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A note from your teachers

A report from the BCTF to the members
of the legislative assembly

June 23, 2009
Number 27

Protect public education

As the 2008–09 school year comes to an end and a busy summer for newly elected MLAs begins, teachers in BC want their elected representatives to start looking ahead to September. Teachers, parents, and students are worried about cuts to services, larger class sizes, more school closures, and a lack of support for children with special needs. In difficult economic times like these, it is even more important to invest in public education and BC’s students, especially services for our province’s vulnerable children and their families.

In February, the government brought forward a budget that increased funding to BC’s public schools by just over 1%. The increase, less than the rate of inflation and far less than negotiated salary increases, forced most school districts across the province into deficit positions. Many school districts spent the spring making cuts for September. Across BC, 34 districts had their budgets frozen even though fixed costs keep rising. Increasing cost pressures like salaries, transportation, and utilities meant significant shortfalls and more cuts to education, even in districts where there is increasing enrolment.

Shortfalls lead to cuts and service charges
As a result of the significant shortfalls in districts around the province, hundreds of teaching positions will be lost. The BCTF, in consultation with its local associations, estimates more than 550 full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching positions will be lost as a result of budget shortfalls and resulting cutbacks. Such a drastic decline cannot be blamed on enrolment changes alone.

In several districts, boards voted to charge families to send their children to school on school buses. In some cases, these families are already stretched to the limit and will be hit hard by these extra charges. Other families will find themselves paying for a bus ride past their old neighbourhood school that already closed because of budget cuts.

Class size and support for children with special needs
With fewer teachers and less resources, the latest round of budget cuts will undoubtedly lead to more overcrowded classes in September. There was no targeted funding in the February budget to help districts meet the government’s class-size and class-composition legislation. In the school year that just ended, there were more than 3,300 classes with 30 or more students and 11,000 classes with 4 or more students with special needs. That is higher than in 2005 when teachers first went on strike to improve learning conditions for BC’s students.

Learning Round Table
As a result of the government’s ongoing failure to meet its own legislated limits and 12 ineffective meetings, BCTF members voted to leave the premier’s Learning Round Table at the 2009 Annual General Meeting. Teachers were full participants in the process, but the government never came with a concrete plan to improve class size and composition. As teachers, we are hopeful that the new minister of education will meet with us to develop a new process to address the ongoing class-size and class-composition challenges.

Testing and Assessment
Also at the BC Teachers’ Federation 2009 Annual General Meeting, teachers voted to encourage government to implement a two-year moratorium on all standardized tests. The moratorium would include the Foundation Skills Assessment as well as provincial exams for secondary students. Universities in BC no longer use these exams for their admission requirements. Teachers at the AGM also voted to call on government to create a testing and assessment task force to find better models of testing and assessment that enhance student learning.

Teachers in BC do not believe the Foundation Skills Assessment test, given to Grade 4 and Grade 7 students every February, is an appropriate measure of student learning. More and more parents are pulling their children out of these controversial tests because they do not see the value the vague results provide. In addition, all of the education partners, including parents, trustees, and superintendents, are opposed to the Fraser Institute using the data to unfairly and inappropriately rank schools. The Fraser Institute’s use of provincial exam scores to rank secondary schools is now even more unreliable as many students chose not to write those exams.

The BC Teachers’ Federation would like to foster a constructive discussion on the issue of meaningful and appropriate assessment. Teachers in BC believe that a broad and open discussion of testing and assessment during a moratorium could lead to better public policy, produce deeper understanding by parents of the learning process, and, most importantly, improve students’ learning and increase confidence in public education.

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