Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What’s in a Zero? Policy-Borrowing and Bad Ideas?

The 'no-zero' policy - the idea that teacher's cannot assign students a zero for incomplete assignments - has just celebrated it's first anniversary in Newfoundland and Labrador's Eastern School District. Along with some recent controversies in Western Canada over the suspension of teachers that have allegedly refuse to follow a similar policy has come some renewed media attention on the policy.

You can hear a short audio report of how the policy has been received in Newfoundland by students, teachers and parents here. Some think that the policy ensures that the assessment of learning is treated separately from discipline. Other feels that the policy teaches children that there are few consequences for not meeting deadlines.

The topic is an interesting one in it's own right, but as a recent editorial in the Evening Telegram points out, this is also a good example of ‘policy-borrowing’ or policy-exporting - the spread of educational polices from large centers to small ones. The no-zero policy in the Eastern School District is thought to be at least partly inspired by an Ontario policy directive that “teachers separate their evaluation of students’ work from their evaluation of students’ behaviour“. Smaller school districts do not have the same resources as larger centers. Perhaps policy-borrowing represent an attempt to 'keep-up' or appear 'cutting edge'?

I’m sure there are other influences. But it’s worth wondering about how districts decide what polices are worth importing, and equally, what assumptions about teaching and learning are underwriting the policies that are brought in. Like introducing and foreign species, or bad fashion trends, policy-borrowing can have unintended consequences.

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