Everyone is frustrated by the ongoing labour dispute between teachers and the government. We all acknowledge that the bargaining process doesn’t work, yet here we are again. Why?
It is because of us — parents and the public.
No political party — NDP or Liberal — will speak plainly and engage us in the difficult discussions we need to have because we won’t vote for them if they do. We vote for those who tell us what we want to hear even if they know and we suspect that they can’t deliver on their promises.
Governments promise to deliver quality public education while reducing taxes. Quality education for who and what? Industry wants job-ready employees, but what does broader society need?
What does that realistically cost? The current labour dispute serves as a distraction for these more fundamental issues.
For the union, linking class size and composition to better education for students plays to what parents want to hear. Research, however, suggests those are not the most significant factors in determining how well students do.
The degree to which parents are involved in their children’s education trumps all else. So step one is to look ourselves in the mirror and ask hard questions.
In the classroom, the quality of teaching is the key factor, which would require evolving the system so hiring and wage increases are tied to competency, dedication and outcomes rather than seniority. Defining a fair wage isn’t just about what teachers in other provinces earn, rather how are teachers doing compared to others in their community?
Given the union is not accountable to parents, we cannot engage them in these issues.
We need to challenge all political parties and the union to make education a non-partisan issue.
They need to come together and jointly talk with us about the underlying issues, what we can realistically expect from a public education system, how we can take a more collaborative approach at the community level, and the most strategically important investments that can be made.
Such a dialogue will require changes on the part of everyone, including parents.
We must insist that a common platform regarding public education be developed with a commitment to implement it regardless of who is in power (within government or the union). The provincial election would be used to determine, among other things, whom the public feels best qualified to manage implementation.
If they insist on continuing to use us as pawns in their public relations war, then it is time to call them on it. Both the union and government need to put forward their best option for resolving the outstanding issues in this labour dispute. Tell us what you think should change, why the changes are necessary, what specific improvements will result for students and how they will be measured, who will be accountable for the outcomes and how, and what the required tax increase would be. And you better be honest about all the costs because you might have to live with the consequences.
A non-binding referendum would then be used to get a mandate for moving forward.
I suspect that no political party or the union will want to face the wrath of a public that is fed up with all of them on these issues.
Better to hold hands and collectively jump into the unknown territory of truly working together, dragging complacent yet grumpy parents along for the ride.