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Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services Report


British Columbia obstructs the shock doctrine: A lesson borne through struggle, solidarity, and popular resistance

September 27, 2014 in public educationresearchSlider by Tobey Steeves

The 2014/2015 school year had a rocky start in British Columbia, Canada, where teachers and the ruling government have been locked in a contest over the future of public education in the province. Teachers finished the 2013/2014 school year locked out and on strike, and neither the teachers nor the government appeared willing to concede defeat. I believe this clash between public and private values offers meaningful lessons for friends of public education.

The struggle over maintaining public services is not unique to British Columbia [BC], of course, and Naomi Klein’s (2007) notion of shock doctrines provides a lens for understanding how and why public services around the world have been attacked and subverted via [manufactured] ‘crises’. In The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Klein argues that shocks and disasters can disrupt societies’ “ruling narratives” and can – if given half a chance – be turned into opportunities for profit-grabbing and corporate re-structuring. Klein provides numerous examples from around the world to show that shock doctrines have been managed and cultivated in order to create “orchestrated raids on the public sphere” (p. 26). Klein’s analysis can be extended to BC, where the provincial government has nurtured the spread of privatized education – at the expense of public schools.

I have previously argued that the shock doctrine is alive and well in BC, and involves a broad attack on teachers and the “tacit re-imagining of public education as a vehicle for private profit as well as the intentional re-direction of public resources to redistribute the burden of risk, access, and service to favour private profits over public need” (Steeves, 2014, p.10). This includes preferential resourcing for private schools in BC, a push to direct public resources away from the provision of learning opportunities and toward a concern with extracting profit, and the systematic commodification of BC’s curriculum. To update and supplement this analysis, I would like to: (i) elaborate on the contexts that compelled BC’s teachers into rejecting shock therapy and to mount a full-scale strike, (ii) outline some of the impediments to (re)solving the bargaining impasse between teachers and the provincial government, (iii) describe key features of the collective agreement that bridged the impasse between teachers and the provincial government, and (iv) highlight some of the tactics that were used to challenge shock therapy and to cultivate shock resistance in BC.

Setting a stage: Governance in BC -

Labour negotiations are often rocky affairs, but BC’s teachers have had a particularly difficult time with the BCLiberals – the province’s current ruling party. Simply put: teachers in BC have found it difficult to negotiate a collective agreement with a government that broke laws to cut services from kids.

Recently re-elected by less than 25% of the province’s eligible voters (Vancouver Sun, 2013), BC’s Supreme Court has twice ruled that the BCLiberals illegally stripped teachers’ contracts (BCTF v. BC, 2014; BCTF v. BC, 2011). In 2014, for instance, the Court (BCTF v. BC) ruled that “it was unconstitutional for the government to have legislatively deleted the Working Conditions clauses from the [teachers’] existing collective agreement in 2002 and by prohibiting a return to those clauses” [¶138]. Further, the Court found that government representatives’ “understanding of problems was based on unsubstantiated hearsay” [¶236]. The Court also determined that “government representatives were not willing to engage in real dialogue” [¶218], and

concluded that the government did not negotiate in good faith … One of the problems was that the government representatives were pre-occupied by another strategy. Their strategy was to put such pressure on the union that it would provoke a strike by the union. The government representatives thought this would give government the opportunity to gain political support for imposing legislation on the union. (BCTF v. BC, 2014, Summary, p. 3)

In other words, the ruling party of BC was weighed in a court of law and found to have used kids to push a political agenda.

In addition, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has ruled a handful of times against the BCLiberals – declaring multiple pieces of legislation illegal under international law (e.g., ILO, 2006, 2004, 2003). Overall, the ILO has ruled that six pieces of legislation imposed by the BCLiberals violate international agreements (BC Teachers’ Federation, 2014a). To put it another way, the United Nations agency that looks over labour standards and advocates on behalf of justice for workers and decent work for all has positioned BC’s ruling government as flouting international treaties to push its political agenda.

Mapping the BCLiberals’ policy agenda: shock therapy as popular mandate?

This rapid succession of legislative and judicial interventions is consistent with what Klein (2007) describes as shocks: “moment[s] where there is a gap between fast moving events and the information that exists to explain them” (p. 552). During these times, Klein argues, many of us become “intensely vulnerable to those people who are ready to take advantage of the chaos for their own ends” (p. 552). Specifically, these gaps provide spaces for shock doctrines – ‘miracles born of massacres’ that unleash “radical free-market makeovers” (p. 232). Since taking government in 2001, the BCLiberals have capitalized on shocks and pushed a shock doctrine to re-distribute the burden of risk, access, and service to favour corporate profit over public need.

For instance, while breaking laws and cutting services from kids, the BCLiberals also pushed policies that are of dubious value to the public. Between 2002 and 2005, the BCLiberals closed 85% of the legal aid offices throughout BC, cut supports for family law by 60%, and eliminated all aid for poverty law services and human rights complaints (PovNet, 2010). Eliminating supports for legal services is best understood as a facet in an “orchestrated raid on the public sphere” (Klein, 2007, p. 26). These policy choices “redistribute the burden of risk, access, and service to favour corporate profit over public need” (Steeves, 2014, p. 9).

The BCLiberals also seem to take it as a matter of honour that the province has among the lowest corporate tax rates in North America – and the world (BC Trade and Invest, n.d.). Add to this the fact that BC’s child labour laws have been described as among the “most neglectful in the world” (Bakan, 2011), and this provides a context for understanding how corporations in BC could generate $25.8 billion in profits in 2013 (McMartin, 2012). It also provides a basis for understanding figures from Statistics Canada which show BC as leading Canada in: child poverty (20.7%), the worst poverty rate for children living in single mother families (49.8%), and the most unequal distribution of income among rich and poor families with children (First Call, 2013).

Nevertheless, in 2009 the BCLiberals cut $16 million in funding for StudentAid BC, which provides loans to students seeking post secondary education (Fehr, 2009). And thanks to the BCLiberals’ policies, BC now has the highest student loan interest rates in Canada (Macdonald & Shaker, 2012, p. 32). And it is also worth highlighting the fact that BC’s post secondary students now pay more in tuition than the government collects in corporate taxes (CNW, 2010).

In addition to policies that redistribute the burden of risk, the BCLiberals have also favoured private profits over public needs by advancing a dubious notion of what is and is not ‘affordable’. After ‘investing’ more than $6 billion for the Olympics (Mackin, 2013), the BCLiberals also pushed for a new roof on BC Place stadium. The initial budget called for $365 million; but, in the end, the roof’s budget topped $517 million (Mackin, 2014). We should also recall that back in 2012 the BCLiberals gave government staffers an average wage increase of 10% (CBC News, 2012b). And we should not forget that for the 2011/2012 fiscal year, BC’s Premier charged around $475,000 in expenses to credit cards – including a $3,200+ tab at an oyster bar (CBC News, 2012a). More recently, in 2013, BCHydro – a provincially owned, Crown corporation – was sued by the state of California for price gouging during the 2000-2001 power crisis. The BCLiberals – hoping to avoid a fine that could top $3.2 billion – managed to find the resources to agree to a $750 million out-of-court settlement (Cox, 2013). All things considered, it is not at all apparent that teachers’ appeal for increased funding for public education is beyond the province’s “zone of affordability”.

Against this backdrop, it is worth highlighting the fact that in 2012 the BCLiberals sat in legislature – which is to say, took on the official work of elected representatives – for a grand total of 19 days (Jarvis, 2013b). By late 2013, the BC legislature had sat for 36 of the last 579 days (Jarvis, 2013a).

It takes a creative reading on ‘democracy’ to consider an absentee government that pushes dubious policies and flouts laws while imposing vicious cuts to public services as grounded in a ‘popular mandate’. Nevertheless, with the expiry of their collective agreement in 2012, teachers were compelled into bargaining with the BCLiberals.

A contest of scripts:
shock therapy vs. shock resistance -

The preceding context provides a basis for understanding the bargaining impasse between teachers and the BCLiberals as a competition over the ‘script’ for the future of BC. Whereas the tactics employed by the BCLiberals appear to be guided by a vision of BC that is grounded in private interests and shock doctrine tactics, the teachers of BC have taken a principled stand for a vision of the future that cultivates shock resistance and is grounded in the collective pursuit of the common good.

Undemocratic governance: Outlining the BCLiberals’ tactics and values -

The BCLiberals’ tactics for engaging with teachers illustrate a vision of governance that relies on an undemocratic balance of power. As a prime example, in 2001 it was reported that the BCLiberals began planning the “cuts of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, massive teacher layoffs, larger classes and less support for students with special needs.” To address the fear that parents would be “apt to notice significant reductions in service levels” government representatives were given a tactic for overcoming this dilemma: “run silent, run deep” in order to avoid provoking parents (Lambert, 2011). In other words, government officials in BC conspired to push through policies and cuts to services that they assumed parents might not like.

The BCLiberals’ autocratic vision of governance is also implicit in government representatives’ (dis)respect for the law. For example, the BCLiberals described a ruling by a well-respected BC Supreme Court judge as an “incorrectinterpretation [emphasis added]” (Shaw, 2014). Moreover, after having been ruled in breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – twice – the BCLiberals chose to direct more public funds into appealing the ruling: “upping the ante in [the] festering teachers dispute” (Palmer, 2014). This indicates that for the BCLiberals it may be preferable to flout laws and to use public funds to fight court battles than to resource public education in BC.

The current round of bargaining with teachers provided more recent examples of the BCLiberals’ values. For example, after more than a year of bargaining, a framework of negotiations was signed by both teachers and the provincial bargaining agent, British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association [BCPSEA]. To celebrate this success, the BCLiberals fired the [democratically elected] board of BCPSEA and replaced it with a CEO (BC Gov, 2013). Once installed, the new CEO unilaterally scrapped the previously agreed to framework of negotiations and the talks resumed under a lead negotiator described as “angry, disrespectful, and confrontational” (Hyslop, 2014). These interventions do not appear to be aimed at securing a negotiated settlement with teachers and suggest that the BCLiberals may have intentionally and systematically undercut the possibility of a negotiated settlement.

The BCLiberals also used ‘pressure tactics’ that appear to be aimed at provoking – if not punishing – teachers. To put pressure on teachers to concede to the government’s proposals, teachers were locked out of schools: Teachers were “directed” to come to schools no earlier than 45 minutes before the start of the day, to be off-site during lunch, to refrain from providing any learning supports for students during breaks or lunch, and to leave schools no later than 45 minutes after the last bell (Chow, 2014). This lockout was used as justification for cutting teachers’ pay by 10%. The government argued that since teachers were doing less work, they deserved less pay – “reduced pay for reduced work” (Ip, 2014). However, the government-imposed lockout was functionally a cut in pay for work that teachers’ normally volunteer. As a result, the lockout and pay cut was a bit like trying to put out a fire with gasoline: It did not pressure teachers to make concessions at the bargaining table but did confuse pretty much everyone (BCTF, 2014b) – and it provoked teachers to escalate their job action.

In addition to the imposition of a lockout and a cut in pay, the BCLiberals (re)directed public funds to pay parents $40 per day to keep children out of schools. With schools closed due to teachers’ job action, the BCLiberals directed parents to apply for a daily cash subsidy through a website (www.bcparentinfo.ca). Only children under the age of thirteen were eligible, and all payouts were held until the impasse was resolved (Shaw & Carman, 2014). This unprecedented tactic illustrated the BCLiberals’ intention to use any and all means to outlast teachers’ resolve and to push teachers into concessions.

Concessions and control: Unpacking the BCLiberals’ proposals for teachers -

Another way the BCLiberals tried to push teachers into concessions was by tabling proposals that asked teachers to give up on court rulings that run counter to the government’s policy objectives. For example, BCPSEA tabled language that would allow either party to dissolve the entire collective agreement if they were unhappy with the outcome of the government’s appeal of BCTF v. BC (2014): “[I]f either party is dissatisfied with the outcome [of the appeal] … Within 60 days of the ultimate judicial decision, either party may give written notice to the other of termination of the collective agreement” (BCPSEA, 2014c). It seems unlikely that teachers would have reason to dissolve a collective agreement that took more than a year of difficult bargaining and sustained job action to secure. On the other hand, should the government lose its appeal of BCTF v. BC (2014), this language – a ‘loser wins’ clause – would allow the government the means to dissolve the entire collective agreement and initiate another round of bargaining. All things considered, there seems to be little obvious incentive for teachers to cede this power to government or to sign a ‘contingent’ contract.

This ‘loser wins’ clause was eventually pulled, but the government’s bargaining agent tabled another proposal that asked teachers to give up on court rulings that returned class size and composition language to their collective agreement. Specifically, BCPSEA (2014b) attempted to “supersede and replace all previous Articles that addressed class size, composition and staffing levels.” To extend the metaphor, this proposal might be understood as an attempt to ‘get out of jail free’. Jim Iker, president of British Columbia’s Teachers’ Federation, singled out this proposal as a key obstacle to reaching a negotiated settlement (William-Ross, 2014). And Joel Bakan (2014), a professor of law who focuses on constitutional law, confided that he saw “a lot of sense” in teachers’ insistence on eliminating this proposal “before commencing bargaining.” Regardless, the proposal conveys a clear sense of the distance between the values that underlie the bargaining objectives of teachers and government.

Another proposal from government asked teachers to cede contractual protections for the evaluation of teachers. Specifically, the BCPSEA tabled language that would “supersede and replace all previous provisions that addressed evaluation and dismissal for performance” (BCPSEA, 2014, p. 3). Teachers previously bargained for language in their collective agreement that followed a ‘professional growth’ model: Teachers were contractually assured that evaluations included multiple administrators and as many as three observations, as well as ample time and opportunity to address concerns and modify practice. Representatives of the government, however, tabled language that replaced “professional growth” with “standards” and “metrics” – imposed by an administrator. Under this language, the issue of how many observations formed the basis of an evaluation cycle was left unclear. This could have provided the possibility for dismissal after one ‘unsatisfactory’ evaluation under one admin. Understandably, this proposal was unenthusiastically received by teachers.

Representatives of the government also asked teachers to relinquish all control over school calendars and hours worked: “A board may implement a school calendar that is inconsistent with the current terms in the collective agreement related to hours of work, work day and work year, provided the local is given written notification no later than forty (40) working days prior to its implementation” (BCPSEA, 2014a). Under teachers’ previous contract, if administrators wanted to make changes to days worked – for e.g., moving from a one to a two week spring break – there was a contractually defined process, and it included consultation with teachers. The government’s proposal would have allowed administrators to arbitrarily re-arrange the calendar and hours worked without consultation from teachers.

As can be seen, government representatives pushed major concessions on teachers, and the tabling of these concessions impeded the possibility of a negotiated agreement. At the same time, the government’s push for concessions demonstrates that the priorities that underlay government’s proposals were less aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement than in a broad extension of managerial control over teachers and their work.

Bad faith as ‘good faith’: How the BCLiberals’ obstructed and subverted the possibility of a negotiated settlement -

The BCLiberals inflamed and provoked, tabled dubious proposals, and obstructed the possibility of mediation as a path to a negotiated settlement. For instance, after teachers named a candidate to intervene as mediator, Premier Christy Clark expressed her enthusiasm by asserting that “no credible mediator” would take on this dispute. Unsurprisingly, a few hours later the candidate announced that he was ‘too busy’ and declined the role (Bailey, 2014).

The BCLiberals provoked teachers with a lockout and pay cut, scuttled the possibility of a mediated settlement, and categorically rejected the possibility of arbitration. The government reasoned that turning the dispute over to a third party would relinquish control over the province’s finances to an unelected third-party. However, it is worth noting that in BCTF v. BC (2014), BC’s Supreme Court ruled that “If an impasse was reached, a plethora of tools were available to resolve the impasse, including mediation or arbitration [emphasis added]” [¶142]. At a minimum, this means that the provincial government of BC may lack the legal grounds to deny teachers access to binding arbitration. Said differently: In rejecting teachers’ proposal to enter into binding arbitration, the BCLiberals made it apparent that their idea of ‘good faith’ bargaining may be different from that of BC’s Supreme Court.

Throughout this ordeal, the BCLiberals tried to divide and conquer with wedge tactics and dishonest spin. For instance, there was a repeated attempt to derail talks by invoking other unions’ collective agreements which include ‘me-too’ clauses. Basically, government representatives argued that if teachers got increases it necessarily meant that other unions would get increases, and this would toss the provincial budget into the red. It is worth noting, however, that teachers never signed any contract with a ‘me-too’ clause, and that teachers got legislated into zeroes while many other unions enjoyed modest salary increases. More importantly, it is also worth noting that the BCLiberals announced a projected a surplus of $266 million for 2014 (Meiszner, 2014), and a contingency fund with a balance of $2.9 billion – earmarked for Liquified Natural Gas (read: ‘fracking’) and labour agreements (Sheppard, 2014). It follows, then, that the BCLiberals were less than honest in arguing that financing a contract with teachers was beyond the financial means of the province (MacDonald, 2014).

The BCLiberals also attempted to divide teachers and to fragment teachers’ collective advocacy. For example, BC’s Minister of Education, Peter Fassbender, suggested that The “BCTF leadership has stubbornly … refused to give teachers a chance to vote on suspending the pickets” (BC Ministry of Education, 2014). However, BC’s teachers did vote on suspending the pickets: They voted overwhelmingly – 99.4% – in favour of suspending job action just as soon as the province agreed to enter into binding arbitration to resolve the bargaining impasse (Burgmann, 2014). The BCLiberals, as previously noted, were unwilling to enter into arbitration. As a result, Minister Fassbender might have been more honest if he had identified himself and the BCLiberals as “stubbornly” obstructing a negotiated settlement.

As shown above, for the BCLiberals negotiations with teachers included ‘pressure tactics’ that obstructed negotiations and subverted teachers’ advocacy. This suggests that the BCLiberals’ style of governance may be grounded in undemocratic expressions of power. Although the BCLiberals publicly emphasized a desire to reach a negotiated settlement with teachers (Judd, 2014), the recent round of negotiations provided numerous counter-examples that indicate that their priorities may have lain in subverting the possibility of a negotiated settlement with teachers.

Challenging shock therapy: BC’s teachers gesture toward a more equitable otherwise -

In rejecting the BCLiberals’ push for concessions and cuts, BC’s teachers took a principled stand in an attempt to secure more equitable access to learning supports in BC’s public schools. After backing an appeal for increased services for students with special needs all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada (Chapnick, 2012), BC’s teachers have drawn a line in the sand and said: ‘No mas!’ This act of resistance follows years of cuts to services that have left teachers – and students! – struggling with decaying supports.

Prior to having been [illegally] struck by the BCLiberals, teachers had caps and ratios written into their collective agreement. For instance, struck language included: a maximum of 20 students allowed a kindergarten class, a limit of 20 students in classes for English Language Learners (i.e., students whose first language is not English), and a cap of 24 students in tech and shop classes. Classes specifically designated for students with special needs were capped at 15. As for ratios, struck language insured that schools had 1 school counselor for every 360 students, 1 teacher librarian for every 927 students, 1 learning assistance teacher for every 801 students, 1 special education resource teacher for every 232 students, and 1 teacher for every 65 English Language Learners.

After having struck these caps and ratios from teachers’ collective agreement, classroom composition issues in BC’s classrooms have become increasingly complex. These days, for example, the number of students per counsellor can be as high as 1,200 to 1 (Swiggum, 2011). More broadly, according to figures from BC’s Ministry of Education, there has been a steady increase in the number of classes with more than three students on Individualized Education Plans:

Class composition in BC, 2006-2007 to 2012-2013 (Kuehn, 2013):
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BC’s teachers have watched students pushed through the cracks as this increase in need has not translated into an increase in supports for students:

Change in learning specialist teacher positions, 2001-2014 (White & Field, 2013):

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This provides a context for understanding why BC’s teachers were willing to initiate job action in order to secure improvements to classroom composition.

Aside from seeking improvements in learning supports for kids in need, BC’s teachers showed their values by making sacrifices for BC’s schools. For instance, teachers proposed a salary increase that is below the rate of inflation (BC Stats, 2014).1 And teachers were on the picket lines for months without any strike pay – sacrificing months of salary to secure more equitable resourcing for BC’s public schools. These are not the actions or values of greedy, self-interested individuals, but of a passionate, conscientious collective that is guided by a vision of meeting students’ needs and nurturing a common good.

Opposing and subverting the shock doctrine in BC

Klein (2007) insists that the successful implementation of shock doctrines relies on exploiting gaps in understanding to advance the application of market “solutions”. That is, shock doctrines rely on “confusion, disorientation and surprise. Without those elements, there is no shock” (p. 552). This means that “once the mechanics of the shock doctrine are deeply and collectively understood, whole communities become harder to take by surprise, more difficult to confuse – shock resistant” (p. 552).

In BC, the BCLiberals manufactured a bargaining impasse with teachers that could have provided a space for the shock doctrine to take root. The fast moving events and confusion that flowed from the bargaining impasse with teachers could have been used as justification for deeper cuts and more privatization. Instead, broad public support for teachers and public education acted as an impediment to the BCLiberals’ agenda, and can offer inspirational ideas for other times and places where there is a struggle to challenge “orchestrated raids on the public sphere” (Klein, 2007, p. 26).

BC’s teachers galvanize a popular resistance -

For teachers in BC, the key to successfully negotiating a collective agreement while subverting the shock doctrine was kindling a broad front of popular resistance and support. This involved a coalition of advocates – teachers, parents, students, politicians, and conscientious citizens – acting individually and in concert to educate themselves and others about the circumstances that drove teachers’ advocacy. Some examples of this work include chats among concerned citizens, letters written to newspapers, and call-ins to radio programs. More formal examples of subverting the “confusion, disorientation and surprise” that are intrinsic to shock therapy included strategic public outreach (https://twitter.com/bctf/status/501137319559462912), media campaigns (http://bcfed.ca/bc-unions-oppose-attack-on-bargaining-rights/), rallies in support of public education (BCTeacherInfo, 2014), and town hall-style discussions that focused on teachers’ concerns (CKNW, 2014).

One of the most powerful vehicles for challenging the shock doctrine’s grasp on the bargaining impasse between teachers and the BCLiberals was social media. Teachers and friends of public education aggressively used social media to share their stories – and concerns. One potent example of this advocacy was the hashtag #ThisIsMyStrikePay, which out-trended #WorldCup2014 for a time, and was used to offer a powerful counter-narrative to the assumption that teachers’ resolve would be shaken if their strike fund had run dry (Ling, 2014). However, a significant amount of networking and organizing was also conducted through FaceBook. For instance, concerned citizens organized and launched a recall of elected officials – i.e., attempted to remove politicians from office. FaceBook was also used to organize a boycott of businesses who supported the BCLiberals’ appeal of BCTF v. BC (2014), to highlight businesses that supported BC’s teachers, and to build an array of parent-teacher alliances. The impacts of these informal networks may be difficult to trace, but it is clear that social media played a major role in building support for teachers.

Notwithstanding, a wide array of stakeholders was needed to overcome a government bent on punishing teachers with vicious concessions. Joel Bakan (2014), a professor of law and scholar of constitutional law, asserted that the BCTF acted “sensibly and reasonably” in calling for binding arbitration and for rejecting the BCLiberals’ ‘get out of jail free’ clause. Raffi Cavoukian, an anti-bullying advocate and children’s entertainer, took a strong line against the BCLiberals’ ‘bullying’ of BC’s teachers. Sandy Garossino (2014), a former Crown prosecutor, publicly derided the BCLiberals for making “specious threats” and insisted that “a serious attempt to compromise [with teachers] would yield a fiscal result that could readily be accommodated without dinging the taxpayer.” Wayne Ross (2014), a professor of curriculum and pedagogy at UBC, reasoned that teachers were serious about getting back into schools, but the BCLiberals were “intractable in their devotion to an ideology that is … devoted to maximizing private profits rather than serving public needs.” John Horgan (2014), leader of the opposition party in BC, publicly challenged the BCLiberals for ‘inflaming the situation and showing disrespect to teachers.’ Around the same time, Rob Fleming – the opposition party’s education critic – took issue with the Ministry of Education’s obstructive tactics and publicly called for the resignation of BC’s Minister of Education (Austin & Luba, 2014).

Teachers’ advocacy was also complemented by local and international pressure. Parents, for example, protested the government’s handling of the bargaining impasse by bringing their children to confront local government officials with organized “playdates” (Ackermann, 2014). And officials from the Chinese Consulate – acting in the interests of parents paying steep international fees – intervened and expressed concern over the delayed start to the school year (Sherlock, Chiang & Shaw, 2014).

This pressure played a role in pushing the government into removing concessions from the table, but teachers needed more than supportive words from allies. After weeks on the picket lines without pay, teachers faced real financial pressures, but were able to sustain their advocacy due to a massive outpouring of financial support. Vancity, a Vancouver-based financial co-operative, offered a Strike Relief Plan that included loan consolidation, loan/mortgage payment deferral, and credit extensions of up to $25,000 for teachers and parents who faced financial hardships during the strike (Vancity, 2014). For their part, small businesses donated proceeds to teachers, and community advocates created a website to allow others to pledge financial support for teachers (Woo, 2014).

Another key axis of teachers’ successful resistance was solidarity from other unions. Teachers unions and workers’ organizations from around the world wrote letters in support of BC’s teachers (BCTF, 2014c). Education International, a global federation of teachers’ unions, organized a conference in Montreal where more than 60 countries voiced support for the BCTF (https://www.bctf.ca/uploadedFiles/Public/BargainingContracts/support/CTF-EngFr.pdf). Hassan Yussuff, the president of the Canadian Labour Congress, spoke on behalf of teachers, visited teachers’ picket lines, and worked behind the scenes to push the BCLiberals to compromise (Hunter, 2014). Ontario’s teachers supported BC’s teachers with $1.5 million (CBC News, 2014), then added another $100,000 (Hager, 2014). Teachers in Nova Scotia added $50,000 (https://twitter.com/NSTeachersUnion/status/513047885676838913), and BC’s nurses added another $500,000 (BCNU, 2014). Overall, the labour movement in BC pledged more than $8 million in interest-free loans to support teachers’ advocacy (Ball, 2014).

Teachers’ struggle to achieve a negotiated collective agreement was not a solitary quest, but was supported by local and non-local community groups, political pundits and legal experts, parent advocates and education scholars, labour unions and small businesses. This support translated into pressure at the bargaining table, and led to the possibility of a negotiated collective agreement.

BC’s teachers negotiate a victory … and the struggle continues:

After more than a year and a half of negotiations and six months of job action, an agreement was negotiated and ratified by a strong majority of BC’s teachers.2 On balance, this collective agreement represents a major victory for teachers as it includes some targeted improvements and lacks major concessions. However, it is possible that the most salient outcomes of teachers’ job action may not be included within the actual wording of the collective agreement. In standing up to the challenge of negotiating with the BCLiberals, BC’s teachers provided a model for advocates of public education to cultivate shock resistant advocacy and contributed to increased levels of public engagement, awareness of teachers’ concerns, and support for public services in BC.

The contract ratified by teachers includes a 7.25% salary increase over six years. It also includes a $105 million pay-out as remedy for retroactive grievances stemming from BCTF v. BC (2011), and $75-85 million per year to address composition issues in BC’s classrooms. The contract also includes modest improvements for elementary teachers’ prep time and major improvements for on-call teachers: a more equitable rate of pay and the accrual of seniority for each day worked.

Admittedly, the contract ratified by teachers will not (re)solve the problems that plague BC’s schools. As a % of GDP, BC’s investment in public education remains among the worst in Canada (BCTF, 2012). And after years of zeroes, a 7.25% salary increase does not keep pace with inflation and insures that BC’s teachers will remain among the worst paid in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2013a). It is also worth noting that BC’s school boards reported a budget shortfall of $130 million for 2013 (CBC News, 2013), so it seems fairly certain that $75-85 million per year will be insufficient remedy for addressing composition issues in BC’s classrooms. In addition, a meagre $105 million for teachers’ retroactive grievances may be a bargain for the government, but it leaves teachers to confront the sad reality that government would rather pay a small penalty and fight in court to preserve cuts to public services than fund services.

All things considered, however, the contract may be most notable for what it does not include: concessions. That is, teachers negotiated for and signed a collective agreement without a ‘loser wins’ or ‘get out of jail free’ clause, without draconian revisions to provisions for teacher evaluations, and without agreeing to relinquish teachers’ influence over school calendars or hours worked. In an era of austerity budgets and harsh cuts to public services, it is no small feat for a public sector union to resolve a full-scale strike with a negotiated contract without concessions.
    After rallying around the push for a fair deal for teachers and better supports for kids, advocates for public education in BC must now take on the difficult work of carrying forward this momentum so that schools are more equitably resourced and capable of meeting all kids’ needs. First and foremost, advocates must push for a shift in priorities to improve the funding of public education as a % of GDP:

Total expenditures in public schools as percentage of GDP, Canada and BC, 2002-2010 (BCTF, 2012, p. 13):

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At the same time, steps must be taken to address and improve BC’s student-to-educator ratio and per-student funding:

Student-educator ratio in Canadian public schools, 2010-2011 (Statistics Canada, 2013c):

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Operating expenditures per student in Canadian public schools, 2010/2011 (Statistics Canada, 2013):

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Another point of concern is that BC’s teachers will be tasked with providing meaningful learning opportunities for students with preparation time and pay that is among the worst in Canada:

Teacher prep time across Canada (BCTF, 2011):

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Educator remuneration per student in Canadian public schools, 2010-2011 (Statistics Canada, 2013a):

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This means that BC’s teachers will continue to struggle to make by with diminishing access to services (Beresford & Fussell, 2009). It also means that teachers may continue believe that they have inadequate time for one-on-one engagements with students and insufficient time to organize for their classes. Until these concerns are meaningfully resolved, teachers in BC will have reason to feel that the government of BC under-values their work. However, the collective agreement BC’s teachers have ratified is a step forward, and will provide footing for sustained ongoing advocacy on behalf of public education in the province.

Taken in sum, it should be apparent that the signing of a new collective agreement for BC’s teachers does not signal the end of the struggle over the values that guide policy choices in the province. However, the tactics used to kindle broad popular support for teachers during the bargaining impasse with the BCLiberals can be extended and adapted to other contexts to challenge the advancement of private values over public values, and to cultivate shock resistant support for policies that affirm a more equitable otherwise for all.



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A must watch video on alternatives for funding BC Public Education 


A must watch video on E80 and the Teachers Court Case 


E80: what lawyer Joel Bakan has to say


Joel Bakan, University of British Columbia law professor and a constitutional law scholar, has weighed in on the controversial proposal, E80, which is the employers’ proposal on class size, class composition and specialist teachers. Bakan says he understands the B.C. Teachers’ Federation’s concerns about the possibility that accepting the proposal could negatively affect a court appeal that is to be heard in October. The employer has said that negotiating class size and composition is its No. 1 priority, while the BCTF has made dropping the proposal a condition of entering into binding arbitration. Teachers will vote tomorrow (Wednesday, Sept. 10) on whether to end their strike if the government drops E80 and enters binding arbitration.
Bakan’s opinion on the proposal is below.
“I see a lot of sense in the BCTF’s insistence on eliminating E80 from the package for consideration in binding arbitration. The effect of E80, as I understand it, is to force negotiation on classroom size/composition when the nature and scope of the BCTF’s legal rights in respect to those matters is unknown and pending decisions of the BC Court of Appeal, and possibly the Supreme Court of Canada after that,” Bakan wrote in an email.  
“As is true of any negotiation, the respective bargaining positions of each party is determined by the prevailing legal framework concerning their respective rights. One cannot, for example, effectively negotiate a sale of land if the crucial legal issues concerning that land – such as zoning and permitted uses – are uncertain, or pending a court decision. On a larger scale, the relative positions of government and aboriginal negotiators in respect to land claims are profoundly shaped by court decisions on aboriginal title. The same is true of any and every negotiation, including those between BCTF and the government – extant legal rights determine respective bargaining positions.

In my view, the BCTF is acting sensibly and reasonably in wanting to eliminate unresolved, yet crucial, legal issues from bargaining. It is not that the BCTF doesn’t want to bargain those issues – as the Minister seems to suggest; it is that they want to wait until the courts have finally determined the respective rights of the parties on those issues before commencing bargaining. That makes eminent sense, as does the proposal to go ahead with binding arbitration on those parts of the dispute that are not currently before the courts. The BCTF’s position would put teachers back in classrooms on terms decided by an arbitrator on matters not before the courts, while leaving negotiation concerning matters that are before the courts to a time when those courts have finally decided upon those matters.” 

Christy Clark’s Battle With Teachers Is Personal, Argues Educator



Premier Clark’s fight with BC teachers is a personal battle.  Clark has waged an ideological battle with teachers that threatens to bring down one of the top public education systems in the world.

This is not the first time that Clark has attempted to “shift the balance of control back.”  As a university student in 1988 Clark became the internal relations officer at SFU and immediately went to battle with the unionized staff of the student society.  She won, claiming to want to “shift the balance of control back.”  After becoming student body president in 1989 she was disqualified for not following campaign rules.

In 2001, as Education Minister in the Campbell government, she stripped the teacher’s collective agreement of class size and composition language, a move she was told was not legal; advice she did not listen to.  By the time she had become Premier, the first of two court cases based on her actions had been won by the BCTF.  The government, under her leadership, was told to rectify the guilty actions within a year.  The government ignored the request of the court.  The government did not appeal.  A short lived three day strike in 2011 ended up in legislation, Bill 22, which was again challenged in court.  BC Supreme Court Justice Griffin found the government guilty of taking away the teacher’s charter rights, bargaining in bad faith and plotting to provoke a strike for political gain.  They were ordered to restore 2002 class size and composition levels, bargain in good faith and fined the maximum of $2 million.  The court had found the Clark government guilty a second time.  At Clark’s request and taxpayer expense, the government sought and received a Stay in the proceedings. They did not argue the legality of the court decision but that the money that had been taken away from BC’s most vulnerable children was too expensive for BC Taxpayers to return.  The appeal will be heard in October.

When BCTF tried to enter into constructive negotiations with BCPSEA, and it looked like it would work, Clark fired the whole Board and replaced it with one executive.  Talks with the teachers immediately took a nasty turn and returned to dysfunction. To further complicate the matter Clark introduced her own ideas without public consultation in the BC Ed Plan and the BC White Paper on Education, the latter demanding teachers accept a 10 year term, reduced security and a plethora of other changes to the system.  Negotiations with the new BCPSEA began, and demands had changed.  The ten year deal was talked about but never tabled, new provisions tabled by the government decreased teacher job security, attempted to change the school calendar, and create a two tiered pay system to just name a few.  E80 and E81 were introduced to bargaining, clauses that would effectively reverse whatever the courts had decided if it was not in the government’s favor.  Bargaining resumed but the government refused to change its position, except to finally table a ten year deal.  Clark herself continued to sell the ten year deal in the background.

The BC Skills for Jobs Blueprint was unveiled, providing educational commentators with the first glimpse of plans to not only re-engineer the public education system but predominately privatize it without any public consultation.  It became a made in BC model for public education that closely resembles the problematic No Child Left Behind program introduced by George W. Bush; providing profits for private corporations at the expense of a child’s education.  This is a program that the US is currently trying to pull itself out of.  It was also the first time plans to shift K-12 public education to predominately focus children on working in the LNG industry was introduced.

BCTF was left with little choice but to go on strike, a move seemingly welcomed by Clark.  Closer to the school start date negotiations bogged down on the E80 and E81 clauses, a blackout was placed on negotiation details even as Minister Fassbender under Clark’s direction, continued to bargain in the media.

Just prior to the school start date mediator Vince Ready became available to provide his services.  BCTF entered the weekend making significant cuts, BCPSEA changed little except for deleting E81.  They retained E80, a clause that would still allow government to erase the decision of the court if it was not in their favor.  After two court victories on legislation presented by Premier Clark back in 2002, this clause was unacceptable to the BCTF.  Talks with Ready broke down and the strike continues.

A Clark approved program to pay parents $40.00 per day, money that had previously been saved from the strike in June and belonged to the public education system, was angrily received by parents and touted as a poorly thought out scheme.   Fassbender again made the interview circuit, blaming the teachers for all the problems, the site to inform parents about the $40.00 began spewing out anti teacher messages, tweets and facebook posts by both Clark and Fassbender continued to blame teachers and the BC Education Plan ran anti teacher headers.  On Wednesday Clark hosted a media event, falsely blaming teachers for unlimited massages and an extra-day off for secondary teachers, neither which were true. Clark’s bullying tactics had hit a new low.

Clarks tactics have changed little since her SFU days.  Her actions still reflect her desire to “shift the balance of control back.” This time the setting is not the student union at SFU but the BC public education system. The consequences of this game to children, parents, teachers and the survival of the public education system are far greater than they were in her actions as a student back in 1988.

Bruce McCloy is a teacher and education advocate with the group BC Voters Supporting BC Teachers and Public Education



Some Background Information 

Bruce McCloy

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it

“Each way of change in educational reform, especially Post World War 2, has left a legacy – a mixture of strengths and weaknesses, good and bad.  The philosopher George Santayana warned that if we do not learn from the past, we are condemned to repeat it.  History is not a pile of refuse, nor is it a refuge.  Our challenge, in relation to our values and our vision, is to learn from history what we can and to leave behind what we must” (Andy Hargreaves, The Fourth Way, p. 47).

Over the past twelve years the provincial Liberal government has taken education on a particular philosophical path.  It has been argued that this path is eerily similar to one followed in Canada, Britain, the US and Australia in the mid 1970s to mid 1980s.  The lessons that we can learn from history is that this era had catastrophic implications on the development of educational reform; implications that many jurisdictions have worked hard to leave behind and some whom are just now emerging from.  Presented here is a list of attributes attributed to this era of catastrophic educational change.   Take a few minutes and look for comparisons to our current Liberal backed educational reforms.  Then look at the implications that the 1970 -1980 educational reforms had on systems in these countries and this will help you better understand and explain to others concerns that BC teachers have for our current system.  It is fair to conclude that those areas that are similar today to the 1970s – 1980s will result in similar implications.  We need to learn from history or our education system will be condemned to the same problems that plagued this very troubling time in our development in education.  Better yet, we must act to demand the changes that we see history is telling us must be changed; or be condemned to repeat them.  If this occurs, it will be our children that suffered – and we can only say that we knew better and did not act.  We have an opportunity to act, we have a responsibility to act.

“Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act”

Albert Einstein

Education Reform around the world in the Mid 1970’s

Which ones does BC still hold on to today?

“This Way of Education enforced greater competition and increased expectations, but at too great a cost to student learning, teacher motivation, and leadership capacity on schools.  The conservative agenda of diminished resources and reductions in teachers’ preparation time, high stakes testing linked to graduation, and accelerating reform requirements exacted high costs on teaching and learning.  Despite its urgent insistence on improvements and equity this way of educational policy, alongside endless and contradictory systems of teaching and testing, had narrowed and dumbed down the curriculum. The funding offered to schools, when it did come, came with deadlines and produced panic-driven measures of short term change.  There were numerous calls throughout these countries for the government to reverse course, and arguments that educational systems must encourage the innovation and creativity needed to compete in a global knowledge economy.  To achieve this privatization of the public school system became a necessary evil.  Students became subject to messages and ideals promoted by private companies in ways that were secretive and unknown to parents.  Anachronistic policies had given schools multiple and contradictory ways to fail, removed creativity from the classroom, and precipitated crises of retention in teaching and leadership … epitomizing the punitive pressures of the top-down style of educational reform (Andy Hargreaves, 2009) .

A response to conservative political ideology promoted by leaders such as Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher, led to a decrease in government funding for public institutions, downloading of responsibility on local governments away from national / provincial leaders, greater central control over standards and promotion by the government of an active distrust of educators promoting a public mistrust between parents and teachers.

A period Educational Reform marked by “deficits of professional motivation and punitive top-down approaches to solving educational issues” (Andy Hargreaves)

  • People began to question how their tax money was being spent
  • Political leaders pushed through full or partial privatization of services and market competition on public services that placed professionals under new pressures to perform
  • Governments acquired as must do situation in education, focused on the present task of getting re-elected, with little to no concern for the past or what will occur in the future
  • Growth of the Charter and private school movement through full to partial government funding and an easing of restrictions making moving to a “better” school easy, acceptable and widely promoted
  • Growth of government funded magnet / specialty schools / academies
  • Reform of secondary school learning with a focus on Vocational education with a de-emphasis on going to university for everyone but those attending affluent private institutions
  • Creation of mentoring and tutoring programs for every individual student (personalized learning)
  • Radical idea that students should have portfolios of diverse assessments and achievement negotiated and discussed on a continuing basis with a mentor teacher
  • A quest for coherence
  • Focus on common educational standards throughout the system
  • Provision for consumer choice
  • Increased directed professional training at the district level
  • Detracking (destreaming) of special needs students into regular programs with little to no financial or teacher training support
  • Destreaming leading to de-labelling, saving costs of special needs supports for the government and forcing the responsibility onto the regular classroom with no additional support
  • Leading policy makers believed that the right combination of market pressures, government guidelines, and site level resources would drive up the quality of teaching, which in turn would raise student achievement
  • Decentralized responsibility combined with tight central government control.  Mandates set by the central government with the responsibility to complete these left with the local School Boards, schools and teachers with a cut in “real” funding to the local organizations
  • Contradiction of larger class sizes combined with a greater focus on personalizing student learning
  • Cuts to specialist teachers
  • Markets were overlaid with growing government centralization and standardization of educational goals.  Performance standards and achievement targets enforced political control of outcomes in public education
  • Increased competition among schools, fueled by publication of rankings of tests results
  • Prescribed, paced and sometimes scripted curriculum content in areas of learning that were more narrowly defined
  • The misuse of literacy coaches as compliance officers, enforcing compliance fidelity
  • Political targets and timetables for delivering improved results
  • Replacement of professional learning by in-service training on government priorities
  • Students redefined as clients, customers or consumers
  • A political attack on the “welfare state” demonizing teachers as thieves of taxpayer’s money
  • Business people and the economic elite saw the new way of the 1970s and 1980s as promoting a sense of urgency, attended to all students equally, increased teachers’ skill levels as a result of a need for higher teacher compliance to political ideals, and moved the profession in a common and accountable direction.  Saw increased accountability measures boosting and equalizing achievement
  • Others welcomed the new commitment to gathering comprehensive data on student achievement, anticipating that more precise information would lead to greater assistance for struggling students such as those in special education programs at their schools.
  • Multi-discipline education was promoted as being a superior way to learn but no changes were made to the delivery model to facilitate this call
  • Standards were easy to write and inexpensive to fund.
  • Scripted and paced literacy programs imposed on districts and on their schools
  • Centralization led to a detailed curriculum, government reducing resources for teachers, mandated high stakes Grade 10 testing linked to student graduation and governments broadcasting doubts about teachers’ commitments to the public good.

1970s to 1980’s: The Implications of this Political Reform

–          A system of common  standardized and testable educational standards that made no allowances for different learning styles, programs, geographical locations or student / community needs

–          Increased district led professional training created a focus on the needs of the upper powers rather of the child (top down model)

–          Detracking of special needs students occurred without proper funding for support

–          Classroom teacher, saw the combination of centralized frameworks and initiatives with decentralized responsibility as bewilderingly contradictory

o   Example – portfolio assessment were paralleled with standardized tests

o   Interdisciplinary initiatives ran alongside of subject-based report cards

o   Magnet schools targeted only certain populations but received equal funding

o   Private schools could select appropriate students, choosing not to allow in other students, and receive equitable government funding with the added bonus of being able to charge large tuition fees

–          Outcomes that were centralized were too vague to serve a purpose yet the expectations were very specific.  Vague outcomes and lack of direct funding made it difficult for teachers to adequately serve detracked students.  It became more difficult in the classroom as more students became unidentified and no longer received funding.  To solve this, districts responded by composing and compiling big binders of highly specific outcomes and giving them out to teachers so they could adapt the curriculum themselves

–          Reduced funding combined with centralized expectations and decentralized responsibility led to cuts in order to meet ever decreasing “real” budgets, including larger class sizes leading to less attention for individual children and fewer specialty student services.

–          The collapse of the system during this time period was the result of the system’s failure to invest in its people

–          A government set on building political fortunes on the promotion of mistrust between teachers and themselves, a continuing economic climate of limited public expenditure and overall financial stringency helped propel many nations into a strident Second Way of markets and standardization.

–          Parents who understood how to navigate new provisions for school choice were freed and empowered but students who were not as fortunate to have parents like this suffered greatly and professionals who served them became subject to greater surveillance and government prescription

–          The passive trust that parents had as they respectfully handed their children over to teachers who were left to get on with the job was replaced with “active mistrust” between parents and teachers.

–          Centralized standards, while easy to write and inexpensive to fund, were revered in administrative and policy circles but resented and resisted in classrooms as out of touch and dangerous for students

–          Scripted and paced literacy programs were imposed in many districts and on their schools, leading to a tightening of the bureaucratic screws with increased ferocity.

–          Standardization led to a serious loss of innovative energy and teacher creativity

–          Standardized tests and norms led to teacher burnout and leaving of the profession as well as a drop in the qualified applicants applying for entry into teacher training

–          Student achievement gains often occurred for a year or two in most cases but soon reached a plateau

–          Markets reorganized resources but didn’t produce more of them

–          Private organizations took control over student curriculums presenting their messages to children in a secretive and mostly undetectable fashion

–          Parents had more choices but only the affluent ones knew how to work the system to advance their interests and protect their privileges

–          Standards raised the bar but didn’t help children reach it

–          As measures of performance rose in tested literacy, rates for reading for pleasure fell

–          The costs to the quality, depth, and breadth of children’s learning were considerable.

–          School drop outs increased, site-based innovations declined, teacher quality suffered, and so did teacher retention

–          The teaching profession displayed the feelings of fear, frustration, and lost effectiveness that this strategy produced

–          The result was a “taking away of professional judgement and autonomy”

–          Teacher comment from the time “there just seems to be so much focus on meeting the standards set from the outside that I don’t think we get to spend as much time thinking about what we’re doing in the classroom and enjoying it.”

–          Many teachers expressed the sentiment that they couldn’t “ deal with the system … and [were] tired of fighting it.”

–          The result of this reorganization of education on the teaching profession was profound, decreasing professional motivation and a desire for many to even attempt to enter the profession.  Many who would have made knowledgeable and talented teachers, serving the students well, chose not to enter the profession and use their talents in other areas, leading to a loss for all children and society in general

–          The effect of this philosophy focused on the reorganization of education precipitated a crises of sinking professional motivation and lost classroom creativity

–          Draconian reforms jacked up short-term gains on state and provincial tests but these did not generalize to other assessments that were immune to test-preparation strategies

–          The collateral damage on classroom creativity and on curriculum was just too great

Out of the educational reforms of the 1970s and 1980s there was a call for a new way needed in society and, more specifically, in education to restore professional energy and develop the higher levels of creative knowledge and skill development essential for competitive and cohesive knowledgeable societies.  The implications of this era in education are evident.  There are many comparisons between what happened throughout many countries in the 1970s and 1980s to what the BC Liberal government has done to education over the past 10 years and promises to continue doing.  Christie Clark was the Education Minister that began this approach to educaiotnal reform and now she is the Premiere calling for its continuance.  The implications on our system have already begun to show and will continue to shadow those of the 1970s and 1980s.  Will we learn from this history lesson and demand changes, as they have done elsewhere as early as the 1990’s or are we risk allowing history to repeat itself – and force our children into the same problems and concerns that we encountered and should have learned from. Changes are necessary to this already proven devastating philosophy of educational change directed over the past ten years by this government. They have demonstrated a desire not to change the direction. Our children deserve better.

In BC we have been locked in to what Hargreaves terms the Second Way for so long we have, for the most part, missed the movement most provinces have made into the Third Way. In BC we have recently undertaken an attempt at the Third Way through the newly anointed but superficial BC Ed program.  The concern is that this program, while talking about the benefits of the “Third Way” ignores, like many other attempts, the limitations. “The educational reform strategies of the Third Way have distracted its founders and followers from their ability to achieve the Way’s original ideals”. (Hargreaves, p. 19).  The result will be concerns that differ little from those that became a reality of the Second Way.  There is another way that the current government could take, referred to by Hargreaves as the Fourth Way.  The BC government, to date, despite ongoing calls from teachers, has ignored moving in this direction.  Instead the government continues to find ways to makes teachers in to the villain allowing them to pursue ways to change education ignoring the past and the future and concerning themselves only about being re-elected in the present.  The Fourth Way of educational change, according to Hargreaves, “can deepen learning, raise standards, reduce the differences in achievement, and build a more creative and cohesive future for us all” (p. 19).

As calls from the educational front continue to ring out, and the government continues to vilify those that speak out, it is important that word continues to keep getting out and the public finally realizes that changes in the government are necessary in order to take on the Fourth Way, and rectify the education system from past problems in search of a new and brighter future.

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