By ADAM HURAS
FREDERICTON – A call by New Democrat Leader Dominic Cardy to get rid of a “no-failure” policy that allows New Brunswick students to graduate regardless of whether they pass their courses spiralled on Wednesday into a highly-charged public debate with a Tory minister.
Both Cardy and Post-Secondary Education Minister Jody Carr sparred on social media throughout the day over their respective party stances.
Carr then declined requests to speak to the media, while Cardy reaffirmed that the current system is detrimental to educating students.
“It shows that we really hit a nerve with this,” Cardy said. “I’ve had dozens and dozens of emails and tweets and phone calls from principals and teachers, people in the system, and some students as well saying they are really happy that a political party is finally talking about this because it’s really been damaging the quality of education in New Brunswick.”
A public back and forth online started with Carr likening a New Democrat call for students to face consequences if they do poorly in school to stoning children in a public square.
“NDP calls for ‘social consequence for a child not doing well in school.’ Really!? Why not put (students) in city square and stone them? Aghast,” Carr wrote on Twitter.
Cardy then shot back with two successive tweets: “Bizarre reaction from a government minister. Equating school standards with public executions? Really?
“Let’s have a serious debate. We are talking about student learning plans: world standard pedagogy. You’re defending a system that’s failed our kids.”
Carr responded: “Instead of ‘social consequence’ for children not doing well in school, we need more flexible intervention, inclusive training, more literacy mentors.”
Later on in the day, Carr stated that he shared the same passion for excellence in education as Cardy, but was concerned with the New Democrat approach.
Premier David Alward said earlier this week that New Brunswick schools do not have a “no-failure policy” in place, disputing the claim by the leader of the New Democrats.
Alward responded by asserting that students aren’t being given an automatic pass, insisting that New Brunswick has an inclusive education system that has made the province “leaders globally in helping ensure that every child is able to meet their fullest potential.”
Cardy pointed on Wednesday to the inclusive education policy in question found on the government’s website in an Education Department document dated Sept. 2013.
Policy 6.7.1 states that “New Brunswick public schools must not use grade retention as a standard educational practice.”
The policy continues to say that while grade retention is not a standard practice, if the school and or parents consider it appropriate in an individual case, it is ultimately a last option.
Cardy also addressed Carr’s comments that holding students back produces a negative effect.
University of New Brunswick education faculty dean Ann Sherman has also raised similar concerns, stating that grade retention sees kids lose their confidence and feel unable to achieve.
“We’re not talking about damaging any individual child’s ability to succeed, we’re talking about making it very clear that when you’re going through school, if you get promoted from year to year, then that actually has to mean something,” Cardy said.
“The social consequences of going through your primary, junior high, and high school education and coming out with the ability to read and write at a level that you can go into university without needing a compulsory reading and writing class – that’s a social consequence.”