Provincial governments, parents, the public and individual teachers have failed to defend the public interest in education.
This is the remarkable conclusion of the latest paper from the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS).
Getting the fox out of the schoolhouse: How the public can take back public education examines teachers’ unions and their disproportionate impact on education policy in Canada.
According to the authors “…unions have opposed many attempts to increase transparency and accountability in Canada’s school system.” However, “if unions have received too much at the expense of the public, then the fault lies with provincial governments, school boards, parents and citizens.”
A significant number of Canadian teachers, parents and taxpayers support reforms to improve student academic achievement and reward effective teachers but such reforms are unlikely to be implemented unless the provincial governments and school boards initiate certain changes and the public supports them.
Getting the fox out of the schoolhouse makes five recommendations for governments across the country.
1. Provincial and territorial governments should use and continue to refine a standardized testing regime to assess the achievement of students on provincial curricula, especially in language, mathematics and science.
2. Provincial governments should give parents a greater choice of schools to which they may send their children, primarily in recognition of the diversity of interests and expectations parents have concerning their children’s education.
3. Provincial governments and school boards should consider how teachers’ compensation schemes could be adjusted so that salary increments are dependent on performance and outstanding teachers and schools are recognized more effectively.
4. In the interests of managing schools more effectively, principals should be removed from the bargaining unit for teachers.
5. Strikes and lockouts should no longer be permitted as ways of resolving disputes in public school systems.
“This paper demonstrates that it isn’t good enough for a Deputy Minister of Education to say in response to a failed reform effort “the union wouldn’t let me,” says Charles Cirtwill, AIMS acting President. “The public owns public education, not the union. The authors make it quite clear that government has empowered unions to act as the de facto system managers That has to stop. The public also needs to be relentless in exercising its right to hold school officials accountable for the good education of our children.”
The paper suggests any reform initiative needs to be driven by the desire to improve the performances of students and schools, not to penalize teachers.
The authors state:
In advancing our suggestions, however, we cannot forget that unions have helped to establish important terms and conditions of employment for Canadian teachers, and we caution that no program of educational reform should be designed to remove reasonable gains irresponsibly or unfairly. Above all, teachers should enjoy reasonable and competitive salaries and benefits, be protected against unfair discipline and dismissal, and have the right to freedom of association — that is, the right to join or not to join a union.
Written by three experienced educators – Michael C. Zwaagstra, Rodney A. Clifton and John C. Long – the paper reviews the origins of teachers’ unions and how they moved from labour relations to education policy. The authors point out that what is in the best interest of the union, is not necessarily in the best interest of students and their education or even supported by individual teachers.
To read the complete paper, click here.
To read some of the resulting news stories, click here.