Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Some thoughts and questions on the current dispute between the government and the teachers

If the dispute is not about wages, why is the BCTF asking for an increase?   I keep hearing it is about class sizes and support for special needs students but the core of the demand from the BCTF is for a 15% increase over three years.

Teachers are comparatively not badly paid in BC.   Their wages place them well above the average wage in BC.  Teachers also get decent benefits and a good pension that they can collect before they are 65.   I do not have a problem with them getting well paid but an increase seems out of sync with the needs and interests of the people of BC.   The only change I think would be good would be to even out the pay between newer teachers and long term teachers.  Reaching a top pay increment after 10 years seems more than reasonable, though that top increment should be lower.   I would also like to see a shift to no pension payments before age 65.   Early retirement should be completely funded by people on a personal level.

If the BCTF is concerned about the students, why does it take no action to get rid of bad teachers?   Should they not be working hard to ensure that their members are of the highest skills?   What are they doing about oddities that happen about with the current seniority system?   There are no end of cases where teachers end up being assigned to areas that are not their area expertise because of the way the seniority system is written.  Why is the BCTF not actively working on fundraising for the school system?

Ultimately the BCTF is there to defend the interests of the teachers and not of the students, the parents or the public.   It is right for the BCTF to be there to defend teachers but they should not be in the business of claiming to be serving other interests.   The nature of the BCTF as a labour union also makes them the primary conservative force in the school system.   The BCTF effectively has to defend the status quo no matter how stupid it is.   The BCTF because of their need to defend all teaching positions and teachers can not enter into any process of rethinking of how we operate our school system.

Why are school boards not being held responsible for the size of classes and the lack of supports for special needs kids?   There is nothing that says they can not work fix these things.   I know of no school boards that are looking for ways to raise significant money outside what they can get from the provincial government.  The universities in BC are working hard to raise money, UBC's latest campaign has a goal of $1.5 billion.   The are no active alumni groups for any public schools that I know of, why not?

A core of the reason the school boards and school district administrations are not able to think outside of the box and do something to solve the problem is because almost everyone involved is a current or former teacher.   The leadership in the school system are not entrepreneurial people, but people with decades of history within the status quo.   We would be better served if school trustees never worked in a school.   We would also be well served if the senior management in a school district comes from outside of the school system.   A superintendent does not need to have multiple degrees in education, they need to be a good manager of people, finances and capital assets.   Frankly an MBA would be a much better qualification for a superintendent - hire from the private sector.

I think it is right not to have any issues of class size or composition in the collective agreement.   These are management issues that need to be left to each school district to manage.  If there are overflowing classes, this is a failure of the school district superintendent.  Superintendents makes a lot of money and are the ones that the buck stops with when it comes to problems in a school district.   Who was the last superintendent fired for incompetence?  The issue is a an obvious and clear one and there are no end of examples of possible solutions but the status quo conservatism of the school system leadership means the people that should solve the problem are not doing so.

In BC the public is actively leaving the mainstream public system.  in 2007/08 10.6% of students were in private schools, in 2011/12 this number is 11.2%, in the early school years it over 13% of the students.   French immersion, which I see as an attempt to get a private school experience within the public system, over the same time has gone from 7.0% to 8.1% of the public school system.   Distributed learning, effectively home schooling, has gone from 5.0% to 8.0% of the public system.   In 2011/12 over 1/4 of the students in BC were either in a private school, home schooled, or in French immersion.  

It is now 2012 but we still teach our youth as if it was 1882.  The modern class room is still very much modeled on the 19th century one size fits all industrial model of education.   In the last 150 years we have learned so much about how kids learn and what works well but almost none of that is actually within the school system.   The time has come to have a radical rethink of how we educate kids, put everything on the table, remove restrictions from trying different experiments, and encourage school districts to innovate
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