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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 3, Nov./Dec. 2006

Education services go semi-private

The Ministry of Education is engaged in a process of contracting many aspects of education services to semi-private organizations. In the process, it excludes teachers from a decision-making role.

BCEd Online is one of these semi-private organizations. When it started, there were a number of teachers involved. Officers of CUEBC (Computer Using Educators of BC) were very active, including doing most of the organizing for the annual conferences held by BCEd Online.

Then a decision was made to formalize the structure and create a society. The members of the society are school districts that choose to join. This created a legal structure so the ministry could shovel cash out the door to be spent on the ministry priorities for technology, but out of the direct hands of school districts or direct accountability by the government. With a legal structure and funding in place, BCEd Online then could hire staff to carry out these projects. One of the main purposes of BCEd Online is professional development related to technology—but without teacher participation in decision-making.

This is the strategy being used in a number of areas by the ministry. BCeSIS is one of these. Joining BCeSIS is "voluntary" for school districts, but any district that does not join must develop its own software to do the same thing—an expensive venture.

Still another example is the new Virtual School Society that is to be given a revenue stream of 5% of the ministry funding of school districts for students in distributed learning. This money is to be used to develop course materials—so curriculum resources will be developed by this society rather than by school districts or the ministry. When a school district signs the required contract with the ministry to offer distributed learning courses, one provision forces them to join the Virtual School Society.

ERAC (Educational Resource Acquisition Consortium) is another of these organizations. It is supposed to be an organization that makes costs for textbooks and learning resources less expensive by aggregating demand and using the Alberta resources organization as a conduit for some of the materials.

You may notice a pattern here. The government creates a semi-private organization. It is a society with the school districts as members and, of course, nearly always administrators, generally district administrators, as the representatives of the members. These then receive government money to carry out projects, or districts have to pay them money to carry out projects (Virtual School Society, BCeSIS, ERAC).

This is the kind of decentralization that is characteristic of neo-liberal policies everywhere and, in particular, favoured by Deputy Minister Emery Dosdall. Direction can be given from the centre, while handing off the accountability to someone other than the government.

The control system for distributed learning is particularly convoluted. Based on the new provisions in Bill 33, a district must get approval from the ministry to offer distributed-learning courses. The ministry only gives approval if the district will sign a contract issued for only a year at a time and if you don’t play by the rules, forget another contract. The standard contract is on the ministry web site at www.bced.gov.bc.ca/dist_learning/policy.htm.

The contract requires districts to turn over to one of these semi-private organizations resources for development of learning resources for distributed learning (the Virtual School Society). It also requires the district to "work to meet or exceed the Distributed Learning Standards." Guess who developed the Distributed Learning Standards? That’s right, not the ministry, but another of these semi-privatized organizations, BCEd Online.

These semi-private organizations have a couple of things in common. One is that teachers are generally excluded from decision-making—it is mostly administrators who represent the boards that are members. The other is that the ministry gives direction by funding and contracts, but is not carrying out the work itself and escapes accountability for the results.

– Larry Kuehn

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