Monday, September 20, 2010

Ontario arbitrator rejects wage freeze

For those of us entering bargaining in the midst of a so-called "wage freeze", a welcome decision arrived this week from an Ontario arbitrator who considered the legality and the reasonableness of government mandated wage freezes. In addition, arbitrated contracts even during the 2008 recession have included wage increases commensurate with inflation.

Thousands and thousands of public sector workers in Canada will be negotiating with governments that have "mandated" wage freezes, including Ontario and also British Columbia. While governments attempt to portray this as a necessary feature of the bargaining climate, in fact it is an unreasonable and unfair labour practice. No party to a collective agreement should be able to predetermine the outcome of any item of bargaining. That in itself means the bargaining process is limited, rather than open and fair to both parties. When governments impose a "wage freeze" this is just what they are doing.

The Globe & Mail reported: "In his ruling, the arbitrator says labour leaders and employers must respond to economic conditions, not a government’s fiscal policies, in setting wages."

So does this mean the recession of 2008 justifies zero wage increases based on "economic conditions"? Another recent arbitration ruling says no. In this arbitrated wage settlement, CN rail workers were seeking 3 - 4 percent wage increases to begin in 2009 - immediately following the recessionary period. While the arbitrator did not uphold these amounts, he did award increases of 1.8, 2.4 and 2.6 %. Included in his rationale were the predictions of cost of living increases in the period 2009 - 2012.

Clearly, when the "just and reasonable" tests are used, a wage freeze is not in order.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

21st Century Learning - Coming to a school near you?

I hope to mostly write my own commentary, but I just can't match Alfie here are his comments on the latest fad in education....

When “21st-Century Schooling”
Just Isn’t Good Enough:  A Modest Proposal

By Alfie Kohn

Many school administrators, and even more people who aren’t educators
but are kind enough to offer their advice about how our field can be
improved, have emphasized the need for “21st-century schools” that
teach “21st-century skills.”  But is this really enough, particularly
now that our adversaries (in other words, people who live in other
countries) may be thinking along the same lines?  Unfortunately, no.
Beginning immediately, therefore, we must begin to implement
22nd-century education.

What does that phrase mean?  How can we possibly know what skills will
be needed so far in the future?  Such challenges from skeptics – the
same kind of people who ask annoying questions about other
cutting-edge ideas, including “brain-based education” -- are to be
expected.  But if we’re confident enough to describe what education
should be like throughout the 21st century – that is, what will be
needed over the next 90 years or so -- it’s not much of a stretch to
reach a few decades beyond that.

Essentially, we can take whatever objectives or teaching strategies we
happen to favor and, merely by attaching a label that designates a
future time period, endow them (and ourselves) with an aura of novelty
and significance.  Better yet, we instantly define our critics as
impediments to progress.  If this trick works for the adjective
“21st-century,” imagine the payoff from ratcheting it up by a hundred

To describe schooling as 22nd-century, however, does suggest a
somewhat specific agenda.  First, it signifies an emphasis on
competitiveness.  Even those who talk about 21st-century schools
invariably follow that phrase with a reference to “the need to compete
in a global economy.”  The goal isn’t excellence, in other words; it’s
victory.  Education is first and foremost about being first and
foremost.  Therefore, we might as well trump the 21st-century folks by
peering even further into the future.

You may have noticed the connection between this conception of
education and the practice of continually ranking students on the
basis of their scores on standardized tests.  This is a promising
start, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough.  Twenty-second--century
schooling means that just about everything should be evaluated in
terms of who’s beating whom.  Thus, newspapers might feature headlines
like:  “U.S. Schools Now in 4th Place in Number of Hall Monitors” or
“Gates Funds $50-Billion Effort to Manufacture World-Class Cafeteria
Trays.”  Whatever the criterion, our challenge is to make sure that
people who don’t live in the United States will always be inferior to

This need to be number one also explains why we can no longer settle
for teaching to the “whole child.”  The trouble is that if you have a
whole of something, you have only one of it.  From now on, therefore,
you can expect to see conferences devoted to educating a
“child-and-a-half” (CAAH).   Nothing less will do in a 22nd-century
global – or possibly interplanetary – economy.  To cite the title of a
forthcoming best-seller that educators will be reading in place of
dusty tomes about pedagogy, The Solar System Is Flat.

In addition to competitiveness, those who specify an entire century to
frame their objectives tend not to be distracted by all the fretting
about what’s good for children.  Instead, they ask, “What do our
corporations need?” and work backwards from there.  We must never
forget the primary reason that children attend school – namely, to be
trained in the skills that will maximize the profits earned by their
future employers.  Indeed, we have already made great strides in
shifting the conversation about education to what will prove useful in
workplaces rather than wasting time discussing what might support
“democracy” (an 18th-century notion, isn’t it?) or what might promote
self development as an intrinsic good (a concept that goes back
thousands of years and is therefore antiquated by definition).

How can we redouble our commitment to business-oriented schooling?  If
necessary, we can outsource some of the learning to students in Asia,
who will memorize more facts for lower grades.  And we can complete
the process, already begun in spirit, of making universities’
education departments subsidiaries of their business schools.  More
generally, we must put an end to pointless talk about students’
“interest” in learning and instead focus on skills that will
contribute to the bottom line.  Again, we’re delighted to report that
this shift is already underway, thanks to those who keep reminding us
about the importance of 21st-century schooling.

This is no time for complacency, though.  Not everyone is on board
yet, and that means we’ll have to weed out teachers whose stubborn
attachment to less efficient educational strategies threatens to slow
down the engine of our future economy.  How can we rid our schools of
those who refuse to be team players?  Well, we can insist that all
classroom instruction be rigorously aligned to state standards – a
very effective technique since most of those standards documents were
drafted by people steeped in the models, methods, and metaphors of
corporations.  We can also use merit pay to enforce compliance by
stigmatizing anyone who doesn’t play by the new rules.  (Come to think
of it, here, too, we’re already well on our way to creating
22nd-century classrooms.)

The final distinguishing feature of education that’s geared to the
next century is its worshipful attitude toward mathematics and
technology.  “If you can’t quantify it or plug it in, who needs it?”
Of course, the reason we will continue to redirect resources toward
the STEM subjects (and away from literature and the arts) isn’t
because the former are inherently more important but simply because
they’re more useful from an economic standpoint.  And that standpoint
is the only one that matters for schools with a proper 22nd-century

One last point.  We will of course continue to talk earnestly about
the need for a curriculum that features “critical thinking” skills –
by which we mean the specific proficiencies acceptable to CEOs.  But
you will appreciate the need to delicately discourage real critical
thinking on the part of students, since this might lead them to pose
inconvenient questions about the entire enterprise and the ideology on
which it’s based.  There’s certainly no room for that in the global
competitive economy of the future.  Or the present.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Grading the Teacher - What's the Agenda?

The recent publication by the LA times of a ranking of teachers based on so-called "value added" scores should frighten not only education professionals the world over, but the rest of society too.

While the mantra continues to be "accountability", it is not hard to see the real agenda.

First off, the ranking is based on increases to standardized test scores of the students in a teacher's class. This assumes that the job of teaching is about increasing standardized test scores and the purpose of schooling is to maximize every student's ability to score well on a standardized test. What happened to learning pro-social behaviours? Critical thinking? Understanding democratic principles? Exploring the arts, music, drama and sports? Are these irrelevent?

This is truly the scariest thing about these rankings - they suggest that the purpose of education is limited only to an extremely narrow set of skills designed to enable people to perform relatively simple tasks in a job. Forget the democratic society and reaching one's potential - be it in strings, sculpture or hockey. Only reading, writing and math are what count.

Of additional concern to teachers, but also all professionals, is the notion that we be regulated by our "clients" who "shop" for the best. Professions are based on the notion that EVERY member of the profession meets a certain high standard. This is why we have professional bodies that regulate our members and ensure that those standards are maintained. Would we want to choose an airline flight by looking up a ranking of pilots before each flight and picking the best one? Of course not. Who would want the pilot at the bottom of the list. We want every pilot to meet a very high standard, and we want the same of teachers.

And lest we think this is just some crazy American phenomenon, check out the commentary up here by Margaret Wente  And by the way, I notice she doesn't propose a ranking of journalists.

Or if you'd rather read an interesting commentary, check out Alfie Kohn, an educational researcher, here:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Return of Deadlines?

Many teachers have been understandably frustrated with the poorly conceived notion that any student, at any time, should be able to "redo" any assignment, homework or test during the term or semester.

In addition to the workload issue this creates for teachers, it has a knock on effect on the habits of students. Not surprisingly, they study less, attend less, and generally get less learning done. While it is certainly important to give second chances, and to recognize that children and young adults are still learning organization and time management skills, we appear to have developed a culture where missing deadlines and time lines has no consequence and we are teaching students that this is OK.

A growing number of provinces are responding and changing course. In Ontario, teachers will now be able to deduct marks for late assignments. And in Nova Scotia, students who miss 20% of classes will automatically be required to retake the course.

In Victoria, the drive to allow every student to hand in everything late seems to have been driven by the relentless push from the school Board to "improve graduation rates" - on paper, at least. Students don't fail, they are perpetually incomplete. Yet rather than design truly self-paced learning environments, many secondary schools have adopted the practice of simply allowing students to just scrape by redoing tests, attending "course completion" in the last few days of class and cramming in just enough marks at the last minute to get a pass. This is a disservice to the student who really needs to learn to attend and study. And it is a disservice to their learning when we accept that scraping by with fifty percent means they have learned the curriculum and are ready to move on.

See news coverage of this issue at:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ontario - Doing Kindergarten Right

Both BC and Ontario will see full day K classes this fall. While BC has adopted the "ontario model" with respect to curriculum, they have fallen far short on funding.

In Ontario, K will be offered half day to four year olds and full day for five year olds next year. While there are blended junior K/senior K classes, there will be no blending or splitting with Grade 1 classes. The government recognizes that the two programs don't mix.

In addition, the Ontario government is implementing a before and after school care program with integration to schools and classrooms. Each program will have qualified Early Childhood Educators who begin the day with students and go with them into the classroom, as an additional educator along with the teacher. At noon, a second ECE will join the class and this educator goes with the students to the after school care. This provides continuity for the children and it means there will always be both a teacher and and Early Childhood Educator in each classroom.

Finally, the Ontario government has recognized that expanding the Kindergarten program means new classrooms are needed. A capitol funding program is in place to allow Districts to add additional space to schools rather than rely on portables.