Giving teachers’ unions control over disciplinary issues within their ranks has led to problems maintaining professional standards in Atlantic Canada, suggests a report released Tuesday.
From teachers who use distance courses of dubious value to boost their pay, to school boards being left helpless to fire educators who have committed criminal acts of sexual indecency, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies cited numerous issues with the regulatory system in Nova Scotia and, to a lesser extent, other Atlantic provinces.
The report, which used Nova Scotia as a case study, found the teachers’ union not only defended problematic teachers and practices, it also refused to release the most basic data about everything from the number of teachers it hired, to how many were dismissed or censured, and under what circumstance.
The system has created an impression of a cadre of teachers who have immaculate records — even though this may be far from the case, said Paul Bennett, the report’s author and director of a private educational consultancy firm called Schoolhouse Consulting.
“We are advocates for teacher professionalism. We have a lot of faith in teachers,” he said. “We do not think the majority of good teachers are being well served by a system that defends weak links and covers up the bad apples. And we believe the rank and file of teachers share that view.”
The report suggested Nova Scotia follow the example set by Ontario, B.C. and Alberta; over the past decade, these provinces created independent bodies to oversee conduct and disciplinary matters.
By comparison, in Nova Scotia, the only time examples of teacher negligence, incompetence and even wrongdoing come to light are when they are reported by the local news media.
“They don’t publish the number of educators, because they don’t want us to calculate the student-teacher ratio. They don’t report on the number of resignations, they don’t report on the number of dismissals, nothing,” Mr. Bennett said, noting he wasn’t seeking information that would compromise a teacher’s privacy: “I mean the raw data for the whole province.”
A 2012 report by the Nova Scotia government said it employed more than 13,000 teachers in the 2008-09 school year.
Mr. Bennett said the lack of independent, third-party oversight made it difficult to track teachers who have been disciplined due to poor performance, or serious misconduct.
“It’s entirely possible for teachers to move from one school to the other here without that ever following them. That is what is most alarming,” he said.
Mr. Bennett said he heard from many teachers who were too afraid to share their concerns publicly because of the atmosphere created by the union.
The report points out several case studies in the province, including that of Peter Speight. The teacher had been convicted in court of luring women into a car and then exposing himself and masturbating. He was given a conditional sentence.
The South Shore Regional School Board then spent four years and numerous legal battles trying to fire him; it succeeded after racking up more than $160,000 in legal bills, not including severance and settlement costs, according to the CBC.
The report also highlighted another CBC investigation that found more than 40 teachers had taken distance learning from an online school in Utah in order to qualify for pay increases.
Mr. Bennett said such problems might be ameliorated by implementing a third-party body independent of the union to oversee teacher standards.
“Everyone knows there are messes in the kitchen and that you mop them up and you shine the floors — but then don’t try to conceal the fact that this happened,” he said. “What we have here is that there was no evidence ever revealed that anything was remotely a mess.”
The Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union was not able to comment on Mr. Bennett’s report because, it said, the president was out of the country on Tuesday.