Bill 23 – Who Said What?
Teachers set off smoke sticks to denounce the smoke screen of the Quebec government's education reform, June 2, 2023.
As soon as Bill 23, an Act to amend mainly the Education Act and to enact the Act respecting the Institut national d'excellence en éducation, was tabled on May 4, many organizations in the education community voiced their serious concerns about the bill. In many respects, they question the claims of efficiency, excellence and accountability in the name of the young generation's academic success, especially since the expertise, demands and field experience of the key players in education -- teachers and their colleagues -- are quite simply discarded. The following are extracts from public statements and briefs by various players in the education world.
Autonomous Education Federation (FAE)
The FAE demands the withdrawal of the bill:
May 4, 2023 will go down in history as a dark day for Quebec's public schools. The tabling of Bill 23 in the first session of the 43rd legislature is a stab in the back for the teaching profession on the issue of professional development, in parallel with the over-centralization of the education network. No concrete solutions to the ills afflicting public schools are to be found in this piece of legislation. This attack on the people who work every day to carry out the mission of public schools is being carried out in the midst of collective bargaining, which in the case of some elements of this bill, amounts to special legislation threatening to dictate working conditions. The employer side intends to impose through legislation what cannot be agreed on fairly with the FAE during contract negotiations.
Statecraft, the best interests of public schools, and intellectual honesty demanded that this Minister move forward transparently, and that he submit these proposed changes in the context of a consultation, a white paper or a draft bill, thus allowing all organizations and individuals concerned to put forward their point of view, before rushing to pass legislation. To add insult to injury, this bill not only threatens and sabotages the Education Act, but also contains two other sections that would have required their own bills: the first, to create the Institut national d'excellence en éducation, and the second, to amend the Act respecting the Ministère de l'Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport. By proceeding at the end of a parliamentary session, with no prior consultation other than a 45-minute exchange of views in the parliamentary committee, stakeholders with a different vision of public schools will find it difficult to put forward their proposals.
Based on these findings [...] the FAE demands that this bill be withdrawn.
Quebec Labour Congress (CSQ)
The CSQ has also submitted its concerns about the consequences for the education world of the bill's adoption:
1. Increasing the Power of the Minister
The first aspect concerns the provisions of the bill, which, if adopted, would allow the Minister of Education to recommend the appointment of superintendents, who would then appoint school principals. "We see here a transformation of the line of authority that allows the Minister to have greater control over establishments," said Nathalie Chabot, CSQ Professional Action Advisor.
Another provision of the bill: the possibility for the Minister to overturn decisions made by school service centres if he or she is of the opinion that they do not correspond to the orientations or objectives set.
2. Data Collection and Use in Education
The bill proposes to set up an information-gathering system to obtain an overview of the education network. "The question is how the Minister will use this data. How will the data be used? What is the Ministry aiming for? What does it mean by a high-performance school network? Could the data be used to further reinforce schools' obligation to achieve results, regardless of the context and resources at their disposal? That's what the bill suggests. Because objectives, targets and obligations to achieve results have already been played out several times over the past twenty years, and we're well aware of the potential pitfalls," says Éric Gingras. The way they are used could lead to abuses.
3. Strengthening Results-based Management
The bill reflects a narrow conception of educational success, where the school is no longer defined as an institution that is a living environment, but as an organization mobilized around results.
4. Setting Up a National Institute for Excellence in Education
The last issue mentioned is the creation of a national institute for excellence in education, whose aim would be to synthesize research and identify best teaching practices.
The creation of this institute can be seen in conjunction with other provisions in the bill that further limit ongoing training obligations, particularly for teachers.
"The combination of these four components opens the door to greater control over the practices of school staff, particularly teachers, and makes changes in practice the only way to improve success," explained Nathalie Chabot.
Federation of Education Unions (FSE-CSQ)
The FSE also discussed the creation of a national institute for excellence in education, as proposed in the bill:
The project to create the Institute is not neutral. From the outset, the project has been supported by a certain current of research, that of evidence-based education and school effectiveness. [...] Sihame Chkair, who co-edited the book Les données probantes et l'éducation published in 2023, points out that the rise of evidence-based education is linked to the context of new public management and neo-liberal policies. This methodology then takes on a political character by becoming the lever of educational reforms. Bill 23 is a step in the same direction.
According to proponents of the effective school, to increase academic success [...] we must rely on the "teacher effect" and the adoption of certain pedagogical practices. On the other hand, class composition, workload, shortages of qualified staff and the social determinants of success are not priority issues, despite the findings of research on these questions. [...] The creation of a national institute for excellence in education runs the risk of placing all the work needed to improve success solely on the shoulders of teachers, without taking into account the other factors that contribute to success and ignoring the various currents of research.
Josée Scalabrini, President of the FSE-CSQ adds:
As teachers, we are the experts in pedagogy. We are trained to choose the right pedagogical methods according to the students, the programs, the learning context and the resources available. With the abolition of the Conseil supérieur de l'éducation -- whose opinions often displeased the political powers that be -- and the creation of an Institut national d'excellence en éducation (INEÉ), Minister Drainville will give a certain current of educational research the right to impose its point of view. After having had the socio-constructivist approach and project-based pedagogy of the reform imposed on us, it is now the "effective school" approach that they will try to impose on us as the only valid way of doing things. Let's not forget that education is a human science where a healthy diversity of currents of thought co-exist and occasionally clash.
Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT)
What we must avoid is using the so-called evidence-based results of this research to impose or generalize practices in school settings. We insist on the fact that teachers, given their expertise, are always the best placed to determine the most appropriate approaches based on the specific characteristics and needs of their students. [...]
An education system does not gauge production by consistent inputs. It deals with students who are human beings from varied family and socioeconomic backgrounds, who present a diversity of characteristics that are unique to them, and who evolve in a classroom setting (class composition) that varies from one school to another.
Attempting to use simplistic measurements to compare their performance leads invariably to valuing the measurement rather than the overall learning process. In this context, with the pressure to reach targets set by the Ministry, it becomes tempting to take shortcuts to produce results that meet expectations, instead of ensuring that the learning process is rich and meaningful for students. If adopted as is, Bill 23 will exacerbate this reality instead of improving the academic success of students and further fuel competition and the excesses that flow from it.
Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN)
The CSN is calling for the bill to be dropped. It also points out that the bill continues the government's tendency to centralize educational decisions in its own hands:
"Previous reforms were supposed, according to the government, to bring decision-making closer to the field and to parents. At the time, we feared the effects of increasing the powers of the Minister and the disappearance of school boards and their universally elected chairs and commissioners, who were accountable to their communities. Today, it's clear that this was merely a prelude to further centralization. Indeed, the Minister of Education says he is building on his reforms to go even further, by granting himself new powers, including that of choosing superintendents, overturning decisions made by school service centres and imposing management and accountability agreements on them.
As for the bill's change to the mandate of the Conseil supérieur de l'éducation for the elementary and secondary levels, the CSN says it's "a colossal loss for the education community, from kindergarten to university.
"The Conseil supérieur de l'éducation was founded in 1964, at the same time as the Ministry of Education. It has a proven track record, its expertise is recognized and its independence is an indispensable element."
Quebec Federation of University Professors (FQPPU)
The Minister of Education, Bernard Drainville, recently stated in an interview that he had only one ambition for his mandate: to improve academic success. Yet, by proposing the abolition of the Conseil supérieur de l'éducation (CSE), his reform bill not only attacks an independent voice whose fundamental mission is to advise the government and inform the public. The proposed legislation also promotes a vision of education that may well harm the very students the Minister claims to serve, and does so without prior consultation. [...]
In light of this, the FQPPU urges the Minister of Education to reverse his decision to abolish Quebec's flagship Conseil supérieur de l'éducation, and to listen to the voices raised against the creation of the INEÉ. Rather, the evidence he holds dear justifies tackling head-on the problems raised by the education community and ignored by this reform -- those of inadequate funding and the deplorable working conditions of teachers in the network. Finally, better funding for research in the educational sciences and related fields would make it possible to remedy some of the shortcomings identified by the Minister, without the results being bent by any ideological bias whatsoever.
This article was published in
Number 52 - September 22, 2023