Ms. Broten is the current Minister of Education (probably not for long) and like many Ministers before her, she is coming under fire from the province's teachers. Of course that is part of the problem, why should one person assume all the faults of a broken system? It's not her fault, not entirely.
Today was the first day back to work for most teachers in Ontario after the two week holiday break. Numerous School Boards had no contract agreement with their teachers on December 31, 2012, at 11:59 pm, now they do. A contract was imposed by legislation, Bill 115, which was passed last summer.
But labour peace is not about to break out in Ontario's education sector, far from it. The teachers and their respective unions have been royally pissed off with Bill 115, because it places a series of constraints on their "working conditions" without going through the steps of collective bargaining. Teachers called it undemocratic. I guess it is, of course teachers are forced to join and contribute to a union, then pay heed to that union or be fined. Recent single-day rotating strikes around the province by ETFO (one of the larger more militant unions), were enforced by fines of $500 to disobedient teachers. In addition Boards may not negotiate with any teacher that is not a member the union, Catch 22, not exactly democratic either. None of that is the fault of the union or the teachers, they are just operating under the Education Act which grants everyone all of their privileges. It's an amazing document that really should be more widely read.
For example, one of the large unions, OSSTF, withdrew all extracurricular activities from schools as a sign of their discontent with Bill 115. But no where in the Education Act are teachers required to perform extracurricular activities. In Section 264 of the Act, Duties of Teachers, there is no mention of extracurriculars. Why should their be? If you work for any service industry are you required to organize your clients into competitive teams after work and supervise them? No, of course not, its voluntary, as it is with teachers. But since it is such an integral part of the school "experience," why is it not a contracted duty?
What is more surprising is what are the contracted duties, here is a part of the duties from the Education Act:
religion and morals
(c) to inculcate by precept and example respect for religion and the principles of Judaeo-Christian morality and the highest regard for truth, justice, loyalty, love of country, humanity, benevolence, sobriety, industry, frugality, purity, temperance and all other virtues;
Alas, nothing about love of liberty.
Notice that in everything I have said so far there is not a word about the clientele in this business of education. No word of the students or the parents, they are less than irrelevant in this story, even though they foot the bill. There is no "opt out" of taxation during a public sector labour tiff. Yet this is a service that parents MUST send their children to, or face penalties in the Education Act (Section 21 Compulsory Attendance)
Ironically there is a new section that includes bullying, but I won't bore you.
So, how can this be fixed? Andrew Coyne, whom I usually don't agree with, points in a direction in a column he wrote this week, I recommend it. He ends with the quoted paragraph below, I like it.
"So the question becomes: if we want to change the culture, are we prepared to change the model? The alternative, of simply carrying on as before, in a sullen war of attrition with an increasingly embittered teaching corps — union leaders have suggested the boycott of extra-curricular activities might remain in place for the whole two years — is hardly appetizing. Will anyone grasp the nettle of fundamental education reform, taking power away from bureaucrats and school boards and union leaders, and giving it to schools, and parents, and individual teachers?"