Saturday, April 14, 2012

Bill 22 and the erosion of teacher professionalism

The mainstream media love to print stories chiding teachers for being in a union (and a militant one at that). One of the their arguments is that trade unionism is counter to professionalsim.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Now in particular, professions will need their unions and associations to protect the high quality services that professionals provide, and to ensure that public services remain of the same quality that private services are able to provide.

All professions are facing erosion from governments wanting to downgrade wages and benefits for all working people in society. Professionals are a target, and publicly paid professionals especially.

Not only teachers are threatened by the BC Liberals and the "austerity" seeking Ontario government. So are lawyers and doctors, such as the BC anesthetists and lawyers providing legal aid. Under the guise of "restructuring" to improve "cost efficiency", the government wants to downgrade services levels. For example, the BC Liberal government's claim that the courts require restructuring is really about downgrading the wages and benefits of workers within the court system and could impact the ability of citizens to get a fair hearing at a fair trial with properly trained judges hearing the case and properly trained lawyers representing those who require that representation.

The argument put forward goes like this: Professionals are too costly, we don't have the money, therefore let's restructure our services so that more tasks are done by paraprofessionals, whom we can pay less.

There are two problems with this argument. First, it rests on the assumption that professionals do many tasks that could be done by individuals with less training and experience. In other words, it rests on the notion that most professionals are over-qualified for much of the work they do. Certainly in teaching, I don't believe this to be the case. In fact it is ironic that the same government that wants paraprofessionals doing more teaching tasks also wants to improve "teacher quality" through changes to pre-service training.

Generally speaking, the better qualified the professional, the higher quality the service. In fact, I believe that the best way to ensure high quality services is to have high standards for entry into a particular profession (or trade). Professional qualifications have evolved over decades and centuries to ensure high quality service and professional organizations exist to ensure that those professionals who do not maintain these high quality services are removed from the profession. If this government were serious about "teacher quality", they would increase the standards for entry (for example, require a Master's degree, as Finland does) and raise wages to reflect the corresponding training needed.

This isn't to say that para-professionals are not important or valuable. They absolutely are. But it is wrong to reorganize job requirements because of cost savings due to wages. If there is a genuine need to reorganize how we deliver services it should be based on service quality, not on wage rates. The irony of the BC Liberal slogan "students first" is that in fact they are putting "money first", and students are going to get larger classes, harried teachers, and more instruction from Education Assistants as opposed to teachers.

In today's climate, the push to lower qualifications, to restructure public services and to enable more delivery by para-professionals or through the private sector is part of a drive to generally lower the cost of those services, regardless of the impact on service quality.

And significantly, it is public services that are being eroded. The stratification of society into the 99% and the 1% is occuring not just in the realm of salaries and wealth, but also in the public realm, where public services are crumbling while private alternatives thrive. For those who can afford it, the best can be bought and the quality of public services really doesn't matter.

This trend is already happening in public education. For example, since the passage of Bill 28 in 2002 and the elimination of staffing ratios in schools, BC has lost 700 special education teachers and at the same time gained thousands of much lower paid Education Assistants. Now as it happens, we need those Education Assistants. But they do not replace the work previously done by the special education teachers. An Education Assistant typically has a six month college course in preparation for the position. A special education teacher has a five year education degree plus an additional year of special education course work at the post-graduate level. The services they provide are different, and in neither case does one replace another.

It is for all these reasons that a teacher friend of mine made the following comments on the upcoming vote to take action against Bill 22 - new legislation that among other things will enable contracting out of teaching work to education para-professionals:

"For quite a while I have had a foreboding sense that teachers in this province will experience the same dismal outcome as HEU employees after Bill 29 (the Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act) that  enabled the widespread privatization of health sector jobs. Learning from Colin Hansen's experience and Bill 29's legal aftermath, George Abbott has crafted his own teacher-proof Education Improvement Act.

Thus, Bill 22 is much more than it seems - in addition to establishing ministerial and managerial ascendancy over our profession, Bill 22 is a precursor to a wholesale restructuring of the manner in which this province will deliver educational services - a restructuring that will require significantly fewer certified teachers.

The hiring and firing flexibility that this Act grants to our employers so that they can achieve future efficiencies should scare all teachers, whether they see themselves as darlings of administration or not.  Voluntary and un-remunerated activities may well add value to a teacher's employment profile, but they won't address the cost savings needed by school districts in the near future - such savings will only be achieved by contracting out much of our work to lower paid teaching assistants and/or to the lowest-bidding private community and online agencies.

Teachers in this province better wake up now to the need to act in unison against Bill 22. The perils of our Action Plan pale in comparison to the nightmare George Abbot has in store for us.  And don't depend upon a future NDP government rescinding this legislation without a similar battle -  they won't, the potential cost-savings to BC's tax-payers are too huge to contemplate such a gratuitous and generous act.   We must act now to convince the public that the enhancement of managerial rights and the pursuit of greater cost efficiencies will not make public education in this province better -  it will make it worse, much worse, both for teachers and for children.  It is our profession to defend, they are our jobs to preserve -  vote and act knowing what truly is at stake."


  1. I hope the teachers of BC and Ontario keep fighting.

  2. Finally, another person who clearly states that Bill 22 is the end of modern public education as we know it.

    Teachers need to vote Yes:

  3. This is the fight of my career. I'm fighting for my students, for public education, for my profession, for my children. I can not look back knowing that I could do something else. I am not a facilitator; I am not a widget; I am not two-dimensional. I craft; I inspire; I learn; I counsel; I teach; I am THREE-dimensional. Both the Liberals and the (likely) future NDP government should know that I am prepared to walkout of my position both temporarily and permanently. I am a militant physics teacher. Look out!!!!