Friday, March 27, 2015

Bill 11 - Is the BC government privatizing and seizing control of teacher professional development?

Yesterday the BC government introduced Bill 11 - new law that will, among other things, change the system of teacher professional development in BC. Without any consultation with teachers or their union, the BCTF, the government is legislating a new system of authorized continuing education that may be required to maintain teacher certification.

Not surprisingly, having been rebuffed by the BC courts twice with unilateral changes to teachers' collective agreements, the government is trying a different tack. Leave the collective agreement provisions in place, but add new restrictions through the regulatory framework. Having failed to bargain teacher professional development changes, the government is turning to its tried and true formula: legislate.

The new provisions will depend to a large degree on the accompanying regulations, which of course are not yet known. But the basic framework of the new system looks fairly familiar. It appears to be modelled on the type of mandated professional development requirements that have been put in place for other regulated professions, such as lawyers and nurses. In these frameworks, a certain number of hours of authorized activities are required, sometimes along with a professional development plan, self-reflection, or peer review. What is not yet clear is to what degree the profession itself (teachers) will have control over the authorization process, if any.

The current system of teacher professional development is highly autonomous and predominantly public. While there are teachers and others who run businesses to sell professional development services and materials, most teacher professional development is conducted teacher to teacher, at school, or in non-profit teacher led organizations. In BC we have a system of Local Specialist Associations for the different teaching areas who put on large conferences annually where teachers share new practices. We also have many regional conferences hosted by teacher associations on a non-profit basis. Finally at the school level, most school based professional development activities are organized and run by a professional development committee at the school. Outside speakers are brought in when expertise beyond the teaching profession is required for specific topics, such as to learn about development disabilities.

The system that the new legislation appears to envision, which is modelled on other regulatory professional development frameworks, is considerably different. Like just about everything the BC Liberals do, it is market based. Each individual teacher will have their own private professional development requirements, and will go out to the professional development marketplace to find courses and webinars and activities to fulfil the requirements. I would certainly hope that the major events that currently take place, such as the provincial conferences, will be authorized as approved activities. But it isn't at all clear that less formal school or department based activities, or even individual teacher activities such as reading education journals, will be authorized, or what type of bureaucratic hoop jumping might be required to get authorization. If the process is cumbersome or the approval system ideologically driven, it will open the door for an increase in for-profit professional development services to replace teacher driven activities. In other words teacher credential-ling requirements could be used to force teachers to become the customers of an expanded teacher professional development industry.

The second major concern is the influence of the approval process. The legislation as introduced gives government the power to enact an approval system of its choice. Who approves and what is approved will be key to the degree of coercive control the new scheme represents. If you do not yet have the same degree of scepticism as many teachers about how bad this can be, check out this short video of a test preparation professional development session from the Chicago Public Schools: In the worst case, the approval process could mean direct interference from the Ministry or government or school Districts or Principals into the topics, format and delivery of teacher professional development in a highly prescriptive manner. Rather than teachers identifying their own professional needs based on the subjects they teach, the students they serve and their own individual areas of growth, someone else will be making that decision for them.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Parents protest BC's education budget cuts

Parents and education supports will be out on April 12th protesting the latest round of cuts to BC's education budget (details here: Below is a post I wrote for outlining the cuts and swift responses from parents and Trustees. As Boards develop their budgets for next year, we are now hearing how these cuts will impact our school districts.


Parents and teachers continue to be in a state of shock since the B.C. Liberals announced yet more cuts and expense increases for B.C.'s beleaguered school districts. Teachers were on the picket line for five weeks last summer with parent support to try to address the funding crisis in B.C. schools. B.C. students currently receive about $1000 less per student than the Canadian average. This in a province with a budget surplus.
The strategy of the B.C. Liberals has been privatization by a thousand cuts. This budget follows the usual pattern. There is an outright reduction of $29 million this year and another $25 million the following year. But in addition, there are across the board cost increases that will significantly impact board budgets. For example, there is a four per cent rate increase to Medical Services Plan premiums, which the school boards pay on behalf of employees, and there will be another round of BC Hydro increases. There is no allowance for inflation, and there are continued cuts in capital funding, at a time when many boards are now experiencing increasing enrollment.
The government had plenty of input about what is needed to restore adequate learning conditions. Teachers have been very clear that unless class sizes and lowered and funding restored for students with special needs, we will continue to fail to meet the needs of our most vulnerable students. A parent petition prior to the budget release urged the government to meet the recommendations of their own finance committee. It called on government to provide funding increases, stating:
"In their report, the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services noted that evidence indicates current funding is insufficient to cover the operating costs of public education and recommended an increase. Citizens of B.C. are calling on Premier Clark to do the right thing and remedy the underspending on B.C. education, especially now, when the province is in a state of budgetary surplus. We cannot afford to continue to erode public education through underspending."
Reaction to the budget has been swift and critical. The Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council issued a press release commenting: "To the extreme disappointment of Vancouver parents and parents throughout the province, the 2015/16 Budget announced yesterday (February 17) does not raise public education funding to an adequate level; on the contrary, it provides far less than adequate funding, and requires further cuts by school boards who have already faced more than a decade of cuts".

Notably the budget did include two increases. The first was a very small credit for teachers who coach extra-curricular sports or music activities. They will be entitled to a tax credit worth up to $25. Not only does this in no way offset the costs and time put in by teachers who volunteer to work with children, it also blatantly chooses to target one group of teachers while ignoring those who tutor after school, purchase supplies with their own money, or run other types of activities such as board game or chess clubs.

More insidious, however, is the $30 million increase to independent private schools -- almost exactly the amount being cut from the public system in the first year. This follows a decades long trend of shifting resources from the public to the private system. B.C. private schools can receive 50 per cent of the per pupil funding grant and as they continue to flourish, the amount of the education budget going to private institutions keeps increasing. Enrollment in private schools now accounts for 12 per cent of the student population. 

Thus, in education, as elsewhere in B.C. budget 2015, the news was the same -- increased funding for the wealthy and more cuts to services for the rest of us. So much for families first.