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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 4, January/February 2008

Report from the Learning Round Table

The Learning Round Table was created by the provincial government at the time of the teachers’ strike in October 2005. The premier participated in the first several meetings, along with the education minister, ministry officials, and organizational representatives from the parents, school trustees, principals and vice-principals, superintendents, as well as the BCTF.

The topic for meetings has been learning and teaching conditions, and Bill 33, in particular, with class size and composition front and centre.

The latest meeting took place December 10, 2007. According to BCTF President Irene Lanzinger, the meetings, while useful, still display a disturbing gulf between the government and teachers regarding public education priorities. "They’re still focussed on testing and narrow accountability and we’re focussed on resources and learning conditions."

Some of the round table meetings have been good. "But this time they tried to portray progress on Bill 33. In fact, we have been moving backward. We have lost special resources teachers and learning assistance teachers. The numbers speak for themselves."

Premier Campbell did not attend.

Key issues and information from the meeting

Situation worse for special needs
The number of classes this year with four or more students with special needs grew by almost 8% over last year. The ministry reports that 10,313 classes had four or more students this year, compared to 9,559 in 2006–07.

The number of classes with more than 30 students decreased only slightly compared to last year—from 3,242 last year to 3,179 this year. That means that only 63 more classes met the class-size limit this year.

Despite the decrease being quite small, the minister’s spin is that the number of classes over 30 has decreased 66% over two years. This is based on there having been 9,253 classes over 30 reported in the 2005–06 school year. She said that there should not be an expectation that class sizes will continue to decrease in size in the future.

Irene Lanzinger responded that members are experiencing Bill 33 as a "failed promise" and that there will not be significant improvements unless funding is increased. The minister said that she was disappointed to hear it described as a failure because there was more money this year and about 7,000 fewer students.

BCTF representatives all argued for improved funding to meet the promise of Bill 33 on class size and class composition.

A number of the other stakeholder groups said that improvements in support for students with special needs should be carried out through more in-service training for teachers. As well, Penny Tees from the BCSTA argued that improvements in class size would limit other options for boards of education.

Class-size, class-composition information on the web
The ministry provided the round table with only the provincial overview of class size and class composition. The district and school results are on the ministry website with figures for each district and each individual school.

In addition, information will be provided on the number of special education assistants in each district and school.

The ministry reported that the number of special education assistants has increased substantially this year over last year. While the numbers of special education specialist teachers were not announced, it seems likely that teacher numbers have decreased while the number of assistants has increased.

Safety in labs with more than 24 students
Teacher representative John Wadge raised the concern about safety in lab classes with more than the 24 students they were designed for. The minister said that she could not imagine professional leaders putting students in classes where there was a danger to health and safety. When she hears claims that there is a health and safety problem, she asks the deputy minister to check out the situation.

When Wadge pointed out that one "solution" being adopted by some administrators is to simply eliminate classes that only have space for 24. The minister agreed that there may be some courses that are eliminated to deal with the problem.

Clawback on school district funds
The minister reported that the funding rules were being changed again. This time it is to allow full funding of alternate education students even if the students are taking fewer than eight classes. Districts are being told to redo their submissions on students in alternate education programs.

She again repeated that the same amount of money will be there, but it will be redistributed. Some districts will get more funds, some will lose, and some will stay the same. More districts will gain than will lose, she contended.

The deputy minister said there were concerns about the time required for consultation, but that the consultation requirement had a positive impact. The rationale for classes over 30 will also be on the website. Districts were required to provide the rationales to the ministry in electronic form so it would be possible to publish and analyze the rationales. The rationale was limited to 240 characters—20 to 30 words.

Superintendent of Achievement Rick Davis reported that if there were not good rationales, then the ministry would go to the superintendents about ministry concerns.

The ministry distributed a proposed regulation on consultation that defines consult as:

(a) provision by the principal of a school to the teacher of a class with

(i) information that the principal considers relevant to a proposal for the size and organization of the class, and

(ii) 2 school days before a decision is made respecting the size and organization of the class for the teacher to consider the proposal and provide the principal with the teacher’s views in that regard, and

(b) consideration by the principal of the teacher’s views, if any have been provided.

All the organizations were asked to provide feedback to the ministry on the proposed language.

– Larry Kuehn

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