid of change?”
“No, not afraid of change; but not prepared to jump into some wacky idea thinking it’s going to fix every problem.”
“I’m back.” Announced the waitress. “And here are your meals. “Sea bass for madame and southwest chicken for sir.”
“Not even close this time: try the salmon and a plain burger.”
“Whoops, I guess I screwed up again. I’ll be right back.”
“I was saying change comes to private schools more slowly. If there is a new idea out there, why not let others test it. Your school seems to be in a hurry to try out half baked ideas.” She paused.
“Sold to you by snake oil salesmen, it seems.” she added.
Doyle had to admit to himself that at first he had questioned some of the elements of potential grades and Potential intelligence. But he had learned from the introduction of the province wide no zero policy that it was best in the end just to go along with whatever the Granite District School Board wanted. And what the GDSB wanted above all was obedience. Someone, maybe Ryerson or Althouse had said that education requires “an inquisitive and disciplined mind” As far as what the GDSB expected from its junior admin was the discipline and to hell with the inquisitive part.
So when the Ministry of Education for the Province of Ontario decided that it was wrong to give zero for work not handed in, or tests missed without a valid reason or work plagiarized from another source , the Board jump onto the bandwagon and expected all schools to comply.
Problem was the old farts, the newbies and most of the teachers in between thought it was a pretty stupid idea. So Doyle had been tasked by Bunny to ‘sell’ the idea to the staff. Bunny would have done it but he didn’t like reading ministry documents because they gave him a head ache and he was going to be away for a few days.
Doyle found himself ‘tasked’ to sell stuff to the staff a lot. He wasn’t sure that he liked or agreed with the idea of never giving a student zero. But the unwritten rule of Admin solidarity obliged that he support it completely.
“So let me get this straight,” questioned Mrs Templeton. “If a kid skips a test, we don’t give him zero; if a kid cheats on a test, we don’t give him zero, heck, if a kid steals a test right out of the staffroom, we don’t give him zero?”
“That’s correct.” answered Doyle. “Skipping, cheating and stealing are all behavioural issues. It’s vindictive to use marks to punish students. Too often teachers use ‘Gotcha evaluation’ not to determine what students know but to prove that the teacher is smarter than the students. They ambush; use surprise quizzes and tests; they teach one thing and evaluate another. They produce students who worship averages and couldn’t care less about learning.”
“Are you saying that we’re bad teachers? Is that based on your vast experience in the classroom?”
“I’d like remind you that I have been with the Granite District School Board for nine years.”
“Yeah, most of it as fat boy consultant at the board office.” said a voice from the back of the room.
“And that should have been my job.” moaned Tanker
“I’m back. Have another drink on us.” Say Addison cheerfully, seemingly oblivious to the impression she was creating. “I’m sorry what was it again that you ordered?”
“Never mind” said Kathleen “Just bring us whatever you have. And the manager.”
“Certainly. Be right back. Daddy, they want to talk to you.” she yelled across the room.
“You can’t call them snake oil salesmen. They’re educational visionaries, looking to take us boldly into the twentieth century.”
“Do you mean the twentieth-first century.”
“You know what I mean. Ken Smith and the Colorado Institute have seen the future of education and they’re bringing it to us now.”
“At a nice price.”
“They’re entitled to make a profit.” Doyle finished his third beer and looked at the bottle longingly. “Could I have another?” he called to a passing waitress.
“You may not respect me; you may not like me. But this is board policy. You are employees of the board and if senior management says you are going to do this, you are going to do this.”
Templeton, Barovsky and most of the rest of the staff walked out of the meeting convinced of two things: this policy was a crock and they were going to continue doing what they had always done.
‘I think that went well,” said Doyle to Bunyon on the way out.
Fourth beer finished, Doyle tried to explain to Kathleen what they did when a student didn’t hand something in.
“If a student doesn’t hand somethin in, they muss meet with the teacher and explain why they mished the due date. They are given a new due date and sign a late contract. The teacher phones home and informs the parents. The teacher will arrange a time for them to come in and finish the assignment.”
“Sorry, don’t mean to interrupt. But do you just say they arrange a time for the parents to come in and do the assignment?”
“Yes, isn’t it brilliant? The parents have had practice doing their kids assignments in public school. They are always mad about having to come in and so it’s usually the only time the student is late with an assignment.”
“But you can’t count that mark.”
“Why not? Don’t public schools count all those science fairs done by parents?”
“The student didn’t do the work.”
“It works out. Then if the work is still not done, they (the student, I mean) is given a new, new due date. If at the end of the course the work is still outstanding, the student is given a new zero
“Two questions: what is a ‘new zero’ and why would a student who gets an A on the first assignment bother handing anything else in?”
“A new zero isn’t a number. It’s a place holder. It only really indicates that an assignment is outstanding.” Despite the four beers, Doyle was sounding coherent. Perhaps it was because he had learned it by rote and recited it several times. It was from a rather long document on the school’s website explaining the new evaluation to parents.
“There you are: wild salmon salad and the plain burger with ketchup, mustard and a deli pickle. Sorry for the delay. You must forgive Addison. She has her mind elsewhere.”
“That certainly was apparent.” said Kathleen in her best head mistress voice.
“Hmmm, you know this isn’t bad. Maybe even worth the wait. Tell me something Randy.”
“Do you really believe all these theories?”
“Do I believe in Potential Intelligence? Do I?”
“And what about the no zero policy?”
“Do I? Lemme eat my burger.”
“Come on, tell me do you believe in no zeros? Want another beer?”
“But I can’t break Admin solidarity. I can’t, I can’t.”
“Sure you can. You’re not in Ontario. Nobody knows you here and I won’t tell anyone”
“I can’t. I can’t. I can’t stand these stupid policies.” There now the proverbial cat was out of the bag.
“No zeros! What are they nuts? A kid skips a test and you let him write a new one. Why show up on the test day? A kid doesn’t hand in an assignment and it never counts against him! A kid cheats or steals and nothing is done! Where in the real world would you see attitudes like that? I hate Admin solidarity. I have a mind and I know how to use it. But they treat me like some trained monkey. Someone needs to grab the Minister of Education by the short and curlies and tell her to get a brain, rent some common sense. But who’s gonna do that. Senior Admin? No time soon. Principals? Those invertebrates. Teachers? Too busy complaining about Admin or the kids.” For the most part the adrenaline running through his veins had pushed the alcohol out.
“I am so sick of trying to sell stupid ideas to a skeptic staff, who aren’t going to agree with me no matter what I do. I just wish the Principal would do his job once in a while.”
“What do you mean the Principal would do his job? Aren’t you the Principal?”
“Well I sorta lied. I’m the Vice Principal. But I do his job most of the time. He’s never there.”
“I know how you feel. My head mistress is never there either.”
“You mean you’re not the Principal either?”
“Yes but in the different way than you. I’m the Director of St Kilda’s, which means I am above the head mistress. But she is all sorts of bother for me. Goes to this conference and then that one. Never seems to be in the school.”
“Why don’t you just fire her?”
“There is all sorts of red tape involved.”
“Well I guess the public and private systems aren’t all that different.”
“If you don’t count evaluation maybe”
“But why did you tell me you were the head mistress?”
“Well, men are sometimes turned off by successful women and you’re kinda cute.”
“Will there be anything else?” Addison was back.
“No just the bill please.”
“Tell me Addison. Is this your first day on the job?”
“Does it look like it is? Oh dear. It’s actually my last day on the job. I’m moving to Alberta to get married and start a career as a primary teacher.”