RSS Feed

August, 2014

  1. Time to talk “alternatives” — vouchers, charters, etc., etc.

    August 30, 2014 by Tunya

    [posted to The Tyee on story "Three Reasons Teachers Must Keep Picketing to Keep Pressure on BC Gov't" by Bill Tieleman.]


    $40 Oils The Slippery Slope To Vouchers

    Maybe that’s why John Fryer, long time public sector union organizer and now professor of Public Administration, U Vic, counseled BCTF to go back to work but keep bargaining.  Parents are to be paid $40 for every strike day come the new school year. That first payout would be the beginning of the end — a “post public universe” as Tom Fleming, historian, predicted 3 years ago in his book “Worlds Apart: BC Schools, Politics & Labour Relations Before & After 1972 (Bendall Bks).

    Imagine abolishing the Ministry of Education — vouchers paid out by Finance and a Department of Standards and Regulations to monitor accountability.  Massive reduction of bureaucrats!

    Imagine no more public school teacher strikes, as the monopoly would no longer exist. 

    However, Fryer might actually be experiencing a “conflicted” mind as a report for the federal government that he headed actually discussed the proper role of government as being to “steer, not row the boat.”  So vouchers (or any of the other choice mechanisms working in other jurisdictions) would be in that direction.  So, his counsel to return to work may have been just a way for BCTF to gain favor with parents, not to forestall per diem payouts from the education fund.  Not sure how Fryer actually sees the $40 idea.

    But in the history of BC, vouchers have been an item.  In 1973, NDP Premier Barrett and MLA Bob Williams “privately looked with favour on the voucher system, whereby each parent would receive a voucher for the year’s cost of a public school education and would have the choice of whether to apply this in public or non-public schools.” (The 1200 Days, 1978, Kavic, Nixon)

    A Vancouver Sun story (School voucher system mulled: plan aimed at choice over schools, Oct 27’87) had then Social Credit Minister of Finance, Mel Couvelier, forming a committee to examine “the total education budget to determine if there are ways to spend money more efficiently.”

    The moment I heard about the $40 idea (July 31, 2014), I immediately could see good policy implications and provided 7 reasons to support the initiative.  I sent my comments to a number of media outlets in early August.  See my blog for “Education Debit Account Idea Explained”

    Apparently there is some pretty frantic bargaining going on right now.  Wonder if the looming $40 payout to parents is front and center or just in the back of the bargainers’ minds. 

    Whatever, the emergence of parents as a third force in BC during these hectic and troubled times is such a welcome sign,. I do hope, for the sake of parents and their desire for long term stability and choice in seeking the best education for their children that the voucher idea sticks around for serious discussion,  promotion and implementation.

  2. What is legal may still be “wrong”

    August 28, 2014 by Tunya

    [comment to various news stories re Teacher Strike negotiations — Vancouver Sun, The Province, Huffington Post (BC).  What I'm  trying to establish is that it is wrongheaded to retain a structure that does harm to its mission (EDUCATION) and to society (DEMOCRACY) as a whole.  What ever differences the two contending sides have, they will not give up their "playpen" the monopoly public education system.  It may be time for serious work on exits via vouchers, charter schools, etc., which give the consumer — the parents — more flixibility to acquire the education that best fits their child.  This conflict in BC raises serious questions of validity, credibility and accountability of the present rigid system.

    Also questions about proper governance:  Should government ROW  or  STEER the boat?  Lots of literature, pro and con, on this topic. How about DIVERSITY of boats?]



    What have you when two competing usurpers clash over stolen booty? It’s a squatters’ dilemma of sorts, isn’t it? Both squatting on someone else’s property, yet because they’ve been there for so long — each in his own way thinks he is the rightful owner by virtue of long occupancy and entrenched footholds. 

    This is the way I characterize this current clash between the BC government and the teacher union. This squatters’ war has been going on for over 40 years. The government-of-the-day, REGARDLESS of its political stripe — socialist, liberal or conservative believes it must govern a monopoly education system — believing they know what’s best for the individual students and parents in the system. The teachers’ union, BECAUSE of its political compass set in the 70s, believes in worker control of the workplace and has through its actions and structuring of reality in effect become a parallel government. 

    The history of the BC public education system has been well documented in the book, Worlds Apart: BC schools, politics & labour relations before and after 1972, (Fleming, 2011, Bendall Bks). Jim MacFarlan, BCTF president in the 70s was described as a “radical Marxist” who “believed schools should be used as instruments of social change”.

    The closing paragraph of Fleming’s book (3 yrs ago!) said prophetically: “ . . .will government and the teachers’ federation finally find ways to behave in a civilized manner, or will the discord of recent decades finally weaken support for old organizational relationships to the point that a new ‘post-public’ universe of schooling will emerge? Sooner or later, these are questions that British Columbians and their government will be obliged to answer.”

    While the book informs the bargainers in these critical talks, we can easily get the gist of the history from this article (go straight to “teacher power”)

    What I mean to say is this: Parents are the legitimate “owners” of education of their children. They are ultimately responsible to society and their children to obtain the best they can for them. The industry of “public education” that has arisen is an aberration even if most states of the world also run this way. A self-serving rapacious, predatory and parasitic industry thrives on monopoly and threatens to suffocate democracy and education. But, everywhere in the world, this centralization of education is being challenged. The domination by public sector teacher unions and their obstacling of choices and reforms are being confronted and corrected. 

    No doubt the bargainers and the mediator see the writing on the wall. There is a “post public” configuration awaiting. The monopoly is an invisible bargaining chip on the table. It is actually the government side that is reading the cards perfectly — parents ARE a third force in the picture, and will eventually reclaim their prime responsibility which has been so selfishly usurped. That is why the $40 per diem idea is so refreshing — an acknowledgement that parents have the first claim on the education dollar to help educate their children. See more of my argument here “When will the dam burst for parents?”

    You can bet both sides will try to keep the monopoly intact, but the world picture portends otherwise! See also the literature in public administration, which describes governments as “steering, not rowing the boat”. See also John Fryer’s research on this.

  3. Reply to Student Re Teacher Strike

    August 26, 2014 by Tunya

    [In a Teacher Strike it is ultimately the students who are the victims.  It’s great when students can research the issues and come up with an analysis, which can be put down for others to see.  Armand Birk, a university student, had his first published piece in the Huffington Post — For Every Student, There Was A Teacher —  Aug 24 ’14  After many comments and lively discussion Armand then asked: “Do you believe that the situation at hand would have been so dire if these issues had been fully addressed when they originally arose 12 or so years ago? . .  What are your thoughts?”  Below is my response and would love to hear back.]


    Armand: After publishing your excellent tribute to teachers you are now probing the larger picture, one of policy and financial management.

    Firstly, let me say that I, as parent and grandparent, do agree that relationships between teachers and their students can be precious and should be valued. But that is not what the current struggle is about.

    Now you ask if things would be different today if proper decisions were made 12 years ago. 

    But, that is not what is informing the two sides — the government and the teacher union — during their secret negotiations. They are immersed in age-old divisions that go back at least 40 years and well documented in the book Worlds Apart: BC Schools, Politics & Labour Relations Before & After 1972, Thomas Fleming (Bendall Bks, 2011). 

    This is key to understanding this “Hatfield/McCoy Feud” being played out today in BC. The closing paragraph of Fleming’s book (3 yrs ago!) said prophetically: “ . . .will government and the teachers’ federation finally find ways to behave in a civilized manner, or will the discord of recent decades finally weaken support for old organizational relationships to the point that a new ‘post-public’ universe of schooling will emerge?” 

    All members of the bargaining teams are well-aware of this 40 year feud and probably have well-thumbed copies of Worlds Apart in their briefcases. To read an article online of this issue go straight to the section “teacher power”

    You will see how teacher union members, though not directly through BCTF, were instrumental in defeating the government and bringing in the first NDP government in BC. You will read how the BCTF president, “radical Marxist” Jim MacFarlan (misspelled McFarlan in article) “believed schools should be used as instruments of social change”. History records that BC governments of every stripe — socialist, liberal, conservative — struggled with this militant union ever since.

    You ask good questions, but I stress the issues go far beyond 12 years of history. The issues relate to ideology, that is, political agendas and you will find the politics of the inner BCTF circle (Yes, some still there from ’72) are off the continuum of local everyday politics in BC. The current strike rallying cry — As Long As It Takes — is part of the narrative from this extreme left website whose logo proclaims — Agitate, Educate, Organize

    [In a Teacher Strike, students are the ultimate victims, so it's great when students actually research, then place their analysis down for others. Here is a university student, Armand Birk, who had his first published article in Huffington Post — For Every Student, There Was A Teacher, Aug 24 '14  After many comments, Armand then asked: "Do you believe that the situation at hand would have been so dire if these issues had been fully addressed when they originally arose 12 or so years ago? . . . What are your thoughts?"  My answer below, and would love to hear back!]

    In case you didn’t know, we have TWO School Acts in BC. The Independent Schools Act, which forbids sedition — fostering discontent and overthrow of government, and the BC School Act, which says nothing about sedition. It’s too bad that besides all the active and unconcealed acts of rebelliousness being demonstrated, we now have the BCTF president, Jim Iker, urging members to actively swamp school board elections this Fall. (Lay control?)

    Armand: I appreciate your well-meaning questions and answer from a history that I've lived through. We learned that a military defense system should not be governed by the soldiers and understood education should not be run by teachers. Pasi Sahlberg, the highly revered speaker on behalf of Finnish education and its achievements also believes teachers should not dominate decision-making.

    Armand: Who manages the education system is probably the biggest issue of the current quarrel, not finances. I hope you’re thinking of going into public administration studies at University. Best wishes.



  4. When will the dam burst for parents?

    August 25, 2014 by Tunya

    [my comment to Society for Quality Education on post — "What About The Others?"

    This was a guest column and here is the gist of it:  “I became a teacher in 2002, so that I could help my daughter from within the system. She has a learning disability.”  She ends up by asking what she can do for others: “I am really concerned that all children reach their own potential and that the schools need to aid that path to success.”  This was my reply.]


    When Will The Dam Burst Regarding Parent Rights In Schools?

    Today, we are dealing with the story of a parent who was motivated to become a teacher so as to help her own (special needs) child maximize her potential using the services provided by the subsidized public school system.  It worked.  The child is now a self-supporting taxpayer.  Good going Mom.  Now, the Mom wants to help others:  What’s the best approach?

    Seems to me what is happening in BC right now may give some hope and ideas.  But, surely, we don’t need a nasty teacher strike to get parents into the picture, do we?  Pressure-cooker valves are ready to start popping soon!

    You know, it’s not easy to say what might work for a broader population of parents.  I myself have been involved in the parent cause for over 45 years, and one thing I do lament is the fact of insiders (that is, teachers who are parents, for example) having an unfair advantage in capitalizing on scarce services.

    But, let’s put things on the table, and apply some perspective, and maybe something will arise.  As I said, in BC, I see new ground being broken.  The parent group is getting noisier.  The social media is full of considerable back and forth with a lot of pushback comments against teachers who say they are doing it (the strike) “for the children” — “our working conditions are their learning conditions”!

    It is significant that the BC government is offering a per diem  ($40 day for 12 and under kids) to parents who will be deprived of their chosen public school come September.  For education or daycare. This does show a recognition and verification that ultimately, it is the parents who are responsible for education and that the collected taxpayer dollars will follow the intended client, the student. 

    The history of parent involvement in education is dismal.

    This is my opinion:  This is the case of a natural, birthright, biological right and duty of parents toward their children’s development and education having been usurped by an industry (which, BTW, grows ever larger and bolder every year).

    This is chronicled in “Parents and Schools – the 150-year struggle for control in American education” by William Cutler (2000). 14 years ago he ended his book with an excellent paragraph (too long for this post) summarized here:  “A cycle of failure will repeat if the home and the school continue to follow their historical paths . . . families and schools are farther apart than ever before . . . Communication is the key to reaffirming their interdependence. Without it, there cannot be the reciprocity that once seemed to describe the relationship between the home and the school.”

    On second thought, perhaps this paragraph and this book may be a starting point.  Especially since we DO know that parent rights do exist but that they are relatively invisible (see my link above).  Maybe a heightened awareness that a few parents do appreciate the entitlements provided and most DON’T might trigger some written parent rights for all.  Stark unfairness is a great motivator for reform.

    In the UK there was a move by the government to mandate schools to be more responsive to parents.  The National Association of Head Teachers put on a course — Parents: Partners or Enemies?  I’m not sure how that went.







  5. Governance Failure in Public Education — Admitted

    August 22, 2014 by Tunya

    [posted to The Province comments, 20140821 on “The disgraceful truth about school dispute, Mike Smyth]


    Parents As A THIRD FORCE In BC Education


    Because this latest teacher strike befell at some of the most inconvenient times for students and their first responder advocates — their parents — a lot of penetrating questions have been raised. Firstly the graduates were tripped up in June.  Now, it is parents who are without any certainty as School Start looms with little hope of September days.  On top of that, taxpayers are grousing for rebates of school taxes.


    The biggest question, of course, is: Why has this turmoil been allowed to happen so frequently for 40 years?  Is it truly governance failure — by governments of various stripes be they socialist, conservative or liberal — buckling to demands of a public sector union for the sake of “labor peace”?


    The Minister of Education says that the dysfunctional paradigm of legislated “return to work” orders has to be broken — that he wants a negotiated settlement — that parents have told him they too want a negotiated settlement. 


    That parents are being brought into the picture in concrete ways is a real breakthrough — finally, the true “owners” of the educational responsibility are getting some recognition.  The $40 day payout to parents if the strike continues is verification of their obligation to see that education of their children happens.  Even if they have to do it themselves through home education, tutoring or finding other learning opportunities.  The parent info website is also another outreach to help parents find alternatives and keep them abreast of developments.


    This would not have happened if the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils had not been active.  They wanted a collective voice in matters educational in BC and wanted to support the rights of individual parents who want to play instrumental roles in their children’s education.


    It is this promised or inferred sharing in decision-making that is, however, making the education establishment nervous — teacher unions in particular, then some academics, then administrations and bureaucracies who like the status quo.  Assertive consumers are not welcome.  Thus we see that interminable school wars between the union and the government are NOT unwelcome.  In fact, the teacher union may even be seen as a convenient scapegoat by which the monopoly public service is kept relatively stable.


    Whatever happens in the end regarding this strike, this is an opportune time for parents to make sure that overtures for involvement go beyond lip-service.  Parent rights need to be enunciated and written down.  The concerns about special needs need to be wrestled down — audits re current spending, are there sufficient teachers equipped to teach appropriately?; are parents able to access resources in a timely manner?; etc.  


    And let’s face it, teachers and education system. Parents do want their children to read proficiently.  When will there be a sincere commitment to this goal for all students?  The basics are foremost in parent minds if the system would only listen.  Accountability is something parents and taxpayers want assurances about.


    In a democracy those most affected are supposed to be involved.  Time to cut parents into the front lines of decision-making.


    This Third Force in the education picture in BC is a most welcome event.  Let’s build on it!