Dividing and Conquering Educators in Ontario

This is an emotional time here in Ontario. The education system is certainly under attack by the Ford Government and I would say nerves are getting a bit frayed.

Not only are class sizes going up but more and more teachers are being put on notice that they have no position for next year. Andrew Campbell is doing an excellent job of cataloguing the surplus notices as they come out almost daily in Ontario. His list is now 11 pages long and it makes for depressing reading.

The notion that these redundancies will be covered by teachers retiring makes no sense to me. The way things work is that teachers with the least amount of seniority are declared surplus to school or the system first, then, much later in the year, some will be taken back as other teachers retire.

The document talks about “attrition protection” – a fund that will allocate money to boards so that younger teachers will be hired back if their position is cut. This seems to be a very complicated way around the current issue. In other words (I think) if the number of retirements is low, the Ministry of Education will allocate money to school boards to hire back its younger teachers.  This, to me, means that the Ministry will in effect be keeping the class sizes lower.

I don’t get it.

The shuffling and readjusting continues. One new measure brought up during the budget announcement has to do with the repeal of Regulation 274. This is not a budget issue, but it is one that could distract educators as they work to oppose the current actions of the Ministry.

Regulation 274 was brought in in 2012 by the Liberal Government as a way to make sure only the most qualified teachers be considered for new jobs. Principals were obliged to interview a prepared list of five candidates and these five were the ones with the most seniority on the long-term occasional (LTO) listing.

Unions liked this measure as they said it took out any favouritism in the hiring process. Education administrators didn’t like it because they were no longer able to choose the best candidate for the job – they were told who they could consider and it was a very narrow list.

Making an announcement now that the Ministry will be getting rid of the regulation has the potential to divide educators at a crucial moment. I have already seen this happening in some of the Facebook conversations I have been a part of. In one conversation I wrote that the end of Regulation 274 would allow for a more merit-based hiring system than what we have had since 2012. While my comments received some support from administrators I know I also received this comment from a teacher I used to work with. Referring to the time before the regulation he wrote:

We had a nepotistic system which was completely controlled by principals, many who were incompetent leaders. This was an improvement because teachers had to prove themselves with successful LTOs before they could move ahead.

He continues later in the conversation:

So the principals can now go back to hiring those that they can bully or someone’s relative. THAT will be great for education.

It only took a few hours for this to flare up. We have to remember that there are some profound differences in opinion amongst educators in Ontario. There has to be, just like in any other profession. What is important to remember now is that it is very easy to exploit these differences.

The hiring process should be discussed and debated and it certainly needs to be equitable, but this is not the time for this debate. The current government is working hard to syphon off millions of dollars on the backs of students and teachers. That is the issue, we can’t start fighting amongst ourselves.

If we become divided we become weaker. We become easier to isolate and easier to manage. It is very good to remember that it was Doug Ford’s predecessor, Mike Harris who took administrators out of the teacher federations and helped set up the ‘us and them’ dynamic reflected in the comments above.

A house divided will surely fall. Our profession is under a great deal of stress right now, let’s not make ourselves a pushover for those who currently hold the reigns of power.

 

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Where to go now? Education in Ontario

wordl of 251 responses to our survey on education issues in Ontario

Over the past three weeks, I have conducted an entirely unscientific survey on education issues in the Province of Ontario. I have closed the survey down now, but you can still see it here along with the responses – all 251 of them! 

This was an interesting exercise, largely hijacked by the opponents of Regulation 274 (Read – ‘Rescind Regulation 274 (2), Eliminate Regulation 274, Put an end to Regulation 274 finish what Lisa MacLeod started!’)

If you sift through the noise, there are some interesting comments in the last section of the survey. Here are a few:

Make the funding for support teachers in school libraries, special education and guidance equitable in staffing and budget by school per student. Monitor this spending.

There are way too many classrooms across Ontario that don’t have enough textbooks, novels, access to technology or breakfast/snack programs for students that need them. There needs to be WAY MORE equity in education. It has become the schools that have versus the schools that don’t.

Class size needs to be capped at 20 for Kindergarten to grade 8 for the mental health of the students and the teachers.

Why do we only fund one religious board? Don’t the other faiths/religions matter?? Shame on Ontario for not fixing this sooner! Discrimination is deadly in today’s culture.

Not a remarkable collection of ideas, but at least people took the time to write these and many other comments. Maybe some of these should be addressed. If there are 251 comments on a Google Form, even if there are lots of repeated grievances, doesn’t this mean we need to hold a public dialogue on education?

There are more voices out there. Stephen Hurley wrote this yesterday:

Along with health care, education is the largest financial commitment that any provincial government makes to citizens and, vice versa. Yet, when was the last time that we were able to step outside the fury of political cycles in order to have open and honest questions about the complex array of issues that have emerged over the last 50 years?

We can do better than a prolonged discussion on Regulation 274. We can do much better than an ideological argument about turning back the clock on health curriculum.

There are smatterings of intelligent debate all over social media, well beyond the current debate that really belittles the conversation. This morning, prompted again by Stephen Hurley, a group of us had a wide-ranging conversation about the possibilities and options for one publicly-funded system of education here in Ontario. I tried to collect the spirit of the conversation here.

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Obviously, nothing was resolved, but at least it is an airing of the issues and the people in the conversation are credible and have a very effective voice. What would happen if this conversation caught fire? What would it be like if people really got involved in discussing public education in this province?

I hope the conversation continues and I really hope someone is watching all of this. As Stephen Hurley writes, public education is one of the biggest ticket items in Ontario so we need to have some good, serious conversations that go beyond a 30-second sound bite.

Thanks to those out there who are encouraging the conversation. We deserve this, we need this.

Public Schools in Ontario: Myth and Reality

There are a series of articles and opinion pieces this week in the Globe and Mail by Caroline Alphonso and Konrad Yakabuski.

The articles started with this statement:

Catholic school boards in Ontario are increasingly enrolling non-Catholic children and siphoning elementary students from the public stream as the two systems vie for provincial funding, a Globe and Mail analysis has found.

The series continues today with an opinion piece by Konrad Yakabuski. In continuing the debate, he calls for arguments based on fact, not the empty pronouncements that usually characterize these conversations in Ontario. Some of the questions he asks need to be addressed. He writes that Catholic schools tend to do better on EQAO tests and wonders why this might be happening:

…is it because parents who send their children to Catholic Schools are more engaged in their children’s education? Is it the combination of more discipline and the community spirit that Catholic schools purport to provide that persuades parents that their kids can develop more fully in the Catholic system? Are Catholic teachers better trained or more dedicated than their public counterparts?

Globe and Mail February 15, 2018

It is fair to ask all these questions. It is also true that the publically-funded Catholic system is siphoning off students from public schools. However, I don’t think it is because Catholic schools are any better than their public school counterparts. Many in Catholic school management would have you believe that and have said this for years, but it really comes down to the individual school, not the overall system.

My partner is a public school teacher. She has taught grade 7/8 for seventeen years in a very challenging neighbourhood. Most of my best ideas on character education, discipline and school improvement have actually come from her school. Her school is excellent, it has dedicated teachers, solid connections to the community and a reputation for innovative programming.

I have to say that in my years as an administrator, I took many of their ideas because they are a real centre of excellence.

These centres exist throughout the province. Sometimes the determining factor is the school leadership. Often it has to do with a strong core of committed teachers. It also has to do with socioeconomic factors. I have to say that after 31 years working in the Catholic system it has little to do with a generalized system of belief.

I say that because it is really hard to define what a true Catholic is and why a Catholic is in any way ‘better’ at doing things than a non-Catholic. There is something very unsettling about holding such an opinion. It lacks any sort of critical analysis and tends to enter into the realm of myth – we are just better.

Teachers in both systems are trained by the province. Higher test scores have much more to do with socioeconomic factors that all school boards struggle to deal with. Discipline comes down to the collective efforts of teachers and administration.

When debating about school systems in Ontario we need to keep away from dearly-held myths. We need to stay in the real world. As long as there are competing systems in Ontario based on language and religion, schools boards will continue to siphon off students from competing boards and school boards will continue to spend millions on marketing.

Maybe this is OK. Maybe competition encourages school boards to try harder?

It is great that the Globe and Mail is leading this debate and that they are dedicated to basing it on the facts. Maybe their efforts will provoke a more extensive conversation in the political realm and this will become an issue in the upcoming election.

Education and how it is governed is one of the most important public issues in this province. It deserves an intelligent conversation, well beyond the realm of myth. Let’s discuss these issues, let’s all get involved in the conversation.