An abridged version of this article focusing exclusively on Teach for Canada was published in The Two Row Times
By Robert Green
Following the founding of the Bad-Ass Teachers (BATs) association last spring I wrote an article explaining why America’s teachers are going badass and why Canada’s need to consider doing the same. The point of this article was to alert Canadian teachers and the public-at-large to the fact that the same corporate education reform agenda that has been so disastrous for the US education system can increasingly be seen to be at work in education policies across Canada.
So it was a pleasure last weekend to receive an invitation to the Canada Bad-Ass Teachers association (CanBATs) Facebook Group.
Interestingly this group was founded by the same teachers that founded the American BATs group.
So why would a group of American teachers want to create a Badass Teachers Association for Canadian teachers? BATs founder Dr. Mark Naisson explained the initiative as follows:
Corporate education reform is a global movement and the resistance to it must be global. The toxic array of policies we have been deluged with in the United States- increased testing in all subjects and all grades; attacks on teachers unions; rating of teachers based on student test scores; preference to non unionized charter schools over regular public schools; substitution of poorly trained teacher temps from elite colleges for veteran teachers- is spreading to every portion of the English speaking world, along with the corporate profiteering that always accompanies these policies. Every form of resistance to these policies; every hard won victory for teaching and learning; encourages more resistance. Our movement must be worldwide to be effective. Hence the Badass Teachers Association, which has organizations in all 50 states in the US, is proud to form a Canadian wing.
The first few articles posted in the CanBATs group speak to the increasingly international reach of the corporate education reform described by Naisson.
Common Core Colonization
One such article entitled Common Core Goes Global describes the efforts of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to work through the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to impose on the rest of the world the very same standardized curriculum – known as ‘Common Core’- that has been imposed on the entire US education system. While the article paints this as some sort of globalist conspiracy – a rather questionable assertion – there can be no question that the interests behind common core are at least in part corporate. The same corporations which have already made billions in the US providing services related to the standardized tests that compliment this standardized curriculum stand to profit handsomely by this move.
But perhaps more worrisome is a post indicating a new organization in Canada modelled on Teach for America (TFA)
Teach for America: shock-doctrine troops of privatization
Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine provides a useful framework to understand what TFA has meant for the US education system. The book observes the tendency of corporate interests to exploit moments of popular crisis in order to advance various anti-social profit-driven reforms. In this case the crisis is the chronically poor state of America’s under-funded inner city schools. The solution proposed by TFA, a non-profit supported by the likes of the Walton family (owners of Wal-Mart) is to recruit recent graduates from bachelors programs not related to teaching, give them five weeks of intense training and then send them into America’s ‘failing’ inner city schools in order to help ‘close the achievement gaps’ related to race and class. TFA presents itself as a kind of Peace Corps experience to help fix America’s troubled schools.
However, a growing number of critics including many Teach for America alumni have been speaking out about the fallacy of the organization’s claims. To begin with a growing body of research is confirming the somewhat predictable outcome of sending under-qualified teachers into America’s most needy schools: achievement gaps widening not getting smaller. TFA is also increasingly being accused of being an agent of privatization of the US education system, working to undermine teachers unions in the public system and providing a reserve army of staff for the rapidly growing number of semi-private charter schools. The problem TFA poses for experienced unionized teachers was captured well by Chicago teacher Kenzo Shibata who began a recent article as follows, “Teach for America wanted to help stem a teacher shortage. Why then are thousands of experienced educators being replaced by hundreds of new college graduates?”
Teach for Canada: The White Man’s Burden Revisited
The immediate dilemma for importing the TFA model to Canada is that most Canadian Provinces have implemented relatively successful programs to reduce achievement gaps related to socio-economic status. Because our inner city schools benefit from various government programs they are simply not in the state of crisis that America’s badly under-funded inner-city schools are. The other problem for the TFA model coming north is that all Provinces require teachers in the public system to have graduated from a university level teacher training program.
However, there is one small corner of Canada’s education system that is experiencing a major achievement gap and which is not controlled by the Provinces: First Nations Schools.
Just as colonial ventures of the past were justified with the ostensibly humanistic goal “to serve your captives’ need”, Teach for Canada (TFC) has found its own “sullen people” to save. After citing a series of alarming statistics on the low graduation rates in First Nations communities, TFC’s website presents the project as a solution to apparent teacher shortages in rural, remote and Aboriginal communities. More than that, it states that its goal is to “start and sustain a conversation about the challenge of education inequality in Canada”.
So while frequent mention is made of gaps in achievement in First Nations schools, no mention whatsoever is made of the gaps in funding that have produced these gaps in achievement. One recent study comparing the funding for First Nations schools with that received by public schools in the province of Saskatchewan found that First Nations schools received 40 to 50 percent less funding.
Although federally funded First Nations schools may be TFC’s first target, they are also planning to make their way into the schools of several provinces. An application submitted by TFC to the student-run consulting service Public Good Initiative states:
Teach for Canada will begin placing teachers in 2015 in 1-3 provinces and territories throughout Canada. We have identified four provinces – Manitoba, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick – that are the highest priority based on need and ease of entry. We would like the PGI consultants to identify which of these provinces are best set up for success, and to create proposals for the Ministries of Education and relevant Faculties of Education in the provinces.
Should there be any doubt that TFC like its American counterpart plans to offer itself to provincial governments as a tool to undermine teachers unions and to staff the growing number of semi-private schools in Canada, one need only look to the resume of one of its two founders Kyle Hill. Kyle Hill is a strategy consultant at The Boston Consulting Group, an organization with a clear agenda linked to corporate education reform. In several US states BCG has been behind efforts to: close public schools and open semi-private charters; eliminate collective bargaining rights; introduce merit-pay schemes; heavily promote online learning. Kyle Hill appears to be BCG’s man to open up the Canadian education ‘market’.
Teach for Canada & The First Nations Education Act
The fact that TFC has arrived just as Harper has tabled his First Nations Education Act is worrisome to say the least. Tellingly this legislation has been buried in the Conservative government’s Economic Action Plan. It has already sparked protest, with one Ontario Chief referring to the legislation as “colonial”. The act seems to entrench in law the principles of the Harper government’s First Nations Student Success Program which has been criticized as a carbon copy of George Bush’s ‘No Child Left Behind’ reform making school funding contingent on success rates as measured by standardized tests.
By tying school funding to success rates in First Nations schools the Harper government has created the perfect conditions for TFC – with its rhetoric about closing the achievement gaps of struggling schools – to get its foot in the door of Canada’s education system.
Time for the CanBATs to take flight!
If the experience of TFA is any indication, the arrival of TFC should not be taken lightly by Canada’s unionized teachers. In a recent radio interview about TFC Paul Olsen of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society is asked if he could see TFC being used by politicians here in Canada as a tool to bust teachers’ unions. He responds, “I could definitely see that happening” and then elaborates about his specific concern for Alberta and Saskatchewan where semi-private charter schools are being established.
If Canadian teachers want to avoid seeing our unions busted, our schools transformed into test-prep factories and our education system gradually privatized we cannot wait for the leaders of our governments or even our unions to act; we ourselves have to develop a capacity for grassroots badass teacher activism! It’s therefore time for Canada’s badass teachers to join the CanBATS group and make it into an effective tool to share and promote our stories of resistance against the corporate reform agenda.