A public forum on education being held in Halifax next week is expected to draw educators, parents and interested citizens from throughout the province.

The March 28 forum, “Putting Children First: Fixing our Schools,” features guest speaker Michael Zwaagstra, a Manitoba educator and co-author of ‘What’s Wrong with Our Schools.’

Released last year, the book looks at the status of public education in North America. The Amazon.ca book description states it “exposes many of the absurd instructional practices found in all-too-many schools.”

The event’s reaction panel includes Charles Cirtwill (Atlantic Institute for Market Studies), Doretta Wilson (Society for Quality Education, Toronto), and Denise Delorey (Save Community Schools).

“The whole debate about cutting costs in education is a side show,” said Paul Bennett of Halifax-based Schoolhouse Consulting. “The real issue is how do we approve quality and accountability. We’re throwing dollars at education, which simply doesn’t work.”

The result of months of planning by stakeholders throughout the province, Bennett said the forum will provide an opportunity for concerned parents, educators and citizens from Cape Breton to Yarmouth to speak freely about their concerns.

“This is a completely open forum where we are giving people a chance to be heard and to freely express and discuss any concerns they have about the state of education,” he said.

Bennett believes initiatives like the Education Partners Group’s www.nstalesoutofschool.ca don’t allow for a completely open debate on the status of education in Nova Scotia.

“We’re going to be giving Nova Scotians a chance to be heard. It won’t be filtered like ‘tales out of school,’ which are all positive (stories) and support the system,” Bennett said. “Trust in education starts by being honest, open, and up front about the strengths and the weaknesses.”

The forum will also set the stage for the release of 10 years worth of survey results from pollster Don Mills. The surveys focused on Nova Scotians attitudes about public education.

“Ten years of data shows confidence in the system is extremely weak,” Bennett said.

Bennett said the forum was partially intended as a response to Ben Levin’s anticipated report to the province. Levin’s report was planned for the end of last month, but has not yet been released.

A provincial press release last December stated the Ontario-based educator was hired to review the education system and recommend ways the government can maintain an effective school system “in the face of significant enrolment and fiscal challenges.”

The report was not supposed to address governance or funding models, and budget scenarios given to school boards last fall aren’t part of the review.

“We need to expect more from our students and everything flows from that. Somewhere along the line we have lost a sense of challenge, which is the excitement that motivates everyone in education,” Bennett said.

“We have many fine teachers not being well served by the current system. They are looking for change … but they aren’t in a position to be open.”

The March 28 public forum is being held in the concert hall at the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts. It begins at 6:30 p.m. Register online at www.aims.ca. The cost is $10 in advance, or $15 at the door.