Is QPAT Hiding the Implications of Bill 88 From Its Members?

By Robert Green

Back in 2008, before the Quebec Liberals passed Bill 88, QPAT submitted a brief to the National Assembly outlining its position on the Bill. It warned that the Bill would bring Quebec down the same path of “results-based testing” that held an “iron grip” on the US education system. It cited the failure of such policies to improve results and outlined the many reasons why holding schools exclusively responsible for the success of their students is unjust. The Brief also questioned the lack of government funding being offered to attain the proposed improvements. In short, the brief presented Bill 88 as having serious negative implications for both teachers and students.

Indeed, the QPAT Brief raised many of the points discussed in the article posted more recently on this blog, “Is No Child Left Behind Coming to Quebec?

However, since this Bill was passed in 2008 QPAT’s serious concern about its implications seems to have all but disappeared. QPAT has done next to nothing to inform either its members or the public at large of the Bill’s dire implications. The first mention of Bill 88 to the members came in the June 2008 issue of QPAT’s Liaison newsletter. Gone were the dire warnings about the “iron-grip of results-based testing”. Instead the members were soothed with the following: “Some concerns about this bill exist, but it may provide for greater consistency among school boards in implementing certain MELS policies”. Exactly what those concerns were was never mentioned.

Then the February 2009 issue of Liaison described the Management and Educational Success Agreements schools have been forced to sign as follows:

Schools/centres must be involved in helping a school board attain its objectives: School boards and principals/directors will be required to sign management and educational success agreements. These agreements will indicate how the school/ centre will contribute to the board reaching its objectives and how the board will help the school/centre do so.

Again there is very little in this text to alert the members to the serious concerns QPAT had raised in the Brief it submitted to government in 2008. Despite the fact that these Management and Educational Success Agreements were discussed and approved by governing boards last year, this was the last mention of Bill 88 or its provisions in any issue of Liaison.

QPAT’s “What You Need to Know about Governing Boards in Schools” provides a technical description of the Management and Educational Success Agreements that is similarly neutral in tone and mentions none of the serious implications of these agreements outlined in QPAT’s government brief.

The inability or unwillingness of QPAT ‘s leadership to adequately inform their members about Bill 88’s implications was painfully displayed at QPAT’s recent convention where the only workshop offered on Bill 88 was presented by representatives from MELS. Not surprisingly Bill 88 was presented in extremely positive terms. Were it not for several teachers attending the workshop, one of whom had taught in Britain and understood first-hand the implications of such reforms, there would have been no critical analysis whatsoever.

To be clear, Bill 88 represents a set of policies that have been tried not only in the US, but in Ontario under Mike Harris and in Britain by successive governments since Margaret Thatcher. In each case the result has been increasing pressures on teachers to teach to the all-important high-stakes standardized test. While such policies have proven extremely successful in removing any sense of joy from the learning process, they have not been successful in bringing about significant improvements in learning. They have failed, even on their own narrowly defined terms of improving student achievement.

Such policies have also been extremely successful in implanting in the public mind the notion that failures in our public education system are the responsibility of individual parents and teachers, not governments. They ignore government’s responsibility to ensure that public schools are well funded. They also ignore the important role government plays in creating or alleviating the socioeconomic inequality that is perhaps the greatest determinant of student success.

What makes QPAT’s relative silence on this issue even more incomprehensible is that such policies have been used as a heavy stick to attack teachers’ unions and the fundamental right of teachers to bargain collectively. The film ‘Waiting for Superman’ lead the propaganda campaign to convince North Americans that all of the problems in public education exist because of how difficult it is to fire unionized teachers. The problems with achievement were not related to systemic underfunding or the fact that kids weren’t arriving to school with food in their bellies; the problems were caused by bad teachers and the bad unions that protect them.

Francois Legault has clearly been influenced by this agenda as the platform of his new political party proposes replacing teacher job security with 3 to 5 year contracts and bringing in performance-based funding for schools. While thus far QPAT has been silent on this looming threat to its members, at least one of Quebec’s other teachers unions is taking measures to ensure its members are informed. The October issue of L’Autonome the official newsletter of La Fédération Autonome d’Enseignment features a great article on the implications of using performance indicators to evaluate teachers and schools entitled, “Les objectifs measurables <>”. At which point QPAT’s leadership will decide to warn its members of the coming attack on their job security, workplace autonomy and collective bargaining rights, is anyone’s guess?

 

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