Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Johnson picks a(nother) fight with the ATA

A couple of years back, the Government of Alberta launched the High School Flexibility Enhancement Pilot Project. The idea was to see if it was possible to de-link course credit and instructional time. Basically, could students earn credit without the 25-hours of mandatory face-to-face instruction per course credit currently required?

The summary report of the pilot quotes Minister of Education Jeff Johnson framing this change as:
…what we talked about in Inspiring Education and where we want to go in the province in terms of instilling critical competencies in kids as opposed to having them just regurgitate content and memorize content. And so, that’s going to require a change to our system; it’s going to require a change to how we teach; the curriculum we teach. It’s going to require having curriculum that’s simpler and less prescriptive and allows teachers and local communities to plan learning experiences; where we bring in experts from the community and experts from around the globe even because no longer in the future is it envisioned that the teachers are always going to be the same. And they necessarily won’t be the sage on the stage or the repository of all the knowledge and content. (p.2)
The list of positive and negative changes observed during the pilot are listed on page 15 of the document. They tell a mixed tale. General measures of student retention went up but exam scores went down. Quality of teaching and education measures generally went down. But the government has decided to go forward. Hmmm….

While the project is pitched as seeking flexibility, student-centredness and reducing infrastructure demand (i.e., new schools), it also has human resource implications. For example, teachers will be expected to teach differently and use outside “experts”.

Yesterday, Minister of Education Jeff Johnson suggested that one barrier to progress on this initiative is the "stringent" rules pushed for by the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) to cap instructional hours and allow only ATA members to instruct students.

It is true that the ATA (acting as a union) negotiates instructional caps. But it does so with the government, either directly (as in this past round) or indirectly (via school boards, which are essentially proxies for the government). So implicitly blaming the ATA for a situation co-produced between the ATA and the government is misleading.

It is also true that, to teach a K-12 student, one needs to be certified by the ATA (acting as a professional regulatory body). But this arrangement flows from legislation, something the government controls. During the most recent round of bargaining, the government gave the ATA a “comfort letter” which basically says the government wouldn’t alter the regulatory function of the ATA. Again, this was a co-produced outcome, mostly reflecting choices the government has made over time that regulating who teaches children is a good thing.

For its part, the ATA notes it has been largely cut out of the design of this program. And, of course, the ATA’s job is to maintain professional and contractual standards, not help the government end-run them.

So why is Johnson blaming the ATA?

Well, Johnson did a poor job of handling ATA negotiations this spring and the premier had to bail him out. And Johnson has been taking fire for class sizes topping 40 students flowing from the government’s budget cuts this spring. Perhaps this is payback for the ATA’s efforts (on behalf of their members) for decent working conditions. And perhaps he is looking to scape-goat the ATA in order to hang onto his cabinet seat following this coming weekend’s Conservative leadership review.

-- Bob Barnetson

No comments:

Post a Comment