Thursday, August 30, 2012

Goodbye Mr. Abbott

I am happy to see George Abbott go. It is ironic that he is announcing his departure just as thousands of students arrive to classrooms that are woefully overcrowded. Mr. Abbott's legacy? Bill 22 - trampling on teachers' democratic rights, overcrowding classrooms, failing to heed the constitutional requirements to negotiate class size with teachers even after a Supreme Court of BC ruling.

Bill 22 is one of the nastiest pieces of legislation this government passed. Sadly, it fits with a collection of legislation passed by a variety of governments whose underlying purpose is to steal from the majority to provide for the minority while criminalizing dissent.

What do I mean by this? Ontario is just now legislating away bargained wage increases to Ontario teachers and removing their right to strike. Quebec's government this spring denied the right to protest when students took to the streets. Bill 78 imposes serious fines just as Bill 22 does.

Each of these pieces of legislation does two fundamental tasks:

* takes money from the 99% to free it up for tax breaks and perks for the 1%.
* makes any dissent (in the form of strike or protest) illegal and imposes draconian consequences

Each is masked by the ruling governments by economic lies - the myth that we are living in "austerity", that corporate tax rates must go down, that private sector workers are getting nothing so the same must happen in the public sector, that students must pay because society can't afford it. The truth is that private sector workers will see raises of 3%. Corporations and the wealthy are sitting on hoards of cash and refusing to invest in the economy (as reported by Mark Carney, from the Bank of Canada!). These same governments continue to dish out perks to their friends (like the CEO's of crown corporations).

Mr. Abbott's policies did one basic thing - steal from children and teachers and the 99%, to give to the wealthy 1%. I am happy to see George go.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Will the bcedplan actually listen?

I was pleasantly surprised to read through the summary of commentary provided to the bcedplan web site set up by the Ministry of Education last year. In fact, many of the suggestions and proposals are in very clear "alignment" (to use one of the Ministry's favourite words) with bargaining proposals and policy statements made by teachers and rejected by government.

Of course this form of "consultation" should be looked at with caution. An open web site is not a representative sample of the population. Nor does it reflect democratically developed policy from experts, professionals or interested parties, such as teachers unions, faculties of education, or parent groups. In fact, the use of only an open web site is just one of the many ways in which this government has alienated interested groups of teachers, parents and students, university professors, and so forth, who would typically be invited to make organizational input in a more comprehensive and meaningful consultation process, such as a Royal Commission.

Nevertheless, the results are interesting. Here are some bits that I consider highlights:
  • Less prescriptive curriculum. This is something teachers have advocated for over many years to allow teachers the flexibility to engage student interests and meet student needs according to the particular student make up of a particular class. This has been continuously frustrated by the introduction of standardized examinations - both the Foundation Skills Assessment and the Grade 10, 11 and 12 provincial exams. These exams are so specific that curriculum and teaching has adapted according to the areas tested on these exams.
  • School choices should be available to all students. This is in contrast with the explosion over the last decade of choice programs and schools with limited enrollment, such as French Immersion, Sports Academies and IB programs. Rather, respondants commented on the need for choices to be available to all students: "Recongnize that some schools are unable to support flexibility and choice to the same degree as others (i.e., unequal access to facilities, experts in tcommunity to help teach, etc). Provide additional resources to those schools so the teachers and students have the same opportunities as teachers and students in other schools."
  • Provide release time for teachers to collaborate and learn from each other. This was expressed as "Provide more release time for staff (especially whole departments) to work together to plan and develop lesson materials....Provide teachers with paid time away from the classroom to observe teachers in other classrooms (perhaps even other schools) in order to learn new teaching techniques and styles." This was a bargaining objective of the BCTF during last year's teacher bargaining.
  • Increase support for special needs students by reducing class size and reducing the number of special needs students per class. This is exactly what the Liberals illegally removed from teacher contracts in 2002 and have not corrected despite a court ruling from the BC Supreme Court that their actions were unconstitutional. Bill 22 does nothing to address this concern and in fact will lead to larger classes and more segregation of special needs students into particular classes.
  • Class size. This is worth reproducing directly from the report: "Reduce class sizes so: teachers can better personalize learning for every student. students get the attention they need and deserve. teachers' workloads remain manageable. students aren't overwhelmed by noise and other distractions." This has been a primary objective of the BCTF and BC's teachers for over three decades.
  • Evaluate teachers on a regular basis. This in fact happens in most Districts but parents are not necessarily aware as a teacher evaluation is a personnel matter and not public. While this is not an objective of teachers, I suspect many would agreed with the idea that teachers should be evaluated by other teachers - their peers. Most evaluation systems in BC require Administrators to evaluate teachers, and yet sometimes Administrators have very little teaching experience themselves.
The full summary report is available at:

Monday, August 20, 2012

22 marathons against Bill 22

As the dog days of summer slowly come to an end, one BC teacher is putting is feet where his heart is. 

Ian Cunliffe, a BC public school teacher, is running 22 marathons - one per day - to protest against Bill 22.  He will cross the span of British Columbia in a run of over 1000km, seeking to raise awareness about public education. He has called on elected officials in each riding he runs through to discuss the problems associated with ten years of cuts to education funding and the devastating impact Bill 22 will have on class size and composition. He is calling on government to restore adequate funding.

Ian is currently in the summer heat of Osoyoos. You can see his road map and follow his progress at his Facebook page:

Ian has been a vocal advocate all year during the dispute with the BC government. He explains his concerns with Bill 22 on his website 1000 voices, 1 message, where he presents a Q & A on the issues. Here is a short exerpt:

Q: How does Bill 22 affect student learning?

A: Under Bill 22 critical language regarding class size restrictions has been removed. Government now has the power to place any number of students in many classroom settings. Class size matters. As classrooms grow larger a teacher’s ability to help all students is greatly reduced. Many students who need help simply get lost in the shuffle. Larger class sizes also force teachers to adopt teaching strategies that are proven to be far less effective, simply because managing a classroom of 35 students is incredibly difficult.

Q: What about special needs students?

A: Traditionally there has been clear language set out about how many special needs students may be placed in a classroom and what funding and resources will be provided to assist. Much of this language has been removed. There are now no firm limits of how many special needs students can be placed in one classroom, and even minimum levels of guaranteed support or funding for these students are now things of the past.

In many instances it will now be possible for school districts to create classrooms of any size with no limit to how many special needs students can be assigned to the class, all without any guaranteed minimum funding.

Q: Didn’t the BC Supreme Court tell government that tearing up teacher contracts was illegal and that they had to work with teachers to rectify the damages that occurred as a result?

A: Yes. For over half a decade BC teachers fought a court battle with the BC Liberal Government and last year’s court ruling came out clearly in favor of students and teachers. Bill 22 is a cynical attempt by the provincial government to circumvent clear directions by the BC Supreme Court.