July 21, 2014

The case against asbestos: Accidental exposure, entirely preventable

By KAT SIENIUC | Published Jul. 20 2014 by The Globe and Mail

Excerpt:

It’s still regularly found in older schools and universities across Canada, wrapped around pipes, above ceilings and behind walls.

Though asbestos is the biggest workplace killer in the country, Health Canada is committed to the position that it’s only an issue when fibres become airborne and “significant quantities” are inhaled or ingested. While the Canadian government maintains it has “consistently acted to protect Canadians from the health risks of asbestos,” dozens of countries – including Britain, Australia, Japan, Sweden, Germany and Denmark – have banned it outright in recognition of the fact that exposure to fibres can cause various diseases, including mesothelioma and other cancers.

The World Health Organization has declared all forms of asbestos carcinogenic and recommends its use be eliminated; the International Agency for Research on Cancer has said there is no safe form of asbestos, nor is there a threshold level of exposure that is risk-free.

In Canada, many cash-strapped schools and universities follow Health Canada’s position that asbestos is safe if contained – abatement is wrapped into other renovation and repair projects, and teachers and staff are taught how to prevent accidental exposure. But despite the best of intentions, accidental exposure happens.

Read more:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/the-case-against-asbestos-accidental-exposure-entirely-preventable/article19677984/

July 3, 2014

Privatized Education Steals From the Poor, Gives to the Rich

By PAUL BUCHHEIT | Published June 30, 2014 by Truthout

Free-market capitalists view education in terms of products and profits. The products, to them, are our children. The profits go to savvy businesspeople who use a “freedom to choose” rallying cry to convince parents that they’re somehow being cheated by an equal-opportunity public school system.

Education reformers focus on privatization, public program cutbacks, and plenty of revenue-producing testing. There are at least five truths about education reform that suggest ignorance or delusion among its adherents.

1. Privatized Education Steals from the Poor, Gives to the Rich

Eva Moskowitz makes $72 per student as CEO of the private Success Academy in New York City.

Carmen Farina makes 19 cents per student as Chancellor of New York City Public Schools.

More salary shock: The salaries of eight executives of the K12 chain, which gets over 86 percent of its profits from the taxpayers, went from $10 million to over $21 million in one year.

A McKinsey report estimates that education can be a $1.1 trillion business in the United States. Forbes notes: “The charter school movement [is] quickly becoming a backdoor for corporate profit.” The big-money people are ready to pounce, like Rupert Murdoch, who called K-12 “a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.”

Meanwhile, Head Start was recently hit with the worst cutbacks in its history. Arts funding overall is lower than ever, with a National Endowment for the Arts budget barely accounting for 2 percent of the National Science Foundation budget. Spending on K-12 public school students fell in 2011 for the first time since the Census Bureau began keeping records over three decades ago.

Read more:http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/privatized-education-steals-from-the-poor-gives-to-the-rich

July 2, 2014

British Columbia teachers’ strike – Let’s keep our eyes on the prize

By Tara Ehrcke | Published June 28 by rankandfile.ca

Two weeks into a full scale strike and teachers in BC are holding the line. In fact, the resolve at the pickets is stronger than ever. Teachers know that after 12 years, we cannot return to a contract that doesn’t address class size and class composition–meaning also teachers’ working conditions.

Teachers are also increasingly frustrated with the blatant hypocrisy of the government.

Since the strike was announced two weeks ago, the government has continued to prevaricate and frustrate. First, it went to the Labour Relations Board to have the marking of Grade 12 exams deemed an essential service. It was successful with this application. Secondary teachers are required to try and produce marks despite the disruption caused by the lockout and strike. Many teachers are angered that they did not have sufficient time to properly mark and assess student work.

Next, the government went back to the LRB to seek a declaration that grade 10 and 11 marks are essential. What they got was an order that school administrators would produce these marks and teachers would have 48 hours to “verify” them. In some districts, only the marks from the pre-strike term will be used. In others, term marks were averaged. And in one district, marks were “bumped up” to the next grade level for certain grade ranges. So, for example, any student with a 40 – 49% would receive a 50% passing grade. The government also announced that the English 10 and Social Studies 11 provincial exams would be modified to remove most of the written answers. This was done to appease the administrators who have been called in to mark the exams in place of striking teachers. Secondary teachers were rightly angered at a government that made such a mockery of assessing student performance and would hence undermine the credibility of our education system.

Read more:http://rankandfile.ca/2014/06/28/bc-teachers-keep-your-eyes-on-the-prize/

June 28, 2014

Teacher Strikes Make British Columbia Better

By Michael Stewart | Published by Rabble.ca June 20, 2014

Excerpt:

All enemies of labour would like to colour contract negotiations in the crassest terms: how much? This impulse even impacts how unions enter into bargaining — over-emphasizing how wage increases are not the real issue (even though they often are — and why not?) and governing much of the public relations battle large unions are now tasked with in a public increasingly hostile to collective bargaining rights.

But teachers — teachers are different. It’s okay to say it. Or maybe it’s better to say that things are different when it comes to teachers. First of all, the notion that teachers are only in it for the money just doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. This is particularly true in B.C. where a whole generation of teachers have only known underfunding and job precarity. Teachers undergo six years of schooling, sometimes more, to enter a workforce where annual layoffs are commonplace while mainstream media derides them and their profession on a daily basis — all this for a starting salary $3000 less than the national average in Canada’s most expensive province. Yeah, they’re probably not in it for the money.

Read more:http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/michael-stewart/2014/06/teacher-strikes-make-british-columbia-better

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June 26, 2014

Why are BC teachers so angry? Watch this video!

June 21, 2014

The disconnect between economic growth and teachers’ wages

By | Published June 19, 2014 by The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

A number of recent articles on the BC teachers’ strike have suggested that teachers could get the wage increases they want to see, as well as the needed investments in reducing class size and improving class composition, if only they supported resource development.

Jordan Bateman of the BC Taxpayers Federation summed up the line of argument (and took a jab at teachers’ math skills) in his recent blog post title “Simple math for teachers: economic growth = higher wages”.

The theory is indeed very simple: resource development would lead to economic growth and economic growth would lead to higher wages for everyone, including teachers.

But does it actually work in practice?

Let’s take a look at what has happened to economic growth and teachers wages post-recession.

Read more:http://www.policynote.ca/the-disconnect-between-economic-growth-and-teachers-wages/

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June 20, 2014

Teachers deserve public’s support

BY MARK LEMSTRA | Published JUNE 19, 2014 by THE STARPHOENIX

Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions.

Teachers are stressed out today. On the one hand, they have a government that recently has unilaterally imposed multiple changes on their working conditions. The latest contract offer was rejected not only because it included insufficient remuneration, but because all other components essential to working and learning conditions would be negotiated at a later date.

On the other hand, teachers are represented by a federation that is having problems communicating the incredible challenges that face learning environments.

Some of the unilateral decisions by government include reducing the number of educational assistants, attempting to introduce standardized testing with no evidence to support it, and making top-down changes to curriculum by ministry officials who are too far removed from the classroom. In the media, however, the main discussion point is wages. Teachers’ recently refused a four-year offer with a 7.3 per cent increase, but this needs more explanation.

Their previous contract was for 985 hours of total assigned time for teaching as well as other duties such as preparation and staff development. Last year, the government unilaterally mandated a minimum 950 hour instruction time. Assuming teachers only worked this minimum, that would leave just 35 hours a year for all other duties.

Read more: http://www.thestarphoenix.com/touch/story.html?id=9953324

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June 17, 2014

Support B.C. teachers’ battle against unlawful education cuts

June 15, 2014

A response to Jim Wilson’s letter “Education won’t be able to escape budget belt-tightening”

By Robert Green

On June 13th the Gazette published a letter entitled “Education won’t be able to escape budget belt-tightening” by Jim Wilson. The letter was an attack on my recent op-ed about the injustice of the Liberal government’s austerity measures for education. As Mr Wilson is a well known commentator on Quebec’s English school system whose writing has been often published on this blog, I feel it is important to publicly respond.

The whole reason I submit articles to the Gazette is to stir up public debate. Though I strongly disagree with the positions Mr Wilson takes in his letter, I am more than happy to debate these issues with him. I hope this exchange of ideas will be interesting and informative for readers.

As Mr Wilson’s letter raises a number of points and poses a number of questions, I will deal with them one paragraph at a time.

Robert Green makes one point that I fully support: that public funds should not be used to support private schools. However, he fails in his principal arguments that the budget means that “the neediest students are asked to make serious sacrifices” and that cutting the private-school subsidies would do much to remedy the overall financial situation.

Actually my principal argument was not about remedying the province’s overall financial situation so much as it was about the injustice of imposing austerity on the public education system while leaving generous subsidies for the rich to attend private schools untouched. I’m surprised that someone who claims to oppose public subsidies for private schools doesn’t share my outrage over this blatant injustice.

A secondary point of my op-ed was to show that there is no good reason to exempt private school subsidies from sharing in the burden of austerity. The private schools claim these subsidies save the system money. However, this is a highly questionable claim due to the other forms of government support private schools receive (listed in my article) in addition to the 60% tuition subsidy. While the FAE’s claim that there are significant savings to achieve by integrating private school students into the public system may also be somewhat questionable, even if this reintegration is cost neutral it is still extremely worthwhile as it will eliminate the significant social costs associated with an education system that is segregated along class lines. Continue reading

June 12, 2014

Austerity by any other name would smell as foul

An edited version of this article ran in the June 11th edition of the Montreal Gazette under the title “A bad budget for education

By Robert Green

There’s a very good reason the Couillard government wants to avoid using the word “austerity”. The word has become associated with a villainous act that evokes the names of such detested figures as Ebenezer Scrooge and the Sheriff of Nottingham; the act of taking from the poor to give to the rich.

However, avoiding the use of the word austerity may not be enough to prevent Quebecers from seeing the villainous truth behind the recent Liberal budget.

The Leitão budget is clearly moving Quebec in the direction of Choice #2

The Leitão budget is clearly moving Quebec in the direction of Choice #2

Nowhere is this more true than with respect to the Leitão budget’s implications for education. While Quebec’s wealthy will see no change whatsoever to the generous subsidies they receive to send their children to elite private schools, the province’s most needy students will be asked to make do with less.

The Leitão budget has extremely serious implications for Quebec’s public schools. It imposes cuts of $150 million for 2014-15, restrains growth in spending to a paltry 2.2 percent for the years following and freezes hiring for administrative posts.

The reason these cuts are so serious is that they are being imposed at a time when Quebec’s public education system is already in crisis.

School boards are in financial crisis having already been cut to the bone thanks to the $640 million in cuts since 2010. Some have resorted to running deficits while others have sought to raise school taxes. The notion that school boards still have bureaucratic fat that can be cut without affecting services to students is contradicted by both the school boards themselves and public sector unions.

Schools are in crisis due to the growing number of special needs students – a crisis exacerbated by a large and growing private school system that is permitted to use entrance exams to filter out such students, causing them to flood into public schools. The spending cuts mean that there will be even less money for psychologists, child care workers, speech therapists and drug councillors. In other words, fewer resources that can offer children with special needs the fighting chance they deserve. Continue reading

June 9, 2014

BC Teachers’ Strike – Teachers’ working conditions are students learning conditions!

On June 9th and 10th BC Teachers are voting for all out strike as the government continues to negotiate.

Published June 6, 2014 by SocialistAlternative.ca

The Liberal government of British Columbia continues its long attack on public education and teachers. Yet again the government refuses to seriously negotiate with the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), refuses to address the real needs of children and escalates the dispute with the union.

After provoking disputes in schools for over a decade the government said it wanted peace in the class room with the preposterous proposal of a 10 year contract, while at the same time refusing to negotiate on the many real class room problems. Now teachers, whose contracts expired in June 2013, are involved in strike action with teachers on strike one day a week in each school district of the province.

After 14 months of failed negotiations the BCTF conducted a membership ballot in March 2014 for industrial action. The result was overwhelming with 89% of the votes in favour of action – over 75% of all teachers voted yes. Meanwhile, the BC liberals were re-elected in 2013 with only 44% of the vote on a 58% turnout!

As the BC government still did not move, on April 22nd the BCTF started a province wide work-to-rule job action (non-participation in most meetings or communication with school administrators and no extra-curricular volunteering for more than an hour before or after school). This had little or no impact on students, the main impact was on the administration.

On May 15th Education Minister Peter Fassbender said the government would be stepping away from its demand that the BC Federation of Teachers (BCTF) sign a 10-year term contract and offered a $1,200 signing bonus. However, the following day he threatened to roll back teachers’ wages 5%.

The BCTF responded with announcing escalated job action in the form of province-wide rotating strikes. On May 21st government negotiators countered with a partial lock-out and a 10% wage reduction. Since May 26th the lockout has barred teachers from working more than 45 minutes prior to class time, during recess and lunch hour and beyond 45 minutes after school.

Read more: http://socialistalternative.ca/posts/1044

June 4, 2014

Life is more than Math: Don’t narrow our public education curriculum

By  Ben Sichel | Published May 30th, 2014 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

What is our public education system for? To judge by much of the talk coming from politicians and business leaders, education is purely a matter of preparing students to be workers in a vaguely defined “new economy.”

Certainly, students need to be able to survive economically in the world. But public education is about much more than narrow job-skills training: it’s about teaching our kids how to create and sustain a healthy, engaged society.

This isn’t always reflected in the way we prioritize certain subjects in school.

Take the example of math. A staple of the curriculum since the dawn of schooling, it’s often perceived as the most serious and rigorous of subjects. Why? Because it’s seen as the key to gainful employment, especially in higher-paid fields. Love it or hate it, many students are ingrained from a young age with the idea that their financial future depends on their ability to solve quadratic equations or prove the Pythagorean theorem.

I have nothing against math; in fact, it was one of my majors. But there are some problems here. One is that only a small percentage of jobs actually use anything beyond junior high math – about a fifth, according to a recent Northeastern University study.

Furthermore, jobs aside, is the material learned in a high school math class necessarily that much more important in life than, say, learning about one’s health, macroeconomics, a second language, or Canada’s treaty obligations with First Nations?

These are not just philosophical questions. In the U.S., a decade of education policies focusing on “career and college-readiness” – Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, and Obama’s Race to the Top and more recent Common Core State Standards – have resulted in an obsessive overemphasis on standardized test scores and narrowing of the curriculum.

As teachers spend an inordinate amount of time teaching to the test, subject matter seen as extraneous, i.e. anything not easily testable or immediately relatable to a job, is pushed to the margins.

Read more: http://behindthenumbers.ca/2014/05/30/lifeismorethanmath

May 27, 2014

Dear Parent of the Average Child – One Teacher’s Confession

| Published May 21, 2014 by What I Learned in School Today

Dear Parent of the Average Child,
I’m sorry. Your child is wonderful.  She is always at school on time, does her homework most everyday, works well on her own and is patient with those around her.  I really wanted  to go tell your daughter how proud of her I was of the work she was doing today.
I was about to but you see I had a young girl  over in the corner crying because she hadn’t had breakfast. Another was tromping around the classroom in winter boots. It’s May. When I asked her to change she told me she didn’t have any other shoes. I needed to send them and my CEA down to the office to see if we had some food and any extra shoes in lost and found.
Oh and over in the other corner there was a  boy screaming at the top of his lungs because, well no one is sure why. He is on a list to see a specialist, they hope to have a plan in place for him soon. Of course it has been 3 months, but the specialist teacher is overworked and only at our school a few days a week so we have to be patient.
More children trickled in. One girl told me that her backpack is at Mom’s but she was at Dad’s last night. He forgot to send a lunch. She also wanted to tell me about her Dad’s new girlfriend but she told me I wasn’t  to tell mom because it’s was secret.  A young man tells me his cat died last night. Another lost a tooth! Exciting until he sees the blood, thenthe fear sets in.
May 19, 2014

We Need a Union Capable of Fighting and Winning in the Court of Public Opinion: Why I’m Once Again Running For MTA President – Part 4

By Robert Green,

Thus far in this series I have outlined two of the reasons I am once again running for the position of MTA president. In the first post I outlined my belief that the MTA needs to change its institutional culture to be more open to participation by the membership and less partisan. The second post explains why I believe the MTA needs to be more respectful of its own rules; particularly those rules associated with financial transparency. The third post looks at some of the ways we could improve our health insurance and asks members to consider whether the $300,000 QPAT removes from the plan annually is not a back-door fee increase.

austerityAnother important reason I’m once again running for MTA president is that I believe our union leadership needs to do much more to speak out in defense of public education and the integrity of the teaching profession. An effective media strategy can be a powerful means of creating pressure on the employer that can translate into real gains for our members and for public education.

Yet our current leadership seems utterly uninterested in engaging issues in the public sphere.

This was exemplified with the arrival of the Charter of Values as the central issue of public debate in Quebec. Given that this proposed legislation had such direct and severe consequences for teachers, I expected our unions to speak out. Here was an opportunity for the newly elected Mr. Sutherland to show that he could stand up for teachers and defend us in the public sphere. Sadly, unions representing teachers in English school boards were the last in Quebec to weigh in on the issue. Continue reading

May 15, 2014

We Need Better Health Insurance, Not a Back Door Fee Increase: Why I’m Once Again Running For MTA President – Part 3

By Robert Green,

Thus far in this series I have outlined two of the reasons I am once again running for the position of MTA president. In the first post I outlined my belief that the MTA needs to change its institutional culture to be more open to participation by the membership and less partisan. The second post explains why I believe the MTA needs to be more respectful of its own rules; particularly those rules associated with financial transparency.

Another reason I am running is to push for badly needed changes to our health and dental insurance. The mere mention of our insurance elicits enormous frustration from the teachers at my school. There is a widespread perception that this plan does not provide good value. The vast majority of teachers with the ability to register on their partner’s insurance plan all seem to do so.

healthUnfortunately neither the leadership of the MTA nor QPAT seem at all interested in working to make improvements to our insurance. While I believe that a thorough investigation into the problems with these plans needs to be done, there are two things that could be done immediately to improve these plans. The first is to actually consult the members on the cost and composition of the plan.

Our union leadership loves to tell us that these are our plans and that we have complete control over them. Yet since these plans have been established the members have never been formally consulted on their cost and composition. Perhaps members would be willing to remove the coverage of certain items in order to reduce fees? Or perhaps the members would be willing to pay more for additional coverage? Or perhaps the members would like to replace the coverage of certain items for improved coverage on others? The point is there is no way of knowing any of this as long as we have a union leadership that is unwilling to put in the work to consult the members. How are we ever to improve the members’ satisfaction with these plans if we never ask them what they think? What good is membership control if the members are never given an opportunity to exercise that control? Continue reading