Tag Archives: British Columbia

Vancouver faces stark contrasts between funding for K to 12 and university

Vancouver faces stark contrasts between funding for K to 12 and university
Vancouver Observer
October 7, 2016

Vancouver, the city of disparities, is faced with polar opposites in its educational system.

The contrast between K-12 schools and the university in Vancouver could not be more stark: The schools sinking in debt with rapidly declining enrolments and empty seats versus the university swimming in cash and bloating quotas to force excessive enrolments beyond capacity.

With central offices just 7km or 12 minutes apart, the two operate as if in different hemispheres or eras: the schools laying off teachers and planning to close buildings versus the university given a quota for preparing about 650 teachers for a glutted market with few to no jobs on the remote horizon in the largest city of the province.

There is a gateway from grade 12 in high school to grade 13 in the university but from a finance perspective there appears an unbreachable wall between village and castle.

Pundits and researchers are nonetheless mistaken in believing that the Vancouver schools’ current $22m shortfall is disconnected from the university’s $36m real estate windfall this past year.

The schools are begging for funds from the Liberals, who, after saying no to K-12, turn around to say yes to grades 13-24 and pour money into the University of British Columbia, no questions asked.

There may be two ministries in government, Education and Advanced Education; there is but one tax-funded bank account.

At first glance, the cheques suggest parity across the Vancouver system. For 2016-17, the schools, with about 49,000 students get a base operating grant of $436m and the university, with about 42,000 students gets a base of $420m. So what’s the problem?

One is left to birth and migration rates while the other is manipulated with enrolment quotas. For each decrease of enrolment in the Vancouver schools the University ironically matches with an increase of teachers for the job market.

UBC’s Faculty of Education, which could be financially assisting the schools to meet this historic shortfall, is instead bloated with a $2.6m deficit partially to maintain a quota for a steady flood of new teachers into Vancouver.

With the building boom at UBC, in March the Faculty of Education occupied a floor and a half of the new Ponderosa Commons building, despite about two floors of unoccupied or underutilized space in its Scarfe building. Education’s share of the $57m building is $18m.

At the same time 21 Vancouver schools were scheduled for closure or demolition to meet a shortfall the government gave a $19.5m windfall to renovate UBC’s Life Sciences building.

Wheeling and dealing, the Liberal government is robbing Peter to pay Paul, demoralizing Petra to pump up Paulette.

UBC appears to be throwing money around like it grows on Endowment Land trees. With the Vancouver real estate boom, it does.

The short history of UBC at 100 years is that it was born spoiled with a sizeable estate in 1915-1916 and remains spoiled in 2016-2017.

Through the stroke of a pen in 1858, Queen Victoria created the colony of British Columbia and transformed First Nations traditional territory into Crown Land. In 1907, an amendment to the BC Land Act granted 3,000 acres (5 sq. miles) to a University Endowment.

UBC property sits precariously on unceded Musqueam territory aggressively developed by settlers into prime Vancouver real estate over the past century and most aggressively since 1988 when the UBC Real Estate Corporation (Properties Trust) was established. In 1994 UBC converted 200 acres of its campus and Endowment Lands into condo and shopping centre development.

By 2003, as University Hill Secondary school was crammed and the urban plan expanded, so flush with cash was the university that its Properties Trust offered to bankroll renovations to its National Research Council (NRC) building and charge the busted VSB a monthly lease. In 2008, the Liberals stepped in, effectively saving the university from a $37.9m renovation.

The Vancouver Schools have had to defer $700m of building maintenance costs while UBC has announced plans for an $822 million building boom on it campus, with generous commitments from the Ministry.

As in real estate goes demographics: from boom to bust, the empty seats in Vancouver schools will inevitably be empty seats in the university. Like the VSB, it won’t be long before UBC begins to schedule the closure or demolition of empty academic buildings, that is, if someone opens the doors to realize there’s no one inside.

With more and more faculty members preferring to work at home, save for staff, empty offices are making hollow buildings the norm.

The Ministry is now threatening to fire the School Board for suspending school closure and demolition plans but when the University Board colludes to hide decisions from access and scrutiny the Ministry looks the other way.

Vancouver is now desperate to resolve the deepest school finance crisis and worst university administrative legitimacy crisis in 100 years. False distinctions between the two or the success of one at the expense of the other are at the root of the crises.

It’s the story of Vancouver: Broke and barely making it versus fixed, rich, and laughing all the way to the bank: 99% versus 1%.

Stephen Petrina and E. Wayne Ross are professors in the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Be Realistic Demand the Impossible: A Rejoinder to Peter Seixas [updated with video]

“Be Realistic Demand the Impossible”[1]

Rejoinder to Peter Siexas’s
Dangerous indeed: A response to E. Wayne Ross’ ‘Courage of hopelessness’

University of British Columbia
Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy
Seminar Series: Diverse Perspectives on Curriculum & Pedagogy

February 26, 2016

1. The “courage of hopelessness” is, perhaps ironically, an optimistic position.

The publicity blurbs for Peter’s talk stated that he would offer “a way to steer a course between the two closely related traps of hopelessness and utopianism.” This is a misreading of my use of the term “courage of hopelessness,” which is a position of some great optimism.

[Read the text of my January 15, 2016 seminar “The Courage of Hopelessness: Democratic Education in the Age of Empire.” Watch video my talk here. Watch Seixas talk, my response and Q&A with audience below.]

2. Utopia – “Be realistic demand the impossible”

We need Utopia / utopian thought more than ever because we live in a time without alternatives when neoliberal capitalism reins triumphant and uncontested.

[This circumstance is captured in Margaret Thatcher’s declarations: “There is no alternative” and “there is no such thing as society.” The latter of which was embodied in Stephen Harper’s refusal to “commit sociology,” which was an ideological attempt to prevent the identification of and responses to structural injustices that result from capitalism.]

The so-called global free market works well for the One Percent, but not for rest of humanity. In my talk, I provided some examples of the ways in which capitalism trumps democracy (pun intended).

The hegemonic system of global capitalism dominates not because people agree with it; it rules because most people are convinced “There Is No Alternative.” Indeed, as I have argued, the dominant approach to schooling and curriculum, particularly in social studies education, is aimed at indoctrinating students into this belief.

Utopian thinking allows us to consider alternatives, such as the pedagogical imaginaries which I presented in my January seminar, in attempt to open up spaces for rethinking our approaches to learning, teaching, and experiencing the world. And these imaginaries are necessary because traditional tropes of social studies curriculum (e.g., democracy, voting, democratic citizenship) are essentially lies we tell to ourselves and our students (because democracy is incompatible with capitalism; capitalist democracy creates a shallow, spectator version of democracy at best; democracy as it operates now is inseparable from empire/perpetual war and vast social inequalities).

Stephen Duncombe argues that Utopia is politically necessary even for people who do not desire an alternative society,

“Thoughtful politics depend upon debate and without someone or something to disagree with there is no meaningful dialogue, only an echo chamber…Without a vision of an alternative future, we can only look backwards nostalgically to the past, or unthinkingly maintain what we have, mired in the unholy apocalypse that is now.”

3. The Nature of Method or Inquiry

I believe the key question to be posed in social studies and one that history can help us answer is “why are things as are they are?”

[Marx’s method, dialectics, is a tool that does not necessarily require a Marxist politics or practice (class struggle), see for example the dialectical approaches of individualist libertarians Chris Sciabarra and John F. Welsh.]

What we understand about the world is determined by what the world is, who we are, and how we conduct our inquiries.

Things change. Everything in the world is changing and interacting. When studying social issues we should begin by challenging the commonsense ideas of society or particular social issues as a “thing” and consider the processes and relationships that make up what we think of as society or a social issue, which includes its history and possible futures.

Inquiries into social issues help us understand how things change and also contribute to change.

In understanding social issues and how things change it helps to “abstract” or start with “concrete reality” and break it down. Abstraction is like using camera lenses with different focal lengths: a zoom lens to bring a distant object into focus (what is the history of this?) or using a wide-angle lens to capture more of a scene (what is the social context of the issue now?)

This approach raises important questions: where does one start and what does one look for? The traditional approach to inquiry starts with small parts and attempts to establish connections with other parts leading to an understanding of the larger whole. Beginning with the whole, the system, or as much as we understand of it, and then inquiring into the part or parts of it to see how it fits and functions leads to a fuller understanding of the whole.

Analysis of present conditions is necessary, but insufficient. The problem is that reality is more than appearances and focusing on appearances, the face value of evidence from our immediate surroundings, can be misleading.

How do we think adequately about social issues, giving issues the attention and weight they deserve, without the distorting them? We can expand our notion of a social issue (or anything for that matter) to include, as aspects of what it is, both the process by which the issue has come to life and the broader interactive context in which it is found. In this way, the study of a social issue involves us in the study of its history (the preconditions and connections to the past) and the encompassing system.

Remembering, “things change,” provokes us to move beyond analyzing current conditions and historicizing social issues, to project probable or possible futures. In other words, our inquiry leads to the creation of visions of possible futures.

This process of inquiry, then, changes the way we think about a social issue in the here and now (change moves in spirals, not circles) in that we can now look for preconditions of a future in the present and use them to develop political strategies (i.e., organize for change).

4. The School and “Social Progress”

The fundamental parts of human nature include a need for creative work, for creative inquiry, for free creation without the arbitrary limiting effects of coercive institutions.

Schools are continually threatened because they are autocratic and they are autocratic because they are threatened—from within by students and critical parents and from without by various and disparate social, political, and economic interests. These conditions divide teachers from students and community and shape teachers’ attitudes, beliefs, and action.

Teachers then, are crucial to any effort to improve, reform, or revolutionize curriculum, instruction, or schools. The transformation of schools must begin with the teachers, and no program that does not include the personal and collective rehabilitation of teachers can ever overcome the passive resistance of the old order.

Schools should places that enable people to analyze and understand social problems; envision a future without those problems; and take action to bring that vision in to existence.

Social progress is enhanced when we rewrite the narrative of the triumphant individual working within the system into a story of the creation of self-critical communities of educators in schools (and people in society) working collaboratively toward transformative outcomes.

People who talk about transformational learning or educational revolution without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about learning, and love, and what is positive in the refusal of constraints, are trapped in a net of received ideas, the common-nonsense and false reality of technocrats (or worse).

Schools are alluring contradictions, harboring possibilities for liberation, emancipation, and social progress, but, as fundamentally authoritarian and hierarchical institutions, they produce myriad oppressive and inequitable by-products. The challenge, perhaps impossibility, is discovering ways in which schools can contribute to positive liberty.

That is a society where individuals have the power and resources to realize and fulfill their own potential, free from the obstacles of classism, racism, sexism and other inequalities encouraged by educational systems and the influence of the state and religious ideologies. A society where people have the agency and capacity, to make their own free choices and act independently based on reason, not authority, tradition, or dogma.

[1] These remarks were presented immediately following Seixas’ presentation and prepared without the opportunity to read the text of his talk in advance. As a result, they are based upon the abstract circulated prior to his seminar and my understanding of Seixas’ perspective based upon his published work and our interactions as faculty members at UBC.

Video of Seixas presentation, Ross response and Q&A with audience (February 26, 2016):

Do private programs belong at public universities?

The University of Victoria has contracted with the Canadian telecom giant Telus to deliver a “customized” MBA program to Telus employees.

Telus executives will be teaching some of the courses; the instructors from UVic will apparently be teaching on contracts separate from their regular employment with the university. The details are sketchy because the agreement between the UVic and Telus is secret.

Here’s university’s press release on the new program, which is offered in the Sardul S. Gill Graduate School within UVic’s Peter B. Gustavson School of Business. The program gets started this month.

The program is the brain child of Telus’s “Chief Envisioner,” Dan Pontefract. Pontefract described the context and goals of the program in an Forbes magazine article this past August, “Going Back To School With A Corporate MBA Program.” (A Huffington Post version of the article appeared in September, “Why Corporations Should Launch Their Own MBA Programs“).

Victoria’s Times-Colonist and The Tyee have also run articles about the program.

Neither Telus nor UVic have (or plan to) release details of the financial agreement, as The Times-Colonist reports

As for the revenue, neither Telus nor UVic would divulge what Telus is paying. Klein noted all costs, including establishing the program and its infrastructure, tuition and overhead costs, were being covered by Telus and there is also a financial consideration that amounts to a profit for the school.

The program raises a raft of questions about academic governance, academic freedom, the vulnerability of public universities to corporate incursions as a result of budget slashing governments.

This program represent the next step in the ever evolving corporatization of the university, another neoliberal education policy that socializes costs and privatizes benefits.

I appeared on CBC Radio’s The 180 with Jim Brown (along with Pontefract) to discuss the UVic/Telus MBA program and the  corporatization of academe.

The 12 minute segment will be broadcast tomorrow (October 4, 2015), but you can stream the segment online now: Do private programs belong at public universities?

Why the UBC Leadership Crisis Matters Beyond the Ivory Tower

The ongoing drama at University of British Columbia may look like a tempest in a teapot, but the dispute among university governors, managers, and faculty has implications that reach beyond the ivory tower.

Two principles are at the heart of the crisis: transparency in governance and academic freedom.

The early August announcement that Arvind Gupta had suddenly and immediately resigned as president was startling, coming just 13 months after his term began. In March 2014, UBC Board Chair John Montalbano said “The opportunity to lead one of the world’s great universities attracted outstanding candidates, but Dr. Arvind Gupta clearly stood out as the best choice to lead this great university.”

What happened?

Well, Montalbano and the UBC Board are not saying. The Board justifies its silence by pointing to non-disclosure agreements, which they drafted and signed, as did Gupta.

Non-disclosure agreements protect secrets. The Board ruled out issues of competence, discipline, and health as reasons for Gupta’s departure. Which makes many wonder why no reasonable explanation has been offered.

Why shouldn’t we just accept the Board’s decision and move on? Because effective oversight of government and public institutions requires transparency, access to information, which helps to hold officials accountable and ensure public interests are served.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who is responsible for appointing a majority of the UBC Board, says “open government is about giving people a sense of confidence that government is working for them, not trying to do something to them.” And, that is exactly the point. Clandestine Board meetings – which are the norm at UBC – and refusal to fully disclose information lead people to believe that something is being done to them.

Mark Mac Lean, UBC Faculty Association president, has argued that in “the absence of an informed explanation” any non-disclosure provisions related to Gupta’s departure are “contrary to the public interest and contrary to the best practices expected of a major public institution.” If you support open and transparent government, I do not understand how you could disagree.

Two days after the Gupta announcement, Kris Olds, a UBC graduate and global higher education expert, wrote that a key lesson from recent university leadership crises is that an early lack of transparency and full communication heightens the risk of a major crisis erupting.

And just days later, as predicted, UBC was in damage-control while the crisis went from from bad to worse, with a faculty revolt and full blown public relations disaster.

A major complicating factor is the allegation that Board Chair Montalbano interfered with the academic freedom of Professor Jennifer Berdahl, attempting to silence her. A charge he has denied.

Following the announcement of Gupta’s departure, Berdahl wrote that perhaps Gupta had “lost the masculinity contest among the leadership at UBC, as most women and minorities do at institutions dominated by white men.”

Some in the media have dismissed Berdahl’s analysis; made jokes about it.

Research on the gendered nature of work is no joke, but only a few insiders know whether this dynamic applies in Gupta’s case. Berdahl’s perspective isn’t constructed out of thin air, it is based on her experience of UBC as workplace and her academic expertise.

As the Montalbano Professor in Leadership Studies, Berdahl studies power, discrimination, harassment, and diversity. Her mandate is to promote diverse leadership. One of the research groups she leads focuses on work as a masculinity contest, an effort that is, ironically, funded by donations from Montalbano and his employer, Royal Bank of Canada.

So when the board chair – who also happens to be on the advisory board of your faculty, and a major donor to the university ­– calls to discuss your critical analysis of the decision he just announced, direct threats do not have to be made. The power imbalance makes it nearly impossible the conversation to be a collegial exchange.

Obviously, Berdahl was not cowed, but it’s fair to say that in similar situations many others would be. As a recent New York Times article puts it “when you’re in charge, your whisper may feel like a shout.”

Universities exist for the common good, not to further the interest of an individual or institution as a whole.

And, as the influential 1940 statement of American Association of University Professors argues, the common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free expression. These are principles that are clearly stated and even extended further in the policies of UBC.

Transparency in governance and academic freedom contribute in profound ways to the health of democracy and the common good.

Secrecy is an obstacle to good and open governance.

Actions that have the effect of intimidating or harassing (whether intended or not) undermine the ability of people to “freely work, live, examine, question, teach, learn, comment and criticize,” activities that the UBC Board of Governors state they are committed to maintaining at every level of the university.

It is time for the Board to start walking its talk, if they don’t they are damaging more than a university.

[This article was published August 27, 2015 in the Times Colonist (Victoria, BC).]

Arvind Gupta: Known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns …

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” Donald Rumsfeld

This past Friday the University of British Columbia Board of Governors announced that Arvind Gupta had resigned as president of the university. The announcement was shocking because Gupta had just completed the first year of his five-year term.

There very few knowns, a lot of unknowns, and perhaps even more speculations about Gupta’s “resignation.”

The announcement raises many questions as it came after an unscheduled Board of Governors meeting and Gupta was not quoted in the news release nor has he commented on his resignation. The past year has seen a wholesale shakeup of top administrators at UBC and now former UBC president Martha Piper has named as interim president (starting in September).

That giant sucking sound you heard the past few days is of speculation rushing in to fill to fill the vacuum in the UBC president’s office.

Is Gupta’s exit connected to the shake up of  high level executives in the university?

Charlie Smith speculates it might have something to do with the departure of Pierre Ouillet who was UBC’s Vice President Finance.

Smith has also offered that Gupta’s departure might be related to his inability to squeeze more money out of the provincial government or because transit referendum or because Christy Clark or because fundraising in general.

Jennifer Berdahl‘s suggestion that Gupta is out because he lost the “masculinity contest” among UBC’s administration seems to have a lot of popular support based on attention it’s getting in the twittersphere.

Berdahl is the Montalbano Professor of Leadership Studies: Gender and Diversity in the Sauder School of Business at UBC. She wrote on her blog:

I believe that part of this outcome is that Arvind Gupta lost the masculinity contest among the leadership at UBC, as most women and minorities do at institutions dominated by white men. President Gupta was the first brown man to be UBC president. He isn’t tall or physically imposing. He advocates for women and visible minorities in leadership – a stance that has been empirically demonstrated to hurt men at work.

Berhdahl describes her positive working experiences with Gupta, but doesn’t offer evidence to support a claim that the masculinity contest theory applies to him in this circumstance.

There’s no denying that higher education is rife with workplace harassment, bullying, and mobbing. (The journal Workplace: A Journal of Academic Labor recently devoted an entire issue to this topic.)

When work is a “masculinity contest,” says Berdahl, “leadership does not earnestly seek expert input, express self-doubt, or empower low-status voices.” I’ve got no argument with her on this point. Indeed, in my dozen years on the faculty at UBC, I’d say that there has been no leadership at the faculty or university level that has earnestly sought input from anyone (much less experts), expressed self-doubt, or empowered low-status voices.

The standard operating procedure at UBC is akin to that of the British Empire of old. The king or queen makes a decision and then the shit then flows downhill. There might be an occasional “walk about” to see how the courtiers, knights, or peasants might react to this or that, but UBC is a top-down organization, run like an empire, or at least a corporation.

As Justin McElroy points out, whatever it is it’s no ordinary resignation.

McElroy’s exchange with Neal Yonson, who is editor of UBC Insiders, raises some interesting questions and offers up some possible explanations, that while speculative, aren’t tabloid fodder, and focus on the relationship between the BoG of the president’s office.

They make some good, if self-evident, points:

  • Gupta and the BoG didn’t see eye to eye;
  • After an 18 month transition from Steven Toope to Gupta, UBC is now facing another leadership transition after just one year and that will have deleterious effects on a multiple fronts, both internally and externally;
  • Numerous current upper administration jobs are filled with people who are new or in interim roles;
  • BoG’s move to bring in known quantity Piper might steady the ship administratively, but Piper is not student-friendly, especially on the tuition front;
  • UBC capital projects are in a holding pattern.

McElroy and Yonson say that despite the lack of external dissent, there were internal  “hints” that Gupta’s honeymoon was over, but university presidents always have their detractors and I don’t think the lack of “charm offensive” on Gupta’s part was key to his failure as president.

What they might not know is that this spring and summer there were rumours on campus that Gupta was in serious trouble with the BoG. I’m not enough of an insider have any substantive knowledge of those rumours, but I heard a university administrator opine that the BoG certainly wanted David Farrar, who left the position of Provost and Vice President Academic in June, to stay close at hand. Farrar was the third Vice President to vacate office under Gupta.

There are still lots of unknowns and UBC would be greatly served if the BoG and the university administration acted in more open and transparent ways. (Don’t hold your breath because as Yonson points out this is a board that wants to keep the public ignorant by operating in secret.)

If blame must be laid, there’s no getting around the fact that the UBC Board of Governors made a mistake in hiring Gupta.

If Gupta resigned of his own accord, then the BoG erred in hiring someone with no traditional higher ed administrative experience and for whatever reason (barring extremely personal reasons) could not handle the job.

If the BoG forced Gupta out, then they erred by making a non-traditional hire and then not giving Gupta a sufficient amount of time or the support to bring his vision to fruition.

Related posts:
How not to run a university (Part 3): The art of misdirection [updated]
How not to run a university (Part 2): Intimidation, bullying & harassment at UBC
How not to run a university (Part 1): Secrecy at UBC

Reforming Academic Labor, Resisting Imposition, K12 and Higher Education (Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor, No. 25)

New Workplace Issue #25

Reforming Academic Labor, Resisting Imposition, K12 and Higher Education

Workplace and Critical Education are published by the Institute for Critical Education Studies. Please consider participating as author or reviewer. Thank you.

BC Teachers’ Strike: Analyzing the government’s bargaining strategy & its “affordability” trope

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.

Why paying teachers for student test scores is a bad idea

While everyone in British Columbia is paying attention to the teachers’ strike, the Fraser Institute launched its latest effort to marketize education. This week the Fraser Institute, a neoliberal think tank, released a report promoting incentivized pay for teachers.

Teacher Incentive Pay That Works, summarizes 10 “case studies” from around the globe, which the Fraser Institute argues illustrates successful incentive pay programs. The press release for the report is titled “Evidence shows teacher incentive pay improves student performance,” which is ironic since the report ignores the long history of these schemes, and studiously avoids the details of the debate around value-added measurements in the United States (which is currently enthralled in a public revolt against test-driven education), as well as evidence illustrating damage done to schools and learning under such schemes.

The Illusion of Paying Teachers for Performance

… history shows that any pay-for-performance gains are mostly illusions. Not only do they fail to improve student achievement, they are also destructive, encouraging administrators and teachers to cheat by manipulating statistics, or by teaching to the test. Inevitably, children wind up the losers because curricula are narrowed to include subjects that can be taught by drill and repetition and that are easily measured. (Wilms & Chapleau, 1999)

Wilms and Chapleau note that pay-for-performance was first rolled out in England, around 1710! Teachers’ salaries were based on their students’ scores on examinations in the “three ‘Rs.” “This early payment-for-results system had great appeal because it promised to help keep children from poor families in school, where they might learn the basics.”

The scheme became a permanent fixture in English schools by 1862 (as part of the Revised Education Code) and was in effect for over 30 years. Historical accounts of England’s scheme describe teachers and administrators as becoming obsessed with the systems financial rewards, which according to Wilms and Chapleau were dubbed “the cult of the [cash] register.”

Curriculum was narrowed to include just the easily measured basics. The sciences and the arts, along with many other non-tested activities disappeared from schools (foreshadowing the disappearance of recess from elementary schools in the United States as a result of the test driven reforms like Obama’s Race To The Top).

Teaching became increasingly mechanical, as teachers found that drill and rote repetition produced the “best” results. One schools inspector wrote an account of children reading flawlessly for him while holding their books upside down.

The English system of pay for performance produced a mechanical approach to teaching and learning that eroded teacher creativity. Standards for student success (or failure) were spelled out in detail (just as the new Fraser Institute reports as a “Key Lesson 1” in their study, “Define what we expect teachers to do.”)

An inspector wrote that the Education Code “did all the thinking for the teacher; it told him in precise detail what he was to do each year.” Another recalled, “Every teacher in the country takes his orders from the Code, studies the Code, and devotes his energies to satisfy or to circumvent it.”

Predictably the English system imploded in a cheating scandal that included falsification of records and teachers coaching student through examinations, not unlike the recent massive cheating scandal in Atlanta, Georgia and across the USA, which highlights deleterious effects of test-driven education.

the overwhelming judgment was that it was unsound policy. Cynics referred to schools as “grant factories” and children as “grant-earning units.”

In the later third of the 19th Century, teacher pay-by-results appeared briefly in Canada. Student achievement initially rose but, as in England, teachers started to focus on students who were most likely to succeed, turning their classrooms into test prep centres. By 1883 the Canadian experiment ended as a result of public outrage.

One hundred years later in the United States, the Nixon administration funded an experiment in “performance contracting” in which school funding was tied to students standardized test scores. The experiment provided incentives for administrators, teachers, and students. Private contractors, who were suppose to bring innovation and business know-how to the effort, were given contracts in 18 cities to raise student achievement levels in reading and math.

Turns out contractors offered no pedagogical innovations only teaching to the test. The project was declared a failure in the midst of poor results and a cheating scandal.

As Wilms and Chapleau illustrate, the wake of pay-for-results education reforms is strewn with detritus of dishonest behaviour (cheating, falsifying records) and teaching to the test.

Similar incentive efforts in the 1990s and the recent examples of cheating scandals in Atlanta and Texas prove that incentive pay reform is a failed idea.

Flawed Logic of Performance Pay

Donald Gratz, the author of Perils and Promise of Performance Pay, describes the flawed logic of incentive pay plans that aim to boost student achievement.

False assumptions #1: Teachers lack motivation.

Teachers care about their students and want them to succeed. “Does anyone really think that large numbers of teachers know what their students need but are willfully withholding it? That they would help students learn more, if only someone offered them a bonus to do so? This is a highly cynical view of teachers, one that teachers understandably find demeaning, not motivational.”

False Assumption #2: Schools are Failing

The manufactured crisis of school failure is a basis for corporate education reform or what is also called the Global Education Reform Movement (Berliner & Biddle, 1995). This is not to say that there aren’t troubled schools or that public schools do not need to be improved, but most students have higher levels of academic achievement now than in the past.

False Assumption #3: Measuring Academic Achievement is All that Counts

“If we want students to develop as well-rounded human beings who are empathetic, thoughtful, and creative, we will have to include these characteristics among our goals for schools and seek ways to gauge our success. A system that rewards schools, students, and teachers only for test scores will get mostly test scores. This is not what most of us want for our children.”

And What About the Research on Incentive Pay?

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing has compiled information surveying the research on paying teaching for test scores and concludes that it is a practice that damages schools and undermines learning.

Paying for higher test scores creates score inflation, not genuine learning. Paying for test scores encourages teaching to the test, which creates inflated results without improving learning. (Koretz, 2009; Madaus, Ressell & Higgins, 2009; Nichols & Berliner, 2007)

Payment for performance narrows the curriculum to what is tested and leads to reduced focus on or elimination of important subjects, such as social studies, science, art, music, and physical education. (McMurrer, 2007; Morton & Dalton, 2007)

It is unfair and ineffective to pay teachers for test results that are often marred by scoring and other errors. (Rhoades & Madaus, 2003).

Payment for gains in student scores does not solve the problem of test-induced educational damage. There are too many flaws in “value-added” measurement approaches to trust the results. (McCaffrey, et al., 2005; Bracey, 2007; National Research Council, 2009)

Most teachers’ primary motivation is not high pay. If it were, they would have chosen another profession. Teachers know test scores are a poor barometer of their abilities, so pay for performance damages rather than enhances their sense of professionalism and morale (Whitford & Jones, 2000; Nichols & Berliner, 2007). It can decrease motivation (Ryan & LaGuardia, 1999). Payment for “performance” also has been shown to increase cheating (Pfeffer, 2007).

Payment for test scores may not even to raise student scores and has been shown in one country to reduce scores. This is despite the extensive evidence of score inflation from teaching the test (Martins, 2009; Springer, Podgursky, & Lewis, 2009).

Paying individual teachers for student scores encourages unhealthy competition. Incentive pay may reduce cooperation among teachers and can cause divisions among staff and parents (MacInnis, 2009; Pfeffer, 2007). In addition the OECD has recently released a report that says competition in education is a failed policy. The bottom-line:

Research on pay for performance finds that it rests on dubious assumptions and lacks evidence it succeeds, and there is good evidence that it often fails.

References

Berliner, D. C., & Biddle, B. J. (1995). The manufactured crisis: Myths, fraud, and the attack on America’s public schools. New York: Basic Books.

Bracey, J. 2007. Evaluating value added. FairTest Examiner, July. http://www.fairtest.org/whats-value-growth- measures

Bradshaw, W. J., & Gallup, A. M. (2008, September). Americans speak out: Are educators and policy makers listening? Phi Delta Kappan, 90(10), 7–31.

Gratz, D. B. (2009). Perils and promise of performance pay. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Koretz, D. (2009, April 29). What’s Missing in Obama’s Education Plan? Education Week. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2009/04/29/30koretz_ep.h28.html?tkn=QTLFEqyaUfgkzI4vRyp6Q0c2kzhDTpngNM 9B&print=1

MacInnes, G. (2009). Eight reasons not to tie teacher pay to standardized test results. Century Foundation Issue Brief. http://www.tcf.org/publications/education/gordon%20brief.pdf

Madaus, G., Russell, M., & Higgins, J. (2009). The Paradoxes of high stakes testing. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Press.

Martins, P. (2009, March). Individual teacher incentives, student achievement and grade inflation. Queen Mary, University of London, CEG-IST and IZA, Discussion Paper No. 4051.

McCaffrey, D., Koretz, D., Lockwood, J.R., & Hamilton, L. (2005). Evaluating value-added models for teacher accountability. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation.

McMurrer, J. (2007). Choices, changes, and challenges: Curriculum and instruction in the NCLB Era. Center on Education Policy. http://www.cep-dc.org/

Morton, B. & Dalton, B. (2007). Changes in instructional hours in four subjects by public school teachers of grades 1 through 4 (Issue Brief). National Center for Education Statistics. http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2007305

National Research Council, Board on Testing and Assessment. (2009). Letter Report to the U.S. Department of Education on the Race to the Top Fund. National Academy of Sciences, available at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12780

Nichols, S.L, & Berliner, D.C. (2007). Collateral damage: How high-stakes testing corrupts America’s schools. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.

OECD. (2014). When is competition between schools beneficial? PISA in focus, 42. http://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisaproducts/pisainfocus/PISA%20in%20Focus%20N42%20(eng)–Final.pdf

Pfeffer, J. (2007). Testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives. http://federalworkforce.oversight.house.gov/documents/20070313111150-45256.pdf

Rhoades, K. & Madaus, G., (2003). Errors in standardized tests: A systemic problem. Boston College. http://www.bc.edu/nbetpp

Ryan, R. M., & La Guardia, J. G. (1999). Achievement motivation within a pressured society: Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to learn and the politics of school reform. In T. Urdan (Ed.) Advances in motivation and achievement (Vol 11). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Springer, M., Podgursky, M., & Lewis, J. (2009). Texas Educator Excellence Grant (TEEG) program: Year two evaluation report. http://www.performanceincentives.org/ncpi_publications/policybriefs.asp

Whitford, B. L., & Jones, K. (2000). Accountability, assessment, and teacher commitment. Albany: SUNY Press.

Wilms, W. W., & Chapleau, R. R. (1999, November 3). The illusion of paying teachers for student performance. Education Week, 19(10), 34, 48.

Class Size and Teachers’ Work: What The Province Editors Get Wrong About the Biggest Issue in B.C. Education

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, thisthis, 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.

Does size matter when it comes to public school classes?

[Cross posted from Institute for Critical Education Studies blog]

Does size matter when it comes to public school classes?

This question was debated on CBC Radio’s The Current this morning. Burnaby, BC grade 4/5 teacher Jennifer Heighton, Russ Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution, and I weighed in on the question.

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.