An Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) report suggests that teacher unions often block school reforms, making it impossible for governments to improve public education, a claim the teachers’ union in New Brunswick disputes and that Education Minister Kelly Lamrock deftly handles by noting that when problems arise of this nature they are taken care of in contract negotiations. This isn’t such a black and white issue, nor does the AIMS report tell the whole story.

We don’t believe that either the teachers’ union or the provincial education bureaucracy always have the best interests of the children in mind.

The union as a collective entity exists to ensure working conditions, pay, benefits, professional development and other such issues are properly attended to and that its members are fairly treated and represented when issues arise with the employer. Many individual teachers have nothing but the best interests of the children at heart, but that is not the union’s role. The same is true of other unions within the education system.

The educational bureaucracy in New Brunswick suffers from a dearth of new ideas and fresh thinking. It is primarily concerned about floating politically saleable policies and programs that preserve the status quo wrapped in new language. Change is viewed in the bureaucracy as a bad thing. Yet significant change is desperately needed.

And that is why parents and parental groups should have a much greater role in setting education policy. On paper the provincial system of District Education Councils (DECs) and Parent-School Support Committees (PSSCs) exist to give parents and public an important role in setting education policy and governing schools. In reality these bodies have been left impotent and literally powerless; rubber stamps for the education bureaucracy.

If meaningful education reform has been lacking, it is because past reforms have been either cosmetic or, as in the case of the DECs and PSSCs, thoroughly subverted by the bureaucracy. The education system must genuinely involve parents.

Meanwhile, the AIMS report suggestion parents should be able to choose which schools their children attend is a truly bad idea likely to result in funding inequities and two levels of educational quality as schools perceived as less desirable see admissions decline, funding wane and teachers leave for better equipped facilities. The education of the remaining children will inevitably suffer. Our school system can surely do better than that!