Sunday, December 4, 2011

High performing school system? Trust your teachers

I don't usually post bargaining reports from the BCTF here directly, but this week we had Dr. Charlie Naylor, a BCTF researcher, give an excellent presentation on the connection between teacher autonomy and high performing school systems. The presentation was in reaction to BC Public School Employer's Association (BCPSEA) bargaining proposals that would drastically reduce teacher autonomy and professionalism.

Dr. Naylor has written two responses to "discussion documents" published by BCPSEA. I highly recommend them. They are available here:

Here is an excerpt from the report from the bargaining table:

The main point that Dr. Naylor presented was that in high performing school systems, teachers are afforded more autonomy and there is less focus on standardized testing, accountability measures with consequences, and a narrow preoccupation with literacy and numeracy. He discussed how the academic literature on quality teaching and learning shows that the best performing systems are where teachers are treated as professionals, like with other professions. In the low performing systems, teachers are treated as employees, with a heavy focus on managerialism. He also stated that if the education system is part of producing a society that generates critical thinkers and problem solvers, then the teaching profession must be afforded the opportunity to model these skills in teaching—the adults in society must themselves use critical thought to address issues such as how best to teach a particular group of children. This is in opposition to the proposals that BCPSEA has made, which focus on principal control of many aspects of teaching, such as our professional development and our autonomy in practice. He finished by saying that the approaches BCPSEA and the government are proposing are not supported by the literature, and they do not even refer to research in their background papers—only to legal rulings. These are not evidence-based arguments for changing the education system, rather they are “positional.”

Dr. Naylor used several examples to make his points. For instance, he contrasted Britain, which narrowed autonomy and increased accountability measures which has now plummeted in performance, to Finland, which provides a high degree of professional autonomy and has radically improved performance.

He suggested that a real “conversation” would be an informed debate based on the literature, rather than one model imposed from one side. He referenced Ontario, where the government “did not impose a forced model imposed by principals.” He also commented that in both Ontario and Alberta, change came with significant amounts of funding to ensure resources are there to enable the changes. He finished by saying “you don’t have a conversation when you put this kind of language on the table…What I see in your proposal is an imposition of a professional growth program, implemented by principals in schools.”

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