Centralization of Powers in the Hands of the Minister Under Pretext of Efficiency

Teachers demonstrate in Montreal in defence of working conditions and public education,
September 19, 2023.

On May 4, Quebec Education Minister Bernard Drainville tabled Bill 23, An Act to amend mainly the Education Act and to enact the Act respecting the Institut national d'excellence en éducation.

At a press briefing, he introduced the bill saying that it "aims for efficiency but for student success, so it's efficiency to improve academic results in our schools."

The Larousse Dictionary defines the word "efficiency" as follows: The character of an efficient person or organization that produces maximum results with minimum effort or means. Its synonyms are efficacy and productivity.

To achieve this efficiency, Mininster Drainville gives three areas of guidance. The first guide concerns improved decision-making, which the law purports to address in this way: "[T]he general managers of service centres will be appointed by the government on the recommendation of the Minister. They will have renewable five-year terms. Each school organization will also sign an annual management and accountability agreement.”

The second guide concerns data accessibility. The bill provides for the creation of databases where school service centres will deposit their data, enabling the Minister, for example, "to see which schools or classes, even, have academic results that are below average and intervene through the school service centre. [...]"

The third guide concerns the identification of evidence-based best practices, to be done through the creation of the Institut national de l'excellence en éducation (INEÉ). This institute will be mandated to "ensure that they are used in classrooms by our teachers."

Whereas in the current Education Act, it is the Boards of Directors that can appoint and dismiss the Directors General of School Service Centres (SSCs), the key managers, the bill gives the Minister the power to overturn a decision of the SSCs and or fill a vacancy on the Board of Directors of an SSC, the bill now puts these decisions in the hands of the Minister. In addition, SSCs will be required to enter into an annual "management and accountability" agreement with the Minister on whether or not they have achieved the objectives imposed by the Minister, including those related to national indicators, objectives and orientations.

The 36-page bill amends ten statutes, and enacts the National Institute for Excellence in Education Act. It is characterized by the concentration of powers in the hands of the Minister of Education. Under Bill 23, school governance would be overhauled, giving the Minister the power to appoint or dismiss superintendents of SCCs. The Minister would also be able to overturn a decision made by an SCC when that decision is not in line with the targets, guidance and directives established by the Minister, or, as the Minister put it, to "make the decision that, in his or her opinion, should have been made." 

The bill creates the INEÉ as a legally constituted  agency of the State. Its Board of Directors is made up of nine people, including a single teacher, appointed by the government, on the recommendation of the Minister, to carry out its mission of "promoting excellence in educational services in preschool, primary and secondary education." This means, among other things, that the institute must identify best practices based on "available scientific knowledge, in Quebec and elsewhere [...] contribute to the training and support of school personnel, formulate, when requested by the Minister, an opinion on the definition of the competencies expected of preschool, primary and secondary school teachers for the purpose of obtaining a teaching permit, and formulate [...] an opinion on teacher training programs for preschool, primary and secondary school teachers."

In addition, "the Institute may enter into agreements with any group or organization in a position to provide it with the information required to develop its recommendations. It may also enter into an agreement with a government other than that of Québec, one of its departments, an international organization or an agency of that government or organization." In other words, both through its directors and these provisions, decision-making in education is taken over by narrow private interests. 

The bill allows the Minister to develop regulations that will allow him to impose distance education (art. 449) and teacher training, as well as conditions "relating to the recognition of the content of training activities, the methods of control, supervision or evaluation of continuing education obligations and, where applicable, cases of exemption" (art. 457).

The bill amends the Loi sur le Conseil supérieur de l'éducation, including its title, to replace the name "Conseil supérieur de l'éducation" with "Conseil de l'enseignement supérieur" to circumscribe the council's function to matters relating to higher (university) education, and to revise its composition.

The bill introduces the creation of a centralized education repository and reporting system to "support the management of the education network by simplifying communications." It allows the Minister to make it mandatory for certain organizations to use this system for hosting and communicating information. It also provides that the Minister may require certain organizations to use any information resource service he designates, including a decision-making tool.

(Photo: FAE)

This article was published in
Number 52 - September 22, 2023

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