There are few things that one can count on in this life other than death and taxes. However, here in Nova Scotia, there are a number of things we can count on almost as surely. First, when summer comes, the price of gas will go up. Second, whenever Nova Scotia Power and EMERA approach the UARB for a price hike in power rates, they will get it. And finally, at least once per week, Nova Scotians will open the daily paper and get one completely uninformed article bashing the education system.
This week’s installment from The Chronicle Herald was penned by freelance journalist Ralph Surette, and was, as many such commentaries have been of late, based on hyperbole and supposition. Surette was trying, as many have recently, to argue that the school system in Nova Scotia is failing due to “poor results” in literacy and math scores, and that these results are not worth the price we are paying for them.
Hearkening back to what he seemingly saw as the glory days of education cuts under the NDP government, Surette accused the Liberals of going “full throttle” for promising they will be “pumping $65 million” into the system over four years.
Not satisfied with grandly calling $65 million over four years a “full throttle” approach to education funding, Surette spent three paragraphs re-hashing the recent hysteria about teacher upgrades. When talking about tight budgets he wrote “…let suspicion fall on things like teacher upgrades in which teachers take courses at public expense then get a salary top-up when it’s completed“. He raised the now worn out issue of the Drake University upgrades, and then hinted that perhaps no teacher upgrades have ever been valid, questioning if we have an out of control “perk system”. After all, according to Surrette, one day, some indeterminate time ago, his wife, who was working somewhere in the HRM school system, heard about this one teacher, this one time, who was reportedly maybe six months from retirement who, rumour had it, had been sent off to a course in Florida.
And we can all sleep well tonight knowing that at least Surette has a solid basis for his opinions.
I could spend several more paragraphs explaining how many ways Surette’s views represented the same old tired tripe. I could point out that the last round of testing came on the heels of two years of cuts and turmoil in the system. Perhaps teachers dealing with students who had less mental health support, less guidance support and less resource support due to cutbacks may have had more important issues to focus on than preparing the students to take a standardized test. I could also perhaps point out that relying on the expertise of someone like Bill Black to examine the education system, as Surette did in his piece, may not be in the best interest of the debate. Yes, Black may be a number cruncher, but since graduating Dalhousie in 1970 or so, the closest he has come to a public school classroom has been acting as a member of the board of governors at Dal. Finally, at the risk of being branded a union shill, I could make the point that although the NSTU does have serving the best interests of its members as a core tenet, it also has a complementary mandate to advance the cause of public education in Nova Scotia. To claim, as Surette does, that the Teacher’s Union does not consider students’ interest is to miss the fact that the union itself is made up of teachers.
Or does Surette simply mean to imply that no teachers in this province have the best interest of students at heart?
No, I won’t go over all the ways that Ralph Surette’s piece is baseless. He is entitled to his opinions, just like the rest of us. However, I grow weary of reading the same old tired arguments every week written with misguided confidence by people who believe a system they know nothing about should change.
I welcome a debate on education and on ways to improve a tightly stretched system. But let’s, at the very least, try to get some informed opinions sitting at the table.
Author’s note: This posting is part of what has become a bit of a series with me of late; educational change is being called for by those who simply do not understand the current system. In my next blog, I will be looking at that issue as a national trend, and be asking why it seems that the public is way more likely to listen to a banker than a teacher when it comes to educational change.