Paul W. Bennett

Director and Lead Researcher, Schoolhouse Institute, Halifax, Nova Scotia


Confronting BCEd Plan 2.0: What Students Need — and Teachers Want– is “Future-Proof Learning”

British Columbia’s New Curriculum received mixed reviews in the 2017 BCTF survey of teachers and serious questions were raised about the province’s latest iteration of a “21st century skills” curriculum. Teachers’ concerns over “personalized learning” and “competency-based assessment” focus on the “multiple challenges of implementation” without adequate resource support and technology, but much of the strongest criticism was motivated by “confusion” over its purposes, concern over the lack of supporting research, and fears that it would lead to “a less rigorous academic curriculum.”
This presentation will demonstrate that B.C. teachers’ criticisms are well-founded and consistent with new academic research by Paul A. Kirshner and his Open University of the Netherlands team. That evidence-based research examines and deconstructs the assumptions and foundations of such projects. Where did the proposed “21st century skills” originate? Can you successfully prepare students for careers and jobs that don’t exist? We will examine and discuss Kirshner’s claim that what students need – and teachers really want – is “future-proof learning.” Simply put, we need to set aside the “21st century skills” paradigm in favour of “the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to continue to learn in a stable and enduring way in a rapidly changing world.” Our session will attempt to point B.C. education in the right direction.


Paul W. Bennett is Founding Director of the Schoolhouse Institute and Adjunct Professor of Education at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, NS Canada. Over his wide-ranging career, Paul has taught high school history, completed an Ed.D. at OISE(Toronto), served as an elected public school trustee, headed two leading independent schools, written eight history books, and emerged, born-again, as a well-known Canadian education commentator. Since 2009, he has produced regular newspaper columns, churned out more than a dozen policy papers, and curated Educhatter, a lively blog on Canadian education. Follow him on Twitter @Educhatter.


Stealth Assessment: Where is Ontario’s SEL Student Assessment Initiative Heading?

Ontario now aspires to global education leadership in the realm of student evaluation and reporting. That is why the latest Ontario student assessment initiative, A Learning Province, not only deserves much closer scrutiny, but needs to be carefully assessed for its potential impact on frontline teachers. Heavily influenced by the Ontario People for Education Measuring What Matters project, the province is plunging ahead with Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) assessment embracing what Dr. Ben Williamson aptly describes as “stealth assessment” – a set of contested personality criteria utilizing SEL ‘datafication’ to measure “student well-being.” Proceeding to integrate SEL into student reports and province-wide assessments is also folhardy when American experts Angela Duckworth and David Scott Yeager warn that the ‘generic skills’ are ill- defined and possibly unmeasurable.

This presentation will examine the Ontario assessment strategy in relation to the latest research and best practice, exemplified in Dylan Wiliam’s research and Daisy Christodoulou’s 2017 book Making Good Progress. This teacher-friendly research is finally blowing the whistle on ‘generic skills’ assessment, ‘rubric-mania,’ impenetrable verbal descriptors, and the mountains of questionable assessment paperwork. Bad student assessment practices, Christodoulou shows, lead to serious workload problems for classroom teachers. No “Learning Province” would plow ahead when the light turns to amber.

Special Education: “Inclusion,” class composition, and teaching in today’s classroom – Striving for the “full inclusion” of all students in the regular classroom may be a worthy goal, but it makes teaching far more challenging and cannot satisfactorily meet the needs of all children. A few Canadian school systems, following the lead of New Brunswick, have elevated “inclusive education” to an exalted status. For many children and teens with severe learning disabilities or complex needs, it is not the most enabling learning environment. Teacher surveys identify class management as a fundamental problem and “class composition” as the biggest obstacle to professional satisfaction.  Building upon Canadian school research, it’s clear that special needs policy, designed by theorists, is not working and needs rethinking to achieve a better educational environment for teachers and students alike.

Technology, E-Learning and Teachers: Why top-down initiatives run aground

Top-down initiatives branded with “21st Century Learning” labels and high-sounding philosophical principles tend to alienate teachers and rarely succeed in penetrating the “black box” of the school classroom. Technology remains a learning tool with enormous potential, but e-learning will only advance if it enlists the support of regular classroom teachers and mobilizes those teachers from the school-level up.