Monday, February 27, 2012

E-mailed question re: Teacher Unemployment Crisis

I received an e-mail from Kevin asking the following questions:
As a member of the College Council, what will you do to help solve the teacher unemployment crisis in Ontario? What steps must the College Council take to seriously resolve this crisis?
Here's my response:

On its face, the College of Teachers has absolutely no jurisdiction over the employment of teachers. School boards are solely responsible (and unaccountable) in that regard. Every collective agreement in the province contains a “Management Rights” clause stipulating that the Board is responsible for hiring.

So my initial piece of advice is that you need to get involved with your union. You need to lobby your union to stand up for occasional teachers. You need to tell your union leadership (at the provincial level as well as the local level) that there needs to be a fair and transparent hiring process, with priority hiring of occasional teachers into full-time positions. You also need to tell them that there must be capped occasional teacher lists, and there must be a fair call-out system, otherwise occasional teaching cannot be financially viable. We need to ensure that every occasional teacher gets enough work in a year to at least bump over the poverty line, which means every OT needs at least 100 days of work. Once you've told them that, you need to tell them you're willing to walk a picket line to get those things. I've sat at the bargaining table during negotiations, and I can tell you that walking a picket is likely going to be necessary before change happens.

I don't know if you're an occasional teacher or completely unemployed teaching-wise, so I'll clarify the idea of capped lists for occasional teachers. While it would be nice in some respects if all unemployed teachers were automatically added to occasional lists, it would be cold comfort. There's only a limited amount of work each year available. In terms of occasional work, in my school board (Niagara) there's approximately 50,000 days of occasional work each year (including both daily and long-term). We currently make $220.87 per day. With that much work available, there's a capacity to give 500 teachers 100 days of work per year, an annual salary of only $22,087.00. Our list currently has over 600 teachers on it, which drops the capacity to under 83 days of work each ($18,332.31). You can see how having an unlimited number of teachers on the list becomes progressively more disastrous for everyone. And that's assuming the work gets evenly distributed, which it does not.

Back to the College, the irony is that the College of Teachers has been at the forefront of collecting data on teacher underemployment and unemployment. For more than a decade, the College has been producing the Transition to Teaching study each year. For several years now, they've known there was a surplus of thousands of graduates every year over and above the number of retirements taking place. Yet they've done nothing. They've completely dropped the ball. I daresay that it's likely due to the fact that the vast majority (if not all) of College Council have permanent salaried employment or are collecting pensions. They're so far removed from the situation facing new teachers that they can't even conceive of there being any urgency to the problem. In a nutshell, that's why I'm running for College Council; the voice of teachers who are struggling just to earn more than the poverty line needs to be heard. No one is speaking up for us.

What the College should do is advise the government to sharply curtail the number of positions available each year in Faculties of Education. It is clearly within the mandate of the College to do that. The College should also stop accrediting new teachers' college programs.

The College needs to use the Transition to Teaching study in a meaningful way, by turning it into a set of recommendations to the government that should include:
  • Limiting spaces in teachers' colleges
  • Ceasing funding for new teachers' college programs
  • Possibly shutting down some programs completely
  • Advocating that the province mandate a standardized (or even central) hiring model that is transparent, accountable, and allows for province-wide management of the resource of unemployed teachers whose skills are not being used.

There are many places a teaching degree can take you besides a classroom; the College could not only provide information on some of those opportunities, but it could also promote the value of a teaching credential to employers outside the education sector.

The College of Teachers needs to walk a fine line, though. As you can no doubt tell, I've got a strong union background. However, the College is supposed to be an independent body; if it goes too far down the road of advocating for things that are collective bargaining issues, it runs the risk of being dismantled. That's exactly what happened with the BC College of Teachers.  It no longer exists, and in its place is the “Ministry of Education Teacher Regulation Branch”.

I've been working for change for the past seven years, and while progress is being made, it's slow grinding work. I hope I'll soon have the opportunity to work for change from within the College of Teachers as well.

Mark Carter, OCT
Southcentral Region Part-time/Full-time Candidate

Friday, February 24, 2012

Voter Forum question: Are we over regulated?

In the Voter Forum, Tim wrote:
Presently, if a teacher suspected of some sort of delinquent behaviour, there are three bodies that conduct an investigation.  There, of course, is the criminal code of Canada.  This is something that every person in Canada is accountable to.  There is the College of Teachers, who do this for every teacher in Ontario.  Being province wide, they have the advantage of being consistent.  Then there is each individual school board, which will conduct it's own investigation.
My question is this:  If the College is doing the job consistently across the province, is there really a need for each school board to conduct an investigation as well.  That's three organizations all investigating the same teacher for the same charge.  At a time when we need alternatives to the Drummond recommendations for saving money, could we not trust the college to assume the invetigatory powers that the boards have as well. Duplication of services is expensive.
Here's my response:

I think (hope) that a College of Teachers investigation occurs near the end of the process, rather than right at the beginning, since most incidents shouldn't need to go to the College level.  Depending on the charge, there may be police and/or Family and Children's Services investigations, as well as the school board's internal system to work through before things get to the College.

The police side is one of the most traumatic (you may be arrested and spend a couple nights in jail), yet it's the most accountable.  FACS investigations, on the other hand, have no accountability.  The police may clear you of any wrongdoing, yet FACS will still declare you unfit for the classroom.  Then of course there's the school board... again, no accountability; you may be cleared by everyone else but still have to fight for your reinstatement.  It's even worse if you're an occasional teacher, because your income halts if you're suspended.

Accountability throughout the process is pretty much non-existent, and the "investigations" which are done are usually not done to any professional standard (calling them a sham may be too strong, but not too far off).  Further, the accused teacher has little if any recourse to challenge or cross-examine these so-called investigations and their findings.

Could the College replace the school boards' investigations?  Maybe, if they were given access, which is unlikely (it would also involve the school boards giving up power, which is also unlikely).  Perhaps a good solution would be to have each school board designate someone as an investigator, and have them go through meaningful training in how to do a competent investigation.  Union representation should also be mandatory at all stages of the investigation as well.

The court system operates under pretty explicit rules, with high standards for evidence, and high standards of proof for determining guilt.  Unfortunately, if you're a teacher accused of wrong-doing, unless you're charged criminally, you will not be dealing with the court system.

Instead, you will be thrown into a murky world where investigations are haphazard at best, where you have no right to cross-examine your accuser or the investigators, and where you have few if any of the rights you'd assume you have.  Instead of clear rules of procedure, the process will likely operate according to "natural justice".  Instead of having to be proven guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt, your guilt will be determined by the far less stringent guideline of whether you appear to be guilty on the balance of probabilities.  You will not have been investigated by a professional investigator, you are unlikely to have had representation at many stages of the process, and the proceedings won't be conducted by someone who does law as their profession.  If you feel that you've been thrown into a meatgrinder with no chance of escaping unscathed, you're probably right.  If you are accused of misconduct, the sad truth is that you are likely to find yourself facing a Kangaroo Court.

We have to keep in mind that when the College is deliberating misconduct, they literally hold a teacher's livelihood in their hands.  I don't advocate protecting people that shouldn't be in the classroom.  What I advocate is being absolutely certain someone shouldn't be in the classroom before we put an end to their career.  Teachers, like anyone else, are innocent until proven guilty.  We must respect and protect the rights of the accused every bit as much as we take allegations seriously.

An alarming number of allegations are false, so it behooves the College to examine each case with care.  The College must hold its proceedings (and those of the bodies that inform it) to a very high standard.  The public interest is not served if good teachers are unjustly removed from the profession.

The College has commissioned former Ontario chief justice Patrick LeSage to review its disciplinary procedures and to make recommendations; the review is due May 31st, 2012.  Implementing those recommendations will likely be a major project of the next College Council.

Mark Carter, OCT
Southcentral Region Part-time/Full-time Candidate

Friday, February 17, 2012

Response to the Drummond Report

The recent release of the Drummond Commission report had many recommendations regarding public education; two in particular will have a direct impact on the College of Teachers if implemented:
Recommendation 6-20: The added value of training programs leading to additional qualification should be reviewed, and decisions regarding the granting of qualifications and experience should be made by a body that is independent of teacher federations and school boards.
Recommendation 6-21: The province should be able to exercise legislative and regulatory authority to require that teachers have a minimum number of years of full-time teaching experience before they are allowed to attempt an additional qualification. While they could decide to make contractual arrangements with faculties of education or other service providers, school boards should ultimately have direct oversight of the content of additional qualification courses. The design of such courses should be reviewed in tandem with the new curriculum for the two-year teacher education program in Ontario. Both should be more rigorous and evidence-based, and focused on those aspects of their work that lead to improved student outcomes.
To put it bluntly, these recommendations have nothing to do with teacher qualifications or student outcomes. They are a blatant attempt to circumvent and drastically change teacher salary grids. Drummond is recommending that rather than legitimately addressing teacher salaries through the collective bargaining process, that the government should attempt backdoor regulatory changes to slow down teachers' progress through the salary grid.

Drummond's bias is revealed here, where he is talking about Qualifications and Experience (Q&E) grants which are given to school boards to top up the base salary they're funded for teachers:
The Q&E grant allows teachers to move to the high end of salary ranges relatively early in their careers. Based on the 2011–12 instructional salary matrix issued through the Grants for Student Needs, teachers in the highest qualification category will exceed the provincial benchmark salary amount of $72,879 by their seventh year of teaching. Moreover, about half of teachers are at the top level of the salary range (nearly $95,000 per year), up from about one-third in 2002–03.
The College must vehemently oppose any such changes. Ongoing professional learning is one of the cornerstones of our profession. Denying teachers access to professional learning and putting obstacles in teachers' paths is not in the best interest of students in any way, shape, or form.

Recommendation 6-20 is apparently made in absolute ignorance of the existence of the Ontario College of Teachers, as the College is already the embodiment of that recommendation. Assuming this wasn't a colossal oversight, what Drummond is essentially proposing is that teaching no longer be a self-regulated profession, and his ulterior motives of reducing teacher salaries couldn't be clearer.

Recommendation 6-21 is also apparently made in absolute ignorance of the existing teaching experience prerequisites for specialist qualifications. This recommendation is squarely targeted at significantly extending the number of years it takes a teacher to move to the highest pay category on the salary grid.

Drummond is well aware of the current oversupply of teachers and the poor job market; his specification of “full-time teaching experience” specifically excludes occasional teachers (as does the current Part 3 prerequisite). Given that new teachers will now typically spend years of their careers (or perhaps even their entire careers) as OTs, he is slowing movement on the salary grid even further by preventing any advancement at all until a teacher's career is well underway.

Since the teaching profession is ostensibly self-regulated through the Ontario College of Teachers, I'd venture to say that any move by the government to interfere with the College in this way would likely give the teachers' unions just cause for claiming a violation of the Labour Relations Act.

The College determines for the profession what additional qualifications are needed, and the format for those courses. Additional Qualifications awarded by the College, and their implementation, are completely independent of salary grids. Drummond appears to think that AQs are dreamed up by QECO and the teachers' federations; rather, they are simply used as an independent benchmark for determining placement on salary grids which are negotiated through collective bargaining.

The College has no role in collective bargaining, nor any influence on the value school boards and unions ascribe to Additional Qualifications when they negotiate salary grids. Drummond's recommendations are a direct challenge to teaching being a self-regulated profession; he seeks to sabotage existing collective agreements by hijacking the Ontario College of Teachers.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Voter Forum question: Membership Fees

In the Voter Forum, A. vdWyst posted this under the heading "Membership Fees":
Which candidate is going to commit to reducing the College Membership fees? They've gone from $100 two years ago to $120 last year and now $138 this year.  These are increases of 20% and 15% respectively and are AND ORDER OF MAGNITUDE greater than the rate at which my pay is increasing (not even accounting for inflation....).  This is unacceptable, and the candidate who will own up to that will get my vote.

Here's my response:

Even though it would be easy to jump on the "lower taxes!" bandwagon, I'm not going to tell you what you want to hear just to get your vote.  I think that's irresponsible, and deceptive.  However, after doing some research, I can say this: it appears that the College has set its fees responsibly since its inception, although there are a few areas where I can make suggestions for improvements which I think would allow us to stabilize fees for many years.

First, let's look at current College fees:

  • Fees are set on three year cycles: the current $138 is not scheduled to change until 2014.
  • The College maintains a "fee stabilization fund" in order to smooth out any fee increases.
  • The College recently purchased office space which is projected to save millions per year as compared to leasing.
  • College of Teachers fees remain the lowest of any self-regulating profession in Ontario.
  • In 1999 the College fee was $90.  Today, 13 years later, it's $138.  That's hardly an out of control increase.
  • Given the salaries of most College members, a tax-deductible fee of $138 is negligible.

Now let's look at some ways we could ensure College fees remain stable or decline over time:

  • Increase the registration fee.  At $140, the cost of College registration has not increased significantly in several years, yet the costs of assessment of new applicants and certification of qualified applicants is one of the highest costs incurred by the College, and represents $39.10 (the largest piece of the pie) of an annual membership fee of $138.  If registration fees were increased to a self-sustaining level, I can see this stabilizing membership fees for years to come.
  • Create new membership categories: Instead of giving retirees and members not currently directly employed in the profession only the options of paying the full fee or letting their membership lapse, why not create a reduced fee, say $50, for retired members and members not directly employed in education?  This would allow us to transform a dormant pool of former members into a revenue source, and would allow those members to maintain their connection to the profession.  There are 230,000 paid-up active members, yet there are 431,000 registered members.  That's an enormous untapped resource.
  • Offer electronic-only delivery of Professionally Speaking.  I was surprised to read that the College reports that only $13.29 of our fee (at $138 in this graphic) goes towards communications including printing of Professionally Speaking.  I think we've got a great member magazine we can be proud of.  However, it's available now on the web site, and given environmental concerns (and clutter concerns in our homes), there's no reason we shouldn't allow members to opt out of receiving a print edition.  We could offer members that do a nominal (say $10) reduction in their fee.
  • Increase the subscription cost of Professionally Speaking (PS) for non-members.  We currently charge only $10/year ($20/year for outside Canada) to subscribe to PS if you're not a member.  What a steal!  Especially given that people can access it online for free, I think we should be immediately doubling that subscription fee.
  • Create a low-income membership option: Most College members have their membership fee paid through payroll deduction, as required by Regulation 72/97 under the Ontario College of Teachers Act.  However, 85,000 out of 230,000 members in 2010 paid their own fee directly to the College.  That means 37% of our paid-up active members do not have traditional salaried employment in the teaching profession.  I know that for most occasional teachers (a group that includes most new members to the profession), if you earn $20,000 in a year, you've had a good year.  Most will earn less.  For these members, we need to give them the option to self-identify as low-income and the option of paying a lower fee.  As teachers, we often preach social justice... here's a chance to get our own house in order.  We shouldn't be charging new members of the profession, who are struggling just to reach the poverty line, the same fee that we charge members earning $90,000 per year.

In conclusion, I've laid out some reasonable suggestions that would allow the College to increase it's revenues while at the same time maintaining or lowering membership fees.  If elected, I'll do my best to see that these changes become implemented.

Mark Carter, OCT
Southcentral Region Part-time/Full-time Candidate

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Voter Forum question: Occasional Teachers

In the Voter Forum, Anonymous asked the following under the heading "Occasional Teachers":
Candidates, what do you plan to do to get the College to promote the professional development, advancement, and job security of Occasional Teachers in Ontario, particularly the non-retiree, non-pension OTs who lose income, classroom experience and advancement opportunities due to the persisting problem of double-dipping retirees?
Here's my response:

This is a complex question. To begin with, we need to recognize that there are two categories of retired teachers: those who receive a pension from the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan (who are limited to working 50 days per year), and those who received commuted pensions (lump sum payments, which have likely been pummeled by financial markets) who are not restricted in how much they work. In either category, we can't assume that they're receiving the "typical" $40,000 per year pension reported by OTPP; the teacher may have been out of the workforce for years raising children, teaching may have been a mid-life career change, they may have spent their career as an occasional teacher, etc. Further, the decision of how many days retirees may teach is made jointly by the government and the Ontario Teachers Federation, rather than the College of Teachers.

All that being said... I think it's a problem that retirees are simultaneously taking work away from newer teachers (a concept we need to moderate; see my first paragraph) and not contributing to the OTPP. With only 1.5 workers per retiree as of 2010 reported by OTPP, we need to make sure the workers funding the plan get a chance to work!

With OTPP constantly facing funding shortfalls that have forced them to make decisions like raising contribution premiums and only partially guaranteeing indexing of pensions, it's a serious problem that anyone would be working as a teacher and not contributing to the pension plan.  Current workers' pensions have already been weakened (higher contribution rates, conditional indexing), and there's no hope of stopping that trend unless everyone who is working as a teacher is contributing to the plan.

The College of Teachers' role in this would be a lobbying one, communicating these concerns to OTF and the government. Of course, there may be a conflict of interest involved... how many members of, and candidates for, College Council are retired teachers?

Professional development is definitely an issue for occasional teachers that the College needs to address. Part 3 of any Specialist qualification has as prerequisite one year of full-time experience in the specialty, which your school board has to sign off on. In practice, this excludes most occasional teachers and prevents them from earning a Specialist designation.

This holds them back professionally since they don't have the designation on their resume, and it costs them financially. QECO treats a 3-part Specialist as equivalent to five (5) university credits. So in terms of advancing on the salary grid, occasional teachers are usually relegated to the more expensive route of acquiring five credits instead of three. Yet occasional teachers are the teachers who are least able to afford additional courses.

Generalized specialties such as Reading, Primary, Junior, Inclusive Classroom, Integration of Information and Computer Technology in Instruction... why should an occasional teacher be prevented from taking these courses and earning their Specialist qualification? If elected, this is an issue I'll pursue.

As to advancement and job security of OTs, I'm afraid most of those issues fall more squarely into the realm of responsibility of the teachers' unions, all of whom need to work hard on behalf of occasional teachers; OT contracts have tons of room for improvement. The College of Teachers does have a role, though. In advocating for the teaching profession and respect for teachers, the College needs to emphasize that occasional teachers are valued, professional members of the teaching community.

I've always thought that a 3-part Specialist in Occasional Teaching would be a good idea, as it would recognize occasional teaching as another niche within the profession, similar to teaching French or being a teacher-librarian.

The College can also advocate for appropriate funding for occasional teachers. Currently, school boards are funded (as per the 2011-12 Ministry of Education Technical Document, pg. 16) $72,879 per elementary teacher, plus 11.63% for benefits, and they receive a supplement for higher QECO ratings on top of that. In contrast, school boards are given a lump sum of $126.69 per ADE (Average Daily Enrollment; a lump sum, not awarded on a daily basis, despite the acronym) to fund occasional teachers.

By comparison, textbooks are funded at $69.00 per ADE, and classroom supplies at $82.82. School boards receive more funding for textbooks and classroom supplies than they do for occasional teachers.

Again, this is an area where the College needs to advocate on behalf of its members. It's quite clearly in the public interest for students to be taught by occasional teachers whose primary income is teaching, rather than waitressing, bartending, telemarketing, etc.

Mark Carter, OCT
Candidate for the Southcentral Region Part-time/Full-time position

Voter Forum question: unemployed teacher

In the Voter Forum, Nina posted this under the heading "unemployed teacher":
I really don't agree with unemployed teacher's having to pay to be a member of a College that is doing absolutely nothing to help them find a job! Why not allow us to pay the fees until AFTER we've secured employment with a school board in Ontario? 

I myself was very naive to think I could find a decent teaching job easily, and I know a lot of other teachers (graduates of the 2008 programs) that feel the same frustration I do

A lot of us are quitting the profession before we even start

Help us find jobs before charging us hundreds of dollars
Here's my response:

When I graduated teachers' college in 2003, I remember that on top of charging me an administrative fee in the hundreds to process my application for certification, the College also charged me a full year membership fee. I didn't become certified until August, yet the College wasn't willing to pro-rate the first year's fee (I wrote in and asked), and come January I was paying again.

$138 may not be much to a full-time teacher, but to many occasional teachers making less than $10,000 a year from teaching, that's 1.38% or more of their gross salary. By comparison, ETFO membership fees are 1.36% of salary.

There needs to be some form of part-time or low-income fee structure in place; differentiating between full-time employed members and part-time/occasional members is easy, as salaried College members have their membership fee deducted through payroll. The rest of us (roughly 85,000 out of 230,000 members, or 37% according to the latest College stats) pay our membership fees through the College web site. We should be able to self-identify if we're low-income and pay a reduced rate.

The College should also be including the first year's membership in its application fee, or at the very least be willing to pro-rate it for new members. There's no reason for the College not to be flexible.

As for finding a job, becoming a job portal is something the College could consider. I know I find it offensive that many school boards are opting to use job sites that charge job-seekers a fee, as that's simply exploiting the people who have the least.

If elected, I'll be bringing my understanding of the realities of occasional teaching to the table, and these issues will be raised.

Mark Carter, OCT
Southcentral Region Part-time/Full-time candidate

Voter Forum question: What can be done?

In the Voter Forum, Julia posted this under the heading: What can be done?
In our Board a graduate teacher will take years to gain full time employement, if at all. Potentially excellent teachers give up. What can be done? It is in the public interest to encourage the best and the brightest.
Here's my response:

In my school board, it can take several years just to get accepted onto the occasional teacher list (which is by no means an assurance of a good income). The real solution to making occasional teaching a financially viable option is to ensure sufficient funding for occasional teachers (OTs) to school boards from the government, to bargain reasonable maximum number caps on occasional teacher lists, and to bargain to ensure there are fair call-out systems in place (no favouritism, preferred lists, etc.)

If in a given (fictional example) school board there are 50,000 occasional teaching days available in a year, pick a number you think provides a basic living. Let's say $20,000 minimum, which is hardly a lofty goal.

At roughly $200 per day, that's 100 days per year. Divide 50,000 by 100, and you'll find out how many teachers should be on the occasional teacher list: 500. If there are too many more, you dilute the amount of work everyone gets. Of course, you have to allow for a few more to account for people on LTO assignment and any retirees limited to teaching 50 days. In my example above, you'd want 500 maximum (plus a small cushion) to ensure everyone made $20,000 a year.

Of course, that's assuming that those 50,000 days would be evenly distributed amongst the 500 teachers doing daily work. That's seldom the case. Principals, teachers, senior administration... all participate in picking and choosing favourites, meaning a small cadre may teach 150 days per year, while many are in the under 50 ($10,000) range or 50-100 range ($10-20,000). Fair call-out systems are essential to ensuring everyone can make a living.

Beyond that, there is tons of room for improvement in making school board hiring practices fair, transparent, and accountable.

While the College can advocate for better funding formulas for schools, the other components are collective bargaining issues. You need to get involved with your union, and support the union, because those are exactly the issues your union will be fighting for at the bargaining table when all of our contracts expire August 31st.

As to the teacher oversupply, this is an issue the College has known about for years through it's Transition to Teaching study, yet done very little to address. We definitely need to limit the number of spaces available in teacher's colleges, although we do need to exercise caution that we don't create a future shortage as happened with nurses.

Mark Carter, OCT
Southcentral Region Part-time/Full-time candidate