Moral Victory, Baby Steps, or Just the Staus Quo? Class Size and Composition Legislation

BC’s Minister of Education rose in the house yesterday (April 27, 2006) to introduce Bill 33,
Education (Learning Enhancement) Statute Amendment. This rather innocuous sounding bill does make some significant changes in BC’s education system. It is important to give credit where credit is due. Without the October 2005 BC teachers’ strike it is very unlikely that the government would have come anywhere near introducing the changes that they have under this bill.

The key points:

  • Legislated class size limits of 30 across the board.
  • For grades 4-7 teachers must agree if more than three students with an individual education plan (IEP) are enrolled in the class.
  • For grades 8-12 teachers must be consulted if more than three students with an IEP are to be enrolled in their class.
  • Districts must prepare reports by a set date and explain why they have classes over the caps.

Former Vancouver school trustee and retired school principle, Noel Heron notes that

“This morning’s n Vancouver Sun brings good news to the class size front with surprisingly reasonable class size limits being, for the first time, written into legislation. At last the provincial government has got the message that no more than three special needs kids should be placed in regular classrooms and that a maximum number of 30 kids in Grades 4-12 should be in place. This is a breakthrough and avoids the class averages shenanigans that preceded this legislation in many school districts. Also, it appears that the delinquent boards will have to fess up and comply with the legislation as 15 of the 60 school boards ignored guidelines in the past. The minister, to her credit, recognized that with the three recalcitrant provincial “partners” at the Round Table that no consensus was possible now or even emerging, so Victoria moved promptly to table this bill which also removes, in large measure, some of the roadblocks to a provincial settlement with BCTF.”

These are important points. This is a first for BC. It is also a recognition of the public support for the teachers’ unions and their strong stand in support of public education. It is not, however, the end of the process.

The key problems with this legislation is that it is in great part merely the codification of what has already become standard practice throughout most of the province. The 30 student cap is in general too high and will remain especially so when those 30 students continue to include 3 or more students with designated learning needs that require an IEP plus the grey area students who are there but not noted.

To allow for effective instruction students with IEPs should really be double counted, as there where in several of the striped teachers’ contracts. As a parent I am well aware that children with IEPs very often require far more attention –that is if we want them to achieve their educational potential- then a normal student. Thus, the effective is that even with a 30 student cap having three or more IEP students will present as though the class is a bigger class than the number suggests.

What sort of resources might be required to make this really work? Well, we will need more extensive and more effective inservice training for teachers. We should have additional Special Education Assistants who are trained to work with specific learning needs. We will need to have funds to hire additional enrolling teachers to ensure an adequate available and choice of courses for all students. There are also facilities implications. There will need to be sufficient classrooms to add classes if required.

There is also the implications for classroom teachers who are being asked to accept overload situations of IEPs in their classrooms. Will they have the ability to really say no? Imagine the impact of being in a small school with very involved parents and an administrator who is insistent? Is it possible to say no? One can also imagine a teacher eager to please who takes in every student that s/he is asked to. Irrespective of any hypothetical model the structural relations in the workplace that include other teachers, administrators, parents, the students, and community expectations in general will have much to say about whether a teacher will really be able to exercise any choice in the matter. On this the legislation is notably silent.

The one clear message here is that the solidarity of teachers, parents, and the wider community that was demonstrated in the October Strike. This has had an important impact on how the provincial government has acted. They are keen to clear the way of any hint of political protest in the lead up to the Olympic Circus and they are very much aware of the powerful support of teachers from the parent and wider communities. Realizing this, the government has been compelled to move to avert a major social conflict that they may well have lost or at the very least would have had an adverse impact on the image they are trying to construct.

The legislation thus affirms what many of us have said all along. That is, effective policy must be in place related to class size and class composition for all students to learn tot heir best ability. By codifying the status quo we will at least now have a base upon which to begin walking forward.

Related resources
BCTF Staff Alert
Ministry of Education Press Release
BCCPAC (Parent group) provides link to government page. . . and late Friday issues it’s own press release.
CBC story related to cost of Bill 33. (Download pdf version)

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