Archive for April, 2012

April 25, 2012

Comparing Quebec’s Provincial Teachers Federations – Part One

By Robert Green

Teachers in Quebec contribute a significant portion of each pay cheque to their provincial association. For teachers in Quebec’s English school system, that association is the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT). Teachers in Quebec’s French school system are divided between two federations. The biggest and oldest of these is the CSQ-affiliated Fédération des syndicates de l’enseignment (FSE). Due to a number of concerns over such things as Quebec’s infamous pedagogical reform and the 2005 collective agreement, nine teachers unions, largely representing teachers on and around the Island of Montreal, voted in 2006 to disaffiliate from the FSE and form la Fédération autonome de l’enseignment (FAE).

A cursory comparison of the work being done by these unions to advance and defend the interests of teachers raises serious questions about whether teachers in Quebec’s English school system are being adequately represented by QPAT.

Part one of this article will look at what the three Federations are doing to keep their members informed. Part two, which will appear next week, will focus on the finances and ongoing campaigns of the three federations.

Latest news?

One of the important roles played by teachers unions in Quebec and indeed across Canada is to keep their members informed of political developments affecting the interests of teachers and other public sector workers.

To that end both the FSE and FAE have regularly updated sections of their websites dedicated to the latest news. The FSE has both an ‘Actualité’ section, a press review called ‘À la une’ and a ‘quoi de neuf?’ section. The FAE has a ‘Nouvelles’ section with an impressive array of articles on a wide range of issues affecting teachers. In both cases, the websites contain commentary on the most recent issues. For example, within days of Francois Legault’s recent proposal to impose a professional association on Quebec’s teachers, both sites provided readers with news and analysis on this important question. Similarly, both sites provided analysis of the provincial budget and the Minister’s recently announced anti-bullying campaign.

QPAT’s ‘Latest News’ section on the other hand contains all of six posts, the most recent being nearly a year old, from May 2011.

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April 24, 2012

Several Ways We Can Teach Social Studies More Effectively

By Larry Ferlazzo, posted April 24, 2012 on Education Week – Teacher

“Bill [Bigelow] offers his advice specifically to new Social Studies advice, but they are words worth hearing for all of us no matter how long we’ve been teaching:

Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can pass along to new social studies teachers is the reminder that the textbook is not the curriculum. Increasingly, fewer and fewer giant multinational corporations produce our social studies textbooks. And all these for-profit entities have a vested interest in students (and teachers) not developing a critical awareness of the patterns of power and wealth that benefit those corporations.

That means that social studies teachers need to rely on ourselves, on networks of critical teachers, on non-profit publishers, and on the communities we serve, as the sources of curriculum.

Teach about what matters. Our job is to excite students about the world, to help them see the role that they can play in making society more equal and more just, to express their ideas powerfully, to see that social studies is about real people’s lives and about their relationship to each other and to nature. Enter the profession as a scholar, an historian, an activist, a curricular artist — not as a subordinate to some “official” curriculum established far away from our classrooms by self-interested parties.

Creating a lively, playful, experiential curriculum about things that matter is more fun for students, and for us as teachers, too. The more that your students find meaning and joy in the social studies curriculum, the more vital your professional lives will be and the longer you will likely stay in teaching.”

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April 23, 2012

Teachers, parents push back against high stakes testing

Posted April 23, 2012 at The Real News Network

April 21, 2012

Get Rid of Teachers or Encourage them To Stay — What is Best for our Schools?

By Mark Simon. Posted April 15, 2012 at Education Week – Teacher

“After over a decade of “corporate reform” strategies in many places, we have a chance to compare the results of two drastically different approaches to improving public schools. In some places, such as Washington, DC, we have seen teacher turnover skyrocket, in line with the belief that lagging student performance is due to inferior teachers. In Montgomery County, Maryland, the teachers’ union and District have been following a different path for the last fifteen years, and are seeing dramatic results.

“Corporate reform” is the moniker earned by the dominant paradigm in school turnarounds, the one promoted by the US Department of Education and championed by foundations established by successful corporate titans Bill Gates and Eli Broad. According to this approach, if students aren’t performing, start by getting rid of the adults who must be, by definition, responsible. This blame, fire, and hire strategy is imported from the corporate world where Jack Welsh and Donald Trump are the archetypal heroes. The problem is that after over thirteen years of this approach there’s little success to point to on a national scale. Cleaning house, what we used to call “reconstitution,” has, at best, a mixed track record.

It seems that corporate reformers and reformers who actually work in schools instinctively disagree on the best first step to improve a low performing school. Now there’s an excellent new study by Matthew Ronfeldt, Susanna Loeb, and Jim Wyckoff, “How Teacher Turnover Harms Student Achievement,” which correlates high teacher turnover with lower student achievement. It’s sad that we need a study by economists to give us permission to assert what to educators is self-evident. But it’s time to look more closely at examples of where each approach is working, or isn’t. Two districts next door to each other provide a contrast in approaches with lessons about what works, and what doesn’t.”

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April 15, 2012

Sign on! Open letter to Quebec’s labour federations to continue and intensify their support of the movement against tuition hikes

By Robert Green

Teachers in Quebec’s English school boards may be somewhat disappointed by the fact that their unions have been virtually silent on the unprecedented and historic movement against tuition fees that has swept the province in recent months.  After a motion to support this movement was proposed at a recent general meeting, Montreal Teachers Association president Ruth Rosenfield even helped ensure the motion wouldn’t pass by suggesting that a large number of members she had spoken to were actually in favour of the tuition hikes. Her supporters then dutifully voted that the union not take a position at all.

However, for those teachers that care that their students may one day be denied access to post-secondary education and that want Quebec’s labour unions to take a more active role in supporting the movement for accessible education, there is now an open letter that individuals can sign-on to in order to show their support. The letter is calling on Quebec’s labour federations to assume their historic role as defenders of social justice and to call for a national mobilization that could perhaps begin with a one-day Quebec-wide general strike.

To sign on to this open letter, click the following link:


April 14, 2012

Teachers demand education minister resign

A group of teachers at College Ahuntsic says its call for the resignation of Education Minister Line Beauchamp is snowballing, with now more than 1000 teachers from elementary school to university adding their names and voices to that call in the last 48 hours.

The teachers say they refuse to bear the onus of breaking the back of the student movement and of having to put their own moral convictions and increasingly, they say, even their physical safety at risk by being forced to cross student picket lines.

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April 12, 2012

Death by a thousand cuts: Teachers, airline workers and Canada’s public pensions

By Roger Annis, published April 12, 2012 at

B.C. teachers defend education

Currently, the 41,000 members of the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) are locked in a bitter collective bargaining dispute with the provincial Liberal government. On the table is a two-year salary freeze that the government is seeking to impose and the right to bargain, class sizes and other aspects of teachers’ work in the classroom.

The first action took place at the beginning of the school year, last September, when teachers refused to participate in voluntary activities and co-operate with administrators, including filling out report cards. When the government announced it would impose a draconian law to strip away the right to strike and send disputed issues to a skewed mediation process, teacher resistance escalated into a three-day strike March 5 to 7.

Regardless, Bill 22 was passed into law on March 17. It says “mediation” must correspond to the government’s guideline of a two-year, “net zero” increase to education spending. It also imposes stiff penalties on the union and individual teachers for strikes and related actions.

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April 6, 2012

Stephen Harper just took over $22,000 from my retirement!

By Robert Green

The Conservative Government’s recent decision to raise the age of eligibility for Old Age Security (OAS) from 65 to 67 may not seem like a big deal to many Canadians.  After all we are living longer than ever before and the eligibility is only being increased by 2 years.

Stephen Harper is certainly hoping that most Canadians will have such an apathy-producing response. He doesn’t want us to examine this too closely, for doing so reveals this policy to be not only unnecessary but carrying with it serious individual and social costs.

According to the Conservative party, this change is a necessary bit of belt-tightening that must be done to ensure the sustainability of the program. When asked by a local reporter about the hardships this change will cause for the large number of retired manual workers in Guysborough County Nova Scotia, Conservative MP Peter Mackay stated, “That is exactly why we need to make these changes to ensure that there is sustainable OAS in the future”. People must accept hardships now or else in the future there will be …hardships. In other words we should get used to more hardships on an ongoing basis.

However, as recently as February the federal government’s independent Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page reported that the existing program is not only sustainable but the government even has room to increase its spending without jeopardizing the sustainability of the program.

So what then does this program of questionable necessity mean for Canadians? Part of that question was answered by CAW economist Jim Stanford in his article “How Much Will YOU Lose from OAS Deferral??“. This is the article where I learned that as a 39-year-old, this move by Harper’s Conservatives is likely to have removed about $22,310 from my retirement. Consult the table to the right to see how much you just lost.

Stanford speculates that the disproportionate targeting of the young that this move entails is a deliberate conservative strategy aimed at avoiding the kinds of protests by seniors that derailed Mulroney’s attempt to undermine the public pension system in the 1980’s. It also conveniently avoids exacting costs on older voters who are a core constituency for the Conservatives.

But far more worrisome than its implications for an individual with a public sector pension such as myself,  are its implications for our society’s most vulnerable. In his analysis of the federal budget Bruce Campbell of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives cites pension expert Michael Wolfson’s calculation that if this change were brought in today, “the number of seniors below the poverty line would increase from 50,000 to 220,000– representing a more than doubling of Canada’s poverty rate”.

Similarly, this move has serious implications for Canadians with disabilities. This problem was described by Harry Wolbert in a recent op-ed for the Winnipeg Sun. According to Wolbert, 45 to 60% of Canadians receiving  social assistance have a disability. Because OAS coupled with the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) provides a far greater income than social assistance many Canadians with disabilities look forward to turning 65 as a reprieve from the conditions of poverty that a disproportionate amount of Canadians with disabilities endure for most of their lives. Harper’s move will force Canadians with disabilities to continue to endure this unjust situation for another two years.

If indeed there was a crisis in the sustainability of the program, one could understand such a move. However, in the absence of credible evidence that the program is unsustainable one is left with only one other explanation for this policy: ideology. Over his long political career Stephen Harper has not been bashful about expressing his disdain for Canada’s social safety net. This is just one more step in Harper’s drive to fundamentally transform Canada.

That is why having $22,310 taken from my retirement is even more infuriating; I know that as long as right-wing ideologues such as Harper are in power this added government revenue will not go to the sorts of things I value. It will not go to expanding access to affordable health care and  education or to protecting the environment or reducing inequality. It will be spent on prisons, fighter jets and ever more tax cuts for corporations and the rich.

This is why, when it comes to Stephen Harper, Canadians need to pay very close attention.

April 3, 2012

High-stakes testing cheats children out of a quality education

Posted April 2, 2012 at ‘Get Schooled’ with Maureen Downey

“Across the U.S., the politically mandated misuse of standardized tests is damaging public schools and the children they serve. The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s investigation of suspicious test scores around the nation is just the latest example. Experts may debate the methodology, but there is no question that cheating on standardized exams is widespread. In just the past three academic years, FairTest has documented confirmed cases of test score manipulation in 33 states plus the District of Columbia.

These scandals are the predictable result of over-reliance on test scores. As the renowned social scientist Donald Campbell concluded more than 30 years ago, “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” Campbell continued, “[W]hen test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways.”

Testing experts have long recognized this problem. Their professional standards for educational assessment warn against relying on tests as the sole or primary factor to make high-stakes decisions.”

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