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Warning issued over native education

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    Warning issued over native education Conspiracy of silence puts billion-dollar plan in danger, report says Janet Steffenhagen Vancouver Sun Thursday,
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 9 7:14 AM
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      Warning issued over native education
      'Conspiracy of silence' puts billion-dollar plan in danger, report says

      Janet Steffenhagen
      Vancouver Sun

      Thursday, February 09, 2006

      A billion-dollar plan to close the gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal graduation rates within 10 years is doomed unless Canadian education authorities and aboriginal leaders end their "conspiracy of silence" about student achievement, the Fraser Institute says in a report released today.

      "Many aboriginal leaders and education authorities are not yet convinced that regular assessments and public reporting of student achievement levels and progress are essential to any improvement plan," the report says. "This conspiracy of silence regarding their academic results can no longer be tolerated."

      The goal of improving the aboriginal graduation rate, which is now roughly half the non-aboriginal rate, is part of a five-year, $5.1-billion initiative to address aboriginal poverty through better housing, health care and education. The deal was signed in November by former prime minister Paul Martin, provincial premiers and aboriginal leaders.

      Most of the $1 billion destined for education -- 88 per cent -- is earmarked for band-run schools on reserves, which come under Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. That department, which already directs about $1 billion a year to on-reserve education, has been repeatedly criticized by Auditor- General Sheila Fraser for not monitoring how that money is spent.

      Peter Cowley of the Fraser Institute said there is nothing in the Kelowna accord that would improve accountability by requiring on-reserve schools to administer provincial and national tests and report student results publicly.

      "It's impossible to even contemplate improvements without measure," Cowley said. "We're spending money, the purpose of which is to improve the academic results of aboriginal kids, but. . . there is no evidence it will result in improvements."

      Tom Christensen, B.C.'s minister of aboriginal relations and reconciliation, admitted his government doesn't have much information about the performance of on-reserve schools but said first nations are committed to improved accountability.

      "There's a very strong recognition of the need for accountability as we go forward to show that investments are making a difference," he said in an interview. "The details around how that may work have yet to be worked out . . . [but] that will be part of the discussions through this year."

      The First Nations Education Steering Committee, which speaks on aboriginal education issues in B.C., said first nations will be accountable to their communities first, and to governments that fund them, but won't necessarily allow performance indicators to be released publicly.

      "There is a lot of mistrust right now," executive director Christa Williams said, adding that first nations would not want to see such information abused and the Fraser Institute's use of such information to rank schools is considered an abuse.

      Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he supports the objectives of the Kelowna accord but won't be bound by the specifics. In fact, his position on aboriginal affairs, outlined in a letter to an aboriginal group before last month's election, suggests he has other plans for addressing inequities between aboriginals and non-aboriginals.

      With respect to education, Harper said a Conservative government would set minimum education standards for all students -- including those attending on-reserve schools -- and would tie stable, multi-year funding to the attainment of those standards.

      He also promised that school funding would be provided on a transferable per-student basis. "This will allow, when geographic circumstances permit, parents to choose where their child receives his or her elementary or secondary education," he said in a letter to the Congress of Aboriginal People.

      Sun education reporter


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