Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Saanich board convinces gov't to release hold-back funds

A quick update on the Saanich School board, which was refusing to submit a balanced budget by June 30th, due to their belief that funding was not adequate to meet student needs.

The government announced this week that they would release "hold back" funds and the amount for Saanich almost matched the deficit presented in the budget.

As a result, the Saanich board is now submitting a balanced budget.

The Times Colonist reported:

“This is a win,” said trustee Elsie McMurphy. “The fact that the number we received at the eleventh hour was so close to what we need to balance the budget was not a coincidence. The government, by doing that, has acknowledged the worth and merit of our case.”

Read more:

BC teachers vote 90% in favour of job action

BC teachers have voted 90% in favour of a "teach only" job action to start in the new school year this September.

A total of 90% percent of teachers voted yes in a province-wide strike vote conducted June 24, 27, and 28, 2011. In all, 28,128 teachers cast their ballots, of whom 25,282 voted yes. About 70% of teachers in schools and teachers teaching on call participated.

BCTF President Susan Lambert said the strong yes vote shows that teachers are united and are prepared to take action to achieve their goals of improved teaching and learning conditions, fair improvements to salary and benefits, and restoration of local bargaining rights.

“Facing a concerted campaign by the government and the employer to turn back the clock on teachers’ rights and reverse hard-won provisions on due process, we have no choice but to take a stand for ourselves, our students, and our profession,” Lambert said. “The employer is offering nothing and at the same time demanding we make many significant concessions. That’s not collective bargaining. It’s just bullying.”

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Trustees give raise for themselves, but propose zero for teachers

Surrey school trustees have voted themselves a 2.6% raise for this September. Evidently, they don't believe they fall under the "net zero" mandate even though they too are public servants. They are joined by Abbotsford trustees, who also voted themselves an increase of 4.8% over two years, beginning in December.

Meanwhile, the Trustee's bargaining agent, BCPSEA (BC Public School Employer's Association), is offering teachers 0% and 0%.

The myth of the mandate continues. While government claims it applies to all public sector workers, it has not been applied uniformly. The first major discrepancy was the nurses agreement, which provided 3% increases over the same term that the mandate is supposedly in place (2010 - 2012). Then came a variety of settlements in the public sector where government was not the direct employer. In some cases, such as Vancouver Island University and Langara College, these public sector employers insisted the mandate was in place. Yet for others, it apparently wasn't. Just a few examples: Saanich police: 8.45% over two years, Port Alberni Firefighters: 2% over four years, plus 5% in the last year. New Westminster City Council provided increases to guarantee a "living wage" for all of it's employees. Richmond gave city workers a 17.5% increase over five years.

With inflation hovering above 3%, the mandate is not fair. And as these various agreements show, it has not been applied fairly. The government needs to act in good faith and let all it's bargaining agents bargain.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Why does the CUPW dispute matter for teachers and public education?

It is a sad day today, as postal workers are forced back to work, forced to take concessionary wage increases, and forced to participate in final offer arbitration. Their democratic right to negotiate a collective agreement in a free democracy has been stolen from them.

There was no reason for this legislation. The strike was limited, and had barely started. The back to work legislation was an aggressive, pro-management tactic. It shows that our current government is taking sides - the side of management.

The issues involved mirror similar labour/management disputes across the world these days. Pensions, two-tiered settlements, and blaming public sector workers.

It is a classic divide and conquer strategy.

Back in the thirties, after the Great Depression, and a-midst wave after wave of industrial action, governments turned to other forms of divisions within unions and worker organizations. The most powerful division at that time was race - black workers versus white, in the US, for example. Or everyone against Jews in Germany.

Race is a more challenging card to play in 2011, after the Great Recession. A century of anti-racist activism, and a world with much higher integration and multi-ethnicity is a world where the race card is less believable. Although some anti-immigrant sentiment is definitely being used (eg. the laws in Arizona), it can not so easily distract the vast majority of workers who are organizing to keep jobs with decent wages, decent pensions, and with a middle class standard of living.

Instead of "blame the immigrant", "blame the unionized workers" is the new mantra for the media and management. With most in the private sector no longer unionized, public sector unions are the primary target. We still have high rates of unionization. We still have relatively decent wages. We still have good pension plans.

The challenge for everyone who is not part of the corporate elite or the banking class will be to expose this false division for what it is - a distraction from those who are actually stealing the wealth and redistributing income so that fewer and fewer have more and more.

US businesses alone are sitting on $1.84 TRILLION in cash, says the Federal Reserve. They are not hiring, investing, or providing fair wage increases to keep pace with inflation. And a handful of individuals have become insanely wealthy (see:

The legislation against CUPW should be a warning and a wake up call not just to organized labour but to everyone who thinks it is reasonable and fair for every citizen to have an opportunity for a fulfilling life - to buy a home, have a decent job with decent wages, and a good education.

It will be up to all of us to stand up and reject this race to the bottom while a few horde the wealth.

Here is a quote from former teacher Jinny Sims speaking during the filibuster of the back to work bill in Parliament:

"As we debate this very important issue, I want to take a minute to recap.
What is it that we are talking about here today? We are talking about a
crown corporation, not some entity that is off on another planet, but a
crown corporation of a Canadian government, a crown corporation that makes a
profit each year and last year made a very hefty profit of hundreds of
millions of dollars that went back to support Canadians in other work. That
is okay.

This same crown corporation went into negotiations with its employees as if
it was taking a loss. That is what I find hard to understand. That company
is making a profit and doing very well, but for the very people who help
make that profit, who work 24-7 in shift work, who have given years of
service, and who deliver mail to some of the remotest communities and keep
our businesses going, what the corporation says when the parties get to the
table is, “By the way, we are going to pay new people who start to work here
18% less”. Is that the respect we have for the next generation?

Are we saying to the next generation of workers that they are not going to
get jobs with decent pay, that they are going to have to make do with a lot
less, that they are not going to be able to afford to own a house, and that
they are not going to be able to afford a decent living?

At the same time, that corporation turns to its workers and makes a direct
attack on something that is dear to every Canadian: their old age security.
It goes after their pensions, and not only theirs, but those of the next
generation coming in.

When I was growing up, and I have been growing up for a long time and I'm
still waiting to grow up, what I used to hear all the time was that with
each generation things get better. That is what our parents worked very hard
for. My parents immigrated to the U.K. They arrived there with a very young
family. My father worked two or three jobs in order to give us an education
and the kind of life that he thought would be better than the life he had
had. He belonged to unions, absolutely, and instilled in us the importance
of the collective: that when workers stick together, they make gains not
only for themselves individually, but they make gains for everybody in

Friday, June 24, 2011

Community Social Services workers prepare for job action

Community Social Service workers in BC are preparing for job action. They are not accepting the concessions that have been offered by government at their bargaining table.

Because many are essential service workers, job action cannot begin until levels have been set by the Labour Board. This should happen by July 22. At that point, the union can serve 72 hours strike notice.

The union is reporting already that some employers are taking threatening actions towards workers, such as threatening to cancel vacations and forcing overtime work in non-emergency situations.


Community Social Service workers voted 85% in favour of job action this spring after 18 months of failed negotiations. At issue is job security and healthy and safe workplaces.

More information on their campaign for a fair deal:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

BCPSEA, Gov't and Trustees: Proposing Wisconsin North?

Teachers were shocked to see the proposals put forward by BCPSEA at the bargaining table this week. On behalf of government and school Trustees, BCPSEA wants to gut teachers' collective agreements. They want almost total control over hiring, firing and placement. They want to eliminate seniority rights and due process rights. The proposals include:

* A teacher evaluation system with no rules or processes, except that they must be "aligned" with Ministry and District priorities
* The ability to fire a teacher after a single evaluation
* The ability to move a teacher to a different job or school at any time with one month's notice
* The elimination of seniority rights for teachers who wish to move positions, assignments or schools

The proposals represent a wholesale gutting of hundreds of existing provisions in agreements across BC that provide reasonable processes for teacher evaluations and fair and transparent hiring processes for teachers already hired to a District.

This is not about getting the right teacher into the right classroom for kids. Teachers do not want to be teaching in a class where they don't feel qualified or able to do their job. In fact, existing hiring provisions require that teachers are suitably qualified. Teachers apply for job postings based on interest, ability, qualifications and personal preference. This allows teachers to be in a job they will be best at and are enthusiastic about. It is fair and objective. The school Districts have already screened entry into the workforce by hiring every teacher in the first place (there is no seniority provision to become an employee of a school District - a teacher must go through a typical interview and hiring process before any seniority is accrued or applies).

In addition, existing evaluation procedures provide mechanisms for ensuring competency and providing feedback for improvement and support. In my District, every teacher is evaluated at the beginning of their career and regularly there after or if there is any concern raised.

This is not "dialogue" or a "new approach", that some Trustees and Minister Abbott claim to have interest in. This is not "supportive". It is punitive. Dialogue starts with respecting teachers as autonomous professionals, rather than seeing their exercise of choice and professional decisions as a "barrier" to improvement and the "problem".

Nor does this have anything to do with so-called "21st century learning". In fact, these proposals would stifle change, innovation and creativity by forcing teachers into positions they do not want to be in. It is a top-down management model designed to exert control and conformity.

This has nothing to do with improving education, and everything to do with increasing Ministry and District control over who, what and how teachers teach. It is about de-professionalizing the teaching profession. It is the same kind of attack on unions that we are seeing across the US in states like Wisconsin and now in Canada with the postal workers. This so-called "public policy" is just plain old union bashing. It is Wisconsin North.

(Thanks to my colleague Kathy Couch, whose tweet on "Wisconsin North" I borrowed.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A 21st Century Educator

This blog post is about a teacher named Starleigh Grass. She is a BC teacher. She is a "21st century" educator. Although she doesn't call herself this. And that's partly what I like about her.

There are quite a few educators out there right now calling themselves 21st century this or that. Practically every IT company has a 21st century education program. Most BC school boards are all about 21st century learning. And just about every Ministry of Education in Canada is gaga over 21st century everything. It's enough to make you wish the century would be over already.

Basically, if someone or something is calling themselves 21st century - watch out. It's more likely to be about self promotion than about innovation or creativity.

Starleigh Grass exemplifies a self-reflective professional. Starleigh is a teacher who likes "talking to teachers about teaching". She is a promoter of aboriginal curriculum and pedagogy - her area of specialty. She has a PLN. She writes five blogs (some for students, some for teachers). She cares deeply about her students. She reflects on her practice. She understands that relationships are core to teaching and learning. She is engaged in debates about the world and our future.

Her latest blog post is about a project she did with her students to mark the end of the year. They cut out leaves and wrote a message on them about what they took with them from the year - what they learned or how they grew, or just what had happened. They put the leaves up in the hallways of the school to share. It didn't require an iPad. Just plain old scissors and pencils.

She is my idea of a 21st century educator. Just one of thousands across this province.

Check out her blog for teachers at:

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Personalized Learning: Portfolio writ large?

There was a grass roots revolt against "Portfolio". First, by teachers, who understood that it had been designed without any meaningful input from those on the ground who would be implementing it. Students, understanding that they were receiving little support began an online petition which eventually had over 7,500 signatures. Then, by parents, who understood when it became a barrier to graduation for their own children. Eventually, the government pulled back and canceled it.

It's a shame, because at the core, Portfolio was a good idea. But it was also a classic example of what happens when a single good pedagogical idea is cherry picked by an eager politician and implemented by people who do not actually work in the system without any money.

So with Personalized Learning. A lovely new book has been produced by the Ministry to score some points with the electorate and to appear to be involving teachers, parents and the community in the discussion. ( A handful of people will fill in the blanks, probably with a wide assortment of ideas based on anything from solid research to personal experience, and the government will say it "consulted". Meanwhile, they will forge ahead with their own plans.

Ironically, within the lovely book are some glaring contradictions. Personalized learning with standardized report cards. Less rigid curriculum with more frequent standardized testing.

But the most glaring omission? Money.

Let's remember Portfolio again. A new course. Every student required to take it. No funding whatsoever (well, to be fair, a few pennies for a few workshops - but no per student funding at all). Counselor time had to be used to meet with students and help them prepare because there was no portfolio "course". This was typically taken from other teaching time, meaning increased class sizes in the rest of the school. Most Districts also purchased expensive online portfolio systems, with funds coming from other areas of the District budget and corresponding cuts in those areas. For what? For the whole thing to be discontinued and replaced a few short years later with the graduation transition plan.

I am not opposed to significant change. There are lots of things wrong with how our schools are organized. But this government plan will not lead to improvements - it will lead to fewer services for students. It is a cost cutting measure dressed up in nice pedagogical clothing with "pseudo" consultation.

If the government were truly interested in moving to "great" schools from "good" schools, they would properly fund the system, they would have a thorough discussion with all the participants (royal commission?), and they would eliminate the profiteers from the discussion (we really don't need the technology council telling us how to sell more IT products to school districts).

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The myth of the "me too" clause

Back in April, Minister of Education George Abbott all but eliminated the possibility of wage increases for teachers because of the dreaded "me too" clause. Vaughan Palmer reported:

If the B.C. Liberals were to grant a pay raise to school teachers in the current contract negotiations, it would be contractually obliged to grant retroactive increases to other public sector workers as well.

So says Education Minister George Abbott, referencing "me-too" clauses in a number of public sector union contracts, signed over the past two years.


And yet there is a very good case for wage increases for teachers. BC teachers have fallen to the bottom of the pack in cross Canada comparisons. By September 6, the start of the new school year, a teacher in Vancouver at the top of the pay scale will be earning over $21, 000 less than a teacher in Edmonton. On average, BC teachers will rank 9th in the provinces/territories, with only Quebec, PEI and Newfoundland behind us.

In Saskatchewan, where teachers salaries are currently just slightly ahead of BC, teachers are asking for significant increases in order to catch up with western Canadian averages.

This fall, Alberta teachers will receive a 4.4% increase, and Ontario teachers will receive a 3% increase.

And we are behind not just in salary. On class size, preparation time and benefits, BC teachers are near the bottom.

But will it cost the province to give teachers a raise? I have yet to see an actual "me too" clause signed by a public sector union. What there are is "renegotiate" clauses. That is, if the government breaks the so-called wage mandate, other unions will have the right to try and renegotiate. And so they should.

With inflation running above 3%, all public sector workers should be able to maintain their purchasing power and salary levels.

But how many clauses are actually out there? I'd like Mr. Abbott to show me, because the same government "mandate" that force the "net zero", also forced the exclusion of "me too" clauses.

We bargain with BCPSEA. Here is what they have to say about the wage mandate and me too clauses:

Me Too Clause

The inclusion of a “Me Too Clause” (i.e., a clause which would grant an increase in compensation to union A if Union B were to receive a compensation increase greater
than that received by Union A) is to be avoided. Those collective agreements that contain such a clause will not be ratified by the BCPSEA Board of Directors if there is any chance that the “Me Too Clause” will result in a settlement greater than that permitted under the monetary limits. Any “Me Too Clause” must be subject to the PSEC Compensation Mandate in effect at the same time as the clause would take effect.


So if any union has actually negotiated a REAL "me too" clause, then they have broken the mandate. Which one is it Mr. Abbott?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Saanich Board submits deficit budget

The Saanich school board is staying the course on it's deficit budget stand.

Earlier this year, the board approved a deficit budget, including costs to restore class sizes after the Supreme Court of BC ruled Bills 27 and 28 unconstitutional.

However, Boards have until the end of June to submit their final budgets, and some speculated that the Saanich Board would reverse their decision. But in a 4-3 vote, the Board has decided to continue with the deficit budget.

The Board also passed a motion calling on the government to address the Court ruling immediately, and ensure there is no disruption next year.

This is a courageous stand on the part of Saanich Trustees.

CFAX reported some of the background and comments by Education Minister George Abbott:


Saturday, June 11, 2011

BCPSEA: Fostering division and polarization or promoting a conversation?

Charlie Naylor, who works with the BCTF, kindly allowed me to reprint this short piece he wrote in response to information published by BCPSEA:

The BCPSEA Perspectives in Practice paper, “Employment in Transformational Times – or Change as Usual” creates a false dichotomy which fosters divisive educational debate in BC. It simplistically and erroneously suggests there are two dominant perspectives around 21st century learning in the province. The first, according to and implicitly supported by BCPSEA, is reflected in the work of the Premier’s Technology Council, which argues for transformation of education to meet the needs of a changing world. The second, implicitly critiqued by BCPSEA, is reflected in several BCTF reports and documents. Thus, transformation and positive change appears to be promoted by the former Premier and his Technology Council while the BCTF appears Luddite and suspicious.

BCPSEA does this in part by misrepresenting the discussion paper I wrote and by selectively synthesizing and quoting sections from the paper. What my paper actually does is to approve and explore many of the ideas of 21st century learning advocates—meeting all students’ needs, constructivist pedagogical approaches, and appropriate and engaging uses of technology. It shares some of the wonderful innovations that reflect the work of many BC teachers and explicitly states that “there is much to interest and engage teachers” in considering 21st century learning concepts.

But what my paper also aims to do is widen the debate by exploring literature linked to educational philosophy, the history of schooling, trends in technology, the need to meet diverse student needs, and alternative views on educational and social futures. It does question how and why those same people who mandated uniformity and standardization in policy and legislation now demand personalization but do not say what it should look like or how they will support it. The BCTF paper suggests a considerable number of systemic issues require serious consideration, and it also considers potential pedagogical changes to better meet students’ needs—many of these areas representing challenges both for government and for teachers.

The intent of my paper was to offer one tool for widening a debate in which government, school districts, unions, and others might engage to consider the future of education. None of this is considered in the BCPSEA paper. Instead, for BCPSEA, it’s the transformers versus the Luddites, and it takes little to work out who sits in which camp. This dichotomy well suits the politics of division but does nothing to support serious discussion. The BC education community needs, as matter of urgency, to engage with ideas through serious and inclusive discourse rather than to foster polarization. In this case I argue that it’s the BCTF attempting to contribute to educational discourse through the discussion paper and its newly created 21st century teaching and learning web page. Perhaps it is time for BCPSEA to engage in a more constructive and collaborative debate, one in line with 21st century thinking.


BCTF Discussion paper

BCPSEA - Employment in Transformational times

Charlie Naylor, BCTF

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Wondering what "personlized learning" means? Just look south to find out

More and more I have been thinking that the BC government / BCPSEA's vision of "personalized learning" comes from the US, not Britain, or anywhere else.

Today I came across this, from the US Department of Education. The last sentence is perhaps the most telling: "an opportunity to achieve greater efficiency and increase productivity". It is part of a stream of educational policy thought under the umbrella "educational productivity", which means getting higher test scores for less money.

Here is the whole description:

Competency-Based Learning or Personalized Learning

Transitioning away from seat time, in favor of a structure that creates flexibility, allows students to progress as they demonstrate mastery of academic content, regardless of time, place, or pace of learning. Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online and blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others. This type of learning leads to better student engagement because the content is relevant to each student and tailored to their unique needs. It also leads to better student outcomes because the pace of learning is customized to each student.

By enabling students to master skills at their own pace, competency-based learning systems help to save both time and money. Depending on the strategy pursued, competency-based systems also create multiple pathways to graduation, make better use of technology, support new staffing patterns that utilize teacher skills and interests differently, take advantage of learning opportunities outside of school hours and walls, and help identify opportunities to target interventions to meet the specific learning needs of students. Each of these presents an opportunity to achieve greater efficiency and increase productivity.

You can read more here:

Monday, June 6, 2011

Strategic facilities plans - a plan for more school closures?

Every District in BC was asked by the Ministry to make a long term strategic plan for their facilities use. Many have chosen to contract out this work to a company called "Stantec consulting", which has produced a sort of boiler plate report for multiple districts.

I have only looked in detail at the report for Greater Victoria, but is is evident that there are some serious flaws in the report. The full report is available here:

The report barely mentions the single biggest issue with respect to long term facilities planning: the opening of catchments. In 2002, the BC Liberals allowed parents to "select" a school, rather than having to register for their neighborhood school. This has created a huge amount of chaos in the enrollment and registration processes. It has led to less choice in many schools (fewer students means fewer course offerings), and a lot of staffing changes. Typically now, many teachers are laid off in May when enrollments are very uncertain, and then rehired in September when the enrollments firm up. This means many classes experience multiple teachers during the month of September. It also means facilities planning has been very difficult - particularly when Districts do not seem to want ANY empty space. Doncaster school just underwent a renovation and removed classrooms, and the following year portables were needed to accommodate the new Kindergarten classes.

While the report suggests "limiting enrollment" in a few schools, it does not examine the issue of open catchments holistically, even though it is one of the primary sources of problems for school planning, including facilities planning.

The Victoria report includes in it's "principles" for facilities planning:

* strive for increased efficiency in operational and capital costs
* optimize administrative costs within the available funding

It is no doubt these principles will result in plans with portables on fields, rather than extra space in schools. The report indicates the District should be enabled to: "decommission space". Extra space is "less efficient". From an educational perspective, extra space is a dream - the ability to have small groups work in separate areas, set up additional learning environments, and have adequate space for teacher preparation time.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in the report is the use of 2020 as an end date. Using this date means this "planning" exercise might actually create a space crisis in the years to follow.

Enrollment projections are available to 2028. Yet the report only uses data to 2020. The projections for Secondary enrollment dip and bottom out in 2017. But the Kindergarten numbers show that after 2020, there will be a long term and significant increase at all levels. If decisions are made based on the low numbers in the "dips", there will be insufficient space immediately afterwords.

The Victoria numbers show almost no change in total headcount between 2010 and 2019. Yet the Kindergarten numbers for BC show an increase of 7000 across BC in that same period (about a 20%) increase. This means the 15 years beyond 2020 are going to look very different than the ten years leading up to 2020.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Back to the Future? Will the Liberals under Christy be at war with public sector workers?

It seems like a distant bad dream, but it was not so long ago that a newly elected BC Liberal government went to war with BC's public sector workers. After a promise that they would "not rip up contracts", they proceeded to do just that. They contracted out, privatized, and instituted wage roll-backs.

After massive protest movements, lengthy court battles, and a steady drop in the polls, they backed off somewhat. In 2006, the approach was a little different, with modest wage increases, and a signing bonus, in exchange for "labour peace" during the Olympics.

When Gordon Campbell's approval rating plummeted to 9% and he finally resigned, there was hope for something different. The reversal on the minimum wage, fees for parking in provincial parks, and a generally more conciliatory tone signaled a new approach.

But lately, I am feeling that these are a chimera, a cheap gloss over a return to the Liberals of yester-year. And I guess I shouldn't be surprised, given that those are the only years Christy was there.

The Liberals have refused the recommendations of an independent report on judges salaries. Even though the recommendations kept within the wage freeze mandate, they will not be implemented.

The Liberals have put nothing but concessions on the table with the BCTF. Bargaining is proceeding at a glacial pace, and there is no sign that the government will be restoring class sizes for the fall even after a stinging rebuke from the Courts.

On top of this, it appears likely that there may be significant changes to education policy without any consideration for the issues raised by teachers in regard to workload, class size and composition and the terrible shortage of specialist teachers.

The first term of Liberal government saw massive change in government. Reorganization, restructuring, dismantling. But nothing improved. We had better be ready to stop the "replay" button if that is what's coming again.