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.  


  1. Let's be careful with the easy Finland comparison! It turns out that their language is as easy as learning 1, 2, 3: their language is very phonetic. English is on the opposite side of the spectrum! If English could be modernized, it would be easier and faster to learn and easier to teach!

    1. For those interested, there is more info at .

    2. Perhaps! Who wouldn't have loved to only have had one spelling of there-their-they're! I'm not a language specialist, but people who I know that learn multiple languages at a young age, seem to do well in education overall. Perhaps learning an " easier" language straight off the bat puts one at a disadvantage.
      Personally, my money is on modeling our Ed system after a country in the top 5, not the top 20.

    3. Actually, learning an easier language is an advantage! HUGE! You should see how many struggle to DECODE! They are smart kids, but they cannot make sense of the code! SO, the real important learning is taking the back seat of learning a crazy spelling code that is ILLOGICAL because it is IRREGULAR! So, we are rewarding the kids who can memorize by rote all the intricacies of the language and slowing down the progress of those who look the logic in the language. I suspect this is why more boys are struggling in learning. It would be interesting to know how boys do in Commonwealth countries VS some other countries where the language is more logical (like Finnish).

      Making anything easier makes sense! Do you still want to go fetch the water at the river?

      I know there are people who believe that things have to be tough to be good. This is COMPLETELY COUNTER-INTUITIVE! And this is especially so because we are talking about the very element that underpins the learning of FAR more important concepts than learning how to decode!

  2. Shouldn't others be modelling after us? We do very well in the world despite the efforts of our government.

    1. What is insane now is how language has been introduced even in Math. Many programs are so language based. I mean before was not any better with 30 problems on the same notion, but if you cannot read the questions (the word problems), how can you show that you know how to do the math! That part is so backwards. Until, books are read by computers, I predict girls will do better in math soon! Not because they are necessarily better at math, but because they are better at reading. This is why Finnish do better in math tests as well, BTW. Other teaching pedagogy is in general much better. Again, English is creating all kinds of problems.

  3. It is frustrating that public education is under attack again... still... continually... I have no words.... just anger and frustration!

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  5. While the comparison to Finland may be simplistic in some ways - the bigger picture remains that philosophically we are better looking up and trying to model after a nation that has, as its basic belief, fairness to all. Sounds very opposite a neo-liberal approach to education. I like how Kathy put it "shouldn't others be modelling after us" - we need to remember what has put our system where it is - and expecting others to after us - we need to figure out what has made us successful (despite government interference) and make that our overall objective to keep and continue to pursue. While the Finnish system may have its flaws (what system doesn't)- I like it a whole lot more than chasing the No Child Left Behind US program that yesterdays announcement regarding changes to the School Act have us headed to.

  6. While it may seem to some like an easier task to change the entire English language than to change the agenda of the BC Liberals.... my money's on putting our efforts into political change and the proven success of strong education systems.