Monday, October 31, 2011

Abbott's plan: some thoughts...

Some of my thoughts on George Abbott's announcement:

This plan is not really about individualizing instruction, adapting to student needs or providing more opportunities outside the more "traditional" forms of teaching and learning. If it was, then it would be accompanied by funding (there is exactly zero dollars attached to it...just like teacher bargaining!), and the first items it would address is class size and preparation time. Teachers know that the primary barrier to addressing individual student needs is the desperate lack of teacher time to do so.

Here is what the Globe and Mail reported: "Although the plan includes a promise of more support for teachers, there is no additional money promised to pay for the initiatives. “The preoccupation is not with money at the moment, the preoccupation is with good ideas and best practices,” Mr. Abbott said in an interview."

The plan is also insulting to teachers. Littered throughout are veiled references to our failures. The suggestion is that teachers have NOT been putting children's interests first, are NOT developing and enhancing their skills, are NOT exploring alternative ways of teaching. It is concerning that there is an ever increasing emphasis on "fix the teacher" and a complete lack of acknowledgment that teachers are hampered by large classes, too many students with special needs to be able to cope with the range of abilities, not enough EAs and learning specialists and inadequate resources, dealing with poverty in the classroom, etc.

Unfortunately, the plan also contains: an increase in the provision of private educational services, increase in the workload of teachers, reducing the overall number of teachers (through more dl and private services), and an erosion of teachers' professional autonomy.

The plan makes almost no mention of students with special needs. It does not mention class composition or class size.

The devil is in the details, and the details are not there. A few of the more positive items in the plan are woefully under-defined. What would a "mentor" program look like? Will teachers be involved in designing it? When will it take place and how? While a mentoring program could be a fantastic addition to our system, my fear is that with no money, it will simply be mandatory extra work for teachers at the end of an already exhausting day.

The announcement came with no new funding. This is one of the most crucial points. Many aspects of the plan will take considerable time. Without any additional funding, this means loss of funding for other areas or a lot more work for teachers. For example, who will be writing an Individual Learning Plan for every student, every year? This is a massive amount of work. Will teachers do this on top of their existing duties? Who will pay for the new technology? Will this come at the expense of music programs? Class size?

BCeSIS v. 2.0? "An improved provincial student information and reporting system will help teachers plan a more personalized learning experience with students and teachers." Also in the plan are a province wide standard report card along with performance standards for all grades, and "digital tools and resources that support both face to face and online learning". No money is provided for any of this, so presumably it must come from existing budgets, just as the costs for BCeSIS did. The only money announcement that has been made is the $1.2 billion contract with Telus to rewire the entire province's public services.

Credits for private educational services. "We will expand our current learning credential program to better recognize learning that takes place outside of the classroom – like arts, sports, science and leadership programs – so that students are fairly acknowledged for this work." This could have a significant impact on teachers in the arts, science and leadership. Already, students can receive public school credit for private courses (such as Royal Conservatory of Music, for example). If the number of credit opportunities expand by allowing more private educational services to count as credit courses, there will be a loss of jobs and funding in these areas.

Increased Ministry control over professional development. "We will work with our education partners to make sure that Professional Development days are used to enhance educators’ knowledge base and professional expertise. It is important that teachers are able to refresh and develop new practices throughout their careers by participating in professional learning opportunities. On Professional Development days, parents make alternative arrangements for their children and they need to be assured that these days are used as intended." This entire paragraph is about not trusting teachers to control their professional development. The unspoken words are that teachers do not enhance our knowledge and we do not develop, because we do not use our professional development days "as intended". In other documents, the Ministry has referred to the need to "align" our professional development with Ministry and student needs. It is possible that underlying this is an intent to legislate that all PD days are Ministry directed topics and mandatory. This would effectively end self-directed professional development. It suggests that there is no role for the professional in directing their learning based on their own evaluation of their needs, but rather need to spend all professional development days only in "alignment" with Ministry initiatives. It undermines the professionalism of teaching and would mean there was no time for teachers to focus on professional learning specific to their own teaching position.

Remember the last time the words "flexibility" and "choice" were used? Our Collective Agreement was stripped, and this "flexibility" led to a situation in my school where by 2005 every single PE class had over 40 students. The "plan" envisions flexibility for the school calendar, the school day, school location, and schooling at school or at home. It openly envisions an increase in online and 'blended' learning. Why? Case loads for distributed learning classes are much, much higher than class sizes for 'face to face' learning. This means you need fewer teachers and there is cost savings. There may be merit in some of these ideas, but I don't trust a government whose primary goal is to spend no money. "Flexibility" often means "remove minimum standards".

The timing of the announcement was also important. This will act as a distraction from the issues that teachers have brought forward as issues of critical importance to improving schools - namely adequate funding, smaller classes, more learning specialists/teacher librarians/special education teachers, adequate resources for students with special needs and improved class composition. It is also a diversion from what teachers have put on the bargaining table to improve teaching and learning: class size/composition, competitive salaries and benefits and increased preparation time.

I very much liked the response by three Vancouver Trustees posted on Facebook here:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Teachers upset with BCPSEA allegations and threats

Teachers in Greater Victoria flooded the District email server today to tell Trustees the truth about teachers' working hours. They were upset at the suggestion by BCPSEA that teachers should be paying 15% of their salary back to Boards (via the union) because of our job action.

Here are some excerpts from their letters:

We'll, I've just spent my lunch hour running around like a 'chicken with it's head cut off' trying to prep. for my afternoon classes. This is a regular occurrence now that my prep. time is among the lowest in Canada and I have to do all my own photocopying and the other countless jobs in order to effectively present lessons for my students. Of course, marking and assessing my students' work usually has to wait until the evening when my daughter is asleep and I can have several hours to myself.

I urge you to reconsider your position, speak out against this LRB application, and urge your local negotiating team to get back to the table and bargain in good faith.

It is key that you have a clear understanding of the ongoing dedication of the work teachers are committed to inside and out of their classrooms....As far as reporting, as a special education teacher, I am currently writing 8-12 page IEP reports for each of my students, meeting with parents in 90 minute meetings and collaborating with staff on how best these students can be supported. Please pay attention and take positive action to support teachers, students and schools.

It was with a great deal of sadness that I read about the total lack of respect exhibited by those that would seek to punish myself and my colleagues for attempting to follow a process that was, I assumed, a fundamental right. Like every teaching professional I have done my job in the classroom, which includes communicating with parents when they so desired, or when I was concerned about an individual student. After regular school hours, as the senior Drama teacher in the district, I put in countless hours in the presentation of productions, as do all other extra curricular teachers and coaches... What is wrong with this picture?

I too work between 45 and 50 hours a week for little over four days a week pay. I have enough self respect to know I’m shamefully underpaid, but there are other considerations. No one yet has mentioned what this crushing need in our schools has done to our family members.

Yesterday, I got a phone call from my husband. His mother is dying. He was scrambling to arrange a last minute flight back east so he could be there at the end. After school, instead of rushing home to make him a meal before rushing him out to the airport, I was in my classroom, talking with a boy who has escaped gang life. He wanted my advice on a budding romance between him and an older co-worker. He wanted to talk about his mother, who is dying. He needed to tell me about his father, who has cancer. His sister has special needs. I spent an hour with him, ignoring the huge stack of marking on my desk, the fact that at home I had a sick child, the fact that my husband had just learned he was about to lose his mother, and was present and patient with this kid, because this kid and every other kid in this province matter.

This isn’t a game. It’s not some pathetic macho posturing on our part. Our job takes it out of our bones, and we do it because we care. Does anyone else?

My husband ended up making supper. Again.

This year has been a roller coaster, so far, to say the least. I was excited and enthusiastic to begin my classes and meet my new students, and this element of my job has not let me down in the slightest. I feel inspired and energized on a daily basis and sink my heart, soul and body into my students and their learning. I have corresponded with parents, sent home progress reports, worked with students before and after school as well as during my lunch hours. I am thrilled once again to be so involved with the young minds of our future and to be amongst fellow professionals. My colleagues and I continue to meet in our departments and on school based teams with the intention to provide the very best educational experiences for our students.

On the flip side, is the absolutely devastating disrespect of our employer. We seem to be a throw away profession, attacked publicly, who do not garner even a modicum of positive support or respect from the Ministry of Education. It is heartbreaking that we invest 5 years of our lives and tens of thousands of dollars to become the very teachers who are so devalued in this province. On the heels of the countless hours of my own time that I spend marking, I am a senior level, secondary English teacher, and providing student support and activities, I learned yesterday that the government is seeking to reduce our pay by 15-20%. I was on my way to work at the time, and wanted nothing more than to turn around, go back home and issue my resignation...I am glad that I am not an easily defeated person, and arrived at work EARLY and in a positive mood to meet my students. I will NOT resign, but only strengthen my resolve to unite with my colleagues to make the changes desperately needed for our students of today and the future.

I need you to support me and my colleagues. We are not doing less.... we are doing everything we are suppose to do and more. I started this email last night at 11pm when I was replying to student emails and communications to parents. I have made it very clear to all my parents and students that I am available to update, discuss and communicate any time that they want. I've told them I will call, evenings, weekends, what ever works for them. I have not shut down but rather freely open the doors to parental participation and support without hesitation. Perhaps this job action is the best possible situation for parental and teacher relations. I want to be that teacher parents know they can trust and rely on to help support their children. I work incredibly hard to make it so.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

BCPSEA's hypocritical application to LRB over BC teachers wages

The BC Public School Employer's Association (BCPSEA) is making an application this afternoon to the Labour Relations Board on behalf of BC School Trustees. The application seeks to charge the teachers' union, the BC Teachers Federation, for a portion of teacher salaries during the current job action. Apparently they are asking for 5 - 20% of teachers wages.

The hypocrisy is mind boggling. Let's consider the facts.

Teachers are not attending a monthly staff meeting. They are not completing formal report cards three times per year. In some districts, they are not doing outdoor supervision during recess and lunch. They are doing all tasks in relation to teaching including lesson preparation, instruction, marking and assessment. They are continuing to communicate with parents on all aspects of student learning. They are continuing to organize field trips. They are continuing extra-curricular activities.

Most teachers report that the small amount of time not spent in meetings or doing paperwork is now being spent on enhanced lesson preparation, increased individual time with students, and more assessment. No teacher I know of is working fewer hours.

Meanwhile, in 2002 the BC Liberals unilaterally and illegally stripped teachers' collective agreement of class size and class composition limits. As a result, most teachers workloads increased. Increased class sizes lead to direct increases in workload. There is more marking, more assessing, more reporting, more parent contact. Increased class composition also leads to direct increases in workload. A student with an Individual Education Plan requires individualized lessons. This can be a major increase in workload where teachers have many such students in their class(es).

When teachers negotiated provincial class size limits, they gave up salary. A three year agreement was reached with 0%, 0%, and 2%. In exchange, the limits ensured reasonable workloads for teachers as well as improved learning conditions for students.

When these limits were stripped, there was no corresponding increase in pay. Teachers simply lost. The lost salary has meant BC teachers are now eighth in Canada. And teachers report working an average of 49 hours per week, with one tenth of teachers working 60 hours or more. There is no extra pay for these extra hours of work.

The BC Supreme Court found the contract stripping was illegal. The government has been forced to enter discussions with the BCTF to address their actions. So far, the government has insisted that there will be ZERO compensation for teachers for the effects of the illegal legislation.

So for ten years teachers have been working for significantly longer hours for lower salaries. And now, after two months of extremely limited job action, that same government (via its employer's agent) wants 20% of our wages.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Occupy Education Builds Momentum

Watch live streaming video from occupynyc at

Teachers across America are joining the 99% and building links and solidarity with the Occupy movement.

In New York City, teachers and parents were some of the firs to join the protests. See a good video here:

Recently, a group of teachers took their marking to the Occupy Wall Street protest. American blogger Fred Klonsky describes their action and how they were dispersed by the police:

"Grade-ins have become common in cities across the country as teachers gather in public spaces to do work that usually gets done at home, off the clock and unrecognized: prepping for classes, grading papers and doing the unending paperwork that the school bureaucracies demand.

Since there was no open space in Liberty Square, this group of teachers gathered across the street. A few minutes later two uniformed New York cops arrived on the scene.

“What’s going on.”
“We’re grading papers.”
“Can’t do that here.”

The cops disappeared for a few minutes and suddenly there were a half-dozen more New York cops.

“Can’t do that here,” they repeated.

“Thank you, officers,” one of the teachers politely said. And the teachers gathered their tests, folding chairs and hand-made cardboard signs and moved across the street, disappearing into the crowd."


Across the country, in Los Angeles, another group of teachers and supporters went to the Los Angeles Unified School District office to initiate Occupy LAUSD. This movement has three demands:

1. Tax the 1% to fully fund schools for our students.
2. By the 99%. For the 99%. Keep our public schools public!
3. Democratic community based schools: Not corporate wall street reform.

It should be no surprise that teachers are in the forefront of the Occupy movement. Teachers have, in many cases, been first in the firing line of US policies to cut wages and benefits. In addition, schools and boards have suffered massive cut backs and the American "reform" movement has explicitly attacked public schooling through the promotion of Charter schools.

For more information on Occuply LAUSD:

Monday, October 24, 2011

The "transformation agenda" for BC education? - follow the IT contracts...

Education Minister Abbott's plan's for our K-12 education system became alarmingly clear to me when I stumbled upon the presentation given to the School Superintendent's Association by IBM Canada.

A lot of people have looked at Deputy Minister's James Gorman's powerpoint. But the IBM powerpoint shows the agenda in much starker terms.

In fact, a single page of the 64 page presentation was amazingly insightful.

Check out page 46 of the presentation which is available on the BCSSA's web site here:

The page is titled: "A Vision for Education Transformation". Does that sound familiar? Now check out the title of the Minister's recent press release: "B.C.’s plan for education transformation". (see here:

The slide goes on to show the three components of the "transformation agenda":
  • "Using Data and Analytics to Drive Personalized Instructional Plans"
  • "Delivered through a more manageable and scalable device infrastructure"
  • "Supported by broadband networks spanning the community"
The first is the most interesting, as it has the most potential to dramatically damage teaching and learning in BC. But it is needed to justify the second two, which, not surprisingly, are where IBM and Telus and a few other technology companies fit in. As the slide confirms, IBM imagines itself as the provider of the "IBM Desktop Cloud", which conveniently delivers the "data", "analytics" and "personalized instructional plans". Telus, having already been awarded a $1 billion contract, would no doubt provide the "broadband networks spanning the community". On top of the Cloud sit a few other pieces of software, notably produced by "Pearson Auxiliaries" - companies owned or affiliated with Pearson - the company that used to be mostly about textbooks. (You might have read about Pearson lately when they purchases the now infamous failed BCeSIS - the BC Liberal's disastrous student information system now declared by an independent review a  unfix-able waste of $100 million.)

But let's get back to the first part for a minute. The diagram shows a collection of "systems" which will be used to provide the "data" and "analytics" in a so-called "dashboard". I take it the "dashboard" is some kind of user interface for the "Cloud". The picture shows charts and graphs on the "dashboard". I take it these represent the "data" which has been suitably "analyzed".

The data on the "dashboard" comes from another set of computer programs. These are the "Pearson Auxiliaries". Let's have a closer look at some of these companies:
  • SchoolNet - owned by Pearson, produces software for "Instructional Improvement", "Educator Development", "Student Information and Grading", and "District and Parent Portals"
  • SPSS - owned by IBM, produces statistical data analysis
  • SAP - has a forty year history of working with IBM, produces software for data warehousing and data analytics
  • Peoplesoft - produces database software that is used by many universities to manage course selection and student records
  • SEAS - owned by Computer Automation Systems Inc stands for "Special Education Automation Software" and makes software that stores, manages and tracks Individual Education Plans
Clearly what is envisioned, by IBM at least, is a fully integrated, completely computerized data-driven bureaucracy. Where decision making within this system is driven by charts and graphs. Where the human element does not even warrant a symbol in the diagram. Where the assumption is that we need more "analytics" to improve student success, rather than suitable resources, teaching techniques or materials.

So if you had concerns that Accountability Contracts (which all School Boards must produce) were already too "data-driven" by Foundation Skills Assessment test score results, watch out. IBM promises to: "Bring together deep analytics with advanced technology, learning resources and research to create new insights
and guide decisions."

And if you were shocked by the appalling interface on BCeSIS which required five minutes worth of button clicks just to mark a student as late, take a look at some PeopleSoft programs. When I first saw a PeopleSoft screen it my the first of two times I have witnessed a single screen with upwards of three different embedded boxes with slider bars, some of which went sideways and some vertical. The next time I saw these was BCeSIS.

And if you have any concerns about privacy and the use of personal data, beware. This "transformation" imagines every component of the education bureaucracy coded, stored, analyzed, and on screen, from the sick days taken by a teacher to the score of a student's math test to every student's learning plan to the food order for the cafeteria. Hence the need for the government to introduce Bill 3, currently in process in the legislature, which would allow all this "cloud" computing with your personal information. Here is one further quote that gives an indication of the quantity and breadth of data collection envisioned: "Access to learning resources from a variety of mobile devices, Sensors to collect data for large scale research projects
(environment, weather, energy usage, transportation, etc), Digital video surveillance to protect students on campus and in school buildings". It makes Google Street View seem downright tame.

If you have ever used Rosetta Stone, you will be familiar with the kind of learning this "data-driven" model encapsulates - sit at a computer, take a canned lesson, get feedback, take a new lesson based on your score, repeat. Here it is described on slide 27 of the presentation:
  • Increase results by shifting to data-driven decisions by...using data to track and evaluate student progress
  • Early identification of performance problems by...leveraging analytics to identify performance issues early
  • Better support for teachers and alignment of resources to needs by...Building and managing customized
    intervention plans using district and other models
  • Improved student outcomes through better engagement and personalized instruction by...Leveraging integrated technology delivery of personalized lesson plans, in and outside the classroom
There a number of real nuggest in this presentation. Note some of the key words we've seen elsewhere in the Ministry literature such as "alignment". Here are a few:

Concerned economics is taking priority over pedagogy?: "Education programs and economic initiatives align for long term sustainability and growth."

Worried your kids already have too much screen time, here's more: "Integration of Consumer IT devices
into learning environments in a device-agnostic manner"

Concerned big brother is tracking your cell phone?: "Social media becomes integral to learning and begins to use analytics."

Worried this agenda will mean less classroom time and more computer time?: "Learning Delivery and Digital Content Management: Assemble personalized lesson plans from various sources, Deliver learning to a variety of in- and out-of-classroom devices, Allow access to learning materials beyond the classroom"

Concerned schools are becoming too competitive and stressful for young children?: "Provide every student with optimized learning and skills development to enable them to compete in the new economy through a dynamic, cost effective and adaptive learning environment."

Lastly, we see where the BC government is getting their "policy" advice on page 30 where IBM suggests that "Successful education systems in the next decade will share a number of strategic policy actions" which are listed:

"Adopt and Promote a vision of Personalized Learning encouraging better use of data and analytics to manage and tailor learning services to individual students

Establish Student-Centric versus Institutionally-Centric Processes to provide better insights, interventions and
opportunities to improve outcomes

Promote Open Standards and Open Platforms in Technology to enable a broad set of providers to contribute to a rich, diverse world of learning

Consolidate Services across Institutions and Agencies to realize the benefits of cloud computing and shared services"

In plain English: Create a need for data and increased technology with the myth of "personalized learning", Diminish the importance of schools and communities by focusing on the individual student, Let all the technology companies in on the spoils (there's enough for everyone), Do it everywhere on a large scale and sell this with the myth of efficiencies of "shared services"

Friday, October 21, 2011

Big brother and the Ministry of Education

You will be forgiven for missing Bill 3, introduced in the BC legislature on October 4th. I did. I was too busy thinking about the government's grand new plans for education. But in fact, they are related.

It is a change in the Freedom of Information and Privacy legislation designed, I suspect, to enable government's plan to extend and expand its IT infrastructure everywhere from health care records to student learning plans and who knows where else. A good overview and critique appeared in the Times Colonist today:

If you are wondering why the BC government has offered only a pittance to help address class composition and students with special needs - the answers are here. They need it all for their IT projects. In 2002 the government removed $330 million PER YEAR that was used for class size and class composition. Meanwhile the "Class organization fund" announced this month will get $0 this year, $30 million next, $65 million the year after and $70 million in year 4, with no promise of funding beyond that time.

At the same time, Telus has been quietly awarded a $1 - $1.2 billion project to do, well something.

Missed that announcement in the newspaper? Me too. I'm not sure if it ever was announced, but I found out about it here:, in a PowerPoint presentation by Jim Gorman, Deputy Minister of Education, to the School Superintendents Association. It's on page 27, right in the middle of 20 pages about Technology and Education. A full one third of the presentation focused on Technology, and not a word on class composition or students with special needs.

This comes after the grand debacle that is BCeSIS - $100 million wasted on a student information system that the government then paid another $250,000 to an independent reviewer to find out it doesn't work and can't be fixed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How to judge a School Board candidate - by their record

With Trustee elections less than a month away, my usual frustration is mounting over how little "accountability" there is for School Board Trustees.

Every Trustee candidate I know would proudly say that they "support public education". That they will "stand up for schools and communities". That they will be "advocates".

Sorry. That's not good enough. I hear those phrases from the 1% when they are in fact trying to pass policies that do exactly the opposite.

So my advice to anyone out there thinking about who to vote for? Watch what they DO, not what they SAY. Huge difference.

Let's take Victoria Trustees for example.

Probably all 13 running for School Board would say they support "quality" education. Many would say they support "small classes" and "supports for students". But the raw reality is this:

Only ONE....that's right ONE Trustee actually voted AGAINST a class organization that included HUNDREDS of classes that exceed School Act limits. That one was Catherine Alpha.

Despite their "progressive" leanings and profession of supporting teachers, students and schools, not a single other incumbent Trustee insisted that class sizes and class composition in Victoria schools should stay within the legislated limits by voting against the class organization report (the limits are 30 students, no more than 3 with special needs). Not even the candidates (Peg Orcherton and Bev Horsman) who were endorsed by the Labour Council would stand up for kids and classroom conditions and insist that legislated limits are adhered to by voting against the report.

It's very easy for candidates to say all the things they know that you want to hear...right around election time. Be careful and insist on the facts. Only voting records and their actions in public office tell the true story.

Solidarity and the 99% - Why teachers should support the Occupy movement

If you are a teacher, you should join the "Occupy" movement. Not since the 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization has there been such a large and significant protest movement aimed at the "neo-liberal" economic agenda. Now, a decade later, the reasons to confront the predominant political agenda have never been more pressing and urgent. And in many ways, teachers are in the forefront of this struggle.

In the years following World War II, a significant expansion of the public sector took place, including education. Schools multiplied, many teachers were hired, and a great emphasis was placed on a high quality public education system. At that time the focus was broad not narrow - every child should be afforded equal opportunity to succeed. Schools were places not just to learn how to read, but also to become mathematically and scientifically literate, and to explore one's potential in the arts, sports, music and other areas of creative endeavor. Equity was important, and so schools were free and the emphasis was on quality schools in EVERY neighborhood, not simply the best opportunity for "my child". Into the seventies and even eighties, increased funding meant schools and educators were able to expand programs and tune and develop their pedagogy.

At the same time, teachers unions secured basic benefits for their members - the right to organize, the right to equal salaries between women and men, decent pensions and benefits packages, and fair working conditions secured with limits on class sizes, case loads and class composition limits.

But by the mid-nineties, neo-liberalism came to BC with a vengeance. The first assault was the Federal Liberal program to drastically reduce transfer payments to the provinces. As this money primarily supports health care and education and other public services, these were the areas to be hit. Decreased provincial budgets "trickled down" through the system in a variety of ways: elimination of local bargaining rights, reduced School Board budgets year after year leading to layoffs and cuts, and stagnating wages and benefits.

By the time the BC Liberals came to power in 2001, we were already struggling to maintain our high quality system on the backs of our own extra labour. Teachers were working longer hours for less pay. Money disappeared for things like in-service training in new curriculum and staff collaboration time. More and more the expectation became that teachers did all the "extras" on their own time. Not just marking and lesson preparation, but meetings, parent/teacher interviews, administrative paper work, preparing Individual Education Plans, meeting with School Based Team, department meetings, attendance record keeping and the list goes on. And the "extras"  became an ever growing list. With teachers the only large salaried group of employees, every new initiative, data collection scheme or administrative task was downloaded to teachers. Supposedly the system could "improve" just by giving teachers more work to do.

The policies and legislative agenda of the BC Liberals took us into overdrive. Within three years they took away our right to strike (Essential Services), stripped our working conditions out of our Collective Agreement (Bills 27/28), attacked our professional control over standards by overhauling the BC College of Teachers, and radically changed the focus of education policy from "we" to "me".

No longer was the emphasis on public schooling for society, for equity, for equal opportunity. Instead policies based on "choice" pandered to the notion that schools are primarily for "my child". Fee based Academies created opportunities for some children, but not others. FSA rankings and the opening of catchment areas led to parents "shopping" for the "best school". Rather than a philosophy of a great school for every child, they promote the best school for my child. No matter the children who can't afford the extra programs, the schools that can't fund-raise thousands of dollars, the parents who cannot drive their child to the chosen school.

At the same time, wages continued to stagnate, provincial bargaining proved dysfunctional, teachers were legislated back to work multiple times, and wages and benefits continued their slide.

Teachers, students and society have all paid a price.

Teachers have had significant losses in earnings, benefits, and face increasingly untenable working conditions. In my school District, over a five year period one in ten teachers will take stress related medical leave. Across BC, 3500 teachers lost their jobs, and the prospects for new teachers today are grim. Fewer teachers are working longer hours for less pay, while new graduates struggle with unemployment.

Students increasingly do not receive the services to ensure their social and academic success. A student requiring special education services is now lucky to get 15 minutes per week at a typical middle school. Students diagnosed with autism often receive Educational Assistance support only for half of the week - as if somehow their autism disappears for the remainder. Students in oversize classes get less individual attention, less personalized assessment, and learn in more crowded and chaotic environments.

Our schools are shamefully leaving many students and their families behind. In BC, both aboriginal and special needs students graduation rates continue to hover at or below the 50% range. Rather than the great equalizer of opportunity, schools more and more are exacerbating the social inequalities that already exist. Students living in foster care, for example, have drastically lower success rates and they fall further behind the longer they are in school.

Every aspect of the Occupy movement can be found in a microcosm in the sad history of our public schools over the past two decades. Inequality is rising. Wages are stagnating. Unemployment is increasing. Young people no longer can look forward to a better education, better opportunities, better careers, better benefits and better pensions. Instead, they are drowning under the weight of increased competition for fewer public services, greater debt load simply to get an education, and the prospect of any "decent" job being gone by the time they grow up and finish school.

The most fantastic part of the Occupy movement is the focus on solidarity. The slogan "we are the 99%" perfectly summarizes where the division in society is - between the wealthy and powerful one percent and the rest of us. The "middle class" teacher struggling to keep wages in line with inflation and maintain decent pensions and modernize benefits is not the enemy of the unemployed twenty something deep in student loan debt. The very jobs and benefits we are struggling to maintain are the job and benefits that the twenty somethings need to be available to them, so that they too will have the opportunity to raise a family, own a house, and afford the basics of life through to retirement.

At the same time, teachers and public education advocates need to see the Occupy movement as part of our movement. Only through a broader struggle where we reject massive inequality, attacks on workers rights, fees and debt to receive public services, will we turn the tide and move back towards a truly public, quality education system. And so the onus is also on us to join hands with those in the squares and parks to fight for a better world.

What you can do:
  • Donate to the Occupy movement - online or in person, to support those camping out and occupying
  • Drop by an Occupation to show support
  • Join the rallies to support the Occupy movement
  • Educate others by sharing the literature and information about the Occupy movement

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Occupying Education

What an amazing day! Across the world millions of ordinary people who are fed up with cuts to services, high unemployment, stagnating wages, pension reductions and most importantly the unbelievable gap between the wealthy and powerful and the rest of us, stood up to occupy spaces all over the planet.

What does this have to do with public education? A whole lot. Equity, fairness, justice, respect, opportunity....all of these themes were chanted at rallies today. And all depend on free, quality, public education. No society can provide equal opportunity for growth and personal development without freely available high quality public schools.

Here are a couple of ways to join those Occupying Education:

And here are my own photos with teachers from the day at Occupy Victoria:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Abbott's plan: Drastic changes with no consultation? Deja vu all over again

Yesterday the Minister of Education announced with some further description the coming legislative changes to BC's education system. Seems the "21st century learning" buzz was indeed a set-up and here it comes. (see for the news release)

The Minister assures us we've all been consulted: "I want you to know about another discussion that’s taking place. It’s a much broader conversation government has been having with students, parents, teachers, and other education partners about our plan to make our good education system a great one."

Did I miss something? I remember that fancy online book, with the little boxes that you could enter a few sentences into. Is that the "broader conversation" he's talking about? Or maybe it was the hour long tweet chat. Yes - there was real depth to that consultation. Or perhaps the closed door meeting with the Superintendent's association? Is that where the conversation got "broad"?

Instead of investing dollars back into funding what is needed - smaller classes, more specialist teachers, building new schools in fast growing areas like Surrey - the government seems intent on forcing unwanted change on an underfunded system and of wasting a lot of money paying big IT companies for " Learning empowered by technology". I guess that's why IBM was at that closed door presentation with the Superintendents. Is this going to be another BCeSIS writ large?

Here are my fears from the "five key elements":

1. "Personalized learning for every student". We will take resources out of classrooms and instead spend them writing up "plans". More administrative paperwork, less teaching and learning. Fewer teachers and maybe fewer instructional hours for students. Students receiving credit for private educational services (such as art, music and sports outside the public school system) and a corresponding drop in the elective course offerings available at schools.

2. "Quality teaching and learning". So far, the emphasis has been on "fix the teacher" rather than "respect the teacher" or "support the teacher". I see further erosion of teaching professionalism through increased supervision, evaluation and discipline by administrators (many of whom have very little teaching experience). This will be a serious morale issue for teachers. It is also terribly unfair to hold teachers "accountable" when teachers do not have adequate resources to do their jobs. 

3. "More flexibility and choice". Choice is about a system that puts "my child first", not a system that puts "our children first". Since the opening of catchment areas, for example, those who can, have fled inner city schools leading to a ghetto-ization in poorer neighborhoods. Flexibility is about giving school administrators most of the say in how resources are allocated. This creates a system where everyone must fight over ever declining funding rather than a system with minimum standards for everyone. "Flexibility" in class size meant some classes of 15 but others of 45, rather than every class under 30. This was a real set back for equal opportunity - a foundational principle of our public system.

4. "High standards". This probably means more standardized testing beyond the Foundation Skills Assessment. Are we headed down the road the US took?

5. "Learning empowered by technology". This sounds like a lot of money for some tech companies to come and outfit schools with something. In the best case, it will at least be useful technology for classrooms. In the worst, it will be another BCeSIS - a mega-dollar data collection boondoggle extraordinaire.  It might also mean more distributed learning and less instructional time with teachers.

Sadly, this looks to be another "Year 2000", another "Portfolio", another government agenda put together in board rooms, not classrooms, that is doomed to fail.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Guest post: Tobey Steeves on Bills 27/28 - a personal and theoretical perspective

A slight departure from the usual today...a personal and theoretical approach to Bills 27/28. Tobey Steeves is a Vancouver area Social Studies teacher and is a Master's student at the University of British Columbia and will be familiar to those who follow the #bced hashtag on twitter.

(Re)Considering Bills 27 and 28:
An affirmation of democratic expressivity

Tobey Steeves

Active democratic citizenship includes an engagement with the body of juridical strategies which attempt to regulate the horizons of the possible. In this monograph I share an autobiographical fieldwork of the self (Ambrosio, 2008) and diagram how British Columbia’s Education Services Collective Agreement (Bill 27), and the Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act (Bill 28) directly impact my life. I then consider their effects as well as the contexts of their development, and conclude by posing alternatives which I hold to be more in alignment with democratic process.

Active democratic citizenship necessarily entails an engagement with the body of juridical strategies which attempt to regulate the horizons of the possible (Abowitz & Harnish, 2006). Among the many policies - local, provincial, national, transnational, etc. - which interpenetrate my life, there are two particular Bills that inspire something just shy of ‘seething contempt’: British Columbia’s (BC) Education Services Collective Agreement Act (Bill 27) and the Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act (Bill 28). These Bills were imposed from the top-down and attempted to modulate populations - unions, teachers, administrators, students - and thereby stand in juxtaposition with democratic principles. More explicitly, by circumscribing spaces and bodies in particular, concrete ways, the Bills can be said to embody an attempt to regulate the scope of becomings available within schools, and characterized as despotic or fascist (Webb, 2009, p. 27). In other words, Bills 27 and 28 can be recognized as enactments of political desire which attempt to re-conceptualize the field of public education while dominating and exploiting bodies as means to an end (Deleuze & Guattari, 1983, p. xiii).

Concepts from social theory and political philosophy are most helpful when grounded in an awareness of the singular. Thus, in the following monograph I will diagram how Bills 27 and 28 directly impact my life, consider their effects as well as the contexts of their development, and pose alternatives which I hold to be more in alignment with democratic process.

Bills 27 and 28: Neoliberal terrorism -

In order to force a settlement to the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation’s (BCTF) contract dispute, on January 27 and 28, 2002, BC’s Liberal government legislated a two-pronged but ‘single stroke’1 resolution into being. Bill 27, the Education Services Collective Agreement Act, imposed a collective agreement between the BCTF and BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) - meaning that “collective agreements [previously] negotiated by teachers [across BC have] effectively been ripped up by the government” (BCTF, n.d.). Bill 28 added content to Bill 27’s force: It gave school districts the authority to set class-size limits and make alterations to the school calendar. According to the BCTF Bills 27 and 28 resulted in larger class sizes, less support for students with special needs, and deep reductions in teaching staff (BCTF, n.d.).

Although Bills 27 and 28 were responses to local context, they index a constellation of neoliberal values and tactics which have become normative throughout much of the globe (Harvey, 2007). That is to say, the ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’2 was not unique to BC at all, but a ‘hybrid’ (Wells, 2005, p. 110) or ‘scalar’ (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010, p. 137) translation of anti-democratic values.

Speaking at a time of great upheaval, in 1960 American president John F. Kennedy affirmed that “labor unions are not narrow, self-seeking groups. They have raised wages, shortened hours and provided supplemental benefits. Through collective bargaining and grievance procedures, they have brought justice and democracy to the shop floor. (cited by Union of Canadian Transportation Employees, 2008). Today, however, many might see Kennedy’s agenda as ‘irresponsible’ or ‘unrealistic’: With increasing intensity and thoroughness - and with few exceptions - organized labour has been subjugated under the economic reductionism of neoliberal ideology (Harvey, 2007). In the post-WWII era, one of the first troubling indications of the decline of unions in the West came in 1981, when Ronald Reagan fired more than 11,000 air traffic controllers for having the audacity to strike (Lippit, 2004). More recently, governments have undercut labour collectives while diversifying their anti-labour practices: A Superintendent in Rhode Island fired the entire teaching staff at one of the state’s poorest schools (Associated Press, 2010); the Governor of Wisconsin enacted legislation which limits “collective bargaining for state employes and many local employees, including teachers, to base wages, barring them from negotiating over health coverage or working hours” (Dickson, 2011); and, closer to home, the “Harper Government” (The Canadian Press, 2011) rebranded itself as an extension of the British Empire (Boesveld, 2011), imposed an ‘agreement’ on striking postal workers (Thompson, 2011), and threatened to do the same with ‘uppity’ flight attendants if they went on strike (Chung, 2011). In BC the Minister of Education has already acknowledged the governments’ willingness to force striking teachers back to work (Vancouver Sun, 2011). Many more examples could be given from the Global North and South, as well as the East and West - all clearly positioning organized labour as subjugated beneath centralized statist power.

It is important to acknowledge that Bills 27 and 28 cannot be reduced to simplistic categories like ‘beneficial’ or ‘hurtful’, and yet they can be measured according to principles of expressivity - the degree to which the Bills (de)vitalize life in BC. By that I mean to say that Bills 27 and 28 embody elements which could be construed as ‘beneficial’: money was ‘saved’, efficiency was ‘improved’, and an ‘agreement’ was achieved. On the other hand, each of these ‘benefits’ was asymmetrical: money was ‘saved’ at the expense of students’, efficiency was ‘improved’ by increasing teachers’ workloads and reducing benefits packages, and power was consolidated within the State apparatus while the teachers’ unions were subverted and subdued. Thus, Bills 27 and 28 were both ‘beneficial’ and ‘hurtful’, depending on point of view.

In contrast, expressivity, for Deleuze, “is the power of life to unfold itself differently” and “refers to intensity, for it allows us to think a type of relation but not any concluded set of relations” (Parr, 2005, p. 93). In other words, expressivity can be understood as a differential between intensive and extensive forces, or further simplified as an index of difference. An act of legislation with high expressivity, for example, would traverse borders and interact with a variety of bodies in order to expand the scope of relations between/within bodies. Legislative acts with low expressivity, however, attempt to reify borders and shackle bodies as singularities within territories. Over and above the binary of ‘beneficial’ or ‘hurtful’, Bills 27 and 27 contracted the field of public education by attempting to regulate the expressivity of teachers and students. On the whole, Bills 27 and 28 might be said to privilege the expressivity of power and conceptualized as juridical iterations of the will to power (Nietzsche, 2006).

Homogenizing gaps, hammering down democracy:3

Bills 27 and 28 reaffirm the State’s monopoly on violence and attempt to regulate the field of public education in BC by encoding and normalizing particular philosophies, epistemologies, and ontologies. More explicitly, Bills 27 and 28 embody a constellation of values imposed on a population of bodies. They did not democratically emerge from a population of bodies. As a result, Bills 27 and 28 can be seen to reproduce the State’s violent origins (Derrida, 2002) while extending the State’s access to bio-political power.

According to Foucault, bio-political power is a ‘rational’ process of problem-solving by which States attempt to ‘control bodies’ (Bevir, 1999, p. 71) through tactics which structure populations into being (Foucault, 2008, p. 317). In this case, BC’s Liberals ‘rationalized problems’ and legislated particular bodies into legitimacy: the docile teacher, resilient student, and universal competitor.

Bills 27 and 27 did not affirm teachers as professionals or nurturing agents but as instruments of the government, a means to an end. Similarly, students were framed as resilient consumers. In spite of ancient textbooks, over-crowded classes, and limited resources, students were assumed to be resilient and accommodating. At the same time, competition was naturalized and universalized, in accordance with neoliberal ideology (Olssen, Codd & O’Neill, 2004, p. 188). In attempting to normalize teachers and students as competitors - teachers competing against teachers for limited jobs and students competing against students for grades, social capital, etc. - the Liberal government may have relied more on assumptions than understandings.

BC’s Liberal government assumed, for instance, that teachers’ are/were/will be incapable of mounting sustained resistance and that teachers’ working conditions are a political matter - not a debate among professionals. As well, the government may have assumed the people of BC to have short memories. Who, after all, remembers when labour was in ascendance?4 At the same time, BC’s Liberal government may have assumed itself to know what is best for teachers, students, and the public at large. All things considered, it seems apparent that the Liberal government’s assumptions gave rise to anti-democratic strategies and tactics, because the outcome was legislation which circumscribed the field of education and reinforced the State’s access to bio-political power.

It should be emphasized that although Bills 27 and 28 were legislated and enacted in 2002, they are not static monuments of the State’s power. Taking recourse to the courts, the BCTF successfully argued that the Liberal government had ‘negotiated’ in bad-faith, in breech of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In an editorial for the Vancouver Sun, Susan Lambert, sitting president of the BCTF, described a
meeting held in April 2001, between ministry officials and representatives of BCPSEA, (the employer’s bargaining agent), the day after the call for a provincial election was announced, [which] indicate[d] that the intended dismantling of class size and other workload provisions in the collective agreement would be kept under wraps during the bargaining process involving BCPSEA and BCTF.

In response to a question during the meeting as to whether or not the public policy position of government would be revealed, the suggestion was to “run silent, run deep.”

A November 22, 2001 e-mail from an official in the Ministry of Education to, now-Premier Christy Clark, reveals that she knew months in advance that the legislation would mean cuts of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, massive teacher layoffs, larger classes and less support for students with special needs. (Lambert, 2011)
As though to add further insult to injury, in 2011 BCPSEA opened contract negotiations with the BCTF by reaffirming its commitment to a ‘net-zero’ resolution. In other words, the government attempted to dictate the horizons of ‘negotiations’: If the BCTF sought ‘benefits’, it must make an equal amount of concessions. Thus, after being censured by the Supreme Court and exposed in the media, the Liberal government of BC would like the BCTF to concede more ground (Iker, 2011). In response, the membership of the BCTF overwhelmingly approved of ‘job-action’ (BCTF, 2011), the Ministry of Education re-affirmed it’s monopoly on violence (Vancouver Sun, 2011), and the stage is set for a showdown between apparently irreconcilable differences. The outcome of these ‘negotiations’ remains to be seen, but precedent suggests the BCTF is in for an asymmetrical and unjust battle, with the future of BC - in some respects - on the line. In other words, advocates for education in BC must not get into the habit of responding to policymakers and politicians with 'the answers they expect'. Rather,
[w]e must enter the policymaking arena as if it were a mixed martial arts cage with the method of combat open and the outcome unknown and not as we have, as if it were a thoroughly choreographed professional wrestling match staged for an audience that allows us to play only to our fans (or political constituencies). (Cooley, 2009, p. 391).
Negotiated discoveries: Mapping an encounter with Bills 27 and 28 -

After more than six years of teaching across Europe and Asia I moved to Canada in 2007, and my first encounter with Bills 27 and 28 was a year later, while studying for a BEd at UBC. During my BEd program the outlook for new teachers in BC collapsed: Hundreds of qualified teachers, a handful of jobs. Indeed, at the end of the 2009 school year hundreds of teachers across BC were laid-off (CBC News, 2010). I was aware that previous years had been competitive, but now there was a dawning realization that teaching in BC was a politically-charged field of battle and that the government of BC was using education/curricular policies as sorties in a war of attrition against organized labour - and democracy.

Taking this ‘larval’ (Deleuze, 1994, p. 78) awareness as inspiration, I enrolled in the Centre for Cross-Faculty Inquiry in Education, at UBC, where I formally took up the study of education policy in BC. Now a full-time MA student and part-time ‘Employee on Call’ in the Lower Mainland, I have experienced the effects of Bills 27 and 28 on multiple registers: as a citizen, a teacher-in-waiting, and an object of inquiry. For instance, as a citizen I find it easy to sympathize with the concerns of parents of students with special needs in over-crowded classrooms and the frustrations of students who battle with archaic technology and decaying infrastructure, and fear that inadequately-resourced schools will facilitate the reproduction of inequalities. As a teacher-in-waiting I know that getting a job is now a quantitative matter of seniority - not a qualitative matter of competence5 - and encounter Bills 27 and 28 as obstacles to be overcome. And as an object of inquiry, I see Bills 27 and 28 as localized embodiments of a generalized reconceptualization of the social field in accord with a neoliberal imaginary (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010, p. 33-41).

Admittedly, my positioning vis-á-vis Bills 27 and 28 is complex and prejudiced. Not only am I affected at the levels of citizenship, access to employment, and scholarly investment, but I am also influenced by many other factors: (i) gender - male, with the socio-cultural expectation of being a ‘bread-winner’; (ii) age - 34 and yet to accrue any job security, let alone vision for retirement; (iii) family - delayed dreams and inhibited present; and (iv) fears - underemployed and faced with heaps of student loan debt. As a result, I am unable to fein ‘objectivity’ in my understanding of Bills 27 and 28. I would, however, contend that the contexts which inform my political biases are a source of strength, and that they add critical dimensions to my analysis.

Alternative futurities: Renegotiating the demos -

Deleuze & Guattari affirm that “of all the finite movements of thought, the form of recognition is certainly the one that goes the least far and is the most impoverished and puerile” (1994, p. 139). We must push further while bearing in mind that “philosophers do the best they can, but they have too much to do to know whether [the ‘solutions’ they offer are] the best, or even to bother with this question” (1994, p. 27).

As alternatives to the Liberal’s push for a reified neoliberal imaginary, I would like to suggest a collectivist re-visioning of the social imaginary. In practice - although I worry about a lack of solidarity - I think Eugene Holland’s (2011) notion of a slow-motion general strike offers an accessible means of building democratic momentum. The slow-motion general strike is a non-violent means of operationalizing resistance. From this plateau (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 22) it should be easier to affirm democratic values over neoliberal ones. If the ‘public good’ is to be equated with the ‘social good’ - as contrasted with neoliberalism’s linking of ‘private good’ with ‘public good’ - then education could be repositioned as an incubator for democracy instead of the economy. A more expedient means of improving the situation would be to invest heavily in education, with significant reductions in the military and prisons - neither of which breed peace or democracy. Across the world, “fierce combat [is being waged] with the antidemocratic accountability machine” (Webb, 2009, p. 135). From my vantage, it seems apparent that Bills 27 and 28 draw BC firmly onto the stage of battle.


1 “[T]he State seems to rise up in a single stroke, in an imperial form, and does not depend on progressive factors. Its on-the-spot emergence is like a stroke of genius, the birth of Athena” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 359).

2 “There is no solution because there is no problem” (Duchamp, as cited in Janis & Janis, 1945, p. 24).

3 出る杭は打たれる “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” - Japanese proverb

4 This assumption of forgetfulness may have been a safe bet - given, for example, the throngs of Vancouverites who cross Dunsmuir Street every day without any awareness of the history behind the name.

5 Like many unions, the BCTF derives its tactics through democratic process, and advocates for hiring and placement practices based on seniority. This justifiable privileging serves the interests of those on the ‘inside’, but makes for additional obstacles for those on the ‘outside’. However, it should be emphasized that hiring according to seniority is directly impacted by lay-offs. For example, according to the BCTF “educator employment grew by 7.0% in Canada and fell by 6.4% in BC between 2001-02 and 2008-09” (2011, p. 8). If the number of teachers in BC has declined, this creates increased competition for scant job opportunities among new teachers. Furthermore, once new teachers land jobs, year-over-year lay-offs are linked with length of employment in BC’s schools, thus firmly linking career advance with ‘time-served’ - and simultaneously trivializing professional competence.


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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

BCPSEA - missing the point on local bargaining

One of the issues on the teacher bargaining table is to move more issues to local Districts and teachers unions to negotiate.

The BCTF has used the slogan "local bargaining of local issues by local parties". The idea is that different communities have different needs and those local communities should be able to work through issues and come to solutions that work for them locally. It allows diversity and creativity and innovation.

Does this mean some of the same topics will be on different local bargaining tables? Absolutely. But it doesn't mean the issues or the solutions are the same and it doesn't mean each table is replicating the same discussion, as BCPSEA seems to think.

For example, one local/District might want to put more resources towards salaries to retain teachers in their community because high teacher turnover is a critical issue. Another might want lower salaries and to put more resources towards smaller class sizes because there are particularly high incidences of students with special needs. Another might want resources put towards travel costs for professional development opportunities if they are in a small town, and will sacrifice a higher salary increase to do this. In all these cases, salary will be on the table. But does this mean all the issues and solutions are the same? Is this duplication? I don't think so - I think it is finding local solutions to local issues by local parties. It is in everyone's interest and leads to better schools. Local resources should be directed to different areas in a flexible manner and school Boards and teachers should be able to talk about what works best in their local communities.

BCPSEA's only argument for provincial bargaining is "efficiency". I suppose it is true that a cookie cutter education system might be more "efficient". We could have national curriculum, eliminate school Boards, implement identical timetables, and so on. A master collective agreement would make sense in a system like this. So does scripted curriculum (same page, same content, same day). So does standardized testing. Look south to the US to see lots of examples. Teaching and learning plummets in systems like these.

It is ironic that at the same time BCPSEA (on behalf of the provincial government and school Boards) wants increased standardization, everyone else in the education community is talking about increased personalization. There is general agreement that "factory" style schools do not serve individual student needs. Rather than more standardization, we need increased opportunities for individuals and local communities, even if it isn't the most "efficient".

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

We are the 99

The Occupy Wall Street demonstrators have tapped into a sentiment that has been coming to the surface ever since the crash of the economy in 2008.

Although painted by the mainstream media as a movement without an idea, in fact the basic idea is very simple and very important - there is massive inequality in our society. It has been exacerbated in the last three years since the "great recession", but the tendencies and trends have been there since the 1970's. Income inequality in some places is higher than it has been in a very long time...some say since the Great Depression, others as far back as the Robber Barron days of the 1880's.

The slogan "we are the 99" apparently arose in Italy during protests against "austerity" measures that were put in place in 2008. The slogan highlights that the measures that many governments are taking to prop up an ailing economy in fact only help 1 percent of the population while they are hurting the other 99 percent. The notorious bank bailouts have helped the banks, but not any of us. Far from the notion "a rising tide raises all ships", it is becoming glaringly evident that steps to "stabilize" the economy - notably severe cuts to social programs and public spending - actually worsen the economic situation for most people, while continuing to enrich the very few.

Teachers and public sector workers are at the forefront in many of these struggles. When governments cut public services both the public and the workers in those services pay the price. The public gets reduced quality and availability of service. Workers almost always end up working harder and longer to keep the service levels adequate and often take cuts in pay and benefits and pensions as well.

This phenomena has been ongoing for some time. It was the mid-90's when a federal Liberal government drastically reduced transfer payments to the provinces, resulting in Canada's "austerity" measures. For education funding in BC, it has been a steady downward trend since for two decades.

One of the current versions of "austerity" in BC is the "net zero" mandate of the provincial government for public sector workers. For these workers, "net zero" means a 5% decline in income over two years as inflation hovers in the 2-3% range.

Cuts to public sector workers don't just affect those workers. They also impact the communities they live in, as spending is reduced and layoffs take place. BC now has 3500 fewer teachers than a decade ago. This impacts our unemployment rate as well as class size and a reduction in specialist services in schools. The 99 truly pay the price, as local communities face higher unemployment, young teachers can't find jobs, and children don't receive the services they need.

These effects were recognized during the recent demonstrations in Wisconsin when the government brought in draconian anti-union legislation against teachers. The loss of so-called "middle class" jobs is a loss for communities, small businesses, families and everyone who relies on public schools for their children. It is a widening of inequality and pushing the "middle" down towards the bottom.

They are also evident in the "we are the 99" slogan. The problem is the grotesquely wealthy and the massive and widening income gap...not the modest pensions and benefits of unionized workers. We need a world where every one of the 99 percent has a decent income, benefits and pension, not a world where the gap keeps getting wider and wider.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

BC government proposal for class composition is "rationing"

I hope no-one is fooled by the BC Government proposal to address class composition announced in yesterday's Throne speech. It is unfair, unequal, and perhaps unconstitutional. See the announcement here:

The government has proposed a limited fund to address supporting students with special needs and class composition. The amount in the fund would be in the "tens" of millions. This is a far cry from the $275 million per year removed in 2002 (which is more like $330 million in today's dollars). It is insulting to both teachers and the students of BC that this government thinks it is OK to "remedy" their mistake with just one tenth the amount of funding. Probably the only reason there is any money on the table is because a BC Supreme Court found their actions in 2002 unconstitutional. But the courts also identified $275 million per year as the amount removed. If the government can afford $930 million on Smart Meters, then it can afford $330 million for students and public education.

Equally as problematic is the process of a "fund". In my view, once a child is designated with specific learning needs, they have a constitutional right to educational services that meet their specific learning needs. But in the "fund" model, a limited (and too small) amount of funding would be available so that only some of the students' needs would be met. Teachers and/or parents would have to "apply" for funding and state their case about why their situation was the "neediest". Under this model, some students would be denied services. Teachers and parents would have to spend time "making the case" for services AFTER they had already gone through the process of testing and designation and writing an individual education plan. Only some students and classrooms would be funded.

The School Act states that every individual education plan must be implemented. This is how it should be. Once specific needs have been identified and a plan to address those needs is developed, that plan should be fully funded in order to implement it properly. This includes a suitable classroom composition and class size to ensure the teacher has time to address the plan. It also includes adequate numbers of specialist teachers to provide individual one-on-one teaching.

Prior to the Liberals changing the special education funding formula and removing class size limits in 2002, this is basically how it worked. Different designations resulted in different levels of funding and often were specifically assigned to a particular child. Class size limits and class composition limits ensured that for every class, the variety of needs in the class and the size of the class was manageable for the teacher. Ratios of specialist teachers to students ensured each specialist teacher would have adequate time to spend with each student on their caseload.

When these protections were stripped away, students and teachers paid the price. Students no longer were automatically provided the services they needed. Teachers were overwhelmed with complex needs and larger classes and a massive increase in workload.

The government needs to ensure that every single child has their needs fully met. This cannot be done through a competitive "fund" that would end up serving only the "neediest". Such a system is simply the "rationing" of an inadequate provision of educational services. And such a competitive symptom will ultimately pit students, parents, teachers and administrators against each other, as each advocates for different sets of students. So on top of failing to provide adequate supports, this system would exacerbate relationships and create an unhealthy competitive climate.

Imagine the equivalent in health care. You are tested and identified with an illness. But your family doctor is forced to apply and "make the case" for you to receive specialist services from a limited "fund". We don't run our health care system this way and we shouldn't run our schools this way either.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A little interlude...

I am thinking that watching this music video will be more fun than my trip to hear the throne speech this afternoon...please enjoy and share...

Thanks to "Under funded records" in Langley!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

BC School Trustees consider a teacher lockout

School Trustee Mel Joy sent out a letter on September 19 inviting School Trustees to a BCPSEA (BC Public School Employer's Association) meeting this upcoming Monday, October 3rd.

Details of the meeting have now been leaked to the media ( and the BCTF ( Trustees will be considering actions in the teachers' dispute up to and including a lockout or garnishing teachers' wages.

The notion of a lock out is particularly curious. BCPSEA now regularly describes their organization as having a "co-governance" model. That is, they are co-governed by School Trustees, who are elected in their local communities, and also the Provincial Government. Their Board consists of both elected Trustee representatives as well as appointed government representatives. They are under the direction of PSEC - the Public Sector Employer's Council, who are clearly an arm of government and who dictate the terms of bargaining (including the "net zero" mandate). And so I wonder where this idea came from? Is it from Trustees? Or is it from government? Or maybe from the Superintendents, Principals and Vice-Principals, the "silent" partners in the co-governance model?

When this government first came to power, they enacted special legislation that mandated that teachers be an essential service. In 2002 this government unilaterally legislated teachers back to work and imposed a three year contract that was not negotiated. In 2005 they again legislated teachers back to work but teachers stayed out regardless. Having sent teachers back to work so many times, one wonders why a lockout would be considered.

This government has been intent on stopping any job action of teachers and instead using a legislative hammer to force an end to disputes. The result has been low morale and frustration. In fact, a worklife study of teachers conducted by the BCTF found that the provincial government itself was one of the main stressors for teachers in BC (

One of the purported reasons for a lockout is because teachers are doing less work in the phase one job action. It is true that there are a few meetings and evening events we are not attending. We are not attending the monthly staff meeting. We are not attending the once yearly "meet the teacher". We are not attending "formal" parent teacher interviews. But teachers are continuing to meet with each other. We are continuing to have department meetings without administration. We are continuing to contact parents and communicate regularly. We are continuing extra curricular activities. We are teaching full time. Many teachers are using the few freed up hours to do additional lesson preparation. Many are using the time for additional one on one support to students with particular learning needs. Many are using it to phone parents and discuss concerns and learning strategies. Many are saying that teaching and learning hasn't been better in years.

Moreover, the single biggest impact on schools and learning in the last decade has been the stripping of class size and class composition provisions. For ten years, teachers have had a significantly increased workload due to larger and more complex classes. Even in the face of a court ruling, the government has refused to reinstated class sizes and services to students.

When Trustees meet on Monday, I hope they consider another option. I hope they direct BCPSEA to go to government for a new mandate. I hope they show respect and appreciation for the work teachers are continuing to do every day in their classrooms. I hope they show support for a fair and reasonable salary increase to ensure that BC can attract and retain great teachers. I hope they say they want class sizes reinstated in collective agreements. I hope they tell BCPSEA to get back to the bargaining table with a mandate to bargain.

If you would like to show support, please contact your local School Trustees and let them know we need a solution, not to take teachers out of the classroom. If you are a Trustee, please tell BCPSEA to go back to government and get a real mandate to bargain, so that we can negotiate a new collective agreement.