Letters to the Editor: Jan. 22

A Sentinel-Review reader says any education reform in Ontario must be a more democratic than it is and involve more people in the province.

Letters to the editor

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Education reform must be democratic

Ontario’s education sector is facing a democratic crisis. Those who should have the most say over its governance and the delivery of its services – education workers and community stakeholders – have the least say.

Bloated school boards, authoritarian teachers unions and top-down collegiate bodies have built an echo chamber increasingly disengaged from the public they supposedly serve. The Ontario public has been duped into believing they’re the passive consumers of an education delivered by experts who profess to know best.

Mike Harris’s 1990’s reforms were supposed to deliver increased efficiency with a model that emulated corporate hierarchies replete with built-in systems of worker accountability. However, over the last 25 years, it has become evident these centralizing and top-down reforms have only served simultaneously to increase costs all the while removing any real stakeholder participation in public education.

In the first 15 years of the 2000s, the provincial Liberals and teachers unions were happy to bolster an institutional arrangement that initially enabled an increase in public-sector job numbers and wages. The vetting and hiring of new teachers could also be controlled at the level of the newly amalgamated school boards, a feature attractive to those who wish to ensure the uniformity of philosophical beliefs amongst members of the profession.

The Ford government only offers cuts. His minister’s wish to stem the steady flow of funding increases to the post-Harris arrangement, but it proposes no substantive reforms to it. The new Conservative strategy of shrinking the sector’s payroll by attrition and class-size increases does nothing to address the core problem of public disenfranchisement. Realizing a system that was supposed to deliver efficiency has become more expensive than was bargained for, the Ford conservative’s have resorted to hacking off pieces of it in the name of savings, a strategy that’s bound only to cost more in damage control in the long run.

The teachers unions fare no better, as they have no realistic solutions to offer. They only wish to continue feeding Jabba the Hutt all he demands. OSSTF president Harvey Bischof has indicated his union seeks only to preserve the status quo. This in an educational system that offers no incentives to, and even repels, educational talent, including teachers with advanced degrees, resists innovation and makes it excessively difficult for experienced teachers to transfer across school districts.

Real reform will come only with the return of institutional power to front-line workers and public stakeholders. This may take the form of jointly owned civil companies that eliminate the state-run monopoly and its obsolete school board system. These companies wouldn’t be sold out to private interests – the worry of teachers unions – but neither would they be subject to the top-down bureaucratic control endemic to statist arrangements. Teachers would organize into self-governing guild structures, which discipline their members internally, and offer educational services to the particular communities they serve while public stakeholders would share in the governance of the institutions that serve them.

Unlike private-sector companies, these civil arrangements would be more interested in serving a distinctive mission or aim, but unlike their statist counterparts, they would also be more decentralized and open to innovation and change in response to community demands. The public would also have a stake in volunteering to help shape and tailor curricula and educational programs suitable to the needs of the local communities the serve. A productive balance of co-operation and competition could be introduced into education without resorting to a disruptive charter or voucher system.

The Education Ministry could still oversee quality control and accreditation without a top-down Ontario College of Teachers, as the self-regulating functions of civil guilds would adopt many of the duties without the invasive surveillance or quashing of community diversity. Educational programs could be locally developed, allowing for the maximal level of curricular diversity across communities.

It’s time to push past the tired paradigms of left- and right-wing liberalism with their state or market-driven solutions. We need renewed civic arrangements and public trusts that distribute institutional power widely in the name of democracy and the common good.

Brian Rogers, Woodstock