Just when you thought things could not get any worse for Nova Scotia schools.
On Tuesday, January 23rd, Dr. Avis Glaze released her hastily put together report on the state of education in the province. Dr. Glaze, touted as an independent consultant and educational expert, made a total of 22 recommendations, 11 of which were adopted the very next day by education Minister Zach Churchill. The report made several key recommendations, including the dissolving of democratically elected school boards, the creation of a college of teachers, and removing principals and vice principals from the NSTU.
And the report stands to be the single most destructive document in history of Nova Scotia education.
I know that is a bold statement, and I do not make it lightly. As I read the report, and listened to the news conferences, it felt as if my worse educational nightmares were unfolding before my eyes. This kind of attack on the very fabric of public education only happens elsewhere, right? I mean, surely by now, everybody recognizes this type of rhetoric as the epitome of neo-liberalism, right? Our elected officials really do have a grasp on the issues, right?
Well, apparently not.
The Glaze report bases itself in a common misconception that borders on an outright lie. In her report, Glaze used the results of two large-scale assessments, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program (PCAP) to justify a need for change. In a pre-release op-ed she declared that “…national and international assessments tell us that Nova Scotia students are not achieving their full potential. Nowhere does Nova Scotia even approach Canadian national averages.”
That is simply not true. Both these tests measured students capacity in Science, and in 2013, PCAP reported that, on average, 91% of Canadian students met expectations. In PISA, 2015 that number was 88%. In 2013, PCAP also reported that, on average, 91% of Nova Scotia students met expectations, and in PISA 2015 that number was 87%.
I am uncertain as to how anyone who is supposed to be an expert in education can see those numbers and conclude that we are not approaching national averages. One has to wonder about the extent to which Glaze actually reviewed the data.
Further to my point, Glaze also determined that the creation of a “College of Teachers” would be a good idea here in Nova Scotia. According to the report, “The College would perform some roles now held by the department, such as teacher certification, and by the NSTU, such as discipline.” Well, she is half right on this, at least. Certification of teachers is indeed, handled by the department. But discipline is handled by the employer, not by the NSTU.
This is again a rather obvious error of omission. It would seem that someone recommending an overhaul to our education system should have at least a basic understanding of how the current system operates before being granted carte blanche to suggest changes.
Speaking of not quite understanding our system, a key suggestion in Glazes’ report is the removal of administrators from the NSTU. She writes “This model would establish a coherent management-educator model, instead of the conflict of interest that currently exists with both management and employee in the same union.”
Considering, as mentioned, that the NSTU does not actually handle discipline of its members, (or hiring, or firing for that matter), I am not really sure what conflict of interest exists here. Employers are expected to set out the guidelines for teachers, and principals are expected to apply them. The only real issue arises if those guidelines are not followed. That is not because of union affiliation, that is good practice; the union simply ensures that the employer is playing by the rules. There is not much chance that is going to change, regardless of the outcome of all this. The NSTU will still be ensuring that its members are treated fairly and have been given due process and principals will still be expected to apply the rules in a fair and equitable manner.
There are, of course, many other recommendations in this report, and, like most neo-liberal reform, there is enough here to make the changes seem palatable to the masses. But Glaze, apparently a dyed in the wool Liberal supporter, arrived in Nova Scotia only a few short weeks ago. And now the government is trying to sell us on the idea that these recommendations have been duly considered and are in the best interest of our kids?
I have written cautionary tales before about the impending arrival upon our shores of what Finnish author and educator Pasi Sahlberg calls the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM). The movement is characterized by a few key ingredients which include the centralization of decision making, increased accountability measures for teachers, an increased focus on standardized testing and a vilification of teachers unions, all usually inflamed by unsubstantiated claims that public schools are failing. Glaze’s report checks all of these boxes.
Where they have been successful, these efforts have dismantled and decimated public education systems. When this happens, private enterprises swoop in to provide for-profit solutions. (Glaze herself owns a company called, Edu-Quest International). These entities make money, private schools flourish, and children from families who can not afford tuition are relegated to what become even more ridiculously underfunded public institutions. Don’t believe me? Spend 15 minutes on Google looking at the state of the US system, or see what folks are saying about schools in the UK.
I know I am sounding alarmist, but that is because I am alarmed. This government is about to embark on the most significant restructuring effort in our history on one of our most fundamental social institutions. They are doing so based on a report hurriedly authored by someone who seems to lack even a basic understanding of how our current system works. Finally, they are doing so in spite their abject and abysmal failure at handling a similar systemic change of our health care system.
This report is the worst of its kind. It plays on people’s irrational fears, offering solutions to problems that do not exist at the expense of a focus on those that do. It is a foolhardy and reckless document, adopted all to quickly by what has proven to be a foolhardy and reckless government.
Our education system is not currently failing our kids. But it is failing. And this report does nothing but perhaps speed up that process.