Teachers’ unions are barriers to improving public education, a local think tank says.

Atlantic Institute for Market Studies’ latest report says teachers’ unions have too much impact on education policy in Canada, and the power structure needs to change.

“Reforms that work elsewhere haven’t taken hold here because unions aggressively oppose them,” said Charles Cirtwill, acting president of AIMS.

He said the disproportionate effect of teachers’ unions on policy is partially to blame for a failed public education system. Cirtwill cited Nova Scotia having some of the highest illiteracy rates in the country, poor standardized test scores, growing dissatisfaction from parents and teachers expressing concern.

“It’s very easy for the provincial government to say, ‘Well, we wanted to do this, but the union wasn’t on side.’ Or the unions to say, ‘This is important to happen, but the government’s not putting enough money into the pool.’ Or for both of them to point fingers at the school board.”

The report recommended provincial governments and school boards consider paying teachers based on their performance in the classroom.

Right now, teachers in Nova Scotia are paid based on their level of certification and years of experience. Their performance is also appraised each year.

The report also suggests parents be allowed to choose where their kids attend school, a policy Cirtwill says has met success in Edmonton.

“Right now it’s very difficult for parents and students to hold the system to account,” he said. “Rather than asking the question ‘Does this work for kids?’ more often than not we ask ‘Does this work for the department, the school boards, the union?'”

The report also proposed banning strikes and lockouts as ways to resolve disputes.

Cirtwill stressed that the report isn’t an attack on unions or a plea to have them removed.

The Education Department disagreed with the report’s conclusions.

“Sometimes we agree with the union and sometimes we disagree,” department spokesman Peter McLaughlin said. “I don’t think anybody would say that the Nova Scotia Teachers Union exercises undue influence on decisions that are made.”

Mary-Lou Donnelly, Nova Scotia Teachers Union president, was on vacation yesterday and unavailable for comment.

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Tips for treating teachers

Atlantic Institute for Market Studies’ latest report makes five recommendations for governments across the country:

– Refine standardized testing regimes;

– Allow parents greater choice of schools;

– Make teacher salaries dependent on performance;

– Remove principals from bargaining unit for teachers;

– Prohibit strikes and lockouts.