Wednesday, November 30, 2011

LRB dismisses BCPSEA application

The latest political maneouvre of the BC government via its bargaining agent, BCPSEA, has failed.

In an apparent effort to discredit teachers and split them from their union, BCPSEA made application to the Labour Relations Board to vary the Essential Services order so that teachers would be required to complete report cards and the BCTF would be required to pay back 15% of wages and benefits.

The Labour Relations Board rejected both parts. With respect to report cards, the LRB acknowledged that teachers were continuing to assess students and provide feedback to parents. BCPSEA failed to provide evidence that parents were not receiving this information.

With respect to the fine to the union, the LRB said:

“...there is no dispute teachers are continuing to work their regular or normal hours during Phase 1 of the BCTF job action.  They are not performing certain non-essential duties, but there is no assertion teachers are working only 85% of their scheduled time while receiving 100% of pay.  Rather, the assertion is they are working their regular hours teaching but not performing non-essential duties, as permitted by the Order.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

19th century labour relations for 21st century education?

In a surprising move yesterday, BCPSEA tabled a package that intensifies the attacks and concessions in teacher bargaining. BCPSEA now wants to remove job security provisions, fair access to assignments and positions, teacher autonomy in professional development and classroom teaching practices, and due processes in teacher evaluation and discipline.

In essence, BCPSEA want exactly what the Tea Party governors in the US are doing through legislation - the virtual elimination of rights for employees and almost total control for management in most areas of the employment relationship.

This 19th century model of labour relations, which pre-dates widespread unionization, is referred to in the legal world as the "master/servant" relationship. The employer, in effect, has control over most aspects of the employee's work. Master/servant Acts in British Commonwealth legal systems were predicated on obedience and loyalty from the employee to their employer As Wikipedia describes them: "These Acts are generally regarded as heavily biased towards employers, designed to discipline employees and repress the "combination" of workers in trade unions."

Imposition of this type of relationship would effectively de-professionalize teaching. It is an approach being pursued vigourously in the United States, where teachers have less and less ability to meet the individual needs of students as they are forced to conform with new standards, focus on testing rather than creativity and problem solving, and increasingly have fewer and fewer rights to negotiate collectively. Renowned Professor of Education from Stanford University, Linda Darling Hammond, described it this way: "Some policymakers argue that we should eliminate requirements for teacher training, stop paying teachers for gaining more education, let anyone enter teaching, and fire those later who fail to raise student test scores. And efforts like those in Wisconsin to eliminate collective bargaining create the prospect that salaries and working conditions will sink even lower, making teaching an unattractive career for anyone with other professional options."  (

BCPSEA wants teachers to be regularly subject to "expectations, directives and requirements" in many aspects of their functioning. What is sometimes couched in language of "support" (especially in the Ministry BC Education Plan), is in fact a set of employer mandated requirements about how a teacher teaches. Rather than respecting the professional opinion of teachers, BCPSEA wants teachers to be subject to directives of the employer in many areas of their work, or else be subject to dismissal. Such an environment of control will put a chill on teachers and reduce creativity, variety and adaptation to student needs.

In contrast, one of the best performing school systems in the world, Finland, takes a completely opposite approach to teachers. It is a competitive profession to enter. Teachers have a very high degree of autonomy. Teachers are well paid and respected, akin to doctors and lawyers. Darling Hammond describes this contrast as well, from her attendance at the Summit on Teaching:

"The contrasts to the American attitude toward teachers and teaching could not have been more stark. Officials from countries like Finland and Singapore described how they have built a high-performing teaching profession by enabling all of their teachers to enter high-quality preparation programs, generally at the masters’ degree level, where they receive a salary while they prepare. There they learn research-based teaching strategies and train with experts in model schools attached to their universities. They enter a well-paid profession – in Singapore earning as much as beginning doctors -- where they are supported by mentor teachers and have 15 or more hours a week to work and learn together – engaging in shared planning, action research, lesson study, and observations in each other’s classrooms. And they work in schools that are equitably funded and well-resourced with the latest technology and materials."

So why is BC following the American route? Why 19th century labour relations? Why is the government and Trustees, through their bargaining agent BCPSEA, trying to get massive concessions in bargaining, reduce teacher salaries, reduce teacher autonomy and demoralize teachers?

And in the same vein of reasoning, why are they not addressing the very real issues that we do have - chronic underfunding, stagnating salaries, inadequate time for preparation and assessment, earthquake prone schools, child poverty,...and the list goes on. There are many areas for improvement. Neither BCPSEA nor the provincial government is addressing any of them.

As one teacher asked, why are they bullying, not bargaining?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Change sweeps across many BC school Boards

My home district of Victoria was just one of many to see a wave of change in the school trustee elections yesterday. Three incumbent trustees were defeated by three newcomers - all three endorsed by the Labour Council and the local teachers' association. All three newcomers are advocates against cuts and in support of smaller class sizes and full funding. Four of my own "picks" were elected - Catherine Alpha, Edith Loring Kuhanga, Deborah Nohr and Diane McNally. Results for Victoria, Sooke and Saanich are available here:

But Victoria was not alone. In Burnaby, the reactionary Parents Voice, running on a platform opposing a new homophobia policy, received less than 3% of the vote. This demonstrates that the anti-gay message they espoused was not what Burnaby voters support. Instead, progressive trustees swept the Burnaby Board.

In Langley, the Board shifted from a progressive minority to a progressive majority. This will be a welcome change in a district plagues with mismanagement and financial problems.

New progressive trustees were elected in Kamloops, Maple Ridge, Delta, Mission, Vernon and Kootenay Columbia.

In Cowichan, the five candidates from CAPE (Community Alliance for Public Education) were all elected, creating a majority on the Board. Look to Cowichan to be a leader in the coming months to fight for better funding for schools. Trustee Edith Haythornthwaite is one of BC's most progressive educational leaders, and she will now be working in a majority on her Board.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was the loss of COPE candidates in Vancouver, and particularly Jane Bouey, a longtime advocate for LGBTQ within schools.

Also disappointing was the continuation of the Surrey Education First slate. The progressive Surrey Civic Coalition was only able to maintain their existing seat.

Many trustees were under scrutiny for their role in the recent contract dispute between teachers and the bargaining agent, BC Public School Employers' Association (BCPSEA). But many also know that BCPSEA is directed by school trustees and government in a "co-governance" model. This means support for a "net zero" mandate and a desire to make major attacks on teachers' collective agreements have also come directly from trustees.

The chair of BCPSEA, elected from among trustee representative, Melanie Joy, almost lost her seat. She won by a mere 50 votes against two contenders who split the remaining vote. She has the support of only 41% of her electorate.

The chair of the BC School Trustees Association (BCSTA), Michael McEvoy, was re-elected, but slipped from sixth to seventh place.

With this change in the air, hopefully a new set of trustees will bring a renewed vigor to the fight for full funding  for school Boards. And hopefully they will push government and BCPSEA to come back to the bargaining table with a real mandate to bargain.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Victoria Trustee candidates - My voting card

School Trustees matter. Whether you have children or not, Trustees make decisions that impact your local community - from management of school lands, to direct educational programs for school age children, to integrated community education services for all ages. And the children who grow up in our communities are the future electorate and neighbours - what and how we teach today impacts our communities of today and tomorrow.

So how to decide? Here is my Report Card on the Trustee candidates for Greater Victoria. I am voting for five candidates: Catherine Alpha, David Bratzer, Edith Loring-Kuhanga, Diane McNally and Deborah Nohr.

Catherine Alpha:Consistently voted against the Superintendent's report on class organization when over 300 classes are set above the legislated limits. Supported, campaigned and voted for a needs budget.

David Bratzer: Did an excellent expose on the failed "Stantec Report" commissioned by the Board to simply "cut and paste" rationales for determining school needs based on "efficiency" rather than student learning. Opposed K/1 split classes. Regularly attends Board meetings and does the work to understand Board decision making.

Edith Loring-Kuhanga: Comes from the Saanich Board where she supported and voted for a needs budget. Consistent advocate for full funding and smaller class sizes and support for all students.

Diane McNally: Tireless advocate for the needs and rights of children. Former teacher and advocate for Reading Recovery and individualized one-on-one instruction to meet student learning needs.

Deborah Nohr: Another tireless advocate who has worked for years to improve learning conditions in schools, particularly around class size and class composition. Has worked with school based Parent Advisory Councils and will bring true transparency to Board decision making processes. Former co-chair and founding member of the Victoria Public Education Coalition, and active member of United for Education.

I will be "plumping" my vote - only voting for the candidates I want. Although a voter can choose up to nine, it is strategic to vote for only those candidates you really want to see win.

I am not voting for eight of the nine incumbent Trustees and I strongly believe it is time for change.

In the past decade the Victoria Board has closed seven schools, sold (and long term leased) school properties, cut countless positions at the Board resulting in program cuts, reduced funding for schools (school budgets) and libraries, voted to increase their own salaries in the face of budget cuts and presided over increasing class sizes and composition. They have done little to advocate for Victoria students and have instead simply implemented cuts passed down from the Ministry. Only one incumbent, Catherine Alpha, is getting my vote because of her determined fight to improve classroom conditions by voting against the class organization report.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Is Bill 33 discriminatory?

The Victoria Confederacy of Parent Advisory Councils (VCPAC) has taken the position that Bill 33 is discriminatory. In addition, they lobbied the Greater Victoria School District to refrain from publishing statistics on how many classes exceed the limits in Bill 33 of more than three students with special needs. Prior to this year, Victoria has reported every year that over 300 classes exceed these limits.

The VCPAC set of questions to Trustee candidates running for the Board included this question:

"VCPAC’s position on limiting the number of students of any particular classification from being included in a classroom is that it is discriminatory. If the classification was ethnicity, VCPAC believes that everyone would recognize the practice for what it truly is; prejudice. Do you believe that the practice of discriminating against a group of students for the purpose of lobbying the government for additional funding is justified? Based on your answer, how can the publishing of statistics about classrooms that have more than three students with individual education plans be acceptable?"

It saddens me terribly that VCPAC takes this position. Unwittingly, they are supporting fewer resources for schools and students, and fewer opportunities for those students who need them the most. Moreover, they are suggesting that parents and the public be denied the information about the class organization in their schools.


At the heart of the error is a failure to distinguish between equity and equality. I believe that every student deserves an equal opportunity to be successful. The reality is that what each student needs to be successful is different. What a student with Autism needs is different from what a student who is gifted needs. Some students require supports that cost more money, some require less. Some students come to our schools living in poverty, and some come with many resources provided by their parents and families. Funding should not be equal - it should be targeted. It should be organized to ensure that every student gets adequate funding for their particular needs. This will be different for different students.

It is a mistake to think that an equal amount of resources should be directed towards each student. Students who have been designated with a physical or learning disability deserve extra. They deserve additional resources to ensure that by the end of their schooling, they have had an equal opportunity to be successful. If we acknowledge that students learn at different rates and in different ways, then we must acknowledge that it will take different amounts of resources to educate each child.

When teachers had "class composition" limits in their collective agreement, this was to ensure adequate resources for those students who were identified through testing as requiring additional resources. Teachers work on average 49 hours per week. If 10 of those hours are available for preparation, assessment and assistance to students who require extra support, individualized lessons, and more one-on-one teacher time, then it makes a big difference if the teacher has three of those students in a class versus nine. If there are three students requiring additional support, the teacher has 3 hours per week to devote to each student. If there are nine students requiring additional support, the teacher has 1 hour per week per student. Thus, placing a "limit" on the class composition has one sole purpose - to ensure a minimal standard for each student requiring additional support.

When those limits are exceeded, that support is not there. The teacher can't simply find more and more hours in a week. The result is that each student suffers. This is what is happening in the 300 classes that are over the limit every year in Victoria schools. Teacher time is a finite resource, and when a teacher has more students to teach, or more students with additional needs to teach, the allocation of time per student decreases.

If the limit of three students per class were actually observed, there would be more classes, with more teachers. Every child in the entire system would benefit.

Resources in school systems should not be assigned equally to every student. They should be organized to prioritize resources to those students who require additional assistance and extra planning and time. This is not "equal", but it is the most "equitable".

Is this discriminatory? Not in the sense that racism or sexism is discriminatory, as the VCPAC suggests. Its purpose is not to further disenfranchise those already behind in learning. In fact it is the opposite. Its purpose is to ensure that those who come to school requiring more resources to be successful automatically have those resources.

Is this "prejudice"? Absolutely not. It is differential treatment for the purpose of enhancing services to those who need additional learning resources. Without such differential treatment, students with special needs would not be successful and would not have equal and fair opportunity to an education. This differential treatment is for the very purpose of eliminating prejudicial treatment with respect to access to a full and complete education.

Prior to the 1980's, children with special needs were segregated into separate schools. When parents first contested this discriminatory treatment of students with special needs under the Charter of Rights, the Courts recognized each child's right to an equal educational opportunity. They found that all students must have access to an equal educational opportunity in their home (neighborhood) school. This meant that in some schools, for some students, extra money was spent. If a student in a wheelchair needed an elevator, that school installed an elevator - no matter if this is an expenditure above and beyond the normal school budget. The Courts understood that for equal opportunity to occur, there would be a need for differentiated spending.

Class composition limits such as those in Bill 33 and in previous contract language serve the same purpose. They ensure additional time and resources for students with special needs so that inclusion is meaningful and real. They require that resources are redirected so that enough classes are set so that every class has a teacher with the time to focus on each and every student, including those with special needs.

VCPAC should reconsider their approach. They are doing a dis-service to those children for whom they should most be advocating for. They are hiding information from the public when they should be trying to ensure open and transparent governance by our Trustees. They are inadvertently supporting a position that will lead to less funding and less support for all students. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pearson-alized learning: Guest commentary on #bcedplan

Today's guest post is from David Komljenovic, Kamloops teacher
After researching more about the origins of the BC Education plan and the proliferation of the 21st century learning mantra, I am more convinced that our message could be "BC Public Education is not for sale".
From the information to follow, there is evidence that corporations and primarily one has benefitted from the underfunding and undermining of public education. My sense is that when government attempts to create crisis in education, corporations give the appearance that they need to come and pick up the pieces. Difficult to do in BC which ranks as one of the best in the world. But the BC Ed plan may be the equivalent to the premise of Snobelen's infamous speech on "manufacturing crisis" in Ontario's public education system.
Pearson Education is the largest corporation in the education market (not that there should be a market in public education - but...). With the recent move to provide districts and charter schools in the US with personalized learning options, consider their creep into Canada and BC.
First, consider what Pearson is doing in the field of Personalized Learning ( In the attached article, the company Knewton joined up with Pearson to provide a diagnosis tool for students proficiency (enter Standardized Testing). If you wondered how standardized testing fits with the BC Education Plan, consider the market for standardized tests and how corporations will say that they are just using them as a toold to diagnose learner need so that their program can be personalized. The program is also a product that can be provided by Pearson or Knewton or perhaps another corporation.
Second, Pearson is involved in taking over the international assessments (PISA) that consistently rank Finland, Canada, and South Korea at the top - more egalitarian and/or cooperative systems compared to the rest of the jurisdictions. ( What will corporate control of the assessments mean - haven't put my mind to that question but it is a concern.
Then consider that Pearson has taken over BCeSIS. Again, a manufactured crisis - as if BCeSIS was even necessary. It was forced upon districts who spent countless funds and ended up being a failure. Here comes Pearson to the rescue to take over the program to replace it with BCeSIS. Consider this article from the Vancouver Sun: .  Enter Bill 3 - the attempt by government to eliminate privacy protections that were in place before ( . The government will have a greater ability to collect information on individual citizens and share the information with other agencies (Homeland Security in the US is a concern - so it providing the information to corporations like Pearson which will have access to the software system with just about all of a student's information anyways).  
In terms of Personalized Learning in BC (which is the BC Education Plan), Pearson has already met with various districts to help provide services. Consider this article:
The icing on the top for government, they can say all of this necessitates them gutting our collective rights and have us worry about that while they are accelerating the sale of public education. But the real agenda, in my mind, is having corporations come in and provide (and control) funding where the government (and really the people of BC) should be stepping in.
Educational philosopher John Dewey stated "Democracy must be born anew in each generation, and education is its midwife". Media control in Canada is a concern in that few corporations control a fair bit of information, but education is all about thought. Personalized learning as a marketed program that is provided by one or two major corporations will provide one or two versions of thought - which is why the fight for professionalism is more important now than ever before.  
So while teachers have been told we cannot wear buttons or place materials on bulletin boards to express thought, a major corporation will soon have unlimited access to children for what reason other than to exploit (consider the premise in the film "The Corporation"

Pearson's drive to control the world's educational needs cannot help but undermine what public education is meant to serve - which is a diversity of thought without control of any one opinion.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Smartphones or saxophones? bcedplan gets it wrong

I don't happen to believe that schooling is simply a preparation for the workforce. But even if you did, a little critical examination of Minister Abbott's bcedplan might have you shaking your head.

Minister Abbott was widely quoted promoting the virtues of technology in schools. CKNW reported that "The model includes a focus on critical thinking and bringing technology into the classroom, including smartphones and tablets." Abbott's rationale? ""The world has changed and continues to change and in order to keep pace we need to shift the way we look at teaching and learning". (

Now I'm not a Luddite, and as an Information Technology teacher myself I do believe we need computer education at the secondary level and that there is an argument for some technology in earlier grades based on good pedagogy and as a tool for teachers and students. But I was intrigued by a quote from an article in The Economist this week on a similar subject: "The nature of what constitutes work today—the notion of a full-time job—will have to change dramatically. The things that make people human—the ability to imagine, feel, learn, create, adapt, improvise, have intuition, act spontaneously—are the comparative advantages they have over machines. They are also the skills that machines, no matter how smart, have had the greatest difficulty replicating." (

So even if you did happen to think that so called 21st century education should be preparation for 21st century work, you might still come to the conclusion that more technology in schools is a mistake, and maybe focusing on creativity should happen without machines - particularly at younger ages.

Two widely circulated articles appeared this week in the New York Times and the Globe & Mail on the subject of Waldorf schools and their attitude towards technology in schools. Waldorf schools do not introduce any technology until high school. They also require that every student learn a string instrument. (

There is a growing collection of reasons to question the validity of more technology for younger students. Recent recommendations from the medical community suggest no screen time for very young children and limited screen time for elementary age children. The realities of two working parent households mean that many children get all the screen time they should before they step into the school yard. Most parents I know judge a child care centre on how few televisions or computers they have, not how many.

Which gets me to the title of today's post: Smartphones or saxophones?

I'm using music here as a metaphor for all the creative arts - many of the same arguments apply. And of course it shouldn't necessarily be an either or for resources in schools, but exactly where are the saxophones in the Minister's plan?

I've never understood why music has been relegated to an "extra" in our schools. Almost no school or District in BC provides music at every school and free musical instruments for every student. And yet no school expects students to bring their own laptop to the computer lab, soccer ball to the playing field or saw to the carpentry room (although they are increasingly charged for the wood!).

Sadly, most music programs have been forced to charge fees and rely on parents supplying instruments and fundraising extensively. Some even ask parents to purchase the sheet music. Music specialist teachers have all but disappeared in many Districts at the elementary level. Music teachers pour their hearts into their programs and work hours and hours of overtime to provide concert opportunities, to organize fundraising, and to plan trips for bands, choirs and orchestras.

In my mind, music literacy and knowing how to play a musical instrument and read music should be one of the core skills taught in K-12 schools. A myriad of literature makes the connection between musical literacy and learning - particularly learning of pattern recognition and mathematical skills. Music teaches about persistence, patience, creativity, teamwork, history, and beauty. Moreover music is an integral component to many of the "knowledge based" work opportunities available today. Outside private music lessons are prohibitively expensive for many families, making public school the only opportunity for learning an instrument for a good portion of the population.

I heard a music teacher lament recently about the impossibility of the school District ever supplying adequate resources to purchase $500 instruments for all students. And yet the very same government can afford a $1.2 billion contract with Telus for increased computer network access. Where's the 21st century creativity in that?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Teacher activism: Keeping BC's education system strong

Thanks to Patti Bacchus, whose tweet has inspired this blog post.

Patti wrote:

@garymasonglobe Could "acrimony" & push back from TF re gov't agenda be what's kept BC system strong while others have deteriorated ? #bced

She was responding to a recent article in Globe & Mail by Gary Mason reviewing a new book by Tom Fleming on the history of BC schools. Tom's thesis is that there has been forty years of acrimony, starting with the politicization and unionization of teachers in the 1970's and 1980's.

I haven't read the book, but I do know that BC teachers have been engaged in collective action for the betterment of our profession and BC's education system for a much longer time. In fact, I am looking forward to the hundred year anniversary of the Victoria teachers' strike in 1919, which was the first teachers strike in the Commonwealth.

BC teachers were active throughout the first half of the twentieth century over a variety of issues. For example, equal pay for female teachers was a hot topic mid-century to address glaring pay differentials that existed.

Mr. Fleming takes aim at everyone in the system - teachers, School Trustees and the Ministry of Education. But it's not particularly helpful to simply describe these players as being "at war" with one another, serving their own interests only, or stuck in a bureaucratic morass. There is a lot more to the dynamics than a difference in attitude or stagnation.

The 70's and 80's were a high point for education systems worldwide for a reason. It was the culmination of western policies to enhance public education systems in response to the "Sputnik" threat of the Soviet Union. The US famously announced the need to keep ahead in scientific knowledge in order to win the cold war, and the rest of the western world followed suit. Governments poured funding into a massive expansion of both K-12 and post-secondary institutions. By the 1970's and 80's these systems were at their peak, having been the recipients of real investment from government.

But beginning in the mid-80's the western world changed. Reagan and Thatcher took a wildly different economic perspective and began an era of massive government cutbacks. This reached Canada in the mid-90's with the federal Liberal program of restraint that took the form of sizable reductions to the "transfer" payments to the provinces to cover health care and education costs. Since this time, the BC education system has seen funding go from $9 billion per year to $5 billion per year (in constant dollars).

Coincidentally, the 80's also saw an ideological attack on education away from scientific discovery and creative and innovative thinking, towards achievement measured by standardized testing. Over the last thirty years, BC introduced Grade 12 exams, then Foundation Skills Assessment exams and then Grade 10 and 11 exams. Every District now has an "Achievement Contract" based primarily on test results and the rankings of these tests are published by the Fraser Institute.

It is a mistake to suggest that the entirety of the twentieth century should be characterized by the "factory" model of education. Yes, Fordism and the factory model were significant in the early part of the century. But I went to school in the 1980's and called my teachers by their first names, sat at round tables, didn't get grades, went on many experiential learning trips and wrote not a single standardized test. This was no factory model.

On the teacher front, the 70's and 80's saw a blooming of professional expression and creativity by teachers. How did this manifest? In many ways through the teacher activists in the BCTF. As a union focused not just on the economic welfare of its members, but also on the pillars of social justice and professional development, the BCTF and the many local teacher associations were instrumental in advocating for progressive changes in the education system. Many were won during that period and have played a significant role in the excellent system we have today. Many have been severely under attack for the last twenty years in the midst of a complete lack of commitment to full funding - notably class size.

Victoria teachers went on strike for smaller classes in the early 90's. We were successful and Victoria students reaped the benefit of those struggles for a decade until they were legislated away with the stroke of a pen by the BC Liberals.

Is the system "at war". Probably yes. But a closer look at why and what for reveals more truths than lamenting that we all can't get along. There has been a systematic attack on public education for two decades. Teachers have been resisting. Our resistance has kept the system strong.