Pushback on two ways NS could have better schools for less money

A Contrarian reader who does not identify himself, but who appears to work in the provincial school system, doesn’t think much of my suggestions for two painless, cost-free steps the province could take to improve schools.

To refresh your memory, these were (1) force school boards to implement modern hiring practices in place of the demeaning, talent-repelling, corruption-promoting way they now teachers; and (2) remove superintendents, senior managers, education department officials seconded from school boards, and non-teaching principals from belonging to the teachers’ union.

[T]he [hiring practices] you suggest… will not change the fundamental problem: the declining enrolment and the lack of jobs for new teachers. The boards can be as rigorous in their hiring practices as you might wish, that isn’t going to magically increase the number of available classroom teaching positions.

Anyone wishing to be a teacher in this era of out-migration and fiscal restraint in Nova Scotia must accept that they have two basic choices: go elsewhere for full-time employment or work as a substitute teacher in their local area until a job becomes available.

They only have to accept that because boards refuse to adopt modern hiring practices, to wit: a public call for applications; review of resumes to produce a short list; interviews, tests, and reference checks to decide who they hire. That’s how organizations hire rocket butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. Why not teachers?

The school system is not an employment program for recent education grads. The fact there is a surfeit of applicants and a scarcity of positions should make it easy for boards to hire superb candidates for the few available positions. Instead, the current method operates as a negative screen, discouraging candidates who are ambitious and adventuresome, while opening the process to favoritism, nepotism, and opportunities to game the system.

The best possible construction to put on the current system is that boards are cynically taking advantage of the surplus of aspiring but unemployed teachers as a cheap and infinitely flexible pool of substitutes. The substitute issue is a separate one, and should be dealt with separately.

My correspondent offers two alternative solutions:

[Because] Nova Scotia will always need a surplus of teachers… the province should reduce the number of positions in the education programs to more sustainable levels and apply all those “modern personnel practices” to the applicants. That way, the best candidates will get into the program and will have a reasonable expectation of employment when they leave.

Restore the pay for substitute teachers to reasonable “livable” levels and find ways to reduce the huge debt burden most graduating teachers are forced to carry (for example, return to a one-year education program, perhaps).

I have no objection to asking universities to be more selective in admissions to their education programs, but it’s a mistake to think the school board’s mission is to provide employment for everyone who wants to teach. Its mission is to educate students. To do that, school boards should look for ways to select the best possible teachers.¬†If they were doing that, I’d support excellent salaries for excellent teachers.

The proposal that the education system should opt for less education of its core employees strikes me as bizarre.

As for getting superintendents, middle managers, and non-teaching principals out of the union, my correspondent says:

Not surprisingly, there are many classroom teachers who would agree with you on this issue. However, in other provinces (such as British Columbia), removing the administration from the union has proven to be a mixed blessing.

Especially in small schools (of which Nova Scotia has many), drawing a management / union line has reduced the collaboration that is required for these schools to flourish.

For the B.C. government, the exclusion of the administration from the teachers’ union has simply meant that it has to work with a number of education organizations instead of just one. Worse, each one of these organizations has a mandate and an agenda.

Be careful of what you wish for.

I am unmoved. Managers should not be in the union–any union–and many problems with the culture of Nova Scotia’s school system can be traced to this anomaly. Maybe, just maybe, Premier Dexter’s shot at the NSTU this week in the legislature means he would consider changing this.