B.C. School System Needs Injection of Truth

I wouldn’t have a problem with the collective bargaining of teachers if that bargain also involved an open evaluation of the effectiveness of B.C. school teachers, most especially secondary level studies.

B.C. teachers demonstrate against the provincical government in Victoria in 2012. Photograph by: DARREN STONE , PROVINCE
(B.C. teachers demonstrate against the provincical government in Victoria in 2012. Photo Credit DARREN STONE, PROVINCE)

Madame Justice Susan Griffin’s $2M in damages awarded the teachers for the government’s legislation that affected the teachers’ rights to bargain with terms associated to class size, class composition and support for special needs students.

The ruling, in my humble opinion, was correct.

Who’s entitled?

You cannot—or least, should not—legislate against the use of bargaining chips if the chips pertain to the umbrella under which the negotiations fall under. It’s undemocratic and as Justice Griffin pointed out, unconstitutional. Class size and composition are relative to the conditions of a teacher’s working environment, just as books and supplies are, and so, they should be valid considerations.

But the question isn’t just about what you can and cannot argue. The teachers have a part to play in this decades long charade in pursuit of greater benefits and job security. Lets be clear, there’s no victory here despite the Griffin ruling. There’s still a prevalent issue present.

As a former student and a citizen, I most definitely understand the importance of supporting all student needs, this includes paying teachers and support staff what they deserve.

But, in the wake of the world’s worst recession since the depression, the public ought to know where and how its hard-earned, taxed dollars are being spent especially in an era of in an era bemoaning fiscal conservatism. But, frankly, government has demonstrated its wastefulness and a bloated teacher’s union is a part of it.

It’s the deserve caveat I have grown to detest. Just as Baby Boomers and the like label millennials as educated but entitled you-know-whats, the same runs true to our public unions, the teachers no less.

I don’t perceive anything as belonging to me unless I’ve earned it. It’s that simple. That’s my perspective regardless of the era I grew up in. No one is entitled to an $80,000 salary just because a position is occupied for over a decade. You earn a salary based on how well you perform your job. Raises are accumulated through performance, at least in the private sector.

Why should teachers be any different? It’s time the mirror is held up high for the objective to see. There must be recognition that the teats of entitlement stretch farther than the post-secondary youths of today (sorry, that shot has to be there).

I don’t mind paying my due in taxes and helping to pay the salary of those teachers who are truly involved, are good at what they do and maybe even inspire a few souls to reach into a field they may not have pursued otherwise.

But is being realistic ever an option?

I can list off the handful of secondary and elementary school teachers—B.C. teachers—who were great educators. They pushed me forward and helped me grow and develop into the person that I am today. They warrant the raise, the optimal teaching environment (though, even with 30 or so students, they managed to teach and teach well) and all the additional benefits that come with the profession.

However, that only constitutes a handful out of the many instructors that I met throughout my 12 years in the public school system. I can provide names, corresponding Grade of the class and subject of those teachers who were ineffective and this message comes from someone who did care and can provide transcripts to prove it. The point is, there are poor teachers. That is a fact.

The question is how can we weed out the ineffective and replace with effective, maybe even younger, teacher grads. If the system itself won’t take the measures to pragmatically survey the quality of their secondary level teaching (which, if you haven’t already discerned, I place greater value in over middle and elementary, in which stage I think there’s less robust academic teaching required), then the public, i.e. via the government, must put in place a fair and transparent structure to do so.

Or, maybe the future for teaching grads wouldn’t be so bleak if there were better gatekeeping? Perhaps it’s time to rethink who we accept as the educators of our future generations.

Gatekeeping and evaluation

There are some who choose teaching as a fall-back profession. This is an unsaid truth.

Among other requisites, a minimum GPA of 65% among senior level courses in undergraduate studies is all that is required to get into UBC’s Bachelor of Education program. Teaching is a career available even with mediocre post-secondary academic standing.

The gatekeeping isn’t strict by any means, and with that you allow a certain class of individuals. You get the kind that achieve an average or below average standing in post-secondary academics. This in itself points to a specific kind of attitude and loose engagement in academia. Now, I’m not saying you need to be a PhD holder to teach high school science or history or maths—it would certainly help. What, I’m saying is perhaps the loose requirements to becoming a teacher permit a certain percentage of graduates that may not or ever be worthy of secondary level teaching, or teaching at all.

In short, good police know good police (see: The Wire). This applies to teachers just the same. I’m sure quality teachers know who is competent and who is not.

We must start to provide (if we don’t already) some demarcation of effectiveness and take heed of such results to better refine the public school system. It’s to the advantage of our students. But, teachers don’t want to be judged, at least not by the performance of their students. But, how else?

Ben Levin, a professor and Canada Research Chair in Education Leadership and Policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, wrote a frustrating article in 2011. Levin advocated merit pay—paying teachers based on students results—is a bad idea.

Granted, thinking your livelihood is attached to adolescents may be a scary thought. But that’s not the point nor purpose.

I recognize the inherent problem: how can a teacher’s performance be judged upon students that may or may not care themselves when they take a test. In that instance, it’s a fair concern. But I would contend that on average students perform to the best of their ability. If normal ranges—the bell curve—is exhibited then I would argue a teacher is doing their job to a satisfactory degree. Comparing districts and averages will also give another sample of an instructor’s quality of teaching a curriculum. As well, an examination of a classroom’s composition and student history can be viewed to determine if performance is more of a student’s effort than instructing (chances of running into a consistent stream of poor teachers is something I don’t believe, because I do think there are more good than bad instructors).

The idea: publicly available performance reviews. This would involve standardized testing with independent grading. But, here’s the catch: results are binding. This means they are kept on file and can be reviewed for up to a five-year period (or something of that sort), to be visited and/or revisited during regularly scheduled performance reviews. Perhaps annually or bi-annually.

Furthermore, the results, especially in this digital world, should be anonymized and made available to parents and the public on a per district or regional basis.

This would allow parents to see averages throughout the province. But these cannot be simply grades-based. It must be provincial examinations of a standard curriculum, material the student should know at that Grade. Why? Without something independent to base a student’s true knowledge of material, then a teacher can just go through worksheets, useless activities and create a percentage without having to care if the student knows or doesn’t know content.

Brandon Kostinuk
Brandon graduated from the University of British Columbia with a B.A. in comparative history and a political science minor. After a two-year stint as a compliance researcher at a private financial firm, he moved on to an accelerated journalism program at Langara College. Brandon currently freelances, sharing time at a local startup magazine and content writing.