Archive for ‘Original Content’

February 28, 2015

The gloves come off as the CJAD teachers panel discusses the PLQ’s ongoing assault on public education

boxing_gloves3Teachers Catharine Hogan and Robert Green pull no punches in discussing the PLQ’s ongoing assault on public education with James Mennie (sitting in for Tommy Shnurmacher). Originally aired February 17, 2015.

Click here for the podcast.

February 17, 2015

Quebec’s ongoing education-policy disaster

By Robert Green | Published February 16, 2015 by The Montreal Gazette

Earlier this month, an extensive study commissioned by Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport confirmed what Quebec’s teachers have known for over a decade: The famous “pedagogical reform” that was supposed to revolutionize the way students are taught in Quebec is a failure.

The study, which followed nearly 4,000 students, compared two cohorts of post-reform students with one that entered high school in 2004 just before the reform was implemented.

The results paint a portrait of an ongoing policy disaster.

Despite having added 50 hours of instruction in Mathematics and 150 hours of first-language instruction, results in both core subjects are significantly down.

Pascal / Montreal GazetteFeb. 7, 2015

Pascal / Montreal Gazette Feb. 7, 2015

Despite the fact that the reform was intended to raise the dismally low graduation rates of boys and at-risk students, these rates have instead seen significant declines for both groups.

Perhaps most worrisome for Quebec’s anglophone community is the fact that students in Quebec’s English school system were also identified by the study as one of the groups that saw a significant decline in graduation rates.

In other words, the millions of dollars spent developing and implementing this reform have been an utter waste of public funds.

read more »

February 10, 2015

The stakes have never been higher for public education in Quebec

By Robert Green | Published Feb 3, 2015 by Ricochet.media

The government’s initial offer to Quebec’s teachers makes it perfectly clear that current negotiations will be unlike any in recent memory. There is almost no aspect of the status quo that remains unaffected in the proposal.

In a context where Quebec’s teachers are already the lowest paid in all of Canada, the government is proposing a salary that will likely erode their real earnings by at least seven per cent over the next five years.

10891767_1596055107282503_5393442641761898663_nIn a context where the vast majority of Quebec’s teachers work untold numbers of unpaid hours on evenings and weekends because the current contract doesn’t provide them enough paid hours to execute their responsibilities, the government is proposing an increase to teacher workloads that would require them to be present in school for longer hours. It wants to be able to “assigns tasks” to teachers during these extra hours, which means even less time for planning, marking, communicating with parents and the myriad other tasks that teachers are responsible for.

In a context where limits on class size have been easily skirted in Quebec, the government wants to remove these restrictions altogether. School boards have been able to exceed provincial limits on class size by paying teachers a small amount of over-sized class compensation, but at the very least this represented a small financial deterrent.

In a context where support for the ever-growing number of students with special needs is already woefully inadequate, the government is proposing to remove the weighting system that reduces the size of classes with higher numbers of students with special needs.

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January 25, 2015

MTA Referendum: Is NOW the time to propose extending term limits?

By Robert Green

Next week members of the MTA will be asked to vote on an amendment to the union’s constitution that will result in the electoral terms of MTA executive members being extended from one year to two years.

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dadsOstensibly this is being proposed by MTA President Peter Sutherland as a cost-saving measure for the union. While this measure, if approved, will certainly lead to the union saving on the cost of annual elections, there are several questions MTA members should be asking themselves before deciding how to vote.

The first question is why now? We are currently in negotiations for a new contract. Is this the time to come forward with a referendum that will potentially divide the membership? At this time when the stakes are so high for teachers and the future of education in Quebec, is this not the time that Mr Sutherland should be focusing on enhancing the collective power of MTA members? In proposing this referendum he seems to be focusing instead on enhancing his own power as MTA president. Even if one believes that this proposal is valid as a cost-saving measure, what would be the harm in waiting until after negotiations are complete in order to have this debate?

While it is undeniable that if approved by the members this proposal will save the union money, it is also undeniable that this proposal will reduce the degree of democratic accountability for our union leadership. Crucially it will mean that Mr Sutherland will not have to face the possibility of an election in the year following these negotiations. Thus far the MTA’s leadership has provided little vision as to how teachers can actually succeed in these negotiations and avoid repeating the debacle of 2005 when we were decreed back-to-work. By proposing this referendum now, instead of after the negotiations our current leadership will enjoy the benefit of not having to face the possibility of being held accountable for what transpires in these negotiations for almost two years.

Related to the issue of regular democratic accountability, is the issue of raising the MTA’s fees. Given our declining membership the MTA is in a financial crunch. Either we will have to make deep cuts to spending or we will have to increase the fees that teachers pay. The small savings that would occur if this referendum passes will not change this fact. Mr Sutherland knows very well that this is the case. He also knows very well that a referendum to increase fees will not be popular with the membership, particularly in the absence of any sacrifices being made by the union president with respect to his $92k+ salary.

To stand for election the same year that one is proposing to raise fees is not an attractive proposition for anyone. Indeed the last time the MTA leadership attempted to raise fees was six years ago, before the president’s post was being regularly contested in election. Since this time no MTA president has dared to raise fees, instead choosing to eat into the union’s accumulated surplus. In other words the possibility for annual elections served as a real disincentive for our union leadership to propose fee increases. MTA members should be asking themselves if eliminating the possibility for annual elections will not be making it easier or more tempting for our union leadership to propose raising fees.

The stakes have never been higher for Quebec’s teachers. Nearly every aspect of our working conditions are currently under attack by government. If MTA members want to send a message that Mr Sutherland should be focusing on enhancing our collective power rather than his own personal power as MTA president, they should vote no in this week’s referendum.

January 8, 2015

Austerity for Quebec’s schools and an insult for Quebec’s teachers

By Robert Green | An edited version of this article was published Jan 7, 2015 by the Montreal Gazette

During his most recent election campaign Quebec Premier Phillipe Couillard stated that protecting the quality of education would be one of his government’s main priorities.

It is now clear, Phillipe Couillard was not telling the truth.

Since coming into office he and his hapless Minister of Education Yves Bolduc have done nothing but propose policies that will harm the quality of education in Quebec.

teacher_payBy insulting teachers with a contract offer that will likely see their real wages eroded by at least 7 percent over five years, the Couillard government is sending a clear message that it does not value the teaching profession. Quebec’s teachers are already the lowest paid in Canada with some of the most difficult working conditions. If this initial offer is any indication, the government is intent on ensuring that this wage gap with teachers in other provinces not only remains but in fact widens.

What is the cost for students and for society as a whole when high quality teachers are driven out of the profession, or worse, when high quality candidates choose not to enter the profession in the first place? Sadly, if Couillard has his way, we may soon find out.

Perhaps even more insulting to teachers is the government’s proposal to increase our workload. What Mr Bolduc doesn’t seem to realize is that past increases to our workload have made it such that teachers already cannot accomplish the task they have been assigned within the hours they are paid. Despite this fact, the vast majority of teachers, because they are committed professionals, choose to take marking home to do during evenings and weekends. It is also extremely common for teachers to use their sick days to catch-up on marking. Each time teachers do either of these things they are in effect making a personal donation to Quebec’s public education system and helping to cover-up the fact that past governments have not made adequate investments in education.

To threaten to increase the workloads of teachers in such a context where the vast majority of teachers are already working an untold number of unpaid hours from home demonstrates that Couillard and Bolduc are either utterly ignorant of the realities of Quebec’s teaching profession or reckless ideologues that simply don’t care. The government is risking alienating teachers to the point where we stop working hours for which we are not paid. If that happens we will not need to strike because the system, which is being propped up by the thousands of volunteer hours donated by Quebec’s teachers, will fall apart.

Perhaps the most obvious example of the Couillard government’s total disregard for public education is his proposal to remove limits on class size. This was accompanied by Bolduc’s astonishing claim that there is no evidence to suggest that class size reductions improve educational outcomes. That Quebec’s Minister of Education is unversed in the enormous body of research demonstrating the contrary is disturbing enough; that he apparently didn’t even bother to do a little research before making this announcement demonstrates a shocking level of disregard for the public interest.

Of course the government claims that these tough decisions are necessary to tame Quebec’s ballooning deficit. The problem with this claim is that in many places around the world where such austerity measures are being implemented economic growth is harmed and deficits end up growing. Since 2012 the IMF has made repeated warnings against further austerity because of its demonstrated capacity to harm economic growth.

The other problem with the government’s claim is that our current deficits were not in fact caused by spending. Since the early nineties government spending in Quebec has been trending downward. Quebec’s public sector has time and again done its part to help government achieve the goal of deficit reduction. The real cause of our current deficit is a series of tax cuts enacted since the early 2000’s that have disproportionately benefited Quebec’s wealthiest citizens to an enormous degree. For example, according to L’Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-economique (IRIS) the $950 million in tax cuts the Liberals offered in 2007-2008 provided absolutely nothing to households with $25,000 in income, $110 to households with $50,000 in income and a whopping $1859 to households with $150,000 in income. The cut to taxes on capital gains which began in 2005-2006 was essentially a massive gift to the banks that deprives Quebec’s public coffers of 1.9 billion annually.

Reversing these two tax cuts alone would almost eliminate Quebec’s deficit. Instead, Couillard is asking vulnerable public school children to pay for these tax cuts. This is not a necessity; it is a choice he is making.

If Couillard wants Quebecers to believe that he is anything other than a reckless right-wing ideologue intent on protecting the interests of the wealthy he should explain how cutting a public education system that benefits all Quebecers is preferable to reversing these tax cuts which have benefited so few.

 

January 5, 2015

A Montreal teacher’s wish for 2015

By Robert Green | Published by the Montreal Gazette as part of the article “15 Wishes for Montreal in 2015” by Katherine Wilton

In 2015, I would like to see an end to politicians attempting to accomplish their goals at the expense of vulnerable public-school students. Last year, it was teachers and students from various religious minorities being stigmatized by the Parti-Québécois government’s proposed charter of values; this year, it’s (Quebec Premier Philippe) Couillard attempting to balance the budget by asking vulnerable students to pay for all the tax cuts the previous Liberal government had doled out to the rich. Montreal’s public schools have a high numbers of students with special needs and students from low-income families. These are inevitably the students most affected when budgets for education and other social services are cut. When Mr. Couillard was running for election, he stated that he saw education as an investment in Quebec’s future. It would be nice if in 2015 he showed this was more than empty rhetoric by doing two things: 1) reversing the cuts to public education; 2) dealing fairly with the province’s teachers in upcoming contract negotiations.

October 25, 2014

EMSB elections: One retired teachers union President questions another at NDG candidates meeting

By Jim Wilson

wilsonI attended the school board  candidates meeting in NDG this week. One of the candidates running on the Team Angela Mancini slate is former President of the Montreal Teachers Association (MTA) Ruth Rosenfield. Considering that she uses her union background as being a qualification to be a commissioner, I questioned  her  record of financial transparency as a union president.
I made following remarks at the public meeting. Firstly, that Ms Rosenfield used the union contingency funds to pay herself in one year $40,000 in overtime. Secondly, that she arranged for the same contingency fund to provide  a member of the executive with  an interest free loan. Ms. Rosenfield made no effort to deny these charges. Thirdly, despite some members demanding clarification of union spending, pointing out that documents provided [by the union] were incomplete, and amongst other things formally demanding to be given access to view the itemized Amex bills paid by the MTA dating back five years. Rosenfield’s view is that once the financial review is accepted at the annual general meeting, the books are closed and members are no longer entitled to access any information on previous years.
In a perverse manner, Rosenfield’s  actions mirrors those of  the school board, school taxes increase as enrollment falls , so as the number of teachers decreased, their dues increased to provide for higher  MTA staff salaries and benefits. However, would this similarity of practices be considered as  a good reason to elect her?
Jim Wilson
October 8, 2014

Why the EMSB needs Anne Lagacé Dowson as its Chair

By Robert Green

Elections for school board commissioners are fast approaching. On November 2 citizens living within the EMSB’s territory will have the opportunity to choose between a slate of candidates lead by the EMSB Council of Commissioners’ incumbent Chair Angela Mancini and a slate of candidates lead by media commentator and parent Anne Lagacé Dowson.

Before discussing the candidates, its important to mention how one becomes eligible to vote in these elections. If you are a parent with a child in the English school system you should be automatically registered to vote in English school board elections. To verify call 1 (888) 353-2846. Otherwise you are likely to have been registered by default to vote in French school board elections and need to submit this form to the EMSB in order to be registered to vote in the EMSB elections. Don’t delay in submitting this form as the deadline to make this request is October 14.

There is no question that these are incredibly important elections. Given recent government threats to abolish school boards altogether, the stakes are extremely high. The very survival of these institutions may depend entirely on the quality of their elected leadership.

Those considering giving incumbent Chair Angela Mancini another term in office might want to take a trip down memory lane:

  • In 2008 Henry Aubin wrote a column in the Gazette entitled ‘School board’s secrecy cuts it off from the public‘. The column outlined the duplicitous political manoeuvring Ms. Mancini engaged in to initially win for herself the position of Chair. Aubin describes how this manoeuvring ensured that the culture of secrecy, block voting and entrenched loyalties won out over and against the public interest.
  • In 2009 the Gazette reported that the infighting amongst school board commissioners had gotten so bad under Mancini’s leadership that the Quebec government had to appoint a special mediator whose salary cost taxpayers upwards of $100,000
  • In 2011 the EMSB received a great deal of very negative press coverage over its move to close a number of schools. Particularly contentious was the case of Nesbitt elementary whose parents created a blog that is essential reading for anyone interested in learning what Ms Mancini’s leadership has meant for parents. Hour magazine published a scorching condemnation of the EMSB’s handling of the affair by two Nesbitt parents, describing its public consultation process as “a sham” and concluding with the question ” How could we be in worse hands than we are now?”
  • Also in 2011 the blog Citizens for Democratic and Autonomous Schools published a piece by commissioner Julien Feldman (running on Team Anne Lagacé Dowson) questioning Ms Mancini’s decision to include three elected commissioners on a junket to China.

annedowsonendorsementThough Ms Mancini’s record offers plenty to be wary of, I am not advocating that people vote for Ms. Lagacé Dowson simply as an alternative to Ms. Mancini. I am advocating that people vote for Ms Lagacé Dowson because she is intelligent, articulate, politically savvy and firmly committed to the public interest. In short, she is exactly the sort of person the EMSB needs to turn the page on the culture of secrecy, bitter partisanship and entitlement that has plagued the EMSB council of commissioners for far too long.

However it is not just that Anne has the skills and principled commitment to openness and transparency, she also has a clear vision for how the EMSB can deal with its most fundamental existential threat: declining enrolment. In response to reports that as many as 15 percent of those eligible to attend English Schools are instead registering in the French system, Anne wrote an op-ed in the Gazette arguing that the EMSB needs to bring those students back by improving its French language instruction.

Team Angela Mancini candidate Ruth Rosenfield responded with an op-ed of her own crassly characterizing Ms Lagacé Dowson’s thoughtful piece as a “broad attack on English-language schools and school boards” and suggesting that the EMSB already does a great job in French language instruction. In focusing only on the work the board is already doing Rosenfield seems to be suggesting that this is enough; that 15% of those eligible for English schools choosing the French system is an acceptable situation that does not warrant any additional action being taken. It would be interesting to know if Ms Mancini also thinks that despite the large numbers leaving, the status quo is just fine.

If there’s one thing that’s clear its that the status quo is not fine. The EMSB needs new leadership that is committed to people not partisanry; to democracy not demagoguery; to cutting bureaucracy instead of closing schools. The EMSB needs Anne Lagacé Dowson!

Here are a few video clips of Anne articulating her vision for the EMSB:

October 6, 2014

Canada’s education apartheid

By Robert Green | Published October 2 by Ricochet.media

Many Canadians are aware of the fact that Canada’s 1876 Indian Act, which stated that “The aborigines are to be kept in a condition of tutelage and treated as wards or children of the State”, was studied by South Africa’s apartheid regime and served as the inspiration for many of its policies.

Because the information gathering missions to Canada by South African officials occurred way back in the 1940’s, we can safely acknowledge and openly discuss this fact as a dark and shameful chapter of our history without having to look too closely at our present. Yes we served as a model for apartheid but that was a different time, we tell ourselves.

However an examination of Canada’s treatment of its First Nations reveals that parallels with apartheid era South Africa continue right up to present day. Nowhere is this more true than with respect to Canada’s policies regarding First Nations education.

In 1953 the apartheid regime passed one of its most overtly racist laws, entitled the Bantu Education Act. The act’s aim was to place all black schools, which had been run by the church, under the control of the state. As the government saw blacks as little more than “hewers of wood and drawers of water” it was quite open about the fact that education for blacks would be both separate and unequal. The injustices caused by this act would later be recognized as one of the principal causes of the Soweto uprising.

The education system created by the Bantu Education Act had three principal characteristics: 1) Massive gaps in funding between black and white schools; 2) Colonial control over curriculum and school management; 3) Significant differences in the level of training and experience of teachers in the black and white school systems.

Though Canada’s contemporary policies with respect to First Nations education do not go nearly as far as South Africa’s overtly racist policies, each of the above characteristics are clearly present.

read more »

September 6, 2014

Hey, premiers, leave them teachers alone!

By Robert Green | Published Sept 1 2014 by Ricochet

The beginning of the school year should be a time of great optimism and excitement for teachers. We’re energized by seeing our colleagues again and excited to meet the students we’ll be teaching for the year. Our thoughts should be focused on making our classrooms more welcoming, our lessons more engaging and our contributions to our school community more meaningful.

Unfortunately, for too many teachers across Canada the positive feelings that normally accompany the beginning of the school year will be overshadowed by more negative sentiments: uncertainty, frustration, anger and above all the feeling of being profoundly disrespected.

British Columbia

Nowhere is this more true than in BC. The province’s teachers have been on the picket line since the spring as part of the latest chapter in an exasperating decades-long struggle with the province’s Liberal government. The bad faith demonstrated by the government over the course of this struggle boggles the mind. While the media wants to malign BC teachers as greedy, the heart of this dispute has always been about protecting quality of education for students by reducing class size. After teachers gave up salary concessions in the nineties in order to win class-size reductions (greedy bastards!) the BC Liberals went on to unilaterally remove these provisions from their contract in 2002.

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August 29, 2014

Will the Liberals ensure schools get proper funding?

By Robert Green | Published Aug 27, 2014 by The Montreal Gazette

Along with just about every teacher in the province, I was left speechless by Liberal Education Minister Yves Bolduc’s statement last week that “no child is going to die from (budget cuts) or stop reading because there are already books” in school libraries.

That such words would be uttered by a minister of education is just baffling. Either Bolduc is unaware of the very serious impact of denying Quebec’s schools the resources they need to get kids excited about reading, or he simply doesn’t care about the quality of education in Quebec’s public schools.

That this statement happened to also have been made by a man who saw no problem double-dipping into Quebec’s public coffers for over $200,000 in personal gain is downright infuriating.

Thus far, the government’s attempts at damage control have done little to restore confidence. While Bolduc has apologized for his statement and both he and Premier Philippe Couillard have affirmed that it’s important for school libraries to be able to purchase new books, neither has provided an alternative that won’t affect the province’s most needy students in other ways. Both have made vague suggestions that school boards should choose to cut elsewhere.

This of course raises the question of where exactly school boards should cut.

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August 11, 2014

The Hypocricy of Austerity

By Robert Green | Published August 9, 2014 by Ricochet

In a move that seems perfectly symbolic of the sort of politics his government represents, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard announced this week that the five members of the government commission charged with reviewing government programs and recommending where to make cuts will be paid the tidy sum of $1.03 million for about eight months of work. Commission President and ex-Liberal cabinet minister Lucienne Robillard will take home $265,000 for explaining to average Quebecers where they must make sacrifices.

The message being sent here is unmistakable: Tough choices, sacrifice and austerity are for the common people, not Quebec’s elites.

rich_get_richerThough his government has been in power only a short time, this is not the first time it has sent such a message. The government’s first budget contained cuts to school boards that are likely to seriously affect the services provided by already underfunded public schools, while leaving the subsidies wealthy families receive to send their children to private schools untouched. Apparently it is for the children of Little Burgundy to shoulder the burden of repairing Quebec’s public finances, not the privileged children who live up the hill in Westmount.

In fact this message is nothing new. From the PQ’s “deficit zero” politics of the late nineties to the Charest government’s attempts to “re-engineer the state” in the 2000s, Quebec’s political leaders have for years been saying that average Quebecers need to make do with less, that government spending is “out of control” and that we as a society are “living beyond our means.”

In 2010, Finance Minister Raymond Bachand called for a “cultural revolution” of austerity. This revolution led directly to the longest student strike in Canadian history and the defeat of Bachand’s government. Now back from exile, and sporting a new leader, the Liberals are set for round 2.

However, a cursory examination of Quebec’s recent spending trends shows a very different picture. With the exception of a spike in stimulus spending following the 2008 economic downturn, Quebec’s expenditures as a percentage of GDP have been trending downward since the early nineties. Even at the height of stimulus spending in 2009-2010 Quebec was spending significantly less as a percentage of GDP than it was in the early nineties. This is hardly a picture of out-of-control spending.

So if spending is not the cause of our current economic predicament, what is? The answer lies on the other side of the balance sheet, in revenues rather than expenditures.

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August 8, 2014

CJAD’s Gang of Four discusses Liberal youth-wing proposal to abolish CEGEPS

Anne Lagacé-Dowson, Robert Green and Dino Mazzone discuss the Liberal youth-wing proposal to abolish CEGEPS with Tommy Schnurmacher. Click here for the podcast.

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August 6, 2014

Who should pay for Quebec’s deficit, the rich or the rest? CJAD’s Gang of Four debates the politics of austerity

austerityAnne Lagacé-Dowson, Robert Green and Matt Gurney discuss the politics of austerity in Quebec with Tommy Shnurmacher. Click here for the podcast

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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.

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