Education featured

Op-ed: Children are not widgets and teachers aren’t assembly line workers

Yes, there need to be changes in education in NS, but they need to be in the right direction and be based on EVIDENCE and CONSULTATION. The Glaze report “Raising the Bar” was commissioned and completed hastily and is full of basic errors. It claims to be based on extensive consultation, yet teachers who should be considered the experts on education were barely consulted, nor were groups like the Black Educators Association.

When I first read the Glaze report, I was shocked to find that it starts with the premise that Nova Scotia students are underperforming and that education in this province is in a state of disarray. However she provides no evidence of either of these. The first premise is simply not true; NS students outperform most students in OECD countries in the Program for International Student Assessments (PISA), and are in the middle of the pack as far as Canada is concerned. It is worthwhile mentioning that the 4 biggest and richest provinces are the ones that do better on PISA tests: NS does better than Saskatchewan, Manitoba, NB, Nfld and mostly PEI.

PISA 2015 NSresults * results out of 600

I have included the UK and US scores here as countries that we often compare ourselves to. NS does much better than they do in all areas. Many of the reforms proposed in the Glaze report would actually move us closer to the UK and US systems.

The second premise, that education in NS is in a big mess, may have some merit, but I would propose that one main reason is the imposition of Bill 75 last year (when teachers were ordered back to work, with a non-negotiated contract that was for less than the cost of living). The resulting teacher dissatisfaction just exacerbated the stress and overwork teachers have been feeling for years. Students in the classroom are not immune from this stress, and will inevitably be even more affected when teachers start leaving the profession. But this was not even mentioned in the Glaze report.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil is trying to spin it that he’s giving Nova Scotia the nasty medicine that it needs in order to cure its disease of overspending and wastefulness perpetrated by sloppy workers protected by bloated unions. His message is that it’s the right thing to do, if difficult.

The medicine may or may not cure the disease, but is likely to kill the patient. He is adopting all the recommendations hastily, without looking at the evidence and without consulting with the experts (teachers and parents).

Many of the most contentious recommendations in the Glaze report were lifted from 2 places: what Mike Harris forced on Ontario over 20 years ago and an Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) document, “Maintaining Spotless Records, Teacher Misconduct and the Teaching Profession” (Bennett and Mitchell, 2014) which sells the same old snake oil. There are many things that are wrong with the recommendations, but in this post I’d like to specifically address one of them, the establishment of the College of Teachers. Bennett and Mitchell advance the view that the teaching profession is rife with incompetent, unprofessional teachers whose union protects them at all costs, allowing them all to maintain “spotless records”. In actual fact, NS has one of the highest rates of suspension of teaching licenses in the country with its present system, contrary to Bennett’s assertion that they’re allowed to get off scot free with all manner of abuses. Based on this false premise, the authors contend that Nova Scotia needs a professional regulatory body such as a College of Teachers, and that it should “require the public disclosure of all proceedings and decisions”.

I ask the question, is it really in the public interest to know that a beginning teacher was having difficulty with classroom management, and needed some extra guidance for a few months? Or that a teacher suffering from severe stress was disciplined for missing staff meetings? In the private and most of the public sector, these are matters between the employee and their employer, and unless the misdemeanors are actual crimes, they should stay that way. What is the evidence that punishment and naming and shaming actually improve results for students? For the above mentioned examples, which I suspect are the large majority of disciplinary matters dealt with, extra support and attention from school leaders is often what is needed. Once we have the “College” that type of support will be much more difficult to arrange. British Columbia once had a “College of Educators” but it didn’t work, and they got rid of it.

For an illustration of how a College can work see this story from a few weeks ago:
I’m guessing this principal won’t darken a school door again – and from my perspective (as one who doesn’t believe in universal high stakes standardized tests), she is someone who may have been doing what her conscience told her.

The AIMS report was also full of inaccuracies, which even the Minister of Education at the time pointed out – not least of which was the mistaken idea that the teachers’ union was responsible for disciplining teachers., several of these inaccuracies were reflected in the Glaze report, and the notion the AIMS report furthered, that the teaching profession was full of bad apples and incompetent teachers, has proven hard to shake.

It’s worthwhile looking at who runs and funds AIMS – take a look at “Follow the money in education reform” to get an idea of why it might want to undermine public trust in education. Another article you might want to take a look at is “Made in Canada Education Privatization”
Both these articles deal with what is really behind all these reforms – the increased commodification of education. Putting the profit motive into the classroom can generate big money for the fortunate few, but as we have seen in both the UK and US, it produces poor results for students. When shareholders are involved, which comes first, profit or students?

I’m living in a country right now (Britain) where there are “Education Trusts”, which are private corporations that are now running whole slews of “Academies” and “Free Schools”. Recently the BBC reported on some of the head teachers of these schools who earn up to $260,000, and chief executives of the trusts who bring in up to $875,000 annually. . Nova Scotia doesn’t want to be like them! They have mass teacher shortages, and huge divisions between good schools and “failing schools”, which are mostly in poor neighbourhoods. And the Tory government wants to bring back Grammar schools, which are selective schools that will perpetuate and worsen inequity. In spite of all their “reforms” over the past 20 years, they barely exceed the OECD average on PISA, and do much worse than Nova Scotia.

Education is not a business, children are not widgets and teachers aren’t assembly line workers (here in Britain, headteachers refer to the “line managers” who actually deal with teachers – I think they mean department heads). No one should be making a profit from education… but right now in Nova Scotia there are already many private interests profiting from it. Think Sylvan learning, Oxford, Spell Read, all doing amazingly well by dealing with kids whose teachers can’t cope with their individual needs because of the system’s failed inclusion policy. Think Churchill Academy, Bridgeway and Landmark East – private schools where the government pays for children with severe learning disabilities because the schools can’t cope. This is how the increased privatization of public education starts.

The proposed “College of Educators” is only one of the recommendations of the Glaze report that will have negative impacts. Several of the others, including the dissolution of elected school boards, the removal of principals and VPs from the union, and the establishment of an office for standardized testing will all have the effect of centralizing education and putting control of it in fewer hands (a policy which has had disastrous effects on healthcare in NS). This will result in less voice in public education.

Why centralize education? For efficiency so that cost savings can be returned to the classroom? I read that the salaries of the entire elected Halifax school board adds up to about half the salary being paid to the new Deputy Minister, imported from Ontario. Education is not about the cheapest way to turn the most children into productive workers. This kind of language opens the door to the notion that perhaps private companies can deliver some aspects of education more efficiently. When it is a business, we’ll find that the profits will not be reinvested in students. Just yesterday I was reading about a group of education business leaders who presented to the British House of Commons in 1999 about the role of privatization in education. At the time there were only about 3 companies, and they said their role would be tiny, and that they could do better than the public education sector at turning around failing schools. 8 years later, in 2008, one of those business leaders sold out of his company, and his personal net worth then was about 15 million pounds. Heaven knows what it is today.

As well as a lack of consultation with the real experts, teachers and parents, the Nova Scotia government is ignoring all the evidence of international comparative tests. These experts, and many others, say that most of the recommendations already accepted will produce a GERM type system (see previous post) resulting in more privatization and poorer results like they have in Britain and the US. I ask the question, why is Nova Scotia trying to emulate these bad examples, instead of a country like Finland, where there is little privatization of education?

This article was originally posted on Molly Hurd’s blog: The Inquiring Teacher. It’s re-posted here with Molly’s kind permission.

Molly Hurd’s perspectives on education have been developed out of her wide variety of teaching experiences in northern Quebec, rural Nova Scotia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Britain. She was also a teacher and head teacher at Halifax Independent School for twenty years. She believes passionately that keeping children’s natural love of learning alive throughout their school years is one of the very best things a school can do for its students. She is the author of “Best School in the World: How students, teachers and parents have created a model that can transform Canada’s public schools” published by Formac Publishing in 2017.


One Comment

  1. This is an excellent run down on the education system. What’s happening in the UK is truly shocking and wrong!

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