Next information session:
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
BC Teachers’ Federation
4:00 – 5:30pm
100 – 550 West 6th Ave.
Published in Rabble.ca on Friday, September 12, 2014 as:
B.C. schools could be open Monday, if the government wanted
Public schools in British Columbia could be open Monday, if the government wanted.
On Wednesday, in nearly unanimous fashion, members of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation voted to walk from the picket lines into their classrooms, if the B.C. Liberal government would agree to binding arbitration on all issues, except the most contentious, class size and composition, which is currently before the courts.
Prior to the teachers’ vote government rejected the idea, twice. Education Minister Peter Fassbender called the teachers’ effort to get the schools open by going to binding arbitration, “absolutely silly” and “a ploy.” The former advertising salesman who has been the face of a formidable government PR campaign seemed uncharacteristically perturbed.
In recent weeks, the government’s strategy has become increasingly transparent. Forcing teachers to choose between financial hardship, perhaps ruin, or protecting court victories over a government that stripped class size and composition language from their contract 12 years ago.
The B.C. Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that the provincial government infringed on teachers’ Charter rights when it stripped class size and composition language from their contract in 2002. Justice Susan Griffin gave the government a year to solve the problem.
In 2012, the legislature enacted new legislation that had same effect as the old and, in January 2012, Justice Griffin’s ruled in favor of the teachers again.
Former crown prosecutor Sandy Garossino told Global TV,
“Over and over and over again, [Justice Griffin] goes through a litany of examples of where the government really never intended to negotiate in good faith with the union at all. It’s very hard to get past that ruling, and it really does in my view cast a completely different view on the nature of the negotiations that are going on now. The credibility of the government is certainly in question.”
Government is appealing Justice Griffin’s decision and it is scheduled to be heard next month by the B.C. Court of Appeals.
Meantime, government wants to negotiate its way out of court losses by insisting teachers accept a contract clause, known as E80, which the union and legal experts say abrogates teachers’ court victories requiring government to restore class size and composition language to teachers’ contracts. E80 is a poison pill the union refuses to swallow.
Throughout negotiations government has argued that B.C. teachers’ demands are unaffordable. It would be more accurate to say that the B.C. Liberals have prioritized cutting taxes for the rich and corporations over providing adequate funding for public services such as education and child welfare.
The key factors in affordability are size of the economy and tax rates.
B.C. Liberals waltzed into the legislature in 2001 and started an unprecedented program of inequitable tax cuts. As a result, B.C. now has a regressive tax system. A Broadbent Institute report released this week points out that in the B.C. the poor are now paying more in all taxes as a percentage of income than the rich.
B.C. Liberals’ tax cuts over the past 10 years have benefited the richest 1 per cent of British Columbians to the tune of $41,000 per year, while the bottom 40 per cent have benefited by an average of $200 per year.
Both the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Conference Board of Canada agree that despite the elimination of the provincial deficit and the recently announced $353 million surplus, overall spending as a share of the provincial GDP is shrinking and will reach a record low in 2017.
In August, the Conference Board report “British Columbia Fiscal Snapshot: Back on Solid Groupnd” said the B.C. government will have to spend $1.6 billion more than it has budgeted on education to maintain a constant level of spending over the next three years.
With the B.C. near the bottom in provincial per student education funding and B.C. teachers near the bottom in average salary, government has budgeted 0.6 per cent increases for K-12 education the next three years. That’s not a typo.
While the provincial budget conservatively projects revenue increases at 8 percent annually, it has budgeted less than a one per cent annual increase in the budget for B.C. schools.
The current B.C. budget projects the economy to grow by almost 20 per cent over the next five years, before inflation. And the government estimates teachers’ demands for wages, class size and composition funding would add up to nearly 15 per cent over same period.
What Minister Fassbender really means when he says the province cannot afford teachers’ demands is that government has not budgeted enough to education to meet teachers’ demands.
The funding model for public education in B.C. reflects the ideological principle that more of the public’s collective wealth should be devoted to maximizing private profits rather than serving public needs.
The teachers have proven they’re serious about getting back to work. The B.C. Liberals remained intractable in their devotion to an ideology that is fundamentally anti-social.
In today’s editorial, “Fix Your Problems and Reopen Schools,” editors of The Province declared that the labour dispute between government and teachers in British Columbia is “pretty simple,”
the B.C. Teachers’ Federation wants more and the government says it can’t afford what the union wants. If neither side blinks, and with the government ruling out back-to-work legislation, schools could be closed for a very long time. What gets lost in the rhetoric are facts …
But, in the name of getting to the facts, The Province ignores government rhetoric and attacks teachers’ concerns about class size based on a letter from a reader.
Class size and composition are the key issues in the current dispute. The public would be served by fair and unbiased journalistic analysis of the claims on both sides of the bargaining table, instead the editors chose to offer “facts” that distort, misinform, and mislead readers about issues of class size and teachers’ work.
The Province offers up some facts on class size and in the process illustrates a lack of understanding of the complexity of the concept, conflating class size with student-teacher ratio. For example,
There were 558,985 students enrolled in public schools last year served by 32,658 full-time-equivalent teachers and administrators. If you divide the number of kids by the number of educators, you get 17.1 kids per educator, which might make you wonder about the constant clamour about class sizes.
If you remove administrators, the students were taught by 30,064 FTE teachers, 18.6 students per teacher…
Does this mean that average class size in B.C. schools in 18.6? No, it doesn’t. But, the editors know this because in the next paragraph they state that
The average kindergarten class in B.C. last year had 19.3 kids, an average of 21.5 students were in Grade 1-3 classrooms, and the average was 25.7 and 23 kids in Grades 4-7 and 8-12.
If the editors were not in such a hurry to smear the BCTF as merely a bunch of lazy, greedy teachers, with the singular goal of sucking taxpayers dry, they might have considered what all the “clamour about class size” really is about. Or why so many parents in B.C. are concerned about issues of class size and composition. Or they might have even paused to considered why the first set of facts they offer up is so different from the second set of facts.
Student-Teacher Ratio Stats Intended for Economic Analyses
Student-teacher ratio is not an appropriate tool for understanding class size and its impact on instruction. Instead student-teacher ratio is a tool intended for economic analysis. Student-teacher ratio addresses expenditures on staffing for classroom and specialist teachers. Student-teacher ratios do not represent the actual number of students per teacher in every student’s classroom and, as a result, say very little about what actually happens in the classroom or how human resources are allocated at district, school, or class levels.
Teaching and Group Size
Class size reduction efforts are based on a logical chain of effects: smaller numbers of students in a class produce more intimate learning relationships, which in turn provide opportunities for more in-depth student learning. With smaller classes, teachers are able to be more responsive to individual student needs, which produces more personally satisfying learning for students and higher levels of student achievement. This logic is supported by empirical evidence that illustrates the positive effects of CSR programs worldwide (see this, this, this, this, this, and this).
Some Math to Help Explain the Class Size “Clamour”
If a teacher has five classes with 20 students in each class, the teacher is responsible for 100 students.
If 10 students are added to each of the teacher’s classes, the teacher is then responsible for 150 students—that is a 50% increase in teaching load.
If a teacher with 20 students in each class spends 15 minutes reading, analyzing, and responding to a student’s assignment, that is 300 minutes or about 5 hours of assessment for each class or 25 hours of work to assess a single assignment for students in each of the teacher’s classes.
For a teacher responsible for 150 students (30 students in 5 classes), the time required for marking that single assignment would be nearly 40 hours and we have not factored in preparation or instructional time!
Those lazy, greedy teachers! They want smaller class sizes and more prep time just so they can avoid 65-80 hour workweeks! Who do they think they are?
Class Size Has a Direct Impact on Educational Quality
Class size has a huge impact on the quality of education schools can offer. This is why in the marketplace of private education small class size is so closely linked to arguments about quality of education.
As class size in public schools increase the instructional options for teachers shrink. There is only so much time in the day, the week, the school year and teachers face daily demands preparing lessons (often for multiple subjects), instructional time in the classroom, and marking assignments, not to mention communicating with parents, extracurricular supervision, etc.
The more students teachers have in class, the more likely it is they will be forced to choose teaching methods and assignments that take less time to complete or mark; the more reliant they become on worksheets and multiple-choice tests to assess student learning; and the more likely their class time will be taken by administrative tasks and classroom management issues.
It’s pretty simple indeed, class size matters when it comes providing quality education.
[Cross posted from Institute for Critical Education Studies blog]
Does size matter when it comes to public school classes?
Important context is the ongoing BC teachers strike, where class size and composition are key elements of contract negotiations. The ruling BC Liberals stripped class size and composition rules from the BC teachers contract in 2002, a move that has twice been judged as illegal by BC courts.
I’ve written a brief summary of class size research, with key references, which you can find here.
You can read a very recent review of the research on class size here.
Last month, Global TV BC broadcast a “town hall” discussion on a wide variety of education issues related to education in BC and the ongoing dispute between teachers and government, including class size. You can watch that segment here.
Here’s a good background piece from The Tyee: Everything You Need to Know about BC Teacher Bargaining
Listen to The Current segment (21 minutes) on class size here.
This morning on the Global BC Morning News Show, Sophie Lui and Steve Darling interviewed a variety of people on key issues related to education in British Columbia, in the context of the current labour dispute between the teachers and the BC government.
Topic: Cost of education to both parents and teachers (for example, money spent on supplies, possibility of corporate sponsorships as possible solution to alleviate the funding problem?)
Guest 1: Lisa Cable (Parents for B.C. Founder)
Guest 2: Harman Pandher (Burnaby School Board Trustee, Surrey teacher & parent)
Peter Fassbender, BC Minister of Education
Jim Iker, President of British Columbia Teachers Federation
Topic: Class size & composition
Guest 1: E. Wayne Ross (UBC Professor, Faculty of Education)
Guest 2: Nick Milum (Vancouver School Board Student Trustee)
Topic: Future of education, fixing the system & avoiding future strikes?)
Guest 1: Charles Ungerleider (UBC Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Education)
Guest 2: Dan Laitsch (SFU Associate Professor, Faculty of Education)
Class size and composition are key issues in the current labour dispute between the British Columbia Teachers Federation and the BC government.
In 2002, the ruling BC Liberals unilaterally stripped away provisions in the teachers’ contract that governed the makeup and number of students in each class. The teachers sued the government over their actions, twice. And the teachers won both times. The government is currently appealing their loss and refuses to follow the courts order that class size and composition conditions be restored.
The teachers and the government’s negotiators have been at the table for many months, with little or no progress. Last week the BCTF started rotating, district by district one-day strikes around the province. The government responded by cutting teachers pay by 10% and, in a bizarre and confusing move, locking teachers out for 45 minutes before and after school and during lunch and recess.
Amongst other things, the BC Minister of Education, Peter Fassbender, has been misrepresenting the implications of research on class size. See my previous blog about that, which led to an interview with CBC Radio’s Daybreak North program that was broadcast this morning. You can listen to 5 minute interview here and here:
This Sunday (January 27) I’ll will be discussing the BC government’s proposed 10 year contract deal with the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation on CKNW 980.
Tune into The World Today Weekend with Sean Leslie at 3:30pm PST on CKNW AM 980 radio.
Please consider signing and circulating a petition for post-secondary support of BC teachers / BCTF
Sandra Mathison, Stephen Petrina & E. Wayne Ross
University of British Columbia
Faculty of Education
The current issue of Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor has been updated with two new field reports.
Issue No. 17 of Workplace “Working In, and Against, the Neo-Liberal State: Global Perspectives on K-12 Teacher Unions” is guest edited by Howard Stevenson of Lincoln University (UK).
The new field reports include:
Following the 2009 National Education Association (NEA) Representative Assembly (RA) in San Diego, new NEA president Dennis Van Roekel was hugging Arne Duncan, fawning over new President Obama, and hustling the slogan, “Hope Starts Here!” At the very close of the 2009 RA, delegates were treated to a video of themselves chanting, “Hope starts Here!” and “Hope Starts with Obama and Duncan!” The NEA poured untold millions of dollars, and hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours, into the Obama campaign. In 2009, Van Roekel promised to tighten NEA-Obama ties, despite the President’s educational policies and investment in war. What happened in the year’s interim? What was the social context of the 2010 RA?
Faced with a $16 million budget shortfall, the Vancouver school trustees, who have a mandate to meet the needs of their students, have lobbied for more provincial funding to avoid draconian service cuts. The government has refused the request, and its special advisor to the Vancouver School Board criticizes trustees for engaging in “advocacy” rather than making “cost containment” first priority. The clash between Vancouver trustees and the ministry of education is not “just politics.” Rather, education policy in BC reflects the key features of neoliberal globalization, not the least of which is the principle that more and more of our collective wealth is devoted to maximizing private profits rather than serving public needs. British Columbia is home to one of the most politically successful neoliberal governments in the world, but fortunately it is also a place to look for models of mass resistance to the neoliberal agenda. One of the most important examples of resistance to the common-nonsense of neoliberalism in the past decade is the British Columbia teachers’ 2005 strike, which united student, parent, and educator interests in resisting the neoliberal onslaught on education in the public interest.