Urgent Letter from Trustee Atkinson

The following is a description of some elements in the upcoming legislative vote by my colleague Howard Goodman.  Please take the time to read and understand this urgent issue.

Regards, Irene Atkinson

Before I get to the topic of this note I want to reassure you that, despite any alarmist statements that you might have heard to the contrary, school will start as usual right after Labour Day.

 

URGENT ACTION NEEDED

Proposed Legislation & Regulations Will be Bad for Students

Legislation will be introduced Monday August 27

Today I am writing to you as a parent as well as a Trustee, and I am asking for your help.  

The proposed legislation to restrain teacher salaries and reduce their benefits, also includes a clause that has nothing to do with the budget, but which will be bad for students.   In brief, this clause is intended to force Boards to:

  • Use a teacher’s seniority when assigning a supply teacher or long-term occasional teacher to teach your children.  Principals would no longer be allowed to choose the best available teacher.  The teacher with the greatest seniority will have to be assigned.
  •  
  • Allow teachers to choose to opt out of detailed student-specific learning skill assessments.  This would seriously damage the school’s ability to identify and help struggling students.

 
There is a broad agreement among Trustees and senior educators that these changes will hurt the quality of our children’s education.  But the media coverage and the political comment of this legislation has focused on the money and largely ignored this “minor” clause that will have major impact on student achievement and wellbeing.

Please take a few minutes to understand the proposed changes.  I’m confident that you will share the concern that I feel, a concern that is shared by Trustees and senior educators across Ontario.  The legislation is being introduced on Monday.

Your action is urgently needed to convince Premier McGuinty and Minister Broten to change their plans.

The Problem in a Nutshell #1: Seniority vs. Ability

The new regulations would force Boards to assign supply teachers based solely on seniority, regardless of the quality of the teacher or the understanding that the teacher has about the students in the class.  This includes teachers who are filling in for a teacher on maternity leave, often for more than half the school year.

Currently, Principals can identify a group of excellent supply teachers and call on them as needed throughout the year.  This allows the supply teachers to get to know the school culture, and often individual students.

 

The Problem in a Nutshell #2: Opting out of student assessment tools

Schools and school boards rely on consistent in-depth assessment tools to track the progress of each student.  (Note that these assessment diagnostics for student supports are different from the EQAO tests which the Ministry requires from every Board and teacher).  Much of the value comes from using the same assessment tool over several years (and several teachers).  This consistency builds a meaningful portrait of the “student as learner” – a portrait that is clear enough to allow for effective targeted intervention.

But if a student is evaluated with a different assessment tool each year, the portrait becomes of little use in figuring out how to help the student.  The new data doesn’t align with the old data; the assessments use different techniques that are at odds with each other.  If a teacher opts out of doing the assessments altogether there will be no data to determine a student’s needs.

Identifying the exact challenges facing struggling students is never easy. Doing it without consistent and reliable data makes it harder and that is clearly bad for students.

 

Problem in a Nutshell #3:  Mixing Apples & Oranges

For some inexplicable reason Minister Broten has included these provisions about student supports in unrelated legislation meant to address the deficit.  These budget-related measures to impose restraint on teacher wages and reduce their sick benefits are getting all the press. There is a danger that the changes that will be bad for students will slip by unnoticed in the heated adult-oriented discussion about salary and benefits

 I ask you for the moment to put aside the high-profile and important issues of taxation and deficits, salaries and sick days, and how collective agreements should be negotiated.

 I ask you to help me focus the discussion on those proposals that work against helping students thrive and learn.

 
The Conclusion in a Nutshell:  Our Students Need Your Help

We need your help as citizens and voters (and parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles) to get Minister Broten’s attention and have her abandon this misconceived plan.

What I’m Asking You to Do

1/ Call, visit and/or email your MPP, Minister Broten, and Premier McGuinty to make it clear to them that you object to putting adult interests ahead of student need.  A phone call or a personal visit to the constituency office leaves the deepest impression on an elected official.  At the very least send emails to them.  Their contact information is below in the Useful Links section.

2/ Spread the word to your friends, family, and through your school network.  It will only be a significant public outcry that will cause the Premier and Minister to change course.

We’ll need to work together if we are to prevent these changes from hurting our students and schools.  I hope that you’ll join in.  We don’t have much time.

(I’ve included some useful links below that will give you more information on the danger of the changes being proposed by Premier McGuinty and Minister Broten.)
 

Howard Goodman
TDSB Trustee, Eglinton-Lawrence
Howard.Goodman@tdsb.on.ca
(you can also follow me on Twitter @HowardGoodman)

Links that you might find useful

MPP Directory – The list of MPP’s including contact information for both their constituency and Queen’s Park offices.  And to make it even easier to call, visit, or email, here is the information for Minister Broten and Premier McGuinty:

Laurel Broten (Etobicoke Lakeshore) Minister of Education
Constituency: 701 Evans Ave #100, 416.259-2249 / Queen’s Park: 416.325.2600

Dalton McGuinty (Ottawa South) Premier

Queen’s Park: 416.325.1941

 “Putting Students First” Act – For those of you who are interested in reading legal text, here is a draft of the proposed act and a “compendium” from the government which gives a commentary on the various sections of the legislation.   These were released to the public on Aug 15, even though the Legislature wasn’t sitting (it has been rec
alled for Aug 27 to deal with this bill.)  The clause dealing with the seniority and assessment issues is 19.1(e).

 
OPSBA.org – The Ontario Public School Boards Association members include every English public school board in Ontario, and take the lead on issues that concern all member boards.  OPSBA has joined with the Catholic, and French school board associations to strongly object to the Minister’s intended legislation and regulation changes.

“Legislation does not put students first” Media Release was jointly issued Aug 16 by OPSBA and the associations representing Catholic and French boards, and outlines several serious problems with the proposed legislation.

 OPSBA is an authoritative source for the latest developments involving Ontario’s k-12 schools, including the Minister’s plans to impose seniority and assessment diagnostic rules.

 
www.PeopleForEducation.ca – People for Education is an independent non-partisan think-tank/watch-dog organization that is exclusively concerned with the k-12 sector in Ontario.  They have recently posted analyses of “The Truth about the ‘Crisis’ in Education” and Minister Broten’s intended legislation.

P4E (is it is often called) is a useful source for analysis on developments and long-term trends in Ontario schools.

 

Catholic teacher deal could affect student achievement” – The Star Aug 8. – The seniority and assessment rule changes seem to have arisen from requests made by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) during their talks with Minister Broten.  As a result, these and other provisions being promoted by the government are commonly being referred to as “OECTA Deal”.  Most of it deals with wages and benefits issues, but I am talking about the impact of Sections K and L (starting on page 10).

 

WhoIsInChargeOfTheSchoolhouse.com – “Who is in charge of the school house?” is a very recent initiative launched by Greg Pietersma, Chair of the Upper Canada District School Board.  Greg and his fellow Trustees are concerned about the encroachment by Queens’s Park into areas that are the expertise and historical domain of locally elected School Boards.

 

WICOTSH (as I’ve taken to refer to it in print) is the only place that I know that is asking you to voice your thoughts on whether students would be better off with school operations being directed out of Queen’s Park rather than local Boards.

Letter from Minister Broten to Each Trustee in Ontario – On the afternoon of Friday Aug 10, every Trustee in Ontario was sent a “personalized” email from Minister Broten.  In retrospect, this unprecedented email seems to have been part of a deliberate campaign leading up to the introduction of the proposed legislation when the legislature resumes sitting on Aug 27.  An article in the Star the next day caught the tone of the typical Trustee reaction to that letter.

Catholic Boards Claim Minister Broten is “Bargaining in Bad Faith” – Toronto Star Op Ed – Aug 16 – The leaders of the Ontario Catholic Trustees and Principals associations give their view of the “OECTA deal” that Minister Broten is promoting.  In particular, they outline how with the OECTA deal, the government has ignored the input and interests of the Catholic Boards, and (perhaps illegally) usurped the Boards legal authority.

This Op-Ed gives a fairly concise explanation of how collective bargaining is supposed to take place in Ontario’s Education sector.

Local students have ally in school board trustees – London Free Press Editorial – Aug 11 – This focuses on the situation in Catholic schools, triggered by the OECTA deal.  The Free Press Editorial Board gives a very high level analysis of what is going on.  In their opinion, Trustees are very clearly on the side of the students, and the government and OECTA aren’t.  There is one major difference between the Catholic and Public systems on this issue.  The Catholic teachers union (OECTA) seems to be supporting the Province’s approach.  In contrast, the Public system unions (Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario and Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation) strongly object to the extra-legal “negotiations” process being imposed by the Province.

 

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