Response to the "Task Force For Teaching Excellence"

Report of Jeff Johnson's Task Force Seriously Flawed

On Monday May 5, the Task Force released its report in a major symposium held at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton. The report was divided into four sections.

The first section dealt with Practice Standards which are largely already in place for teachers and school leaders. The report further suggests that standards be developed for system leaders and that all of these sets of standards be reviewed regularly so that they can be kept current. In itself, there doesn’t appear to be a big problem with these except that part of the recommendations includes that these standards need to be consistent with the report – therein lays the problem. The report is seriously flawed.

Section two deals with the needs of teachers, starting with their teacher preparation programs at Alberta Universities and how those should be structured to fit with the vision of Inspiring Education. While this may be a noble direction, it reflects the naiveté of the Task Force in believing that all Alberta teachers graduate from Alberta universities. While many teachers do graduate from Alberta universities, there are many teachers who come to Alberta from other parts of the country and around the world.  The report becomes very directive about how teachers’ Professional Growth Plans should be completed, and goes further to suggest that there might even be cause for merit pay to teachers, although they are careful not to use such a term.

There are two very good recommendations in this section of the report that talk about increasing support for teachers. The first is to increase support for technology and specialized supports & services for students. The second is “That teachers be provided appropriate time for planning, collaborating, sharing best practices…” Clearly, teachers would support both of these recommendations. The reality, however, is that full implementation of these would come with a hefty price tag: one I doubt government would be willing to pay.

Section three is quite short and has but four recommendations that address training and selection of school leaders.

The big problem comes in section four of the report. This section is titled: Assuring Teacher Excellence. The first recommendation in this section is that there should be a separation of the review of conduct and competence. This recommendation is based on the following statement. “On average, there are about 70 complaints of unprofessional conduct brought to the ATA Executive Secretary…. each year. Of that number about one-quarter are referred to a Professional Practice Review Committee.” (p 52) This assertion is flat wrong! Complaints of unprofessional conduct NEVER go that committee. If there is a hearing, these complaints always, and only, go to the Professional Conduct Committee. The reality is that the Task Force has clearly demonstrated that they simply do not understand that our Code of Professional Conduct and the discipline process for conduct are enshrined in the Teaching Profession Act. There is a completely separate process for competence, found in ATA bylaws, approved by the Minister of Education, which is the Practice Review Committee to which they refer.

So with respect to their recommendation that there be two separate processes, mark that as policy achieved. The problem, however, is that, since the Task Force doesn’t recognize this essential separation, they then proceed to make further recommendations for restructuring the education system based on their incorrect understanding of this critical piece. They refer to this “perceived conflict of interest” as rationale for their recommendations to change the role of principals, remove them from membership in the ATA, and even to change the structure of the ATA by splitting it into a Professional College and a Union.

Returning to the standards in part one of the report, the implication is that all of those standards should reflect the concerns raised by this perceived conflict of interest. The reality, though, is that the perceived conflict exists only among members of the Task Force. This is such an egregious error that it effectively negates the recommendations contained in Sections one and four of the report, which contain eleven of the twenty-five recommendations. When added to the very good, but very expensive, recommendations that the government is unlikely to implement, we have a report that receives a failing grade and should be destined for the shredding machine.

--Frank Bruseker