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Current Issues in Public Education (since 1996)

By Katherine Wagner

Please contact me by email or at 604.467.7198.

School Watch columns, covering a wide range of public education topics, are archived at

The Schools We Need is a recently launched Canadian discussion forum. As one of several columnists representing a variety of perspectives, my first contribution is Accidental School Trustee.

Education issues are complex, and the effects of our decisions extraordinarily far-reaching. Successful participation in the "Knowledge Economy" hinges on skills and literacy's - a strong education foundation. The directions and priorities that we choose for our education systems will have an impact not only on every aspect of our children's lives, but will also determine the future strength and prosperity of our country.

The importance of ensuring informed, accountable, focused policy-making for our public schools cannot be overstated.

I am a writer, researcher and speaker, specializing in education policy & governance.

For many, the mere mention of the topic results in a familiar glazing of the eyes. However, I consider it my challenge to illuminate the connections between education policy & governance and the effective functioning of our democratic political systems. Education is broader than K-12 and includes all aspects of life-long learning: pre-school through to post-secondary programs and adult training.

The focus of my work is current trends and the future direction of public education, including parental involvement and the influence of technology, research and advocacy.

"School Watch", is published every second Friday in the Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows Times newspaper. Previous columns can be accessed at

From December of 1996 to December of 2005 I served as an elected school trustee in School District #42, Maple Ridge - Pitt Meadows, British Columbia. The decision to not seek re-election in the November 2005 municipal elections was a difficult one (but I have not regretted it for a minute). Please click here to read my open letter to Maple Ridge residents announcing my decision to step aside.

I remain deeply committed to local education and I value my volunteer connections with the school district. I continued as Chair of the Ridge Meadows Education Foundation until June of 2006. Since January 2006 I have been volunteering with the local District Parent Advisory Council as their BCCPAC District Associate. I am also vice-chair of the Parent Advisory Council at the secondary school my sons attend.

For more than ten years I served on the volunteer Board of the Society for the Advancement of Excellence in Education. I am proud of the unique and innovative work of SAEE and remain involved as an SAEE Foundation trustee.

A well educated population is our best hope for the future - strong, effective public education is the key.

I have linked some of the articles and presentation notes I have written over the last few years:

SAEE's Fall 2006 issue of the Education Analyst page 3. The Policy Watch piece is titled Adolescent Literacy.

SQE Forum Volume 14, Number 4 December 2005, page 4 article: A Deceptively-Simple Question.

School Choice, Policies and Effects: An International Literature Review, June 2004

Local Decision Making Improving education outcomes through shared decision making and embedded accountability structures.

I submitted a written brief when I made a presentation to the BC Select Standing Committee on Education, December 10th, 2001. To read the brief please click here.

Alternate calendars has long been a contentious issue in SD#42, both in the community and around the school board table. A policy was drafted and sent out for first reading in 2002. I felt strongly about the issue and tabled a Minority Report at a public board meeting.

On June 26th, 2002 I was invited to participate as a panel member at a public forum in Vancouver discussing the Fraser Institute Report Card. To read my speakers notes, please click here.

Parent Advocacy article examines the idea that a shift in the way the system treats advocates for individual children has the potential to unite the often-considered-opposing goals of equity and excellence.

A related article deals with Special Needs Students: Being Accountable for their Learning.

Link to article on Trends in Public Education Governance (1997)

Link to article on Class Size.

Link to article on National Standards

Link to article on School Choice

Click here to read the notes from my presentation on school board accountability - May 25th, 1999.

Please visit the Labour Relations in Public Education site - a project of SAEE.

For a change of pace, I write a monthly newsletter for the Maple Ridge Garden Club.

"If an informed citizenry is to meaningfully participate in government or at least understand why government acts affecting their daily lives are taken, the process of decision making as well as the end results must be conducted in full view of the governed."

Oklahoma Ass'n of Municipal Attorneys v. State, 577 P.2d 1310, 1313-14 (Okla. 1978)

"Cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation or social standards never can bring about reform. Those who are really in earnest are willing to be anything or nothing in the world's estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathies with despised ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences."

Susan B. Anthony

"Learned Institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty & dangerous encroachments on the public liberty."

James Madison

"Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. In fact, it's the only thing that ever has"
-- Margaret Mead