The release of the 2010 documentary ‘Waiting for Superman’ represented a high point for corporate education reformers in the US. With backing from Bill Gates and several other billionaires, the documentary received an enormous amount of media attention including being featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
However, since its release a grassroots movement has been growing to counter the film’s message that teacher’s unions are the problem and that more standardized testing and more semi-private charter schools are the solution. In short this movement of teachers and parents has exposed ‘Waiting for Superman’ for what it is: slick propaganda aimed at destroying public education and enriching the corporate interests behind the charter schools and the multi-billion dollar standardized testing industry.
Teachers, parents and indeed all citizens concerned about public education in Quebec need to familiarize themselves with the grassroots efforts to resist the corporate education reform agenda in the US because elements of that agenda are now being promoted by the two political parties most likely to win the next election. Liberal Education Minister Line Beauchamps has been musing publicly about her intentions to use the performance contracts imposed on schools through Bill 88 to defund underperforming schools. Meanwhile Francois Legault is proposing to enact a merit pay system for teachers while stripping them of their union-protected job security. Thus far, the various unions representing teachers in Quebec have done little to inform either their members or the public-at-large of just how disastrous such policies have been in the US.
Teachers in Quebec’s English school boards contribute a significant amount of their hard-earned wages each year to fund the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT). In doing so, they expect QPAT to work actively to defend and advance their interests. They also expect to be part of any major decisions QPAT takes on their behalf. This is particularly true with regard to the process of negotiating and approving the collective agreements that affect all of our lives as teachers in such a direct way.
However, with the details of the most recently negotiated contract coming to light many teachers are beginning to feel that they were not adequately informed about the details of this agreement at the time that they voted. A previous two-part article entitled “Surprise! The Collective Agreement We Voted On Is Not the One We Got!” outlined in detail some of these ‘surprise’ changes.
This article will take a closer look at the democratic process by which this contract was approved and the specific information teachers were given in order to make this decision.
“In Quebec, there is no merit pay for any teacher. Yet without any criteria, senior bureaucrats at school boards and within the education ministry routinely receive thousands of dollars in performance bonuses.
A recent survey found that Quebec’s teachers rank dead last in Canada in both the minimum and maximum pay scales.
In terms of per-pupil expenditures, Quebec spends a similar amount to, if not more than, some other provinces. But the allotment for teachers’ salaries is disproportionately low.
This province’s teachers do not need merit pay. More appropriate would be standard salary increases to bring Quebec teachers to the level enjoyed by their colleagues in the rest of the country.”
A headline dealing with school league table recently published by the Fraser Institute could easily read that “Results again confirm a serious division in Quebec society”
Schools occupying the top spots do so by utilizing an exclusion policy based on an entrance examination. The strong students are given priority and the weaker are excluded, otherwise, why have an entry exam? By selecting the more academically able, those schools, overwhelmingly in the private sector, virtually guarantee that their students will obtain high grades on provincial examinations .It is not the school, nor the teachers, but the selection process that mostly shapes this outcome. Regardless of intellect, children from lower income families would find it difficult to find funds for private schools
Provincial examination results are the base from which these league tables are derived, but their statistical validity is questionable, the most glaring error is the omission of dropout rates. After all; dropouts do not write exams so the dropouts do not fit in the statistical compilation Schools in the more deprived areas fare poorly in the rankings, but if dropout rates were incorporated into the statistics the educational chasm between rich and poor students could be even wider.
“In a dramatic illustration of the impact of income inequality on how children do in school, the achievement gap between children from high and low income families is far higher than the achievement gap between black and white students, a pathbreaking research report from Stanford University has shown.
The report by Sean Reardon, a Stanford professor of education and sociology, shows that the income achievement gap—the difference in the average standardized scores between children from families at the 10th percentile of income distribution and children at the 90th percentile—is now ‘nearly twice as large as the black-white achievement gap.’
A half century ago, the situation was just the reverse. The black-white gap was one and a half times as large as the income achievement gap as defined in the report, Reardon found.”
Although the next provincial election in Quebec may still be well over a year away, education is already emerging as one of its central issues. Francois Legault has been clear about his intentions to bring elements of George Bush’s ‘No Child Left Behind’ to Quebec, including performance-based incentives for teachers and schools.
Meanwhile the Liberals have been flirting with controversial ideas of their own such as making deep cuts to school boards and using performance indicators to determine school funding.
What all parties seem to agree on is that Quebec’s education system is in crisis.
This, however, is nothing new. For at least the last twenty years politicians have been wringing their hands over the Quebec education system’s poor performance and high drop-out rate. Their response has been one ill-fated policy-fix after another. Prior to this latest focus on performance-based incentives, it was curriculum reform that was supposed to serve as our miracle cure.
Despite the ubiquitous concern over education constantly expressed by Quebec’s politicians, there is one issue with enormous implications that never seems to get the attention it deserves. In the ongoing debate over the future of Quebec’s education system this issue is truly the elephant in the room: public subsidies for private schools.
In the past couple of weeks, Occupy Wall Street has spurred dedicated education activists into some of the most innovative and inspiring actions.
“’We’re moving toward a system the same way they did for Wall Street, they want the deregulation of education. They want to get rid of pesky union contracts and let the free market rip. It’s not going to be shocking that we see all kinds of scandals blossom,’ Jones said.
But teachers have been at the heart of the resistance that’s sparked in this country this year, from Wisconsin to Wall Street. Jones noted that despite what wound up being a loss in Wisconsin, teachers are very proud of the leading role that Wisconsin’s educators played in fighting back against union-busting.”
“As policymakers and school leaders seek new ways to measure and improve teacher effectiveness, it’s important for journalists and others to understand what is known about the topic so far, and what remains unsettled or unknown. This research brief does not synthesize all the studies in this highly technical field. But it does aim to improve the accuracy and clarity of reporting by exploring what the research says about timely questions surrounding the complex topic of teacher effectiveness.”
“Instead of attending the November council meeting and participating in ongoing public consultations on school closure, the three commissioners will be somewhere in China on a pricey 2-week junket from November 14 to December 1, as last minute additions to a delgation of EMSB administrators recruiting students for the board’s vocational services sector.
‘Montreal’s anglophone community (and especially the parents whose children attend schools in the EMSB network of schools) elected Council members Praw, Verrillo and Israel to represent them in Montreal, not Shanghai,’ commented EMSB commissioner Julien Feldman.”
Part one of this article focused on two of the ‘surprise’ provisions in the new collective agreement: the new system for calculating sick days and the new system for salary deductions. Part two will look at the new systems for the payment of year-end bonuses and for department heads. While the positive or negative implications of these four provisions may be debatable, what is not debatable is the fact that teachers were not given adequate information about these provisions prior to voting to approve the collective agreement. Further, since the contract came into effect last year teachers received no warning from their union that many of these changes were scheduled to be implemented at the beginning of this year. As a result, teachers have been scrambling to react to these changes without having a clear picture as to their implications.
New System for the Payment of Year-end Bonuses
Appendix XXVI of the new contract contains provisions for teachers to receive a year-end bonus by way of one of two provisions.
The first provision is referred to as “recognition supplements” and can result in a bonus of up to 8% (which as you’ll see in Table 1 below is nearly impossible). Borrowing the language of corporate reformers in the US, the appendix states that such supplements will be granted based on “value-added” for taking on additional responsibilities not described in the collective agreement and for supervising activities that are not part of the student timetable. It then outlines an elaborate credit system for different ECA’s (extra-curricular activities) that seems to be based on the principle that a half hour of ECA supervision will result in one credit. The credits will be approved by the school’s staff council and then sent to the board level committee that will prepare a report of each teacher’s credits that the board will use to disperse the funds by June 1.
When governments say they’re broke and don’t have funds to invest in education, health care and other social programs, they are not telling the truth. This video illustrates why. Although it’s an American video, much of what it depicts applies to Canada and Quebec.
With the text of the new collective agreement now in circulation, teachers in Quebec’s English school system are coming to realize that this agreement contains numerous important changes they were not aware of. They were not adequately informed of these changes when their union leaders recommended they vote for the agreement. Nor have the details of these provisions been adequately explained to them at any point since the contract came into effect last year. Now teachers are scrambling to react to the implementation of these changes without fully understanding their implications.
This article will attempt to outline some of the implications of the surprise changes that have been noticed so far. Part one will focus on the new system for calculating sick days and the new system for salary deductions. The second part of this article will focus on the new system for the payment of year-end bonuses and the new system for department heads.
New System for Calculating Sick Days
As teachers were being asked to fill out their personal presence time for their administrations, information began to trickle out that this would have implications for their use of sick days. As an MTA memo of Octobre 24 explained, absences would now be deducted by the minute rather than by the day, resulting in a system whereby a teacher could potentially lose more than a single sick-day from their bank of sick-days for phoning in sick on a particular day.