Ensuring First Nations, Métis and Inuit Student Success Leadership through Governance

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1 P r o m o t i n g E x c e l l e n c e i n P u b l i c E d u c a t i o n Ensuring First Nations, Métis and Inuit Student Success Leadership through Governance

2 Lift is achieved facing into the wind. This report examines some of the key issues surrounding the education of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students and proposes a governance framework that school boards can use to improve student results.

3 Contents Executive Summary 2 A. Introduction and Purpose 5 B. The Demographic Context 7 C. The Achievement Gap 9 D. Factors Negatively Affecting First Nations, Métis and Inuit Student Achievement and Success 13 The Residential School Factor A Troubled History 13 Socio-Economic Factors 14 E. School Boards Providing the Necessary Leadership through Governance 17 Governance Matters 17 Applying Principles of Good Governance to the Challenge of Closing the Gap for First Nations, Métis and Inuit students 17 Conclusion 38 Reference List 39 Appendix A: Definitions 42 Appendix B: Edmonton Public Schools Aboriginal Policy 43 Appendix C: Calgary Board of Education Administrative Regulation 46 This report was written by Sig Schmold for the Alberta School Boards Association. For more information contact the ASBA office at Published November 2011

4 Executive Summary Introduction and purpose The Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA), along with the Government of Alberta and Aboriginal communities, has placed priority attention on addressing the achievement gap of Alberta s First Nations, Métis and Inuit (Aboriginal) learners. Alberta s school boards play a vital role in achieving the vision of the Alberta government with regard to the education of Aboriginal children. This report examines some of the key issues surrounding the education of Aboriginal students and proposes an evidence-based governance framework that school boards can use to improve student results. In this, the framework attempts to capture good governance practices generally while the related strategies apply these governance practices to the education of Aboriginal students. The demographic context Alberta s Aboriginal population (2006 census) is 250,000, an increase of 23% in five years ( ). Aboriginal peoples represent about 7.5% of the total Alberta population. The Aboriginal population in Alberta is growing significantly faster than the non-aboriginal population. Approximately one Aboriginal child in five currently attends on-reserve schools; four in five attend off-reserve schools. The achievement gap An examination of the achievement gap that exists between Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal learners underscores the need for strong affirmative action on the part of school boards. While younger Aboriginals are seeking more education than previous generations, they have not kept pace with the increase in education among other Canadians. The magnitude of the education gap, in the view of some, is prohibiting Aboriginals from exercising a realistic choice between leading a traditional lifestyle and a lifestyle integrated with other Canadians. 2 Factors negatively affecting First Nations, Métis and Inuit student achievement and success An understanding of key historical and socio-economic factors negatively affecting Aboriginal student success helps set the stage for the important work of school boards relative to addressing student achievement. These include the troubled history of residential schools and socio-economic factors such as poverty, social conditions and housing.

5 School boards providing the necessary leadership through governance Governance matters The success of an organization can be directly linked to the leadership of its governance board. For school boards, organizational success, in large part, means improvement to student learning outcomes. Applying principles of good governance The following five principles provide a useful framework for school boards that are intent on improving student results generally and Aboriginal student results in particular. The principles are: 1. Legitimacy and voice 2. Direction 3. Performance 4. Accountability 5. Fairness A discussion of each principle, together with specific school board practices that implement the principles, provides guidance to improving student results. The body of this report provides examples from Alberta school boards related to each of the governance principles. 1. Legitimacy and voice Applied to the context of this report, this principle addresses the importance of meaningful engagement of the Aboriginal community and of its involvement in, and ownership of, decisions that affect the education of Aboriginal children. Simply, this principle underscores the importance of giving voice to the Aboriginal community. Alberta s school boards engage in a number of practices that help give voice to the Aboriginal community in a context that creates a sense of belonging and helps build understanding, cultural awareness and trust. 2. Direction The principle of direction speaks to the importance of an organization s strategic vision, to the importance of having a broad and long-term strategic plan (Education Plan) that details purpose, goals and measures, along with a sense of what is needed for the accomplishment of school jurisdiction goals. Results for all students, including Aboriginal students, are improved when school boards use a policy governance model, create a shared vision centered on students and their learning, exercise focus and discipline and provide choice to parents. 3

6 3. Performance The performance principle is anchored in the notion of producing results that meet needs while making the best use of resources. School boards positively influence student performance when they engage the local Aboriginal community in a dialogue about local factors that present barriers or contribute to success, provide the resources for individual student supports, establish high standards, put priority on optimizing internal talent and build relationships and partnerships. 4. Accountability In addition to being accountable to their communities by virtue of their elected status, school boards are also accountable for the provision of quality educational services through the policies, structures and resources that they put in place. School boards improve student learning when they, together with their Aboriginal community, define and measure success, track progress and use resulting data to move and improve. They also create staff accountability mechanisms that hold staff accountable for student results. 5. Fairness The governance concept of fairness is grounded in principles of transparency and equity. In operation, fairness is not about identical treatment for all but rather about addressing needs. This report provides fairness guideposts that school boards can use when considering policies and practices that impact Aboriginal learners and their communities. These include transparency, inclusiveness, innovation, learner-centered, collaboration and results orientation. Conclusion School boards who take seriously the challenge of improving Aboriginal student achievement face all of the challenges found in improving student learning outcomes generally, plus the challenges and opportunities associated with closing the Aboriginal student achievement gap in a context that builds understanding and incorporates the values and worldview of local Aboriginal communities. The realities and depth of the Aboriginal student achievement gap will take a united and combined education system effort, spanning from the home to the community to the classroom to the boardroom to the Ministry. School boards can improve student achievement by a cumulative and disciplined process; step by step, action by action, that, in sum, add up to excellent results. This is the challenge facing Alberta s school boards, a challenge in which failure is not an option, a challenge they are capable of meeting. 4

7 A. Introduction and Purpose The term Aboriginal people refers to the descendents of the original inhabitants of North America as defined in the Constitution Act of Section 35(2) of this Act defines Aboriginal people as the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada. These three separate peoples have unique languages, cultures, beliefs and heritages. This report uses the terms Aboriginal and First Nations, Métis and Inuit, as appropriate, when referring the original inhabitants of North America. The Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) is committed to assisting Alberta s school boards address student achievement gaps and inequities where they exist. In particular, ASBA has placed priority attention on addressing the achievement gap of Alberta s First Nations, Métis and Inuit learners. The ASBA believes that the Aboriginal student achievement gap must be addressed head-on by Alberta s school boards and dealt with in a transformative fashion so that improvement in student results can be achieved. Alberta s school boards share with First Nations elders a strong belief in the important place that education has in shaping a brighter future for all. On May 21, 2008, this belief was articulated when the Chiefs of Alberta s Treaties No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 signed an historic document relating to the rights, in part, of First Nations children to an education that prepares them for active citizenship. Principle 7 of this agreement reads: The child is entitled to receive an education, which shall be free and compulsory, at least in the elementary stages. He shall be given an education which will promote his general culture and enable him, on a basis of equal opportunity, to develop his abilities, his individual judgment, and his sense of moral and social responsibility, and to become a useful member of society. In the words of the three Treaty Chiefs, These words must never be broken, so long as the sun shines, the rivers flow and the grass grows. The Alberta government has also placed high priority on Aboriginal student success, recently incorporating this issue as one of the four goals of the current Alberta Education Business Plan. In addition, the Alberta First Nations, Métis and Inuit Education Policy framework, released in 2002, is shaped by five priority strategies, these being: Increase First Nations, Métis and Inuit learner access to post-secondary and other adult education and training opportunities and support services. Increase the attendance, retention and graduation rates of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students attending provincial schools. 5

8 Increase the number of First Nations, Métis and Inuit teachers and school/institution personnel. Facilitate the continuous development and delivery of First Nations, Métis and Inuit courses and professional development opportunities for aspiring and existing administrators, teachers/instructors and school/ institution personnel. Build working relationships that will contribute to quality learning opportunities for First Nations, Métis and Inuit learners. Alberta s school boards play a vital role in achieving the vision of Alberta s Treaty Chiefs and the Alberta government with regard to the education of Aboriginal children. This report examines some of the key issues surrounding the education of Aboriginal students and proposes an evidence-based governance framework and related strategies applicable to the Aboriginal community that school boards can use to improve student results. In this, the framework attempts to capture good governance practices generally, while the related strategies apply these governance practices to the education of Aboriginal students. 6

9 B. The Demographic Context A brief overview of Aboriginal demographics in Alberta helps provide context and scope to the educational challenges and opportunities faced by Alberta s school boards. Some key demographic facts regarding Alberta s Aboriginal population provided by Statistics Canada (census 2006) and the Government of Alberta include: Alberta s Aboriginal ancestry population (see figure #1) is about 250,000, an increase of 23% in five years ( ). The Aboriginal population in Alberta is growing twice as fast (23% growth since 2001) as that of non-aboriginal Albertans (10% growth). According to Statistics Canada, the fast growth is credited to high birthrates and more people identifying themselves as Aboriginals. Figure #1: Composition of Alberta s Aboriginal population Source: Government of Alberta, Nov (Based on Statistics Canada 2006 census) Alberta has Canada s third-largest Aboriginal identity population, the majority of whom (63%) live in urban areas. Alberta has one of the youngest Aboriginal populations in Canada. About a third (31%) of Alberta s Aboriginal population is less than 14 years of age compared to 19% for the non-aboriginal population (see figure #2). 7

10 Figure #2: Alberta s Aboriginal Population Age Characteristics Source: Statistics Canada; 2006 Census, Aboriginal Data Alberta s First Nations population (registered under the federal Indian Act) is 105,777 with 37% living off-reserve. There are 48 First Nations and 134 reserves in Alberta (2010) comprising 1.95 million acres. Alberta s First Nations reserves are all founded pursuant to one of three treaties; treaties No. 6, No. 7, and No. 8. Treaty 6, which was signed at Carlton and Fort Pitt in 1876, covers central Alberta and Saskatchewan. Treaty 7, which was signed at the Blackfoot Crossing of Bow River and Fort Macleod in 1877, covers southern Alberta. Treaty 8, which was signed at Lesser Slave Lake in 1899 covers portions of Northern Alberta, BC, Saskatchewan and part of the Northwest Territories. Among First Nations children living on-reserve, about one third attend provincial schools (Richards, 2008). Alberta s Métis population is 85,000; the largest Métis population in Canada. Most (88%) live in major urban centres. There are eight Métis settlements in Alberta, comprising 1.25 million acres. This is the only recognized Métis land base in Canada. Approximately 8,000 people are members of these settlements. Alberta is home to about 1600 people who have identified themselves as Inuit. Approximately one Aboriginal child in five currently attends on-reserve schools; four in five attend provincial schools (Richards, 2008). Given the demographics briefly outlined above, it becomes apparent, for the foreseeable future, that Alberta s school boards will see a growing number of Aboriginal students enrolled in provincial schools as compared to non- Aboriginal students. As these children enter the labour market they will also make up a larger proportion of the working-age population. 8

11 C. The Achievement Gap A brief examination of the achievement gap that exists between Aboriginal and non-aboriginal learners underlines the need for strong affirmative action on the part of school boards. Alberta s Aboriginal population trails the general Alberta population in the level of formal education achieved (see figure #3). Figure #3: Level of Formal Education Achieved Source: Statistics Canada 2006 Census Younger Aboriginals are seeking more education than previous generations but they have not kept pace with the increase in education among other Canadians. The magnitude of the education gap, in the view of some, is prohibiting Aboriginals from exercising a realistic choice between leading a traditional lifestyle and a lifestyle integrated with other Canadians (Richards, 2008). A recent University of Lethbridge study (Gunn and Pomahac, 2009) paints a rather bleak picture of this achievement gap. The study notes that while the widening gap in educational attainment is experienced across Canada, it is especially problematic in the western provinces. Alberta Education, since the recent implementation of the Aboriginal Data Collection Initiative, has tracked the performance of the province s Aboriginal students using the measures of its Accountability Pillar. While the types of measures and their appropriateness for Aboriginal learners has been the point of some debate in Alberta, the current accountability pillar results, at present, are the only source of comparative data available to Alberta s school boards and schools. These measures provide a snap shot of the provincial performance of Aboriginal students compared to the non-aboriginal population. 9

12 The provincial Alberta Education Annual Report provides the first public reporting of results by Aboriginal population. Some key facts reported in the 2009/2010 Alberta Education Annual Report include: The dropout rate for Aboriginal students (11.2%) is more than twice as high as the rate for students overall (4.3%). The high school completion rate (five-year) of Aboriginal students is lower than the rate for all Alberta students (see figure 4). Figure #4: Comparative Five-Year High School Completion Rates Source: Alberta Education Annual Report 2009/2010 Percentages of self-identified Aboriginal students in Grades 3, 6 and 9 who achieved standards on Provincial Achievement Tests have consistently trailed the results achieved by all students. At the standard of excellence, results on provincial achievement tests by students in grades three, six and nine are as follows (see figure #5): Figure #5: Percentage of Students Achieving the Standard of Excellence on Provincial Achievement Tests (Mathematics and Social Studies excluded) Source: Alberta Education Annual Report 2009/

13 At the acceptable standard, results on provincial achievement tests by students in grades three, six and nine are as follows (see figure #6): Figure #6: Percentage of Students Achieving the Acceptable Standard on Provincial Achievement Tests (Mathematics and Social Studies excluded). Source: Alberta Education Annual Report 2009/2010 Aboriginal students have consistently trailed the provincial average for achievement in grade twelve diploma exams (see figure #7 and #8). Figure #7: Percentages of Students Writing Diploma Examinations who Achieved at the Standard of Excellence (Chemistry 30, Physics 30, Social Studies 30 and 33 excluded) Source: Alberta Education Annual Report 2009/

14 Figure #8. Percentages of Students writing Diploma Examinations who Achieved at the Acceptable Standard (Chemistry 30, Physics 30, Social Studies 30 and 33 excluded) Source: Alberta Education Annual Report 2009/2010 In addition, provincial measures assessing eligibility for Rutherford Scholarships, transition to post secondary and preparation for employment show lower results for Aboriginal students than for students overall. In summary, the achievement gap evidenced by the above measures is a clear call to action for all of Alberta s school boards. Quite simply, Alberta s school boards, given their mandate, have both an ethical and statutory responsibility to deal with obvious inequities that are evident in Aboriginal learner results in Alberta s public school system. 12

15 D. Factors Negatively Affecting First Nations, Métis and Inuit Student Achievement and Success An understanding of key historical and socio-economic factors negatively affecting Aboriginal student success helps set the stage for the important work of school boards relative to addressing student achievement. The residential school factor a troubled history Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo believes that First Nations need to take more control of education, in part to counter the damage done by the Indian Residential Schools system, which saw thousands of native children taken from their communities and forced to forsake their language and culture. Chief Atleo maintains that we have to be directly involved in making sure that, unlike residential schools; the school system not only prepares children for the market economy but reconnects them with family, language, culture and land. That is what the residential schools sought to disconnect our people from, and we have been suffering those consequences now for several generations (Edmonton Journal, December, 6, 2009). This sentiment is echoed by Rob Reimer, Chair of Wetaskiwin Regional Public Schools. In Mr. Reimer s view: I think from a non-aboriginal perspective, what I have seen and what I have really noticed and what has changed me, personally, is a growing awareness and knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal people, both First Nations and Métis, and the challenges that they face. First Nations students are not just another group of children at risk. First Nations are the only group that didn t immigrate to this country. And they are the only group that we have tried for 400 years to separate from their history, from their religion, from their language and from their culture. We tried our damnedest to separate them from everything that they knew. We have not attempted that with any other ethnic group. We haven t tried that with Chinese-Canadians, not with Indo-Canadians, not with any other group. We are left with a majority of First Nations people who don t know their own language, their own history or their own culture, and we wonder why they fear authority, why they mistrust school and why they mistrust the white community. We blame First Nations people because some have issues with unemployment and substance abuse. After we have systematically attempted to destroy them, the wonder is that there are so many who are healthy, so many who maintain their traditional ways and beliefs. We owe it to our First Nations to do everything that we can to restore their pride and to help them and their children move forward (January 13, 2010 Task Force meeting). 13

16 While education in Canada for Aboriginal students has come a long way since the residential school experience, its impact continues to be felt by many families and communities. Socio-economic factors Alberta s Commission on Learning (2003) acknowledges that education is just one part of the problem and while First Nations and Métis value education, the success of their children depends on a number of related factors including housing, social conditions and poverty (p. 85). A recent British Columbia study of the socio-economic variables that impact student achievement found, for example, family income and parental education level as the most important among socio-economic variables and that improvements in socio-economic status are associated with improvement for both Aboriginal and non-aboriginal populations in school performance (Richards, 2008). The Sullivan Report, similarly, argues unless the health, social, and economic conditions of Native lives are generally improved, the problems of language development and lower-than-average educational attainment levels will regrettably remain a part of the Native experience at school (Bell, 2004, p. 38). Census 2006 indicates that the unemployment rate of Alberta s Aboriginal population trails the provincial average although it exceeds that of the Canadian Aboriginal population (see figure #9). Figure #9: Alberta s Aboriginal Unemployment Rate Source: Statistics Canada, 2006 Census The recently released Premier s Council for Economic Strategy (May 2011) contains a sense of urgency when it argues that we must accelerate action on ensuring the growing population of Aboriginal young people can benefit from 14

17 the opportunities this province can offer and contribute to the province as skilled and productive workers, engaged citizens and future leaders (p. 6). While school boards have significant community leadership responsibilities, addressing the economic, social and employment issues is largely outside the mandate of school boards and the public education system, yet these factors continue to have a direct negative impact on the achievement of Aboriginal children in school. School boards can, however, provide leadership that positively impacts Aboriginal student learning. Largely due to the work of school boards, there has been substantial progress in educational attainment achieved over the last 20 years by Aboriginal peoples in Alberta. Gains have occurred in the areas of education achievement levels, labour force participation and employment rates. Between the 1996 and 2001 census, for example, there was an increase of 63 per cent in the number of Aboriginal people graduating from university and a 46 per cent increase in the number graduating from college. While Aboriginal achievement rates in most cases are still below those of non- Aboriginal people, results in Alberta are trending upward. An analysis of overall percentages of Aboriginal students who achieved standards on grades 3, 6 and 9 Provincial Achievement Tests (see figure #10) indicates that Aboriginal student performance, as measured by the achievement tests, is improving over time and has, in fact, surpassed Alberta Education targets. Figure #10: Overall Percentages of Aboriginal Students who Achieved Standards on Grades 3, 6 and 9 Provincial Achievement Tests Source: Alberta Education Annual Report 2009/

18 16 The future holds hope. According to Lea Switzer, past trustee for Lethbridge School District #51, There is the understanding and deep realization that in order for positive and effective change to occur, there must be an acceptance of the past and all its warts, but also a profound necessity to not continually carry the baggage of yesterday in order to foster, create and nurture a vibrant and successful future (personal , February 2, 2010). Her thoughts echo the words of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who observed that life is lived forward, but understood backwards.

19 E. School Boards Providing the Necessary Leadership through Governance Governance matters The success of an organization can be directly linked to the leadership of its governance board. For school boards, organizational success, in large part, means improvement to student learning outcomes. A quick review of recent research underscores this point: The OECD (2008), in its study of the educational systems in 22 western countries, has found that leadership is second only to classroom instruction as an influence on student learning. The U.S. Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (2006) has found a statistically significant relationship between district leadership and student achievement. A recent C.D. Howe study of the best performing British Columbia provincial school districts found that Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal performance gaps were either positively or negatively impacted by district leadership and governance practices (Richards 2008). Similarly, best practice studies in Aboriginal education by Bell (2004) and Fulford (2007) found good governance and leadership as the success factor identified most often by researchers. Quite simply, governance practices matter. School boards, by employing effective governance practices and focusing on student learning, can overcome many of the historical and socio-economic factors that negatively affect Aboriginal student performance. Good governance practices can both raise the student achievement bar and close the student achievement gap. The balance of this report proposes a framework and related research and best practice strategies that school boards can use to meet the challenge of improving Aboriginal student results. Applying principles of good governance to the challenge of closing the gap for First Nations, Métis and Inuit students The Canadian Institute on Governance (IOG) defines governance as the art of steering an organization; as the process whereby strategic goals are set, key relationships are maintained, the health of the organization is safeguarded and an account is rendered for organizational performance (http://www.iog.ca/). Simply, governance is about leadership, relationships and goals, with good governance characterized by strong leadership, positive relationships and shared goals. 17

20 The IOG has created a model centered on five principles that research and best practice see as core to good governance. These five principles provide a useful framework for school boards intent on improving student results generally and Aboriginal student results in particular. The principles are: 1. Legitimacy and voice 2. Direction 3. Performance 4. Accountability 5. Fairness A discussion of each principle, together with specific school board practices that implement the principles, provides guidance to improving Aboriginal student results. 1. Legitimacy and voice The principles of legitimacy and voice underpin democratic institutions. They speak to the importance of all citizens having a voice in decision making, either directly or through legitimate intermediate institutions that represent their intention. Applied to the context of this report, this principle addresses the importance of meaningful engagement of the Aboriginal community and of its involvement in, and ownership of, decisions that affect the education of Aboriginal children. Simply, this principle underscores the importance of giving voice to the Aboriginal community. Alberta s Commission on Learning (2003) emphasizes the critical importance of this voice. The Commission argues that the best approach for the future is to give Aboriginal people more direct control of the education of their children. The Commission maintains: Dramatic improvements in Aboriginal education and the outcomes for children are unlikely to happen unless Aboriginal people have control and all components work together to address the need for change. The Commission heard that Aboriginal people are tired of being done to. In spite of the best intentions of people in the education system, Aboriginal people especially parents, elders, and community leaders need to be empowered to take ownership of and responsibility for the education of their children (p. 86). School boards that adopt a power with rather than power over approach to Aboriginal communities and genuinely engage parents and Elders in the education of their children can overcome feelings of deep-seated mistrust of the education system. 18

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