Opinion: BCTF and The Art of Using Kids as Leverage

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Watch out, I’m going to touch a nerve. As a parent, I’m pretty fed up with the BCTF and the government going another round of Let’s Not Make a Deal.

A couple weeks back, I tweeted out my frustration with the B.C. Teacher’s Federation (BCTF). I got a flood of tweets in return from teachers who wanted to engage me in a debate with 140 characters or less. The majority of the replies were well thought out and interesting, and as much as I believe there are some issues with the public school system in certain districts, I just can’t get behind the BCTF.

The problem is not with teachers, but with their union. The BCTF and the government have been fighting for decades. It doesn’t matter if it was an NDP government of yesteryear or the current Liberal administration, the teacher’s union likes to put up a fight and use our kids as pawns.

So much propaganda and rhetoric has been thrown around by the union’s leadership. Current BCTF President Jim Iker keeps spouting off well-rehearsed lines, but can’t answer simple questions or provide better solutions than the whole “spend money and all the problems magically go away” theory.

Instead we the public get fed a steady diet of “class size and composition” and “it’s all about the children.” Oh let’s not forget “fair wages” which apparently is a big fat raise of 15.9 per cent over four years + more benefits.

Fair wages

Just so you know, according to the Globe and Mail, the average B.C. teacher salary for 2012-13, with allowances, was $71,485. Not too shabby when teachers only work 188 days in a year compared to the 238 days that the majority of people work. But, according to Mr. Iker, teachers are not getting paid well enough.

There are a large amount of people who have their teaching credentials who would love to work in British Columbia, especially in Metro Vancouver. You can’t blame them as it’s a wonderful place to live and work. When does supply and demand come into the picture here?

There is a surplus of teachers in this province. Some have moved to Alberta only to find out that although the pay is slightly higher, the benefits are lacking and don’t even come close to what a B.C. teacher gets.

Obviously those who work in the Yukon or somewhere like Manitoba get higher wages because there just doesn’t seem to be as many teachers excited about their profession to want to work in those areas. So let’s not compare B.C. to Manitoba or other provinces because each area has its own unique challenges with public education.

There will never be an issue in finding a teacher in B.C. to fill a position. The government knows this. That said, I believe the teachers should get some sort of raise but something that falls in line to what the government has given other unions like the nurses. That to me is putting the “fair” into “wages.”

The BCTF really hates it when you go off of StatsCan regarding their average salary because those averages include administrator’s wages, which makes it look like teachers get paid more than they do.

However, the funny part is the BCTF doesn’t mind using StatsCan numbers when it comes to student funding – even though the “per educator” numbers that are used also include the same administrator salaries it objected to being used for salary average. Both sides like using fake stats for their cause.

Here is a stat, 99.9 per cent of parents don’t care and are tired of the bickering and the negotiating through the media. Parents are tired of both sides interfering in another school year. That is the only stat that matters.

Class size

One of the biggest misnomers out there and a big part of the BCTF’s strategy is the issue of class size. Don’t worry it’s not just B.C. teachers that use that as a negotiating tactic. It’s a common play with most teacher unions across Canada. The problem is I don’t think the teachers realize how much it will cost to go back to the class sizes of the early 2000s. It’s such an insignificant change that will cost billions!

Recently, Robert Murray of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy was on the Bill Good Show with Mike Smyth and he spoke about the Centre’s research on class sizes and student outcomes and achievements. Here are some interesting snippets of what he had to say about their peer reviewed, scientific study. You can listen to the audio here.

The research we have done as well as the research that has been born out by other organizations actually lead the conclusion that there really is no direct correlation between this claim that a firm cap lower class size ranging in the 20 to 25 student range is somehow going to drastically improve student outcomes and student achievements.

What our research has found is that typically in order to really demonstrate empirically that kind of difference it would require a 12:1 ratio and of course the idea of a class size average of twelve is ridiculous. So realistically B.C. teachers trying to go back to those levels of the early 2000s really holds no water in the grand scheme of things in terms of actually trying to correlate that to student achievement.

Ontario is a really good example where it correlates to a much higher level of spending due to the infrastructure needed and the hiring of more teachers, which has not translated to greater student outcomes since those caps were actually imposed. We have had enough time to track those statistics in different provinces across the country to date and there is no correlation whatsoever.

In many ways looking at the relationship between class size and teacher negotiations comes very much from the fact that this is a key bargaining tool for teacher unions to use to grow the size of their membership as well as to get extra money put into the education system.

Research has shown that a 12:1 ratio leads to better educational outcomes but we are not talking about a 12:1 ratio here. We are talking about a difference between 20 to 22 and 22 to 24 students and research bears out that such a minor change on the average class size is not going to have a profound impact.

Keep in mind we are not talking about all classes of 20 and under we are talking about average class size which means, depending on dispersion of resources across a school district, you’re still going to see some classes at 26 some classes at 18 depending on enrollment and other variables that go into that.

Of course on some levels it would be foolish to admit that class sizes don’t matter at all but what we’re saying is our studies have shown is that unless you are in that very low ratio range, the bargaining tool of going from 24 to 22 students is not going to drastically improve student achievement which is the essential point.

The class size issue it is nothing more than a negotiation tactic. Reducing class sizes by two or three students is not going to make your child into a certified genius.

The private school system has used the class size issue for their marketing material. Why not? They are a private business and the more disgruntled parents they can get the better it is for their bottom line. Saying that their lower class sizes is why their students succeed is nothing more than a sales pitch.

There is more to private schools than class sizes. Obviously they provide a more rigorous and strict style of education that costs money. Most parents either don’t have that kind of money or don’t feel the need to pay that kind of money when the public school system serves most kids just fine.

Composition

Let’s put aside class size and the raise demands for a second and focus on classroom composition which is the biggest and most important issue.

Students with special needs include those formally identified as having behavioral problems or intellectual or physical disabilities. You can also include kids who are gifted who need to be challenged with tougher lessons. In the Lower Mainland there are a lot of kids who are being put into classrooms who still struggle with the English language so they are also considered special needs.

B.C. Education needs more SEAs (Special Education Assistants) and they need to be compensated properly for their work. I had someone tell me that some of these specialty teachers make $900 a pay cheque. If anyone deserves a raise and more support, it is those specialized teachers and those programs that need the influx of dollars.

In the end, the BCTF is drumming away at the same-old song. Instead of giving solutions they are just exaggerating problems and spitting venom at the local government. Throwing money at our education system is also not the way to fix what some feel is broken.

Every school district seems to have different issues. Some need more funding for their sports or arts programs, others want money to upgrade their computers, libraries or playgrounds. Not all school districts have the same problems.

For every parent that complains about the public school system I can find two or three parents who have no problems with their child’s school or curriculum. So let’s be careful before we stand on a soap box and say our public education is a disaster and failing our children.

It is true, there have been some cuts made to B.C. Education over the years, but a lot of schools have been able to pick up some of the slack with creative fundraising initiatives. For instance, my daughter’s elementary school has been raising money throughout the year for a new playground and all of the students have been involved in finding ways to raise that money. There is a lesson there.

Currently, the BCTF is complaining about a government lock out while they are picketing on rotating strikes, yes there is humour in the irony. Here is an idea, how about getting into a room and negotiating and working to find creative solutions to the real problems? Stop with this he said, she said routine. You know what it sounds like? Some of the whiny kids that teachers are paid to watch over and teach.

There is a deal to be made and if both parties can’t find it before the end of the school year, they need to sit their arses down at a table over the summer and figure it out. Except one problem, the BCTF likes to take their summers off. It’s better to negotiate when kids are in school so that they can continue to use the kids they say they care about as leverage for their own personal agenda. The general public is pretty disgusted and there is no amount of PR spin that gets a deal done.

The real losers in all of this are the kids. That’s not just a public relations line, it’s reality and the only fact in all of this. So I plead to you, Mr. Iker, roll up your sleeves, start negotiating and be realistic in what you are asking for.

 

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Trevor Dueck Lover of film. I rate them with cute little raindrops. I'm also always on the lookout for interesting stories and experiences. Lover of talk radio and podcasting and occasionally host them. I do like writing about many other devious things. Favourite films of 2015 so far are "Ex Machina" and "Mad Max: Fury Road."
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