Monday, March 05, 2012

Bill 22 blues

I'm still trying to sort out exactly what Bill 22 means to me as a teacher, and with how it will impact my teaching practice and my profession in general. This is important to me because I want to enter the forthcoming three-day strike with sense that I know why I'm out there. 

Bill 22 proceeds with a contract solution via mediation, and the mediator's hands are tied with both the net zero mandate and a long list of preconditions. Add to this the abrogation of democratic rights to bargain and create fair conditions for employment, the proposed contract strips, and the return to larger and more complicated class sizes, and I can see why this should be a fight rather than an inconvenience. Nonetheless, I've read though the bill a few times and I'm left with questions. I'm trying to understand the history of legislation better; a couple of hours on the internet and I still can't figure it out.

Bill 22 - look at amendments to the School Act Section 27 (1) to (7)
and look at Existing School Act Section 27

The only difference is that the amendment proposes 27 (7) Subsection (3) (d) to (j) is repealed on June 30, 2013.

So this tells me that in 2002, the employer had control of professional autonomy, class size, ratios, teacher loads, etc. and will have it again until August 2013. After that, all aspects of our working conditions are back up for debate. Legislation in between 2002 and now (all the stuff that came out of the 2005 and 2006 struggles?) gave us back some class size limits, etc. which we have enjoyed until now. If that's correct, the contract strips resulting from the amendments to the School Act are not unprecedented, they are a return to what we had in 2002. It was lousy in 2002, and it is lousy now, but I just want to be clear that it is not something new we are facing.

So what are new issues, ones that might justify escalating job action or even civil disobedience? The terms of reference for the mediator in Bill 22 Part 1, number 6 (1) to (5) may result in further contract strips (like evaluation process, direction on pro-d, and selection based on suitability) until August 2013, and likely beyond (a new round of bargaining almost always involves extending collective agreements. The net-zero mandate means we make no gains on salary or benefits, we thus fall behind inflation and cost of living increases. The imposition of preconditions hampers our democratic right to bargain, and the fines seem unfair. Removing caps (or returning to 2002 standards) on everything from class sizes to librarian ratios will be a recipe for funding cuts. I have no doubt my class sizes will increase to help pay for other areas in my school that are currently underfunded. The issue of bound mediation is also troubling. A free and democratic society that stands by its Charter should look cynically on an attempt to hamstring bargaining as a precondition for settlement. The starting point for mediation is that government gets everything it is asking for, and will not put a dime towards fixing known problems and wage disparities. No doubt parts of Bill 22 will end up as valid Charter challenges and we will be back to this point again.

What part of Bill 22 is valid? There is some redress for the Supreme Court decision stating that the BC Gov't unconstitutionally imposed working conditions that should have been negotiated.  It even appear that I could be compensated for teaching more than 30 students at a time, but I have a feeling it won't actually work out that way because the fund is so small and net zero will kill anything additional. Maybe they'll pay me in lieu time, or pencils. I do think it is fair to point out that evaluation process, direction on pro-d, and selection based on suitability are all valid issues for the employer to seek change, but (again) these should be negotiated, not legislated.

This won't be a popular position, but these three areas (evaluation, pro-d, and suitability) were well picked by the government as potential contract strips -- these are weak spots for the BCTF.

1) Evaluation: The union protects our interests very well, and is able to prevent many injustices against teachers, but this sometimes involves protecting some truly incompetent teachers. We need a mechanism to expeditiously identify those few teachers who are a "poor fit" and use a respectful process for transitioning teachers into some other profession or getting them the help they need to sort out their practice. There needs to be some kind of "in-between" evaluation that is not aimed at termination but rather at growth and renewal. If the BCTF took this seriously, teacher evaluations (especially of this kind) would be teacher-initiated.  We should voluntarily submit to cycles of peer accountability that result in improvement. I have not really been able to get this from the BCTF and definitely not from my employer -- that is why I have co-formed and joined a consortium of similarly-minded teachers with our own mutual accountability model. If you want it done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself.

2) Professional development: It is used wisely by most, but I get frustrated by the small but conspicuous minority of teachers who have no clue what to do for pro-d and are content to ignore pro-d time and opportunities. Why shouldn't the employer insist we use pro-d time wisely? An argument would be that the employer often has no clue, either, as to what good pro-d should look like, just as some of them also blow off the idea of pro-d for themselves. We don't need Bill 22 for the employer to peek in on our professional trajectory -- they can do that now but rarely take the opportunity. I remember my first month at D.P. Todd (2003) when the principal Garry Hartley stopped by and took an interest in what I was doing, asked questions, discerned my philosophy, engaged my thinking, and encouraged me with specific ideas relevant to my classroom practice. That was the first time I had ever had a principal do that, outside of a cursory teacher evaluation in my first year (1996). Maybe other districts are different, but our management are so consumed by "management" that they don't have a lot of time or organizational leeway for key aspects of educational leadership. These limits are also limits on what Bill 22 can achieve, because the ed reforms sought from the teacher contract needs to be matched with ed reforms in the leadership structures in our province. I've written earlier that the barriers to change are usually outside the teacher's contract, and I think this pro-d issue is a good example. Will Bill 22 actually motivate teachers (or principals, for that matter) to improve their use of pro-d opportunities throughout the year? Will administration all of a sudden start offering on-going, targeted pro-d for teachers, and without adding costs? I don't get how pro-d will change. If this is a "growth plan" issue then big deal... most teachers will start filling in generic templates and saying they're up to something good. That's basically how our School Plans for Student Success work. Now, I'm proud of my growth plan and I think everyone should have one, teachers and principals, but I don't see growth plans transforming the culture. If you want system-wide change you actually have to seek system-wide reforms, not just a backstep on the teacher contract. For example, if BCSPEA wants more responsibility for management, it needs to develop educational leadership standards, guidelines, and expectations for management. I would argue that It would also help if the ed reform agenda could be made plain and laid bare, far more so than can be discerned from the BCED plan -- let us know where you want to end up, and don't be afraid to be honest.

3) Suitability: I have no problem with teachers receiving placements based on demonstrated ability. Seniority is great, but it does not guarantee excellence. Again, when this is placed with management we have no assurance of improvement, because the conditions of suitability are unclear. We've all seen examples where there is shock at a job placement among teachers or administration... "what were they thinking?" Suitability needs to be the subject of mutual agreement and ongoing negotiation case by case at the local level. Figuring this out is crucial if we want to take mentorship, job satisfaction and efficacy seriously.

So, why would I mention these sore spots? I'm stating that these three areas are reasonable places to have discussions between BCTF and BCPSEA. Bill 22 forces this discussion, imposes a solution (involving management control), but it is nonetheless a discussion that needs to take place. I really wish our union would not have been so stubborn on these -- the BCTF should have started out with plans on how we would have improved peer evaluation, responsibility mechanisms for pro-d (including growth plans), and an objective suitability flow-chart. I'd even write these plans for them!

Any other lingering concerns?  If the government were interested in breaking the union and dismantling public education, Bill 22 would be a necessary first step. Will we see our public system replaced with a two-tiered system involving privatization or corporate intervention, and trading real schools for virtual ones? I doubt the intentions run that deep, although these themes were clear to find in Gordon Campbell's blueprint for education, sponsored by corporate players and written by a roundtable that was virtually bereft of regular practicing teachers (maybe all these kinds of plans are?). The new BCED plan buries (or alters?) some of these intentions with "21st Century Learning" jargon, so it is hard to say what is meant when "brick and mortar" schools and "teachers as content experts" are considered a thing of the past. I'm not afraid of 21st Century Learning" because I'm already doing it, but I wish its advocates could step away from the clich├ęs more often. The last bit that gnaws at me is that once contract concessions occur (like class composition limits or a trend towards more management rights) they don't tend to come back. Come June 2013, I doubt either a Liberal or NDP government will be willing to budge from the financially and directionally advantageous position Bill 22 gives them. It's like taxes, they don't tend to disappear. Income tax was brought in during WWI as a temporary measure, and set at 3%! Last I checked, I'm paying closer to 30% now (and I'd pay a bit more to support a social democracy that places more value on education).

So, if anyone with more legislative insight than me to would like to comment on my reasoning, please be my guest. I've had a few emails and tweets about it, but I'd like more feedback. I want to be clear about what parts of Bill 22 are new or not, what parts are offensive, and what parts may serve a useful function.


Sarah Holland said...

I've been reading a lot of comments about Bill 22, and this is one of the better ones I've come across!

I would have like to have seen more information come out on comp for class sizes over 30. Realistically, I think this is one of the better ways to handle class size limitations - if the district decides that the class size needs to be higher, than the district is hit in the wallet. It's an economic ramification directly to the school, rather than just annoying the teacher. Net zero wouldn't apply to this matter; it's a downloaded cost to the school district.

However, I am concerned that this now applies to 4-7 classes - on average, those classes have had more students in them than 8-12 classes, so some concern there.

Likewise, I'm somewhat concerned about the removal of class size district averages for K to 3 classes. The max remains - 22 for K and 24 to 1-3. We were already seeing differences in class sizes in different areas of the district, and realistically, IF a class size of 22 is appropriate for kindergarten students, then it's appropriate across the district. As it was, to fit students into the primary classes in some areas, other classes had to be artificially small.

I've seen some comments that "Bill 22 will remove class size limits" - it doesn't, really. It removes district averages and creates a different mechanism for discouraging class sizes over 30 students. Plus, class sizes are returned to the BCTF to negotiate, starting after the next school year. Keep in mind that there are people right now who've been accepted as the 22nd child in a K class for 2012/13 - reducing class size limits for K, for example, would need to start in 2013/14.

Mind you, from reading "The Good School" by Peg Tyre (recommended), she points out that "there is a substantial body of research to suggest that kids in small classes don't necessarily learn more. In the range of things that schools can do to improve outcomes for your child, reducing class size may rank a distant fourth behind solid teacher training, a clear and well sequenced curriculum, and a staff that is well supported and regularly evaluated."

For the special education piece, I have to admit that when I first heard about the Victoria recommendations to remove discriminatory limits I thought it was crazy talk.

I now think that it's not so crazy, for two reasons: one is the discrimination aspect. If everything were to *ideally* work the way it was previously legislated, if there was one spot remaining in a class that already has 3 students with IEPs, then a 4th student would an IEP would be denied entry simply because they had an IEP. That is discriminatory. My second reason is that wasn't happening anyway - there are many classes around there with far more than 3 students with IEPs.

There is not enough information around the Learning Improvement Fund, and how supports would be provided in the classroom. Ideally, it's going to be a system that allows for more supports for both learning and working conditions, but MORE WORK and MONEY needs to be committed to this.

I agree that evaluation, pro-d, and suitability are weak spots for the BCTF. They're important areas, I think teachers wish to address them, and they need to be discussed seriously. Have you read this?

When I read that, I'm just flabbergasted by the lack of progress. I would dearly love to read a BCTF version of that meeting, however!

I'm not convinced that Bill 22 is a first step towards breaking the union and dismantling public education - look at Wisconsin's legislation for an example of that. Ick.

I hope that there can be continued respectful discussion around the bill, and around the contract negotiations, that's done in a professional manner for the benefit of all our children.

Thielmann said...

Thanks for your comments and insightful perspectives. The BCPSEA update for bargaining session #78 was an interesting read. I checked the BCTF member's portal and they have not yet posted their version of session #78. They share them by email so I assume they are public documents... I'll share once I see it. I don't think the gov't is out to smash the union, but if they WERE, they'd need to start by taking away the key abilities of the union to defend members on those three issues. I really think both sides need a new approach. The solution does not require more management rights, I think teachers and administration need to start creating their own mechanisms for accountability that step beyond local/provincial politics and immersion in cliches belonging to the philosophy-de-jour. In practice this would have to be very local or contextual, and aim for philosophic self-sufficiency. The outward looking part would invest in social capital rather than compliance to provincial standards, endlessly unique and recreative. Sorry, I'm "streaming" out loud. I will check out The Good School and the Wisconsin legislation.

Thielmann said...

Sarah, if you want other opinions (probably all from a teacher's bias) check hashtag #killbill22 on twitter. Here's the BCTF rebuttal to the recent gov't claims about our contract positions: ...checked out Wisconsin, that was/is really nasty! I kind of skipped past it when it was in the news, just got the John Stewart version.

Bryan said...

I really appreciate the thinking you're doing around Bill 22 in these posts, Glen. With legalese filling the gaps between white-hot rhetoric, this is a refreshing turn in the discussion to happen upon in my RSS reads. Personally, I agree with you about the validity of the direction of a few of the above points, if not necessarily with their result/imposed 'solution.'

But I'm afraid right alongside you with the point you build toward, that: "...[i]f the government were interested in breaking the union and dismantling public education, Bill 22 would be a necessary first step." I saw the stars of a few different links you've included here align over the weekend (just before the strike) that lead me to the similar conclusion that this government (and likely whichever ones follow it) will ultimately create a tiered, privately-infused version of public education in BC.

Campbell's "Blueprint," which cast school district's as corporate entities, as well as the Staffroom Confidential post referring to Pearson's relationship with the Ministry of Ed, each brought me around to wondering why our district (Coquitlam - SD43) seemed to be factoring so largely in discussions around class size and composition, not to mention a host of George Abbott's other BCEdPlan talking points. There are great things going on in Coquitlam classrooms, to be sure; I get to work with outstanding people in our school, and the local community. Lot's of others around BC can likely say the same. So why is SD43 being highlighted so often (along with West Vancouver and Kamloops school districts)?

As you pointed out in a comment on my blog, the hipster kids in my district have it pretty good (aside from the southern-coast weather). We have good wifi, almost enough computers. We get to go outside a fair bit, and - apparently - our classes are small and not overflowing with IEPs. But we don't do this with our operating grant alone, as an increasing portion of our revenue streams from our for-profit International Education Department (last year something like $16 million).

This Macleans article paints an alarming picture:

As does the shot of our superintendent sitting next to Abbott when Bill 22 was introduced.

But that's paranoia for another day.

Keep up the critical thought. It's sustaining more than just yourself.



Thielmann said...

Thanks for your profound comments. Our district has tried to cash in on foreign students, too, with limited success. One of the options to fill the ESL gap was to offer DE courses, which turned out as well as you can imagine! My big "unease," shared by many I think, is about what happens next to our education system. Here are two possibilities I've considered:

Scenario 1 is gov't directed ed reform as noted by Vaughan Palmer yesterday

Scenario 2 is gov't directed privatization of education, with a legacy public education system that acts as a clearing house for the private sector and warehouse for the younger grades or those too poor for private education or private sector ed services. Bargain-basement vouchers will be used to cover income disparity in the later grades, and teachers be split into two groups. The first will be "learning facilitators" who do some instructing, coordinating, supervising, remedial, testing, attending to individualized programs and problems. This job combines what teachers do some of the time know with what counsellors and EAs do, big emphasis on service levels and client care. It is similar the role nurses play in health care, or forest technicians play in forest industry. The second role will be "professional educators" who sign off on school level decisions and individual plans, and will maintain "currency" by offering high-level workshops for students in their area of expertise and other educators on "21st century learning." This is part way between the job some teachers do now and what some administrators find time for (especially in West Van, Coquitlam, and Kamloops!). These will be like RPFs in forestry or doctors in the medical system. A third role of edcuational administrator will be reserved for governance, system coordination & evaluation, and all the fun stuff that happens between principals and board offices.

The first scenario is almost guaranteed, and is well-evidenced in the BCED plan, Bill 22, etc.

The second scenario sound conspiratorial, but precedents exist, and the patterns are already set in many schools. I see teachers dividing in to those first two roles, and principals dividing in to the last two roles. How would this happen? As you suggest, the "Blueprint" sets the agenda, and the next bargaining mandate will allow it to start "piloting." Take a look at the Cooperative Gain mandate & principles Under the Principles, it would appear to me that the only way wages will be improved is by redefining service levels or bringing in new investment that does not involve the gov't or taxation. That leaves corporate investment and privatized services. I want to write more about this but I need to get ready for school!!!