These two sentences are not innocuous but give the Minister of Health authority to control all health care decisions through executive dictate. Even a formal conception of a health authority or board, which is expected and required to make decisions based on the public interest and the health care needs of the population no longer exists.
So much wrecking has already taken place that the existing institutions are not considered worthy of defence, permitting the complete takeover by private monopoly interests. Alberta Health Services is a case in point. In recent times the usual methods have been used to discredit AHS by focusing on lavish executive expense accounts and the like. The Health Minister fired the entire board of AHS when it refused to carry out a directive to withdraw executive bonuses on the grounds that it legally could not do so as it entailed a breach of contract. The Minister of Health later quietly acknowledged that he could not legally carry out his own directive either.
The extent of the executive prerogative can be seen by asking one question. On what basis is funding allocated across the province? The former regional health authorities received funding based on a population-based formula, which included the number of people in the region, services delivered to people outside the region, age, gender and the socio-economic composition of the population. If the population were poorer and older for example in a region, funding per-capita would increase. In theory at least, the formula upheld the idea that there should be equal funding for equal health care needs across the province. When the PC government disbanded the regional health authorities, it also eliminated the criteria for allocating funds. It has not replaced the formula with any publicly identified criteria or formula. In other words, no one knows how AHS decides anything. It is all a state secret.
Having a formula does not equal adequate funding, this is not the point. The issue is that objective criteria existed for allocation of funds and the Minister of Health could not act in a totally arbitrary way. This is no longer the case. The Minister of Health has directly intervened in allocating funding using the provision of "extra" funding to expand private delivery of services. An example is the provision of funding to reduce wait times where all the funding had to be used to expand surgery, such as cataract surgery at private clinics. Now the Minister can extend such dictate over the entire budget, without a single objective measure of how funding is to be allocated.
This means a public authority no longer exists that organizes the health system and allocates funding. Instead, the dictate of private interests acts through an executive dictate. Any pretense of a system accountable to any standard or the public interests is finished.
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The Task Force on Teaching Excellence was outsourced to Leger Marketing. The members were hand-picked by Education Minister Johnson. The Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA), which represents Alberta teachers, was not invited to participate. In the Minister's words, including the ATA would "taint the process."
This insulting and unacceptable refusal to consult teachers and pay attention to their knowledge and experience was further demonstrated when the report was rolled out. The Alberta teachers and their organization, the ATA, were kept in the dark regarding the contents of the report until the night before the official release. In contrast, Canadians for 21st Century Learning and Innovation (C21), a lobby group which includes representatives of the educational monopolies such as Microsoft, educational technology manufacturer SMART Technologies, and publishers Pearson, Nelson, and Oxford University Press received a copy of the report well in advance. The ATA was forced to file a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy request to obtain basic information about the workings of the Task Force.
The very act of establishing the Task Force was a violation of the government's own clear undertaking. When the Task Force was announced, the ink was barely dry on a "comfort letter" from then-Premier Alison Redford, promising that no major legislative changes would be made affecting the ATA, and that the Government would use its "best efforts to consult with Alberta's teachers through their association on issues that will improve the learning environment for Alberta's students." At the same time, legislation created a Teacher Development and Practice Advisory Committee, with at least half the members being teachers, mandated to advise the education minister on exactly the same issues for which the Task Force has issued recommendations.
Instead of addressing the critical problems facing teachers and students, the Task Force was based on a total denial of the facts of education. The Minister actively downplays the importance of class size, instead calling into question reports of classes of more than 50 students in some schools, passing the blame on to school boards, and promoting examples of schools in China and Malaysia where students perform well on standardized tests despite large classes.
Why is there no mention of class size anywhere in the Task Force report? Is it because the people handpicked by the Minister share his outlook, or because they were actively directed not to broach the issue? The answer may become more apparent when the results of the ATA's freedom of information request come in. Of course, by then, the arbitrary 30-day time frame given for discussion of the Task Force report will have passed.
The Task Force does make some recommendations which have merit, including development of mentorship programs, increased wrap-around supports for classrooms (speech language pathology, for example), and increased time for planning, working with other teachers and sharing best practices. These recommendations all require a significant increase in investments in the number of teachers, but the Minister and the Task Force ignore the reality that existing workloads are unsustainable workloads and that investments are required to implement these recommendations.
The Report receives a failing grade when it comes to even a basic knowledge of existing processes. It confuses the teacher competence process and the separate conduct review process.
No one is more concerned about the need for the highest quality of teaching than teachers themselves. Through their Association and in their schools, teachers collectively work to raise the level of teaching and do their duty to their students and to society. They have a right to the working conditions necessary to allow teaching and learning to thrive. If the government were actually interested in raising the level of education, the first place it would go to consult would be to teachers themselves. The fact that it has done everything to attack and marginalize teachers while expanding the role of private monopoly interests which see education as a market makes it clear where this government is headed. It must not pass!
The report of the Alberta Minister of Education Jeff Johnson's Task Force on Teaching Excellence was released on Monday, May 5. The Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA) immediately responded, condemning recommendations which it concludes "can only be viewed as a direct assault on teachers and the teaching profession."
The Task Force makes recommendations that would strip teachers of fundamental employment protection. To retain teacher professional certification, it recommends an evaluation for every teacher once every five years. It suggests that principals should be turned into managers as opposed to colleagues and school leaders. It contains a thinly veiled threat that if the ATA does not "cooperate" in doing so that principals will be removed from the ATA altogether.
The Task Force also calls for the separation of conduct review and practice review; two functions of the ATA, which in actual fact are already separate. It threatens to dissolve the existing ATA and either create a separate professional college of teachers, or have the Minister directly take over the professional functions of the ATA. In a bizarre irony for a task force concerned with excellent teaching, the report also suggests granting teaching certificates to people with trades or fine arts certification who do not have the professional preparation currently expected of teachers.
The ATA concludes, "Johnson's task force is using the threat of breaking up the Association to coerce teachers to comply with its other recommendations."
A narrow focus on teacher accountability, "weeding out the bad teachers," and transforming education into a managerial model will not address the problems in education. In fact, it will be extremely detrimental to the interests of students, parents, and society in general. Teachers are professionals, and deserve to be respected as such. They have an organization which actively advocates for supports to teachers so that every teacher can continually improve, innovate and meet their fullest potential.
The PCs and all governments pursuing their anti-social austerity agenda are robbing the education system of necessary funding and resources to pay the rich. It is outrageous that instead of taking up their responsibilities they now claim that teachers are the problem. TML salutes teachers and their association who are defending the interests of society in general and specifically public education by opposing the attacks on their profession.
For an informed discussion on the recommendations of the Task Force on Teaching Excellence, it is necessary to examine the existing ways in which Alberta's education system deals with issues of teacher competency and conduct.
1. Teachers have a Code of Professional Conduct.
The Code of Conduct is developed by the Alberta Teacher's Association (ATA) within the framework of the Teaching Profession Act. It stipulates minimum standards for professional conduct. For example, teachers must treat all pupils with dignity and respect; they must act in a way that "upholds the honour and dignity of the profession"; they must protest "conditions which make it difficult to render professional service" et cetera.
Any person may make a complaint to the ATA, and the Professional Conduct Committee will investigate. The Association does take measures, going as far as to revoke a teacher's teaching certificate when circumstances warrant.
2. The Minister of Education establishes the Teaching Quality Standard.
The minister decides, through regulation, what characteristics make for a competent teacher. In the past, the Minister has consulted with the ATA. The Teaching Quality Standard (TQS) respects teachers as professionals. For example, it says, "Teachers appreciate individual differences and believe all students can learn, albeit at different rates and in different ways. They recognize students' different learning styles and the different ways they learn, and accommodate these differences in individuals and groups of students including students with special learning needs."
At the same time, the TQS establishes a basic standard with expectations such as, "Teachers create and maintain environments that are conducive to student learning," and, "Teachers translate curriculum content and objectives into meaningful learning activities."
One standard exists for beginning teachers, who hold an interim certificate, and another standard for professional certification. The regulations are fairly general, meaning that the question of how they are enforced is critical.
3. Teachers have a Professional Practice Review Committee.
This is a different body within the ATA, separate from conduct review. Anyone can make a complaint about professional competence to a school board superintendent, who investigates and reports to the ATA. If there are grounds to question the teacher's competency, the Professional Practice Review Committee holds a public hearing and then makes a recommendation to the Minister of Education. The Minister is responsible for appointing a member of the public to sit on the committee, but has let these appointments expire without replacing them for over a year.
Given that these are two separate functions within the ATA, one must ask why the Task Force on Teaching Excellence proposes to create a separate organization, if not so that government can have more direct control over the process of practice review. Either the Task Force is ignorant of this fact, which could have been easily corrected if the ATA was invited to participate, or another agenda is at play.
4. Principals evaluate teachers to see if they meet the Teaching Quality Standard.
As well as providing leadership, support and guidance to each teacher on staff, principals have the responsibility to evaluate teachers. They are required to evaluate teachers who are new to the profession or new to a school board. Principals also have a right to evaluate a teacher when they move to a new school, or if they have reason to believe a teacher may not meet the Teaching Quality Standard. Teachers may also ask to be evaluated. As class sizes increase due to insufficient funding, in many schools principals and/or assistant principals are teaching classes themselves, affecting their own workload and their capacity to support other teachers.
5. School boards set specific expectations of teachers.
Issues including but not limited to the above can be addressed by school boards, who have the power to dismiss teachers who do not obey lawful orders of the school boards. If a teacher does not meet expectations such as preparing report cards or attending parent-teacher interviews, a school board could dismiss that teacher. So long as the teacher still holds a valid teaching certificate, they could still be hired by another school board.
TML expresses its sincere condolences to the family, co-workers and friends of Lorna Weafer, an oil sands' worker who tragically died after being mauled by a bear at her work site north of Fort McMurray Alberta. Lorna Weafer, a 36-year-old instrument technician was killed on May 7 while working at Suncor's base camp.
Lorna's family released a statement, which explains she immigrated into Canada from Ireland with her family as a child and had lived in Fort McMurray since 1981. Lorna had been working as an instrument technician since October 2013. She was an avid photographer and very artistic. The family thanks her co-workers who tried to help their daughter, saying they knew that they were also grieving her loss.
Roland Lefort, President of Unifor Local 707A, explains that 10 co-workers were in the area where Lorna was attacked by an adult male black bear. He said her co-workers used shovels and rocks and blew air horns in an attempt to scare off the animal and stop the attack but none of their efforts were successful.
Lorna Weafer is the third Suncor worker to die on the job since January 2014. Her untimely death underscores workers' crucial fight for the right to safe and healthy working conditions and to force governments to hold companies to account to provide those safe and healthy working conditions.
The recent moratorium on the food sector puts the migrant workers' status in limbo. Workers with no labour market opinion (LMO) or work permits or those who are waiting for theirs are currently affected. The moratorium impacts negatively on many migrant workers who are on the tail end of their contracts and who will not have these renewed. It impacts those who have pending positive LMOs and who have risked their life-savings to pay the thousands of dollars to labour recruiters for these jobs.
This government claimed they suspended the program to make sure that employers do not take advantage of it. Migrant workers are punished for the violations committed by the employers and the unscrupulous brokers or recruiters.
The forum will try to address some of these issues and clarify the impact of this on workers. The forum will then discuss the broader Temporary Foreign Worker Program and how it is a program that indentures workers and build a strategy that addresses these issues.
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