Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bill 22 and Class Size/Class Composition

Bill 22 eliminates all class composition limits. There is no longer a need to report or consult regardless of the number of students with an IEP in a single class. Nothing will now prevent Administrators from "clustering" students with an IEP into classes and nothing ensures they will receive adequate support or have access to adequate teacher time and specialist teacher time.

In addition, the Bill removes class size averages, allowing for classes over 30 without having to "balance out" with some smaller classes. Now a District can have a high class size average and many classes over 30.

The Minister has released the Ministerial Regulations regarding the "cash for kids" section of Bill 22.

This section provides for additional compensation for teachers who are assigned classes over 30, except for exempted classes.

The exempted classes are:

* all adult education classes
* all continuing education classes
* all distributed learning classes
* all work study and work experience classes
* all specialty academy classes
* all music classes including band, choir, instrumental music and orchestra
* all performing arts classes including drama and dance
* all Planning 10 classes
* all board authorized leadership classes

For these exempted classes, there is no limit and no additional compensation, no matter what the class size. In other words, nothing prevents these classes from being in the 50 - 100 range. Also, because this is a regulation, it does not have to go back to the legislature to be changed. The Ministry can add more classes at any time by writing a new regulation. This is just a bureaucratic task.

The formula for additional compensation basically calculates a "cost per student" by taking the average teacher salary and dividing by thirty. So, if the average teacher salary is $60,000, then the cost per student is $2000. Thus, a teacher who has 32 students enrolled in a class all year full time would be paid an additional $2000 per student, which in this example would be $4000. The formula also only pays nine of the ten months of the school year (so the actual amount paid would be $1800), and does not take into account additional costs such as benefits and overhead costs.

What does this mean?

It means that for any given grade or subject area, it is cheaper for a District to overload classes than to hire additional teachers. If an extra 29 students can be spread around into oversize classes, that will be $2000 less than the salary of an additional teacher. Not until a whole additional class of 30 is reached does it become economically equivalent to hire another teacher. Anything less, and the cheaper option is to overload.

Consider, for example, a school with 105 Grade 6 students. The cost of having three classes of 35 would be $210,000 (based on the $60,000 average salary). The cost of having four classes - three of 26 and one of 27 - would be $240,000. 

Not only is Bill 22 likely to lead to increased class size, up to as much as in the 50's potentially, but it will also lead to fewer teachers. Consider the example above where the school creates 3 classes of 35 instead of the 4 smaller classes. This also means for the existing 4 teachers, now only 3 are needed. If you spread this across the District, a worst case scenario would see up to 25% of teachers lose their jobs. Now this is not likely to happen immediately, but remember that in the first year after Bill 28 came into effect, approximately 2500 teachers province wide lost their jobs - close to 10% of the contract teachers currently employed. Given that the budget for school Districts next year does not include an increase to even cover inflation, it is reasonable to expect at least 3-5% job losses, if not more.

Friday, March 30, 2012

BC Liberals: You reap what you sow...

Today the BCGEU, representing provincial government employees in BC, announced they will be holding a strike vote. They are seeking wage increases of 8% over 2 years and the government has offered only 3%. The BCGEU rightly argue that their members should not take permanent wage cuts because of the recession. They have lost purchasing power due to the net zero contract under Mandate 2010 and the rising inflation rate in BC.

They also point out that private sector workers in BC are receiving reasonable increases. Average weekly earnings in BC are up 3.2%, as reported by Statistics Canada. Why should government workers a) get any less and b) not get a catch up for lost purchasing power under net zero?

The independent commission that looked at judges salaries made the same argument. If judges receive net zero for two years because of a recession, they should be entitled to make up that loss subsequently. The Liberals didn't listen, and legislated zeros.

The government's extension of net zero into Mandate 2012 shows their real agenda and it has nothing to do with the deficit. They want to permanently reduces wages for public sector workers. At the same time, they continue to provide obscene increases to those in the top echelons of power. As just one recent example, the "mediator" appointed under Bill 22 to force a contract on teachers will be earning $2000 a day. On top of his other salary.

Also in the news today is the pending job action by BC's anesthesiologists. Yet another group of workers frustrated by a government that rules by dictat, rather than fair and reasonable negotiating. And again, the government is relying on the courts and an injunction to prevent this group from exercising their right to a slow down as a form of job action.

This is a government in free fall, and a government incapable of coming to a resolution with practically anyone, in any area. Ten years of draining the public coffers through tax cuts to the wealthy are finally coming home to roost as the people who provide our public services stand up for fair treatment.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

From public to private: a subtle path

There was some nasty commentary this week in the Province because a BC teacher compared Bill 22 to Nazi germany. It was pretty ripe coming from a newspaper that had itself, a few short months earlier, compared teachers to Hitler in a cartoon. But despite the perhaps ill conceived comparison, the point the teacher was trying to make was valid - you don't go from good to bad in one fell swoop - you do it piecemeal.

In this case we are talking about the following transition: from a universal, quality, fully funded education system which provides every child an equal opportunity to succeed, to a market driven, privately operated system in which the quality of service varies according to the socio-economic class of the child's parents.

How does this transition happen? Incrementally, with a series of small policy changes that on their surface might seem good, or at least not too bad.

In the US, we can follow this transition from the introduction of the federal No Child Left Behind laws just over ten years ago, to the state of the union today, where whole cities, like New Orleans, no longer have any publicly run schools.

In BC, I would put the starting point of this transition back in 1992. This was the first year there were significant budget cuts to local school boards. This change initiated an incremental process whereby the percentage of our budget going to schools has dropped from 26% to a new low this year of 15%.

The second step was the imposition of provincial bargaining with the Public Education Labour Relations Act in the mid-90's. This took voice away from local school Boards and local teachers' associations to work together to meet individual community needs.

The third step came in 2001, when the newly elected BC Liberal government made education an "essential service". This took away rights of teachers to advocate not only on their own behalf but on behalf of improvements to the school system.

A giant blow came in 2002, and had three parts. First, all class size and class composition provisions were unilaterally removed. Second, parents were allowed to register for schools outside their geographic catchment area. While seemingly benign, this has been the single greatest factor in winning parents to a model of school "choice" where some kids win and some lose. It was the greatest blow in terms of a public system with equity and fairness as basic principles. Lastly, 2002 saw a wholesale change in how special education was funded, eliminating most targeted funding. This change led to a total loss in dollars, to the loss of 700 specialist teachers this decade, and to the rights of individual children with designations to specific levels of service.

In 2003, for the first time the Ministry of Education published Foundation Skills Test results on a public web site, and the Fraser Institute published their now infamous school rankings. Along with the opening of catchment areas, this solidified the school choice ethos. Parents began selecting schools based on their rankings and schools began the transition of separating into "have" schools  and "have not" schools.

The teachers action in 2005 caused a brief reprieve. After a two week illegal walkout, class sizes of 30 were reinstated and class composition limits (soft caps - they are often broken) were reintroduced.

Which brings us to today, and Bill 22. In my mind, this is a turning point, just as NCLB was in the US. Bill 22 not only reenacts the elimination of class size and class composition limits, but most importantly it is an act of government than runs rough shod on the Constitution, and on democratic rights of teachers. If it is not repealed, it provides a blue print for future government of how to impose their will regardless of public or professional opposition. For this reason, it must be stopped.

Friday, March 23, 2012

What is this dispute about? Putting equity last, and corporations first

Today's guest post is from Bruce McCloy, a teacher in New Westminster.

Why is this current stand so important?  For those who are currently monitoring this public site on behalf of the government please read on as well.  I sincerely hope you learn something and, if we fail and this government gets what they want, with your help, I hope you can look students in the eyes in years to come and be able to say you were responsible for the mess you have created.

Here is why I see this current fight as very important.  This is not about class size, class composition, a wage increase or extra help for special needs students.  While these are all very important they are dwarfed by a greater threat; the changing of our current educational system to one that caters less to equity and developing a good person to one that is squarely focused on market based principles and catering to an ever greedy corporate elite.  Teachers and government are on a crash course, fighting over, as Wendy Poole outlines, the vision and purpose of K-12 public education and the meaning of professionalism (see  

Government is focused on a neo-liberal view of education, “conceptualiz[ing] education as a commodity to be bought by customers (students and parents) and sold by suppliers (schools and others). From a market perspective, schools are training grounds for future workers and consumers, as well a multi-billion dollar industry offering opportunities for profit. Efficiency, accountability for student outcomes (usually measured by standardized test scores and other measures like graduation rates), choice for parents (e.g., charter schools, vouchers, within-district school choice), privatization (e.g., public funding for private schools, user-pay fees, contracting with private firms to operate public schools, private-public partnerships for school construction, school-business partnerships), and attacks on teachers unions are hallmarks of neo-liberalism in education”. (see attached paper if you would like to read more).   This fight is about breaking the union in order to bring in a system that caters to only a few, and leaves the many others simply to be good workers. If we truly cared about students, and creating a better society, we would be modelling our system after Finland, rather than chasing the USA, UK and Australia downwards.  The end result of this current action by the BC government is to cut costs, break the union and make a statement to the voters that the current ruling Liberals deserve their vote in May 2013.  It has nothing to do with students.  For the differences in focus of the Finland system in comparison with the USA, UK and Australian systems review the attached paper, Neo-Liberalism in British Columbia Education and Teachers’ Union Resistance and the video found at

Current OECD rankings have Canada slipping slightly behind Australia in reading (#8 compared to #7), still behind Finland at #4 but well ahead of the USA at #11 and the UK at #18.  Rankings in Math and Science have Canada far ahead of the USA, Australia and UK systems that the government are focused on reaching down to and still behind the ranking of Finland, a country that teachers are working to catch. Finland is ranked #2 in math, Canada #8, with Australia at #15, the UK at #21 and the USA being far behind at #32.  There are similar findings in Science with Finland at #2, Canada at #6, Australia at #12, the UK at #21 and the USA at #30.  The quality of our education does not matter to the current Liberal government; containing costs, and creating preferable market conditions do.

Some sobering thoughts when contemplating this possible scenario.

While increasing funding for schools from a 2002-2003 total of  $3.782 billion to a projected 2012-2013 total of $4.725 billion (making true governments claim that per-student funding has increased) the actual costs to districts have far outstripped this increase.  Most telling is the decrease in priority of education as a part of the provincial budget falling from 26% in 2002 – 2003 to a 15% in 2011 – 2012.  In 2002 – 2003 the total allocation envelope for education was $3.7 billion.  This accounted for 26% of the total provincial budget.  In 2012 – 2013 the projected total allocation envelope for education is $4.7 billion accounting for 15% of the total provincial budget.  If the 2002 – 2003 % of total provincial budget allocation held true today the total allocation of funds to education from the provincial budget for 2012 – 2013 would be $8.1 billion   providing for a further allocation of $3.4 billion on top of the $4.7 billion currently being provided.  The amount due to school districts for next year over and above what is being given is almost equal to the total amount provided to school districts in the 2002 – 2003 year.  It is not a situation of lack of funds, rather a change in priority for the government

Board funds have long been frozen, all but 6 districts are currently in Funding Protection (meaning that they are working in a bankrupt state).  Board funds have been frozen for a further 3 years, leaving them with an accumulated $100 million shortfall this year alone.  The “easy cuts” to budgets have long been done leaving an impossible situation.  The overwhelming major cost to districts is teacher salaries, something that districts have been unable to change due to strict rules in the collective agreements.  Until now.  Changes in post and fill rules, class composition and numbers, evaluations and discipline procedures will make it  easier for boards to lower their salary costs by making life difficult for more expensive teachers to the point they will quit, removing more expensive teachers and filling their positions with cheaper less experienced teachers or with even cheaper non teachers.  The boards will sell the public on these changes b y offering perks that will have most forget the importance of teacher quality.

The current government advertising focused on teacher salary and benefits (the BCTF is demanding a 15 per cent wage hike and other benefits that would cost $2 billion and raise taxes for BC families...) is allowing the government to keep attention away from the main changes they wish to see through the BC Education Plan.  This education plan provides the government with the route to the neo-liberal result that they wish to see, a result that will have us emulating the OECD rankings of the USA, UK and Australia in a very short time, leaving far behind the rankings we currently have and our hopes for reaching those of Finland.  This is because the government is not focused on providing an equitable education system. Or even focused on educating at a high level.  Rather, it is focused on creating a system that follows their neo-liberal beliefs.  The BC Education Plan is a guise (as is the current troubles on the labour front) to instituting these ideals:

o While requests for feedback to the BC Education Plan is currently seen as a priority for government, the plan is all but written awaiting an appropriate time to roll out.  Current feedback will never be considered but provides the perception that it has been

o BC Education Plan calls for personalized learning that will amount to students staying at home to work on their computers learning from an on-line master teacher.  Cheaper non-teachers will be available for students to submit assignments and pick up others, while tutoring (on-line and in person) will be available if necessary.  This change over has already begun.  The government is admitting that 700 special needs teachers that have been lost to the system have been replaced with 2100 new teaching assistants ... but no more teachers.  The $165 million Learning Improvement Fund will hire more teacher assistants ... but no more teachers.

o Contract changes are necessary to enable this change to occur in our current system – changing hours of work, working conditions (class sizes can reach the hundreds) and making it easier to deal with teachers that disagree with the direction

o Money will be saved on school buildings as only a few will be needed as regional meeting places – while the others can be sold as they are no longer required to service children

o Standardized assessment will become easier as the teaching from the on-line Master teachers will be the same.

o Large corporations will find a ready market for technology.  A quick look at those involved in developing the new BC Education Program indicate past and present members of the guiding committee including 20 members who belong to the corporate business community or with strong ties to this community and zero involved in public education in BC.  Those involved on the committee to restructure BC Education include Reg Bird, Vecima Networks, Don Mattrick, President, Interactive Entertainment Business, Microsoft Corp., Don Safnuk, President and CEO of Corporate Recruiters and Ralph Turfus, CEO, Arbutus Place Investments.

o Creating a system dependent on technology will provide a ready market for both hardware and software manufacturers as well as internet providers.  On line needs will increase, allowing a market for sellers of data plans

o Control of teacher Professional Development and new evaluation and “one-strike you are out” dismissal procedures will allow government to control what teachers learn and what they will teach in the classroom.  Government and corporate propaganda will be required to be taught, even if ethically unsettling, or a teacher will face dismissal.

o Control of curriculum and standardization of what is taught will allow government to lessen the time many students stay in school, providing an opportunity for students to leave at the end of grade 10 (where 3 of our government exit exams currently are placed).   Students will be able to leave early for the workforce providing cheap (and undereducated) labour to be available during the week – something that is currently not readily available for most companies.  Seeing that these workers were encouraged to leave school at grade 10 they will later find that they do not have the required education to change occupations, therefore making them more likely to stay in lower paying jobs within the company that they currently work for.

o With the education of children left in the hands of busy parents, and at home often with little guidance (especially in the secondary school years)  it is more likely that they lag behind and  have less motivation to finish beyond grade 10.  As well, earning money at an early age could be a great benefit to the family income as well as provide a greater source of disposable income at an earlier age – resulting in more purchasing power at a younger age.

o Only those being educated in private schools (still in a traditional mode of providing education) or those with incredible self-discipline will have the skills to enter university – predominately leaving the rich to claim the higher level jobs and the less rich or less motivated to take up a new lower class working class.

o With a larger number of workers available and a dismantling of trade union power, the minimum wage can once again be lowered, rights eroded allowing for more flexibility and higher profits for business owners.  As well, the numbers of the consumer class will increase, also allowing for further profits for corporations.  

While we are busy fighting the current contract negotiations, which in themselves are important, the Liberal government has a far greater goal.  We find ourselves so busy with fighting the little things I fear we may miss the bigger picture and feel the pain of the onslaught (BC Education Plan) far before we see it coming and far later than we can do much about it.  I am reminded of a simple yet effective strategy we use to use in PE class when playing the game Murder Ball (in one of its many configurations).  If one was lucky enough to get two balls they often incorporated the following strategy – throw one ball high in the air.  As members of the other team watch the ball float slowly towards them the original thrower would throw the second ball hard , directly at the opponent, hitting them and getting them out.

We see a similar strategy with the government – lob up the whole confrontation of contract negotiations, and, while teachers are busy looking at these, hit them hard with the educational changes you as a government actually want to implement. While current contract negotiations are very important and need to be dealt with quickly by teachers throughout the province, we need to be talking about and informing the public of the far greater threat that looms and is poised to hit in the very near future.  It is one that will find us sadly leaving any possibility of reaching the equitable system found in Finland (and along with it the high OECD rankings), leaving any possibility of maintaining our current standing in the world (as stated in the OECD rankings), and fervently chasing the lower scores of the USA, UK and Australia.  All in the name of creating a new culture of uneducated workers and consumers for a quickly growing corporate elite.  

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Teachers debate a response to Bill 22

Tomorrow, at the BCTF Annual General Meeting, BC teachers will debate and vote on a way forward to challenge Bill 22 - the BC government legislation that imposes a constrained, pre-determined contract outcome, as well as stripping class size and class composition provisions from BC schools.

If you are a BC teacher, please consider the following discussion points:

There are times in history when taking action is critical. Many teachers wish that we had acted more decisively in 2002 to stop Bill 28 and the initial removal of class size/composition from our contracts. This is similarly a time for strong and decisive action. Only a strong response will be able to stop Bill 22 and the attacks on job security rights, fair evaluation processes and professional autonomy. Teachers should be prepared to do what it takes to defeat this Bill.

The first reaction of many teachers to Bill 22 was the fear of fines. The Bill was written to have this effect. But what teachers and all other workers should actually be afraid of is the tremendous loss of rights that will be forced through the phony mediation. We should be afraid of losing job security rights, putting each and every one of us at potential risk of job loss without reasonable cause. We should be afraid of losing due process in evaluation, which could mean dismissal from one evaluation without any due process requirements. In the US, evaluations have been used to fire teachers because their salaries became too near the top end, because they were pregnant, or because they spoke out about classroom conditions. Due process protects everyone from cronyism, favouratism, and unfair practices. We should be afraid of the loss of our professional autonomy, which could signal the beginning of the end for professionalism in teaching. The potential negative outcomes on our careers if Bill 22 goes ahead are far, far scarier than any loss of income or fines in the short term.

Bill 22 takes a page right from the “education reform” movement in the US. That movement aims to eliminate job security, seniority, and professional autonomy. Already in the US, teachers are subject to firing because their school "got a failing grade", because some student test scores were low, or because they spoke up as a professional to contest budget cuts or poor educational decisions. Many evaluation schemes are unfair and unreliable - often with error rates of up to 35% (that is, one in three "scores" is simply wrong). It took only ten years for US “education reform” to bring teacher morale to an all time low and to force many veteran teachers out of the professional. The largest cohort of teachers in the US is now the group with one year of teaching experience.

Teachers in the US are pushing back, but the biggest regret was not confronting these policies right away. Once they are introduced and legitimized, it only gets harder, not easier, to fix them. We have the opportunity to stop the first infringement on our job security rights, our due process rights, and our professional autonomy rights. We should not let this slip by.

• In 2005, BC Teachers voted to defy legislation and two Supreme Court injunctions during a two-week walkout that resulted in improvements in teaching and learning conditions through Bill 33.
• Many strikes taken by BC teachers and by Canadian workers have been illegal. Our history provides clear evidence that we win only when we are willing to take action regardless of the laws thrown at us.
Bill 22 and the laws we face are unreasonable, unjust, unconstitutional, and contrary to international law.
• Vaughn Palmer writing in the Vancouver Sun, describes Bill 22 as excessively harsh and unreasonable citing section after the section of the bill including passages that “would ‘void’ existing provisions of collective agreements, including obligations to negotiate and/or refer matters to arbitration. Should those powers prove insufficient, government is given additional leeway to settle matters via ministerial fiat.”
• UBC Law Prof, Joel Bakan, writing in the Vancouver Sun alerts readers that “The B.C. Liberal government is poised, once again, to violate the legal rights of workers, this time with Bill 22…” Governments are obliged to govern according to law. That is what distinguishes democracies from tyrannies. As a fundamental democratic principle, the rule of law is seriously jeopardized when governments play fast and loose with constitutional and international laws, as this government is now doing with Bill 22.”
• The ILO (International Labour Organization, under the UN) ruled against the provincial government in 2003 stating that while education is important, it is not an essential service under international treaties Canada signed in 1948. The ILO called on the provincial government to honour the fundamental principles of free collective bargaining and freedom of association, repeal the essential service legislation, refrain from imposing conditions of employment, and open discussions with the union. The Liberal government has ignored these rulings.
Restricting ourselves only to ‘legal’ activities is both (1) an expression of our acceptance of unjust laws, and (2) a certain defeat for us and our profession.

Labour support is one of the key reasons teachers should act. The BC Liberals have for ten years implemented policies that take from the average citizen and give to their corporate friends. Cuts to corporate tax rates combined with wage freezes on the public sector are just one way that this government has taken from the 99% to give to the 1%. If teachers have the courage to stand up to this government, other public sector workers will be ready to join us.

A true and genuine quality public education system is one in which public schools are every bit as good as private ones. That means small classes, adequate teacher time, and teachers who are well paid. It means a teaching profession where the best and brightest choose to enter and stay in the profession. It means budgets that keep up with inflation and that provide for every student's needs. For a decade, this government has bled public education dry. Now it wants to make permanent the increased class sizes and the lack of support for students with special needs. As is our long tradition, teachers should continue to speak up and stand up for a public system every bit as good as the private one, to give every child a fair chance at a full and meaningful, quality education. BC's children deserve no less.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Lessons from the US - when unions don't strike to contest unjust laws

In my previous blog post, I listed the numerous times that both legal and illegal strike action was taken by Canadian unions and by BC teachers. Illegal strike action has been critical in advancing basic union rights including the right to strike itself.

What happens when other strategies are used? For teachers, recent struggles in the United States provide a warning on the consequences of not taking job action, and instead looking to public relations, the courts, or the next election. Just as here, many US teacher unions have been subject to attacks not just on wages and benefits and working conditions, but also the most basic protections such as job security and the right to organize and strike. A variety of strategies have been employed including recall campaigns, waiting for the next election, legal protest actions and campaigns, and the courts.

In the US, governments are willing to use whatever means they have to intimidate and coerce teachers and their unions (just as Bill 22 does to BC teachers). A planned one day strike by Los Angeles teachers was called off after a judge ordered that teachers would be individually fined up to $1000 each. In Chicago, a recent state law requires a 75% vote for any action and bargaining cannot include working conditions. This makes it more difficult to take action, but we also need to learn what happens when this deterrent is effective in making workers look to other, less successful, strategies.

New York teachers went to court to try and prevent the publication of so-called "value added" teacher evaluations. They did not succeed. Instead,  the Mayor is closing 33 schools, firing all the teachers and forcing them to reapply for their jobs.

In Wisconsin, after a huge display of anger by hundreds of thousands of teachers and other public sector workers and citizens, the union movement failed to call for strike action. While the recall campaign against Governor Walker was successful, one year later it remains to be seen what the outcome of the new vote will be and whether or not even a Democratic replacement would repeal the anti-union laws. Meanwhile workers are living under the new law. The Democratic candidate is well know for herself wielding concessions from public sector unions when bargaining for government. Moreover, it is a Democratic government, under Barrack Obama, who continues to push for corporate school reform through the promotion of Charter schools and the "Race to the Top" program that seeks to eliminate teacher seniority rights (called tenure in the US).

Electoral strategies have succeeded in raising the issues in the public eye, but they have not succeeded in reversing the corporate reform agenda or the position of the so-called labour friendly Democrats. As one commentator reported:

Back in 2010, Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.5 million-member American Federation of Teachers (AFT), lashed out at President Obama who she said was part of the “blame the teacher crowd” of education reform.
“I never thought I’d see a Democratic president, whom we helped elect, and his education secretary applaud the mass firing of 89 teachers and staff,” she said – referring to the firing of all teachers at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island earlier that year.
Last month, the AFT executive council unanimously voted to endorse Obama for reelection.

Obama and the Democrats have continued the agenda begun by George Bush under the No Child Left Behind law. They have refused, despite financial and organizational support from teachers and teacher unions, to acknowledge the failure of these reforms and their pro-privatization consequences. The electoral strategies of teachers' unions in the US have largely been a failure.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lessons from history - legislation and illegal strikes

Should teachers take action in response to Bill 22? Should they walk out regardless of the question of 'legality'?

It now looks almost certain that even with School Boards, the public and parents in favour of a fair, independent, mediated settlement, the government is not yet prepared to change course on Bill 22, legislation that aims to repeal rights to due process, job protection, and professional autonomy, as well as the removal of class size limits and the right to bargain class size limits for another two years.

If Canadian workers never took illegal action, we would be a very different country indeed. In fact, the right to strike itself was won through illegal strikes. Here are a few legislative changes that resulted from strikes, many of which were not 'legal':

1872 - The Trade Union Act, making unions legal, is a response to the Toronto Printer's strike for a 54 hour week.

1944 - Privy Council Order 1003 provides rights to collective bargaining based on the US Wagner Act in response to a series of war time strikes at Kirkland Lake and elsewhere.

1945 - The Rand formula, providing automatic union membership and dues collection, is a result of the Ford Windsor strike.

1965 - Canadian Parliament grants right to strike for some public sector workers in response to an illegal strike by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

1976 - Wage controls of the federal government are defeated after the first national Day of Protest involving workers across Canada.

Our own history is similarly one in which there have been as many 'illegal' actions than legal ones.

1919 - First teachers strike in Victoria, BC over wages, results in a negotiated settlement.

1921 - New Westminster teachers strike to win enforcement of an arbitration award on salaries.

1937 - Teachers in New Westminster defy School Board over firings and Board is ousted by province.

1971 - First province wide teacher strike in BC to secure pension improvements.

1974 - Strike by Surrey teachers wins improvement in pupil-teacher ratio.

1981 - Terrace teachers walk out to secure guaranteed personnel practices.

1983 - Teachers and other workers strike to defeat Bill 3 which would allow dismissal without cause.

1987 - For the first time, it becomes legal for teachers to strike. This lasts until 2002, with the introduction of "Essential Services" legislation.

2005 - Teachers walk out after being legislated back to work. After two weeks, Vince Ready is appointed as a mediator and an agreement is reached which is accepted by both sides.

Now more than ever, with governments aggressively trying to end protections for workers such as due process and seniority, we will need to make difficult decisions about taking action. What we know for certain is that when we don't act, these same governments will feel confident to make further incursions on these rights. Since the 1990's, the decline of strikes and unionization rates has allowed employers (both public sector and private) to erode both job protection rights as well as salaries. As a result, incomes have stagnated and purchasing power has fallen.

Teachers, just like other workers, have one tool that is effective in creating sufficient pressure to force good faith negotiation - the withdrawal of services.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

How do teachers defeat Bill 22?

In one week, BC teachers will be meeting at our Annual General Meeting to discuss next steps to defeat Bill 22. It is imperative that we look at both what is at stake and what our history tells us about how to move forward in order to protect our own rights as well as the public education system we defend.

Bill 22 is the most draconian piece of legislation faced by BC teachers in my career. Bill 22 sets up a framework for false mediation that would result in the erosion of professional autonomy, the elimination of seniority rights, and the imposition of a potentially arbitrary evaluation process. It also ensures no new funding for any improvements in teacher salaries, meaning teachers will fall behind inflation and further behind our colleagues across Canada. Finally, it re-enacts the elimination of protections for class sizes and class composition from 2002, ensuring further erosion of classroom conditions.

Bill 22 is nothing short of "Wisconsin north" - a direct attack on trade unionism and collective  bargaining for teachers and for the public sector. It is the same type of legislation that the Wisconsin governor brought last year to massively erode public sector bargaining rights in that state. This ignited a string of anti-union legislation in the US. For us, Bill 22 is the first salvo in an employer's offensive towards public sector bargaining rights in BC, and it follows on the heels of the federal Conservative interference in the rights of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and Air Canada workers (in various unions) to free collective bargaining.

The stakes are high. Without job security protections and without successfully pushing back on anti-union and anti-democratic legislation, we are opening the door to continued "education reform" that may very quickly plunge the teaching profession into a state of crisis.

In the US, within ten short years teachers have lost job security rights, accepted the imposition of merit pay, and become subject to evaluation systems that are unfair and arbitrary (the "voodoo mathematics" otherwise known as value-added teacher evaluation). American teachers are so demoralized that many are leaving the profession. The largest cohort of US teachers are now those with under five years experience. Teacher morale is at a twenty year low ( For many, teaching has become a miserable job. If you need convincing, read a few accounts from our colleagues in the States:

So what do we do in the face of Bill 22? First and foremost we need to turn to our own history. BC teachers have a proud history of standing up in the face of unfair legislation. In the words of Al Cornes, from Teacher newsmagazine, we need to stand on the shoulders of teachers who have gone before, to ensure a legacy for those to come. In the words of Ken Novokowski, we have a history of swift and solid action: "The BCTF response was swift and united. Four weeks after the legislation was tabled, on April 28, after a province-wide vote, teachers in every local walked off the job and shut down every school in the province to protest the government legislation." If you are a BC teacher, please take a few minutes to read about what actions and strategies have been successful.

Al Cornes in Teacher Newsmagazine:
Ken Novokowski on the history of the BCTF:
BCTF history of collective bargaining:

Friday, March 9, 2012

Critical thinking and Bill 22 - A teacher rebuts George Abbott

Dear Minister Abbott:

Imagine there are two children arguing in the playground over a toy. Picture a tall, brutish bully, and a wiry, bespectacled nerd.  Never mind that the toy belongs to the nerd.  Never mind that the bully pushed the nerd over and took the toy.  Just imagine that you walk into the situation with no foreknowledge of any thefts or pushing. Perhaps you ask to hear the story.  Perhaps you even believe the bully's story that the nerd is greedy, and has lots of toys, and for some reason wants to take away the bully's toy just for fun.  Perhaps you distrust the nerd, because you once knew a nerd who was untrustworthy.  Now imagine that the bully pushes the nerd again. Right in front of you.  Another student runs in and shouts at the bully to return the toy: you have a witness!  It did belong to the nerd after all!  Suddenly, the bully steps on the nerd's throat and says, "If you try to stand up to me, if you tell on me, I'll make you pay.  I'll take all your lunch money, every day, until you give up."

Remember, this is happening right in front of you.  What do you do?

This is what we call an allegory.  We teach people to stand up to bullies.  We teach people to stand up for what they believe in, even in the face of bullies.  We are B.C.'s teachers and we are being stepped on.  What will you do?

Erin Porter
Greater Victoria School District> wrote:
Thank you for your email regarding the current contract negotiations with the BC Teachers' Federation.

Government introduced Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act, to suspend the union's strike action, set a"cooling off" period, appoint a mediator to facilitate bargaining, and implement a new $165 millionLearning Improvement Fund and other initiatives that will benefit teachers and students. You can learn more about the Education Improvement Act at:

The legislation does not impose a new contract. Rather, it sets out a mediation process with the goal of reaching a mediated settlement within the net-zero mandate by the beginning of summer. If there is no agreement then the mediator will issue a report by June 30, 2012, with non-binding recommendations.

The Education Improvement Act also includes several initiatives that will benefit teachers and students. Collectively, these initiatives serve as government's response to the BC Supreme Court decision on Bills 27 and 28.

*       The Act implements a $165 million Learning Improvement Fund that school districts can use to hire additional teachers and education assistants, provide additional teaching time and support professional development and training to help teachers meet the complex needs in their classrooms. The process for allocating these funds will include consultations with the BC Teachers' Federation, classroom teachers, education assistants, administration and district staff.

*       The Act restores class size and related matters to the scope of collective bargaining, effective for the next round of bargaining which is expected to begin in Spring 2013.

*       The Act eliminates the use of district class size averages and implements a class size maximum of 30 students for Grades 4-12. The new cap will not apply to some subjects where large groups are desirable such as a band or drama class. The existing cap of 22 students for Kindergarten and 24 students for Grade 1-3 will remain in place and cannot be exceeded.

*       The Act allows a Grade 4-12 class to exceed 30 students if the principal and superintendents consider the learning conditions to be appropriate, but in these cases, school districts must provide additional compensation to the classroom teacher, proportionate to the added workload. This compensation can consist of increased pay, additional preparation time, professional development funding or a combination of different accommodations.

*       The Act eliminates the formulaic and cumbersome consultation process on class composition and promotes regular consultation between principals and teachers on all matters of class organization, including the placement of students with special needs.

The Education Improvement Act provides certainty to students and their parents by suspending the current strike so that every parent in BC can receive a full accounting of how their children are progressing in school and schools can resume the collaborative meetings that are so important to supporting our students.

The Act also puts a mediator in place to help the parties achieve a mediated settlement. The union's demands for a $2 billion wage increase are completely unreasonable given the current economic reality. Therefore, the mediator will help the parties to reach a settlement that follows the lead of other public sector unions who have already signed more than 120 agreements under the government's net-zero mandate.

Lastly, the Act puts more money into classrooms, improves supports for students and teachers, provides additional teacher compensation where class size exceeds the student limit, improves consultation on class organization, and restores the opportunity to bargain class size and related matters. Taken together, these are significant gains that recognize the important role and contribution of teachers.

The Education Improvement Act brings a responsible conclusion to this dispute and I hope all parties will take a constructive approach in the days ahead to move forward and provide the certainty necessary to improve our education system and support our students.

Yours truly,
George Abbott

Dear Minister Abbott,

It may shock you to learn this, but many of BC's teachers are actually very intelligent individuals.  While I am sure it took you (or your aide) precious seconds to forward me this generic form letter, I find it more than a little insulting that you did not take the time to actually respond to me.  Do you think I am unfamiliar with your bill? Do you think I blindly follow instructions without taking the time to read and think for myself?  Believe it or not, I teach students to read and think critically, and I pride myself on being able to do the same.

Your "mediation" is not mediation at all.  If you get to appoint the mediator, and you get to dictate the terms that this mediator can discuss, you have not appointed a mediator but a puppet.

If you actually believe that $165 million will make a difference to an education system that has been systematically stripped of supports for students for 10 years (totalling up to $3.3 billion), you need to come and sit in one of my math classes for a lesson or two.

I would thank you for removing the “formulaic and cumbersome consultation process” regarding class sizes, but since you are in reality removing any formal record of consultations and violations, I am going to reserve my gratitude.

I am interested to see how you will provide “additional compensation to the classroom teacher, proportionate to the added workload” of classes exceeding 30 students when you do not compensate teachers proportionally to “regular” workload in the first place.  Looking across the country, BC teachers are ranked between 6th and 11th in pay.  Teachers in other provinces get more preparation time.  In the face of such statements, some are bound to argue, “So why don’t you move?”  I could do that, and I fear many teachers will (or already have).  BC’s students, whom you claim to care so much about, are the ones who suffer when talented and respected teachers leave for greener pastures.  I don’t blame them for leaving – I blame you.

Instead of negotiating a wage increase that might bring BC teachers on par with (or at least closer to) our colleagues across the country, you call our demands “completely unreasonable” and refuse to even talk with us.  Is a pay increase unreasonable?  Not when cost of living increases mean that “net zero” is actually a net loss.  Is $2 billion unreasonable?  Perhaps it is high (which, I hear, opening offers in negotiations tend to be) but is it entirely devoid of reason?  Not when teachers in other provinces are paid similar wages.   I think you may have your numbers confused yet again.  It is the number 475 that is “completely unreasonable.”  And the number 1.3 million.  And the number 2,500.  The word “unreasonable” also means “beyond the limits of acceptability or fairness.”  That you are threatening to fine me, personally, $475 a day – A DAY – to exercise my right to strike in protest of Bill 22, is utterly beyond the limits of acceptability or fairness.

If you truly recognized “the important role and contribution of teachers,” you would not insult us with Bill 22.

Erin Porter

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What is this strike about? A moving letter from a Saanich teacher

I would like to thank you, Mr. Abbott.

My wife and I have just had an excellent discussion with our daughters about power, and about the importance of checks and balances in a society.

Sophie and Rachel are 12 and 10. They wer
e very confused about why the government was allowed to make rules such as fining teachers $475 a day or $2500 a day for going on strike.

We explained that our government is elected to make decisions on our behalf, and that we trust that they will make good and considered decisions.

But what if we don’t agree with their decisions, they wondered.

We explained that there is time to debate these decisions before they are made, and that everybody is allowed to write letters, or protest if they disagree. We explained that the media is meant to also provide some balance, by asking difficult and challenging questions.

But they are saying that if you protest their decision, they will fine you, they replied.

We had no answer.

Why do they hate teachers, one of them asked.

I still had no answer.


I could have been a lawyer. I scored in the 98th percentile of the LSAT and was accepted to Queen’s Law School, offered a scholarship to a Law School in the northeastern US. I chose instead to defer my decision, and be a tutor/coach/residence don/in-house TOC at my old high school for a couple of years. This was a private boarding school in Ontario. I loved it.

I loved being able to explain concepts in math to kids, and to see the “light go on”. I loved sharing my passion for math, for soccer, for hockey, for philosophy, for poetry, and for musical theater with kids. I never considered going back to law after those two years.

After completing my teacher training at UVic, I did my practicum in Saanich. I hadn’t realized until then what a sheltered teaching existence I had at the boarding school, with well-to-do kids brought up with every advantage (the type of kids to whom Mr. Abbott recently referred as “the smart kids”, I believe). In the public school system in Saanich, I learned humility. I learned how to be a better teacher, how to teach the whole child, and not just the mind.

I taught classes that not only had some of Mr. Abbott’s advantaged “smart kids”, but other kids who were often equally smart and capable if not more, but who faced challenges the others didn’t: broken homes, poverty issues, learning disabilities, to name only a few.

These classes were challenging because the kids’ needs were so varied. Some kids could be turned on by ideas alone; others needed to be convinced of the value of learning, to place education in context; some just needed breakfast. And yet, at the time I started teaching in Saanich, I considered myself fortunate because we had a locally arranged agreement about how many kids could be in a secondary English class. (I taught English at the time).

The number was 27 – unless you had a student who had an acknowledged special need, such as dyslexia, or visual impairment, for example, that would require a significant amount of adjustment to practice or extra preparation. For each of these students, the number would drop by one. If there were 6 “special needs” students in your English 11, the maximum number of kids would be 21. Trust me, this would still be a challenging class in terms of composition, but the system worked. It was so important to teachers, my older colleagues told me, that teachers took less in salary improvements at the time in order to secure these contract provisions.

Silly me for thinking that contracts were something sacrosanct in Canadian law.

When I started my first continuing contract at Claremont Secondary in 2000, we had an enrolment not very different from our enrolment today.

When I started at Claremont, it was not unusual for the more challenging classes, such as Essentials of Math 10 or Communications 11 to have 12-15 students, because that’s what those kids needed to be successful.

When I started at Claremont, there were two librarians – one for every 550 kids.

When I started at Claremont there was a staff of 85-90, with plenty of teachers in the building to comfortably take on all the extra-curriculars that make schools, as the Saanich motto goes, “great places to learn, safe places to be”

Today at Claremont, a class with less than 23-24 students does not run. This legislation before you will only make that number increase, I assure you, and it is not what kids need.

Today at Claremont there is 3/4 of a librarian – which translates to one for every 1475 kids.

Today at Claremont there is a staff of 65-70. This group which now numbers 20 fewer than when I started 12 years ago, has been attempting to keep up all the things that make our school great – outstanding academics, including extra-curricular offerings such as the dozens of math contests I sponsor and organize every year, an incredible sports program, an enviable fine arts program, numerous volunteer organizations that enrich our school community and the community at large. So far, we have managed, but we have each had to take up the slack now for too long. We are at the breaking point, and I promise you – this legislation already threatens to push us over the edge.

Surely this government is not deaf to the teachers from around the province who are saying enough…

Enough: we have devoted our lives to a profession that we knew all along would not make us rich, but we did it because we believed that if it would help just one disadvantaged kid, it was worth it.

Enough: we believed in it so much, that we traded even the most meager of raises, time and time again, in order to gain better classroom conditions for our students.

Enough: we tried our absolute best to play within the rules, when government after government stripped away those conditions that we bought with our own salaries, even when the Supreme Court ruled that those government actions were illegal.

Enough: we have tried to hold our heads high, when we are vilified in the press as lazy and greedy, when nothing – NOTHING -- could be further from the truth.

Enough: we have devoted countless hours to volleyball, to musical theatre, to poetry readings, to charity work, to rugby, to yearbook clubs, to student’s councils, to tutoring before school from 7am, to tutoring after school until 6pm or longer, to tutoring kids by email on the weekends, and, AND! to our own Professional Development, whether that occurs on a Pro-D day or on our own time – Yes, Mr. Abbott, we actually do Pro-D.

In short, we have devoted countless hours to the children and families of this province, and the thanks we get is one more veiled legislated slap in the face?

Now, I’m not so out of touch that I don’t realize that as a teacher at the top of the scale, I’m fairly comfortable. Sure it irks me that all of you folks in the legislature have received pay raises in the last ten years far beyond what I have received over the same period – pay raises which you are allowed to vote for yourselves. Not that I would dare suggest that you don’t deserve it – I don’t envy your jobs in the least. But even despite this glaring double-standard, I would have begrudgingly accepted no raise, if it were that alone.

It is not the extending of the current contract in this legislation that has me upset.

I am insulted.

I am insulted that you have the temerity to suggest that this legislation represents mediation in any true sense of the word. Your use of legislation to enforce mediation, but then dictate the terms of the mediation is nothing short of bullying. How ironic that there was an anti-bullying flashmob on the lawn of the legislature the day this bill was introduced. To my mind, you have brought disrepute onto yourselves and the institution you represent. I was trying to defend the institution of our provincial government to my children tonight, suggesting that it rested on a foundation of elected officials acting in a dispassionate way for the benefit of all. I couldn’t.

I am shocked.

I shouldn’t be, given everything that has happened in the last 10 years, but I’m shocked.

I am shocked – no, enraged – that you would enact legislation that essentially attacks my freedom to associate; legislation that, quite frankly, probably runs counter to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, even though your government’s last Bill of this sort was deemed illegal by the Supreme Court; legislation that does not “put families first” but which threatens families – no, puts a gun to their heads – and says to them: “we will bankrupt you if you have the gall to disagree with us or stand up for your rights”.

Lastly, I am disappointed, and if I’m to be honest, I am defeated and demoralized. And I know I’m not alone.

And that’s what you wanted, wasn’t it? You don’t want an improved public education system. I would love to challenge you, to defy you, sir, to say otherwise, to come to Claremont and convince me in person that this legislation will improve the public education system in BC, that it will improve the lives of children and their families across this province, by demoralizing and insulting teachers like me, by forcing a foregone, supposedly “mediated” conclusion down our throats. Sadly, you tell these lies every day, and so my challenge is useless.

It is a sad day for me, and a sad day for BC. I love my job, I love the kids at Claremont, and I love Victoria, but today I really and truly thought it might be time to find a teaching job back in Ontario. You may say good riddance – we can find someone cheaper than you to do the same job. But I dare you to say that to my students. That is a challenge that perhaps I could make.


My oldest daughter has been reading Animal Farm at school. (Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this – you will think that it is another reason to bring down the public school system…)

After our discussion earlier tonight – and believe me when I say I did my utmost best to withhold the vitriol that must be obvious by now that I hold inside – after our family discussion my oldest daughter paused and, honest to God, said something like: “ Dad, the government are kind of like the pigs on the farm, aren’t they…? Once they get to make the rules, they kind of twist things so that they always go their way”.

So, I want to thank you, Mr. Abbott. You made me so proud of my daughter tonight that I want to cry.

Mark Skanks
Claremont Secondary School

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Public education - Christy: it's about equality

Of all the spin put on the current dispute, one aspect that seems to be getting very little attention is really at the heart of the issue - what level of quality should we provide as a public service? What do the 99% who rely on public (as opposed to private) services deserve?

We already have a "two tiered" education system in Canada. Parents who can afford it send their children to private schools. In BC these schools receive public funding - 55% percent of the per student funding, 100% for a student with special needs.

In the private system, there is much less debate about what schooling should look like or what schools need. I taught at a private school for a year. Classes were small. My largest class was 18 and that was big. The student/educator ratio was 8:1. The school did not have many students with special needs, but it did have a large ESL populations. They had targeted programs, individualized classes, one on one tutoring, special language labs. Everything needed to allow each and every student reach their full potential.

Somehow, our current government doesn't believe public schools should be the same. Somehow, they seem to think it is ok to offer a sub-standard level. They think it is ok for classes to be 30 students (or more). They think it is ok not to offer one-on-one support from specialist teachers. They think it is ok to have crumbling facilities, overcrowded rooms, and second hand computers.

I was struck this week with a letter from a parent I know that really captured this element of the debate. Here is her letter to Christy Clark:

Dear Christy Clark,

I have three poignant questions:

1) Is it true that your son Hamish attends a private school?

2) If so, what is the maximum number of children in his class or classes?

3) How many children with "designated" Special Needs are in Hamish's class or classes?

I think it is important for you to reflect on what kind of public education system you would want for your own son (if you were to choose to enrol him in your local public school) I am not sure that you would want young Hamish in an overcrowded classroom with no limits on the number of special need kids in the room.

As the Premier of our province, I urge you to put your son in the public system so that you might truly understand the stresses on teachers and students. I am not sure that you have full insight on how poorly public school teachers are being treated and how difficult it is for them to provide quality education under current and proposed legislation.

I will look forward to your reply to the above three questions.

So far, Christy has not answered.