By Aloma Jardine

For some the province’s new education plan is like a gourmet feast with amazing appetizers, spectacular desserts – and no main course.

When Kids Come First is catching some criticism for providing vision but no specifics.

Many of the “specific actions” listed in the plan commit to developing initiatives, commissioning reviews and studies, and working with various groups to find solutions to problems rather than providing actual plans and initiatives.

It commits to establishing a Rural Schools Policy, for instance, “to outline a clear direction for schools in rural areas and examine the unique funding and teaching resource challenges of rural schools,” an almost word-for-word reiteration of the promise made in the Liberal party’s Charter for Change campaign platform released last September, leaving readers wondering if any progress has been made in the nine-month interim.

“Is it possible to be enthusiastic and disappointed at the same time?” asks Charles Cirtwill, acting president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and co-author of its annual Report Card on Atlantic Canadian High Schools.

“It’s a very mixed exercise. I’m pleased they’ve recognized the problems and are going to do things differently. I’m pleased they’re letting teachers innovate more . . . but they’re not talking about changing any structures in the system.” Cirtwill says it seems as if the centralized, top-down system will still be in place, the very thing that currently stifles innovation.

“We’re not seeing a lot of systemic change to get rid of the real problem,” he says. “The real problems aren’t in the classroom, they are with how we’ve organized the system.”

The spirit of the plan is certainly being well received as it promises to address a host of issues that many in the education field have been begging to have resolved for years.

The plan promises only to come up with solutions – it does not deliver them.

“This is what you put in when you don’t know what you want to do. You have a sense they want to go in a particular way, to find a way to empower schools and empower teachers, to leave them to do their jobs, but hold them to account. It is clear they want to do that, but haven’t figured it out yet,” Cirtwill says. “They started down a road and either got a little nervous or just didn’t clarify their thinking.

They’ve offered some potential hope, but there are an awful lot of things in there that sound like same old, same old.” Cirtwill is also disappointed with the targets the plan sets out and the accountability system to meet them.

Cirtwill says it’s all well and good to set targets, “but they don’t tell you where we are right now, today,” he says, questioning if the province even has the capacity to measure the indicators it’s chosen.

“They have left themselves a lot of wiggle room. This is a fairly general document that gives them a lot of space to get creative or to slip back into the old habits,” he says.

If the plan is going to work, Cirtwill says there are going to have to be some changes not only in the system, but also in who the province relies on to help define the direction.

“You can’t turn to the same old people and expect to get different results,” he says.

In an interview with the Times and Transcript Monday, Education Minister Kelly Lamrock let it be known he’s not afraid to stir the pot if it means doing what’s in the best interests of children.

The plan itself makes it clear that change is going to have to happen.

Cirtwill says the proof will be in the pudding – whether the province takes the vision outlined in the document and runs with it or lets the lack of guidelines be an excuse to not get anywhere at all.