Tag Archives: Education

B.C. Liberal Education Cuts

Just as B.C.’s school enrollment is set to grow over the next three years, the B.C. Liberals’ flat-lined education budget is forcing school districts to consider the elimination of at least 350 teaching and support staff jobs, as well as programs for students beginning next September.

“All districts, including growing districts like Surrey, Delta and the Central Okanagan, are contemplating more education job cuts because they face provincial funding shortfalls. Parent groups and trustees are telling the B.C. Liberals their budget will negatively impact the learning experience of our kids,” said Rob Fleming, New Democrat education critic.

Despite two Supreme Court rulings overturning B.C. Liberal laws on class size and composition, as well as expired contracts with the province’s teachers and support staff, a provincial education budget increase of only 0.4 per cent is causing districts to make budget cuts in excess of $56 million.

“Last year the Minister of Education ordered school districts to fund provincially negotiated contract costs for 22,000 support staff entirely through ‘internal savings,’ and with great difficulty they did,” said Fleming. “But in this provincial budget cycle they are drawing from the same well again and ordering school trustees to fund MSP increases, BC Hydro increases, pension adjustments, even provincial seismic school upgrades from a reduced budget – and that’s before any new settlements with teachers and assistants.”

In the Coquitlam School District a $13.4 million budget shortfall is forcing the elimination of 163 full-time jobs. The Sooke School District, despite being one of the fastest growing districts in the province, is being forced to cut $2.7 million. The Vancouver School Board has to tackle a $12.34 million shortfall that will grow to $26.6 million the following year. They are contemplating the elimination of 70 full-time positions, including cutting elementary school band and the district’s athletic coordinator.

Fleming noted that some districts are also considering a week long break in November – placing more costs onto the backs of families who will have to find and pay for day programs or take time off work.

“The bottom line is that B.C. Liberal cuts will eliminate teaching positions across B.C. and reduce programs that provide accelerated learning, English language support, classes in music and trades, and support for students with special needs.”

A huge win for teachers, students, and all working people

A ruling by the Supreme Court of British Columbia on the state of public schools in the province proves Premier Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals chose politics over students for over a decade, say the New Democrats.

Christy Clark

Christy Clark

“Premier Clark and the Liberal government have been playing politics with the quality of education for our children,” said New Democrat education critic Rob Fleming. “It proves they would rather provoke strikes than improve classroom education.”

Original legislation that paved the way for larger classes and reduced special needs supports was struck down in 2011 by the courts at which time the premier said, “Clearly it wasn’t the right bill. The Supreme Court told us that and we are going to have to address that. And we’re going to have to make sure that we get on a different footing with the teachers’ union.”

Today’s decision shows the premier was disingenuous. Justice Griffin said in Monday’s ruling that the Liberal government “did not negotiate in good faith” and instead were preoccupied with a strategy to “provoke a strike.”

The judge ordered the government to return class size, class composition and specialist staffing levels to the collective bargaining process.

“The premier was centre stage in 2002 when this mess began,” said Fleming. “Christy Clark was the education minister when Bill 28 was imposed showing that her pattern of playing political games instead of doing what is best for our kids and families goes right back to her first time in government.”

“This supposed family-first premier has shown her true colours – that children and parents weren’t her priority ten years ago and still aren’t her priority today,” said Fleming. “Today is a victory for B.C. families. Once again this government has been reprimanded by the courts for not taking public education seriously.”

Students saving money with open textbooks

In a move to make post-secondary education just a little bit more affordable, colleges, universities and technology schools in British Columbia have started taking part in an open textbook project. That project has already helped almost 300 post-secondary students, who saved an average of $146 each on their textbook costs for the fall 2013 semester.

Open E-Textbook

Open E-Textbook

“In just a few months since we made our first batch of open textbooks freely available online in September, students are reporting sizable savings,” said Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk. “And the benefits for students and faculty will continue to grow as we develop open textbooks for more subjects, and more instructors around the province have a chance to review and use them in their classes.”

Open textbooks are an attractive option for students, and faculty who ultimately choose the textbooks used. Open textbooks are digital and open to being modified and adapted by instructors to fit the needs of their students and course requirements.

Individual instructors at Capilano University, Douglas College, the Justice Institute of B.C., Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Langara College and Northwest Community College used open textbooks in the fall 2013 semester, bringing collective savings of over $43,000 to students.

For example:

  • 60 students taking introductory physics at Kwantlen Polytechnic University were assigned an open textbook that replaced a traditional textbook costing $187, for a collective saving of $11,220.
  • 40 students using an open textbook for their statistics course at the Justice Institute of B.C. saved $100 each.
  • 35 students at Douglas College saved a total of $5,600 using an open textbook for their database management class.
  • 20 management students using an open textbook at Northwest Community College saved $103 each for a class saving of $2,060.

“It’s nice to be able to go online, download the chapters that you need, and not have to carry a giant textbook around with you,” said Robert Payer, a student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University who used an open textbook for his physics class. “I’ve saved $190 this semester, which makes a huge difference when you’re on a tight budget.”

British Columbia is the first province in Canada to develop open textbooks for 40 highly enrolled, post-secondary subject areas. In the first phase of the project, 15 open textbooks in a range of subjects including math, chemistry, psychology and business were peer-reviewed by B.C. faculty and made available for free download in September 2013.

“Instead of forcing my students to purchase the leading softcover textbook for $130, I posted the open textbook for free on the course website, collectively saving my students $5,200 this semester,” said Rajiv Jhangiani, psychology professor at Capilano University.

Open textbooks in more subject areas currently are being reviewed and adapted by faculty for use in British Columbia, and are available online from BCcampus. In addition, 20 open textbooks will be developed for skills training and technical post-secondary subject areas.

The open textbook project is being co-ordinated on government’s behalf by BCcampus, a publicly funded organization that aims to make higher education available to everyone, through the smart use of collaborative information technology services.

You can view or download open textbooks at BCcampus.

B.C. Liberal incompetence threatening province’s international education schools

Chaos in the Ministry of Advanced Education is leaving international students in limbo and threatening British Columbia’s international education industry, says New Democrat advanced education critic David Eby.

Selina Robinson and David Eby

Selina Robinson and David Eby

“Students thinking about coming to B.C. to study are being put on hold because the B.C. Liberal government has so far failed to comply with new federal government visa rules,” said Eby. “It has been a full year since the B.C. Liberals received notice that the system was changing, yet students still don’t know if the B.C. school they’ve chosen will qualify them for a student visa.”

The federal government has asked the provinces to establish a list of “approved” schools where accepted international students will qualify for study visas. The final deadline for provinces to establish the approved list is in less than six months, yet B.C. schools still don’t know what information they’ll need to provide to the province to qualify, or how long the approval process will take before they can tell students they’re on the green list.

“On December 28, 2012, the federal government announced these visa rule changes. Now, more than a year later, B.C. schools still have no idea how the new rules will be implemented. The deafening silence from the government is feeding a sense of doom among B.C. schools that the government has completely dropped the ball,” said Eby.

“This government promised to increase international students by 50 per cent by 2016 – instead, we’ve had nine ministers in the last ten years and a complete lack of leadership from the premier on this file.”

Eby noted that schools are unable to budget or plan for upcoming semesters without knowing whether their students will be turned away at the border.

“Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the way that colleges and universities work knows that students apply for admission well before the start date of their programs,” said Eby.

“For international students, this issue is compounded by the delay in student visa approvals in many countries. If the B.C. Liberals wait until the last minute to comply with these regulations, or create new rules that cause our schools to miss the federal deadline entirely, all of us will pay the price when B.C.’s international reputation takes a serious hit.”

Thoughts on Finland’s education system

With teacher negotiations dragging along in BC and the control of professional development being a significant part of those negotiations, it is interesting to sneak a peak at what they are doing in Finland with their education system.

The following is an excerpt from a New York Times article about the Finnish education system;

Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish educator and author, had a simple question for the high school seniors he was speaking to one morning last week in Manhattan: “Who here wants to be a teacher?”

Out of a class of 15, two hands went up — one a little reluctantly.

“In my country, that would be 25 percent of people,” Dr. Sahlberg said. “And,” he added, thrusting his hand in the air with enthusiasm, “it would be more like this.”

In his country, Dr. Sahlberg said later in an interview, teachers typically spend about four hours a day in the classroom, and are paid to spend two hours a week on professional development. At the University of Helsinki, where he teaches, 2,400 people competed last year for 120 slots in the (fully subsidized) master’s program for schoolteachers. “It’s more difficult getting into teacher education than law or medicine,” he said.

Dr. Sahlberg puts high-quality teachers at the heart of Finland’s education success story — which, as it happens, has become a personal success story of sorts, part of an American obsession with all things Finnish when it comes to schools.

Take last week. On Monday, Dr. Sahlberg was the keynote speaker at an education conference in Chicago. On Tuesday, he had to return to Helsinki for an Independence Day party held by Finland’s president — a coveted invitation to an event that much of the country watches on television.

To read the rest of this article have a look here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/13/education/from-finland-an-intriguing-school-reform-model.html?_r=1&hpw

Conservative Premier Alison Redford Restores Education Funding

For many years I remember my more radical-right-wing friends saying that if an NDP government got elected again they would pack up and move to Alberta. Funny, my progressive minded friends are now the ones considering a move to Alberta.

Why am I considering a move to Alberta? First off, the new Conservative premier of Alberta, Alison Redford, has restored the more than $100 million cut by the previous premier from the education budget, as promised in her leadership campaign.

Redford also said she would eliminate the Grade 3 and 6 provincial achievement tests used by the Fraser Institute to rank elementary schools in Alberta. Opposition to this kind of testing and use of test results has become mainstream.

Also, Dennis Shirley, a researcher working with an Alberta/Finland research project which involves both the Alberta ministry of education and the ATA with counterparts in Finland, says that he is hopeful that Alberta can adopt the approach that Finland uses in place of this kind of testing.

The ATA News reports that Shirley said that instead of “accountability” based on an accounting approach, Finland uses what Shirley calls “public assurance.”  It involves “parents and community members trusting educators, thereby allowing them to focus on teaching and learning, rather than spending time on public relations campaigns or high stakes testing strategies to assure the public that the education system is working.”

Perhaps some of my progressive minded friends are going to consider a move to Alberta now.

Bill 12—2011 Teachers Act: A quick update

This is a summary of the changes to the act proposed in legislation and introduced in the BC Legislature this afternoon. The bill has received First Reading and will go to Second Reading on Thursday.

1. Director of certification, commissioner, and former college staff will be absorbed into the Ministry of Education.

2. British Columbia Teachers’ College Council

  • three teachers nominated by BCTF
  • five practising (having taught or supervised educational programs in the last two years)
  • teachers elected from regions
  • seven persons appointed by the minister
  • one non-voting government appointment
  • there is a term limit of up to nine years.

3. Council will deal with teacher education programs and certificate standards.

4. A Discipline and Professional Conduct Board will be appointed by the minister

  • four from the elected or appointed by BCTF
  • five from the appointed
  • hearing panels will be appointed from this board.
  • One teacher will be appointed to each three-member panel.

5. Commissioner may appoint a person from outside the council to a hearing panel.

6. Certification will be handled by the ministry.

7. There is a similar disciplinary process as in the previous college, but all pre-hearing decisions will be made by appointed officials, including decisions on which matters warrant action.

8. All decisions previously made by the preliminary investigation subcommittee will now be made by the appointed commissioner.

9. Fitness and investigation subcommittee is eliminated and its functions will be assumed by the director of certification.

10. Role of the council on discipline matters is limited to matters that have been referred to a discipline hearing.

11. All discipline hearings are presumed to be public.

12. The duty to report discipline, conduct, and competency issues has shifted from the superintendent to the principal.

13. There was no change to the matters required to be reported.

14. There are no new provisions about currency or professional development.

15. More aspects of discipline cases will be made public on a ministry website.

16. Person complaints will continue with expanded rights to complainants to be copied on decisions and consent resolution agreements.

17. The teachers’ register and employers list will continue.

18. Teachers are referred to as “authorized persons.”

19. The current college will be dissolved when the former act is repealed.

20. The current registrar will cease to hold office immediately upon Royal Assent, before other sections are brought into force. The minister may appoint a transitional registrar until the new act comes into effect.

21. The annual fee is set by regulation and the act provides that it will be an automatic deduction from all employees’ wages. The ministry has announced this will be $80.

This information is the initial analysis of the 73-page bill. Further details will be coming.

Why governments love to build freeways

I have always wondered why governments were so keen to build infrastructure like freeways, bridges, even rapid transit. Why would they not build schools and hospitals instead?

Quite simply, building roads, bridges and transit infrastructure works perfectly on the four year election cycle. A new bridge (like the new Port Mann Bridge) can typically be built within a four year election cycle. You get the grand announcement of the project, you get the job creation that comes with these massive projects and then you get the ribbon cutting just in time for an election.

You can show how forward thinking you are in building these “much needed” pieces of infrastructure but really, is it forward thinking?

But why do they not choose to build a school or hospital? Everyone knows that there are literally hundreds of portables being used as classrooms around BC. Hospitals are filled to the rafters with patients waiting for surgery etc. Senior care centres have wait-lists to get into them.

So why do politicians instead build more freeways and bridges? Because freeways and bridges take little to no human resources to operate and maintain once they are built. Sure you need a few ploughs and sweepers and patching crews and so on but it is nothing like a school which needs to be filled with people who are then on your payroll. Once you build a hospital it also fills up with patients who need nurses, doctors, care-aids, cleaners and so on.

This is probably not news to you but it came as a bit of a revelation to me.

George Abbott muses about a legislated end to teacher strike

George Abbott

George Abbott

Two examples of irony today; first one from our home province of BC where yesterday, on International Day of the Teacher, George Abbott, Minister of Education was heard publicly musing about legislating an end to the current teacher strike here in BC. Great way to show your appreciation for the work your kid’s teacher is doing!

Second example comes from our neighbours to the south. Alabama passed a very strict new immigration law intended to force illegal workers out of jobs. However, the new law is also driving away many legal immigrant workers who work in construction and on farms doing backbreaking jobs that Americans generally won’t.

One tomato farmer said only eight of the 48 Hispanic workers she needed for harvest showed up after the law took effect. Those who did were frightened.

Farmer Chad Smith said his family farm stands to lose up to $150,000 because there are not enough workers to pick tomatoes spoiling in the fields.

“We will be lucky to be in business next year,” he said.

Republican Sen. Scott Beason says, “We have the best law in the country and I stand by what we’ve done.”

Yes, he stands by while the crops rot in the fields because there is nobody to harvest them.

Ah, irony.