Tag Archives: teachers

Fixing poverty would do much more than implementing Glaze reforms. Here’s how

I wrote the article below a couple of months ago for Aviso (pdf link), the Nova Scotia Teachers Union’s magazine. It feels particularly relevant in light of the Glaze Report, the Liberal government’s latest package of education “reforms.” Dr. Avis Glaze’s recommendations (including shutting down elected school boards, creating a new certifying body for teachers and forcing administrators out of the teachers’ union) all of which been accepted in “spirit” by education minister Zach Churchill, are straight from the textbook of the corporate-driven education reform movement imported from the U.S. This is the movement that bases all its policy decisions on standardized test scores and blames teacher unions for any and all problems in the education system. 

If the Liberal government wants to improve student test scores (and Glaze’s contention that our students are “left behind” is highly questionable at best) then a better solution would be to address child poverty. (Of course, we shouldn’t fix child poverty to improve test scores; we should fix child poverty because there’s no morally defensible reason that kids – or anyone – should live in poverty.)

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Dr. Avis Glaze delivers her report in January. Photo: cbc.ca

Recent numbers from Statistics Canada show that Nova Scotia has the highest child poverty rate in the country (tied with New Brunswick) at 22.2 per cent. That’s more than one out of every five of the kids who sits in our classrooms every day.

We’ve heard numbers like this before. We become numb to them as they make headlines once or twice a year, then disappear from the news.

The kids they represent, though, don’t disappear from our schools quite so easily. We slip them occasional lunch money, let them raid our pencil collections and push them to their fullest potential. But is there anything else we can do?

I believe there is. As individual teachers we of course strive to make a difference in each one of our students’ lives. But as we know from being in a union, we can accomplish much more through collective action.

During the past year’s labour dispute, teachers benefited from the support and solidarity of parents, students, and workers in other unions. Similarly, our union often takes a stand in support of other workers in the province, and teachers across the country or even around the world.

A logical extension of this solidarity would be for the union to be involved in fights for concrete policy changes that would improve the lives of the poorest Nova Scotians. Here are some easy examples:

A significant increase in the minimum wage. Ontario and Alberta are in the process of increasing their minimum wages to $15. Nova Scotia’s minimum wage, at $11.00 an hour (lowest in the country), is well below what is needed for a single person working full-time to live, let alone someone with children or other dependents. A “Fight for 15” campaign is getting underway to increase minimum wage in this province; our union should support it wholeheartedly.

Raising income assistance rates. Those people who, for whatever reason, cannot work, rely on income assistance to survive. Many of these people live with physical and/or mental disabilities, chronic illness, or mental health issues. Yet income assistance rates have barely budged in the past several years. The monthly shelter allowance for a family of 3 ($620) is well below market housing costs, and basic personal allowances are barely enough to buy food. A person’s illness or disability shouldn’t condemn them and their family to life in poverty; rates need to rise to bring families above the low-income cut-off (a.k.a. the “poverty line”).

Affordable, universal early childhood education. The cost of childcare for children below school age is prohibitive for a great many parents. For parents in low-wage jobs, working a job instead of staying home with kids can barely be worth it once daycare costs are factored in. For single parents (90 per cent of whom are women), the decision whether or not to work outside the home can be next to impossible. Election campaigns have have seen some parties promise universal child care programs, but these fizzle or are forgotten post-campaign (or the party that promised them fails to get elected).

Universal low-cost child care pays for itself with increased tax revenue coming from parents of young children being who can more readily enter the workforce. Programs like this exist in Quebec and several European countries and are more effective than tax refunds and benefits at ensuring access to quality care.

Rent control and investment in social and affordable housing. About a quarter of Canadians, and more than 40% or renters, spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs, a common measure of housing affordability. Rent control (whereby rent could not be raised more than a given percentage per year) and other policy measures can improve housing affordability for those who need it most. A stable living situation is perhaps the most fundamental piece of the puzzle of poverty: without a home, it’s hard to do much else.

These aren’t impossible ideas. They’re practical, feasible solutions to what is often viewed as an intractable problem. Furthermore, although many of these policies have a price tag, they ultimately benefit the economy by increasing the spending power of the poorest citizens – who, unlike wealthier folks, can’t help but spend the extra money in their pockets on necessities.

Many of these policies are already supported by campaigns led by other unions in the labour movement. It wouldn’t take much for a union like ours to plug in. Social media campaigns, letter-writing campaigns, rallies or other events can also engage more members to participate in their union.

For years teachers unions have argued, correctly, that child poverty is one of the main systemic obstacles to student learning in our classrooms. We’ve implored governments to fix the problem, but without always being clear about how they should do so. It’s time to be clear that not only is child poverty a solvable problem, but one which has clear, achievable solutions. These are things our union can help fight for.

Don’t expect much from Liberals’ pre-primary scheme

This is a guest post by Joanne Hussey, who knows much more about the child care and pre-primary sectors in Nova Scotia than I do. Joanne is a researcher with the provincial NDP caucus, and ran as a candidate in the most recent provincial and federal elections. This post is re-printed from Facebook with her permission.

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photo: Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada)

 

I provided fair warning that my personal long form rant on the Liberal government’s pre-primary scheme was forthcoming and today’s the day!

Let’s start with some things we can all agree on:
– Public investment in services and supports that lead to improved health and developmental outcomes for children is a great idea
– Significant public investment in child care is long overdue
– A lack of accessible child care is hurting families, women, the economy and progress on gender equity

So, with that as a starting point, please allow me to air my grievances. Continue reading Don’t expect much from Liberals’ pre-primary scheme

Teachers unions can win. Let’s get to work

As teachers in Nova Scotia mull over their bargaining team’s third attempt at a tentative agreement in just over a year, here are a few observations about the dispute, and about teachers’ and workers’ power in general.

1) Teachers have a new idea of what is possible. Many of the issues teachers have raised over the last year – overcrowded classrooms, insufficient supports for students with special needs, excessive amounts of time spent on clerical tasks – have worsened fairly slowly over the past 10-15 years. Change happened gradually enough that opposition to it was weak, and a general sense of resignation slowly set in.

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Parents and supporters rally for teachers in downtown Halifax, February 5th, 2017 (Photo: Meg Ferguson via Facebook)

As the contract dispute has progressed, teachers have started to think big. Class sizes of 35-40 are no longer thought of as inevitable. (New Brunswick has class caps of 29 even in upper grades.) Teachers are speaking out against endless “improvement plans” and “accountability” measures that never seem to result in actual improvements or accountability. The impossibility of meeting the growing diversity of classroom needs under constant cost-cutting budgets has become a serious topic of discussion.

Governments for decades have sold us on the idea that “we can’t afford to do this.” Teachers are now sold on the idea that “we can’t afford not to do this.” Continue reading Teachers unions can win. Let’s get to work

There is no substitute for solidarity

Teachers in Ontario found reason to celebrate recently.

In 2012, the Ontario Liberal government passed the “Putting Students First Act,” a bill which imposed contracts on teachers and effectively took away their right to strike.

This April, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that this act (also known as Bill 115), had violated teachers’ constitutional rights. Teachers, like other workers, are guaranteed the right to negotiate the terms of their work collectively and to have these negotiations be meaningful. Bill 115 had made this impossible.

gavel

Teachers and many other public-sector workers across the country welcomed the ruling, seeing it as a precedent which protects against current or future governments trying the same kind of legislative trick.

But is it? Continue reading There is no substitute for solidarity

Nova Scotia can afford to respect its public-sector workers

One of the best parts of being a teacher is when students let you know they appreciate the work you do.

It happens more than you might think. Despite the common, timeless sentiment that kids-today-ain’t-got-no-respect, students do express their appreciation in lots of ways: a thank-you in passing, a question that shows interest in what they’re learning, a compliment delivered via a parent at parent-teacher, the occasional goodie or card at holiday time.

Any teacher will tell you that appreciation coming from the kids is a great motivator. But it’d be nice if we also got it from the government that employs us.

Along with other public employees, teachers in Nova Scotia recently had our wages frozen for two years, and retirement benefits rolled back, through legislation by the provincial Liberal government.

Teachers and other public-sector workers rally at the provincial legislature on December 16th.
Teachers and other public-sector workers rally at the provincial legislature on December 16th. (Source: Facebook)

A few weeks before, negotiators from the Nova Scotia Teachers Union had actually worked out a tentative new contract with the government, one that even included the same wage freeze (with below-inflation raises in the following two years). Continue reading Nova Scotia can afford to respect its public-sector workers

What is, and isn’t, in the minister’s report on Nova Scotian education

The panel reviewing Nova Scotia’s education system has released its report. Disrupting the Status Quo: Nova Scotians Demand a Better Future for Every Student makes 30 recommendations for overhauling P-12 education, based on an extensive survey completed by 19,000 people.

Photo via flickr.
Photo via flickr.

When I first heard about the plan for an education review, I got my guard up. In the U.S., education “reform” led by wealthy interests has wreaked havoc on public education for decades now, overemphasizing standardized testing, narrowing the curriculum, funnelling public money to semi-private charter schools, and generally creating problems when it purported to fix them. The six-person panel hand-picked to conduct the review didn’t set my mind at ease.

The report released in Nova Scotia last week didn’t fully follow the U.S. formula, which is a good thing. It contains some very positive conclusions, such as the acknowledgement of how teacher workload issues affect student learning, and the need to focus on students’ physical and mental health.

Some of the report’s other conclusions, however, are more problematic, as are some elements that are left out. Continue reading What is, and isn’t, in the minister’s report on Nova Scotian education

Education debates are political, not just pedagogical

Back to basicsMy local paper recently published a series of articles lamenting Nova Scotian P-12 students’ performance on standardized math and literacy tests. At issue, reported author Frances Willick, is the use of modern teaching techniques such as “whole-language” learning for teaching reading and “discovery-based” learning for teaching math.

Willick’s sources, such as Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU) education professor Jamie Metsala, say these modern methods have failed kids. Teachers should focus more on traditional techniques like phonics for teaching reading, and repetitive drills for teaching basic math.

All of us should welcome robust public debates on pedagogical techniques, and most of us in the education world do. After all, we want to do the best job we can at educating our kids.

Unfortunately, “crisis” articles like these are not very helpful. First, they sensationalize what is actually happening in our classrooms; and second, they ignore the political context of what is happening in our education system.

Continue reading Education debates are political, not just pedagogical