Western Canada Labor Battles Show Need for Solidarity

Thirty-eight thousand public school teachers in British Columbia voted on October 23 by seventy-seven percent to end a sixteen-day strike that had brought the province to the brink of a general strike.

The teachers, members of the BC Teachers Federation, walked off the job on October 6. Bargaining for a new collective agreement was going nowhere. They were demanding a fifteen-percent pay raise over three years and the right to negotiate their conditions of work and the quality of the education services they provide. In particular, they wanted to restore the right to negotiate over classroom sizes. The latter had been steadily rising as a result of cuts to education funding.

Continue reading this story at Monthly Review MRZine

Universal Preschool, not cash payments to parents

Federal Conservative Leader S. Harper recently announced that he would pay out 1200 per child under 6 for Canadian families to make their own investments in education instead of investing in universal daycare and preschool options that the Federal government has already committed to. Interestingly, the LA Times reports that every $1 invested in preschool by society pays society back $17. Sounds like a great investment to me; an investment based upon rigorous research not ideological proclivities.

Download Canadian Press article on Harper statement (pdf file)

Download copy of L.A. Times article (pdf file)
The L.A. Times Article
Universal preschool’s big payoff

By David L. Kirp
DAVID L. KIRP, a public policy professor at UC Berkeley, is writing a book, “Before School,” about the universal preschool movement.

December 7, 2005

IT HAS LONG been an American article of faith that early schooling for poor children can work wonders. A word-rich classroom gives poor 3 and 4-year-old kids the basic tools for learning and for sharpening their talents for solving problems. A nurturing environment teaches children, many of them from worlds in disarray, how to work and play well with others. Such an experience can create something close to a level playing field, not only in kindergarten but for an entire lifetime.

That idea is the underpinning of Head Start, the 40-year-old federal program for children whose parents have below-poverty incomes. It’s also the consistent finding of research that followed the lives of poor children who attended model preschools.

The landmark study of Perry Preschool tracked a group of poor African American youngsters from when they attended pre-kindergarten in Ypsilanti, Mich., in the early 1960s until they were well into middle age.

The findings are astonishing: a $17 return to the individual and society for every dollar spent on their early education. Those who went to Perry were considerably more likely than children who didn’t attend preschool to have graduated from high school and married, significantly less likely to have gone to prison multiple times and to have been on welfare. They’re earning an average of $20,800 a year. That’s 25% more than similar children who lacked the preschool experience — enough of a difference to lift them above the poverty line.

These days the rallying cry is preschool for everyone, not just poor children. This idea — on the California ballot next spring — is attracting a broad constituency. Polls show that parents overwhelmingly embrace it because they know firsthand what the neuroscientists have learned: that all children are ready and eager to learn. Teachers see preschoolers arriving in kindergarten better prepared, both academically and socially.

The movement transcends the red state-blue state divide. The leading states are Oklahoma and Georgia, not generally known for their progressive social policies. Forty-one states provide some support for preschool, and even as state governments were forced to trim their budgets this year, spending on pre-kindergarten grew by more than $600 million.

The California preschool initiative has attracted such ardent supporters as big-city chambers of commerce and police chiefs. The most convincing fact for politicians and business leaders has been the argument that pre-kindergarten for everyone is a shrewd outlay — that spending tax dollars to educate 3 and 4-year-olds will yield big benefits.

Yet the model programs served only poor youngsters, and so relying on their results to support pre-kindergarten for all children is something of a stretch.

There is, of course, a strong moral case for treating every child alike, and it’s also smart politics to give middle-class families a stake. But there has been no proof coming straight from the classroom that universal preschool is a smart investment — until now, that is.

A study released this week by the National Institute for Early Education Research, the leading think tank in the field, makes the case. The research examined the effect of a good preschool experience on the academic skills of children entering kindergarten in five states representing a cross section of the country. Its findings are eye-opening.

On vocabulary tests, children who attended state-supported preschools scored 31% higher than a similar group of youngsters who didn’t participate — the equivalent of three months of learning. On tests of early math skills, the state preschoolers outscored their peers by 41%. A recent study of state pre-kindergarten classes in Tulsa, Okla., showed essentially the same result.

By contrast, a recent evaluation of Head Start reports much more modest gains. Head Start typically differs from state preschools in two critical ways. The state initiatives place greater emphasis on preparing children for a kindergarten experience that, in this “No Child Left Behind” era, increasingly stresses reading and arithmetic. And though most state preschool teachers have bachelor’s degrees, many with majors in early childhood education, fewer than a third of Head Start teachers have graduated from college.

The message of the five-state study is that these differences matter. Whether preschool has a significant effect depends crucially on its quality.

Moreover, all children, not just poor youngsters, benefit from the preschool experience. What’s more, in states where every child can participate, poor youngsters (those eligible for free and reduced-price lunches) do essentially as well as those kids from better-off families.

These state preschools aren’t extra special, but they are good enough for children from varied backgrounds to learn a lot. That’s excellent news to those who favor universal preschool.

Illegal Strike or Civil Disobedience? SFU Forum on teachers strike, Oct. 20.

On Thursday, October 20, 2005, panelists for a special Faculty Forum helped kick off an insightful and meaningful discussion among students, faculty members, and staff regarding the teachers’ dispute in B.C. Entitled “Illegal Strike or Civil Disobedience?: Reflections on BC Education Today,” the event included dialogue on the effects of the job action for students, parents and teachers currently and the impact it may have in the future. The complete audio and video from the Faculty Forum will be available on the Faculty of Education website shortly.

Earlier in the week, the Executive Committee of the Faculty of Education released a statement regarding the teachers’ strike:

The Executive Committee of the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University supports the right to teachers to negotiate a fair and comprehensive contract that includes teaching and learning conditions in our classrooms.

We urge the government and the BCTF to move quickly to arrive at a resolution and one that will enable teachers to return to British Columbia’s classrooms with confidence that the challenges of their work will be recognized and that educational concerns will be addressed.

We call attention to the necessity that negotiations and dialogue about education draw upon credible research and scholarship, in order to facilitate constructive discussions in the public, professional and political domain.

SFU ‘forum’ on the strike.

Extend the School Year (2)

See BCTF Representative Assembly position on extending the school year BCTF School Staff Alert, Nov. 7, 2005

The teachers’ position is completely understandable, especially given the fact that the Minister of Education has implied teachers should ‘catch-up’ but without any pay. While I still personally believe that a paid extension to the school year is a reasonable request the political context is such that an extended school year is not a viable solution. And, as research has demonstrated (see link to article below) the impacts as measured in standardized tests are minimal.

Further to my previous post and suggestion to extend the school year a number of issues have emerged.

(1) The adverse impacts on teachers engaged in graduate study during the summer term if the school year is extended into July.
(2) That time might be added to the school year but that teachers would not be paid for this added time.

I hadn’t considered the first point and I had simply assumed that any extension of the school year would necessarily mean that teachers and other staff would be paid for the additional work done to make up for the missing ten days. This is critical. From my perspective extending the school year in any way would be contingent upon teachers being paid for the added time.

It would appear that a middle ground solution is emerging that would see the postponement of January provincial exams. This would at least accommodate some of the difficulties related to the ten day work stoppage.

I would also like to point to an article on the impact of strikes on student achievement from the U.S. in which it indicates that strikes have had minimal if any real impacts on student test results.Click here for full story.

School Boards reject idea of extended school year.CBC coverage on extended school year question. Further to this issue school boards are saying they don’t think extending the school year is workable.

Intial Overview of Strike

Wayne Ross has a very nice overview of the aftermath and implications of the strike at Where the Blog Has No Name.

For myself I am torn between respectful support of the decision of the BCTF exec and the majority of teachers and a sense that the labour movement leadership has yet again demonstrated their unwillingness to back real struggles for social justice.

Listening to Jim Sinclair’s comments on CBC radio early Friday morning October 21st, 2005, I knew right then that the Fed had pulled the plug. Here we were in the midst of one of the most significant labour struggles for many years and the BCTF and CUPE found themselves standing alone on the podium so-to-speak. These debates go back and forth between those who argue they are being realistic and those of us who suggest conservative is a better term to describe the response of the officialdom of labour.

I would also add my disappointment in the legislative actions of the NDP. It has been rumoured that NDP Officials called an end to the filibuster against Bill 12 so that a sense of ‘balance and decorum’ could be maintained and members return to their homes for their long thanksgiving break. Oh for the days of Dave Barrett.

This is not, of course, to say that the NDP didn’t put on a good show -they did. And, several members deserve special mention in the efforts to slow down the passage of Bill 12. People like NDP Ed critic John Horgen, Prince Rupert MLA Gary Coons, and former BCTF President David Chudnovsky. A special mention should go to Corky Evans for his musical interlude late on evening during the debate(Now, as through this world I rambled, I met lots of funny men. Some will rob you with a shotgun and some with a fountain pen). But, where was Carole James? Rumoured to have walked among the masses during the Oct. 17th rally in Victoria she was, by all accounts, not officially present among those who spoke. The party of labour and the official opposition has I would argue a significant obligation to stand up for justice and ethical treatment irrespective of a narrow determination of ‘the law.’

For those interested in a more detailed examination of these issues keep a space in your timetables for the forum being organized at UBC on November 9th at 4:30 pm.

B.C.’s teachers say thank you!

October 24, 2005
B.C.’s teachers say thank you!

Teachers around the province have been moved by the incredible support shown by parents. You brought us goodies while we walked the line. You walked with us in all kinds of weather. You honked your horns and cheered us on as you drove by. Your attendance at the many meetings and rallies encouraged us. We are overwhelmed and heartened by your words of encouragement in the many phone calls, e-mails, and letters received. In countless ways, you bolstered us. We say thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Your stories about school fees, class sizes, lack of student support, and reduced resources made an impact as those stories reached the general public. Together with teachers, you furthered the public debate about quality public education.

Our goals are to continue to achieve improved learning conditions for our students, guarantees for class size and composition, and more specialist teachers such as teacher-librarians, counsellors, and ESL teachers. These conditions are fundamental to a stable, quality public education system. Our goals also include the restoration of fair, negotiated collective bargaining.

School board meetings, community gatherings, and the upcoming municipal all candidates’ meetings provide opportunities for us to work together in furthering awareness of these important educational issues. Together, we can present our mutual concerns to keep quality public education in the forefront.

We look forward to our continued working together.

Source: BCTF web page.

Highlights of the Ready Report

Highlights of the non-binding recommendations by facilitator Vince Ready to settle the B.C. teachers dispute:

The government should consult with the B.C. Teachers Federation about amending the School Act with respect to class size limits for Grades 4 to 12.

COMMENT The government could easily agree to this but still do next to nothing. To ‘consult with’ simply means that the government hold a meeting with the BCTF, listens to their thoughts, and . . . . There is not obligation to accommodate teachers’ input or concerns. There is no mechanism to ensure that real and meaningful amendments will follow or, if amendments do follow, that they will in fact address the very serious problems caused by the government’s stripping class size and composition language from the BCTF contract.

The B.C. government should provide additional funding of $20 million this year to the issue of class size and special needs students and consider retaining the increased funding in future.

COMMENT Any one time boast to funds leads to problems and disruption in following years if it is not written in as an ongoing budget item. But, $20 million doesn’t really go very far to solve this pressing problem. As a parent of a child who falls into this category I know that system is way under funded. Vancouver itself is millions of dollars underfunded in terms of special needs education alone.

The government should commit to fund $40 million towards harmonization of salary grids through the province. The parties will meet within 60 days of the return to work to determine how the funding will be applied.

COMMENT Harmonization is a nice thought. But how does that help a teacher living in the lowermainland or Kelowna, for example, who’s income is harmonized with a teacher living elsewhere? Given the high cost of housing in areas like the capital district, the lowermainland and the Okanogan, harmonization won’t really address cost of living impacts and the facts that most teachers have in real dollars lost income. Furthermore, if you factor in reduced services to education, increasing class sizes, and changes in class composition teachers have been taking a wage cut. So, harmonization seems a shallow and inadequate solution.

The government and the teachers federation should establish an ongoing process for regular communication on teaching issues, because the dispute “has highlighted a huge gap in avenues of communication between the BCTF and government.’

COMMENT This is one of those ‘no-brainers.’ Yes of course. We need to see how this will be accomplished though. Will there be some concrete examples?

Overall I feel disappointed by these recommendations. As a parent I have seen real and devastating impacts of the current government’s education policy. In their first contract for teachers they legislated cost increases but didn’t fund them. Then they legislated what amounts to a lock-out contract that caused a major walkout. The Ready Report, while it makes some moves toward improving public education, doesn’t really make the grade.

The BC Fed and Jim Sinclair need to keep on the pressure. As parents we need to maintain and expand our support of the teachers.

Charles Menzies

BCTF analysis of the Ready Report: click here.