Posts tagged ‘Pearson Teachers Union (PTU)’

March 5, 2013

Where are the reductions in class sizes that we were promised?

By Robert Green

A slightly edited version of this Op-ed appeared in the March 4 edition of the Montreal Gazette

When the Quebec government makes a commitment to reduce class size, should school boards have the ability to subvert such commitments in order to protect their bottom line? This question is at the heart of a grievance filed recently by the Pearson Teachers Union (PTU) against the Lester B Pearson school board.

In the context of its last round of negotiations with the province’s teachers, the government of Quebec offered to make significant reductions to the maximum size of most classes in Quebec’s public schools.

Although the reductions focused mainly on the elementary level, they did extend up to the second year of high school. Schools in economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods would see even greater reductions than those applied system-wide. By the end of its implementation in 2013/14 the plan would see most class size maximums reduced by 3 or
4. Classes in economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods would be reduced by as many as 9 students.

This offer by government came as a welcome surprise to teachers and their unions. Most teachers have experienced the difference between a class of 26 and one of 30 and know the enormous impact a few additional students can have. Smaller groups allow teachers to make connections with each of their students and keep them all on track. Conversely, in larger groups students feel more anonymous and are hence more likely to act out or withdraw. In other words, larger groups force teachers to focus more on behaviour and discipline, while smaller groups allow us to focus on what we love, teaching.

But reducing class size is not merely about improving the working conditions of teachers; more importantly it is about improving the quality of public education. Indeed the body of evidence documenting the benefits of class-size reductions is enormous, particularly with regard to reductions at the elementary level. Reducing class size has been shown to have lasting positive effects on academic achievement, absenteeism and drop-out rates. It has also been found to be one of the only factors capable of closing achievement gaps based on socio-economic status. In small classes, poor kids do just as well as rich kids. Class-size reductions have even been found to have long-term public health benefits.

With so many potential benefits, it is not only teachers that should be concerned that classes in Quebec’s large English school boards do not seem to be getting any smaller. This is particularly true in a context where English school boards have been losing numbers to their French counterparts and the private sector. Ensuring that class size reductions are properly implemented ensures that the quality of education in English public schools is not merely protected, but improved.

School boards are able to avoid implementing class-size reductions by exploiting a clause in the teachers’ collective agreement which they claim allows them to pay teachers a tiny amount of compensation for oversized classes. It is this interpretation that is being challenged by the PTU, which contends that the collective agreement only permits oversized classes in very specific circumstances, none of which apply to large urban schools.

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February 12, 2013

Pearson Teachers Union Files Grievance on Class Size. Why Has the MTA Not Followed Suit?

By Robert Green | Published February 10, 2013

In an interview on CJAD this week Pearson Teachers Union (PTU) President John Donnelly announced that his union had filed a grievance contesting the oversized classes in his board. In explaining his reason for filing this grievance Donnelly explained that “over and above that [compensation paid to teachers] the collective agreement says you still can’t have oversized classes unless you have one of four reasons and none of these reasons apply to the Lester B. Pearson Board”. Donnelly goes on to mention that he expects a final decision on the grievance by March.

Donnelly is referring here to clause 8-4.01-c which states:

The board may exceed the maximums indicated only for one of the following specific reasons: the lack of premises in the school, the limited number of groups in the school, a shortage of qualified available personnel or the geographic location of the school.

The PTU is right to challenge the existence of oversized classes in its schools as the conditions allowing oversized classes clearly do not apply to large urban schools. The PTU is also right to be filing this grievance now. Protecting class size maximums is a particularly pressing matter for two reasons. The first is that the new collective agreement commits to significant reductions to the size of most classes in Quebec. By the end of its implementation in 2013/14 the planned reductions would see most class size maximums reduced by 3 or 4. Classes in economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods would be reduced by as many as 9 students. The second reason this is a particularly urgent issue is that at a time when the English public system is losing students to the French system and the private sector, class-size reductions are one of the best ways to protect and improve the quality of education in Quebec’s English public schools. If we do not protect the quality of education in our schools, we will continue to lose students.

Given the importance of this issue for the working conditions of teachers, the learning conditions of students and the overall health of the English public system, members of the Montreal Teachers Association (MTA) should be wondering why their union has not followed suit and launched a similar grievance. Particularly since doing so would strengthen the case of our fellow teachers in the Pearson board. As a member of the QPAT executive committee, one wonders how MTA President Ruth Rosenfield would not have been informed of the details of this grievance, filed by another QPAT member-local way back in June. Being aware of the details, she would then presumably know that if the collective agreement prohibited oversized classes in the Pearson board, then for the very same reasons, it should do so for schools in the EMSB.

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