It has been about a week now since a report on the administrative workings of the Nova Scotia education system, authored by Dr. Avis Glaze, was released on an unsuspecting public. The report, rather grandly entitled “Raise the Bar: A Coherent and Responsive Education Administration System for Nova Scotia” included a total of 22 recommendations, which, if adopted in their entirety, will mean that our system will certainly look very different coming out the other side.
The key question for Nova Scotians to consider, however, is whether what is being proposed will actually improve the system for our students, or if, as I suspect, this report will do far more harm than good.
Certainly, as a unionist, the report has an all-too-familiar slant to it that is hard to ignore. One of the key recommendations specifically targets the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, and proposes that principals and vice principals be removed as members. This has been on the Liberal wish list for a while now, and although some may see this as an idea with some merit, the rationale behind it comes from a position of ignorance.
The general concern seems to be around how principals can hold teachers accountable if they are in the same union. Well, in our schools, it is the employer who sets out the discipline procedure for teachers, which must be created within the bounds of the contract. The principal/ vice principal is responsible for supervising teachers, and dealing with issues as they arise. If an issue becomes serious enough to warrant discipline, it is passed up the line, usually to human resources. The role of the union in all of this is to ensure that procedures have been applied fairly, and to represent the teacher when dealing with HR.
This rather begs the question of how, precisely, this will change if principals are removed from the union. Principals will still be expected to monitor teachers, and the NSTU will still be ensuring the proper process is followed. The only thing that will really change here is that a rather large group of educators, many of whom are women in leadership roles, will find themselves without any union representation.
Then there is the rationale provided behind her idea that dissolving the individual school boards will somehow stream line the system. Now, as much as I may appreciate the perception from some camps that school boards may be ineffective, I wonder again if the proposed solution actually solves the problem. Does anyone really think that creating one “super board” is somehow going to reduce bureaucracy?
Another fly in this particular ointment is this government’s questionable track record of success in similar endeavors. Considering the current state of our health care system after several years of Liberal tinkering, I am not sure I have a tremendous amount of faith this government will not be similarly ineffective when it comes to education.
Finally, there is what for me remains the most puzzling piece in all this. During her news conferences, Glaze was insistent that Nova Scotia students are falling behind their peers in both national and international assessments. This was a theme that she returned to time and again in her report, emphasizing with a great deal of urgency that Nova Scotia students simply can not wait for improvements to the system.
Well, that statement, although certainly well-heeled in certain sectors, borders on an outright fabrication.
In her report, Glaze refers to our results in the most recent rounds of the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program (PCAP) and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Both of these large-scale tests primarily measured students ability in Science. In 2013, 91% of Canadian students met or exceeded the standard of achievement for PCAP, and in 2015, 88% of Canadian students did the same for PISA. Nova Scotia saw, respectively, 91% and 87% of our students achieve at or above the expected levels.
Had this been the only error, it could have perhaps been ignored. The debate around test scores is a common one, and what they reveal is a matter of some dispute. But there were several spots scattered throughout Glaze’s work where it was quite obvious she did not have an accurate understanding of our current system. Considering the credibility given to her by the Liberal government, these errors were not simply surprising, they were fundamentally alarming.
This is not simple infrastructure we are dealing with here. These changes are set to basically dismantle our entire education system in favour of another model. Politics aside, how this government, or any government for that matter, can justify such sweeping reform based on a set of recommendations that contain any errors, let alone multiple ones, should have us all asking questions.
Teachers are, again, furious with this government. Many feel that this entire report was simply a smokescreen to begin with, designed to advance the Liberal mandate of weakening unions and taking more control over the education system. Considering how close teachers came to toppling McNeil the last time around, one can see how that interpretation may not be quite so far afield.
For those Nova Scotians who may be dyed in the wool Liberals, that will, of course, be a hard pill to swallow, and easily dismissed as union alarmism. But consider this. This report is based on, at best, a superficial understanding of our current system. It makes recommendations of questionable value, and is going to throw our entire education system into a complete state of chaos for the forseeable future.
And every minute and every dime spent by this government figuring out how this will all play out will be another minute and another dime not spent on our kids.
I am not sure that is what any of us, regardless of political affiliation, have in mind.
Originally published in The Chronicle Herald, January 30th, 2018.