Put students ahead of teacher union bosses

By MPP Toby Barrett

“We’re going to build on the work that Dalton McGuinty has done over the last nine years. Absolutely.”~ Kathleen Wynne.
Ontario is spending $8.5 billion more on education than in 2003, despite 250,000 fewer students. At the same time test scores are down in key areas like math and science. It’s obvious we cannot afford the “not bad is good enough” attitude when it comes to our children’s education.

It’s time the students of Ontario’s education system are put ahead of unions and bureaucracy. Teaching is a profession, not a union shop. As a former high school teacher of Agriculture and Environmental Science, my door was open until five – my best memories are chats with students after classes. Part of the job is safe- guarding students and providing after-school help, as well as meeting parents and evaluating student performance.

The majority of teachers are caring and dedicated professionals, who just want to teach. They are entrusted with the important task of providing our children with skills and knowledge as well as fostering a lifelong love of learning.

Unfortunately the way things are today, students across Ontario are losing out on what should be some of the most enriching experiences of their education. Many can no longer count on sports, arts and academic clubs after the final bell. And in some jurisdictions, parents can’t get parent-teacher interviews outside of school hours. MPP Lisa MacLeod has an online petition at www.studentsfirst.info to bring back extracurriculars.

There’s no denying the disruption of our children’s education is due to a decade’s worth of decisions to take power away from parents, principals and individual teachers and put it in the hands of the union bosses. Sadly, before and after school activities have turned into bargaining chips.

Last week the Official Opposition released yet another discussion paper — Paths to Prosperity: Preparing Students for the Challenges of the Twenty-First Century. Ideas in the paper include: identify schools where students fail to meet province-wide test standards and reinvesting more effectively in those schools to improve performance; implement a strong curriculum in arts, physical education, and financial literacy to help students develop vital life skills; delay the expansion of full-day kindergarten until the budget is balanced and a thorough review of the program is achieved; work with the College of Teachers, school boards and federations to adopt a definition of the academic work day.

The debt crisis created by the current government means Ontario must make difficult but necessary decisions. For too long government has been clinging to the belief that more spending equals better results — this attitude is not sustainable when we’re staring down the barrel of a projected $411.4 billion debt.

Following the recommendations of economist Don Drummond last February, we propose to phase out 12 per cent of non-teaching positions and incrementally increase class sizes. With the savings we can better target resources to priorities — special needs, struggling schools, skilled trades programs, as well as the debt.

We need to focus on helping children master the fundamentals so they can be competitive in a global job market. And education is crucial to the future success of our province; therefore we must encourage a culture of continuous improvement in our schools, working alongside teachers and parents.