Put Student Interest First
Posted May 30, 2014
Earlier this year Karen Casey, Minister of Education and Childhood Development was advised of concerns about video courses from Drake University, particularly in light of the upsurge in teacher applications for pre-approval. Her response was in the right direction but less than adequate. On May 17 she provided a letter explaining her actions.
She stopped issuing pre-approvals on Feb. 19 while the program was reviewed. That review concluded that the courses were not acceptable, and should never have been approved. She also changed the way new courses will be approved in future. So far so good.
Two key questions remain.
1. What to do about the courses that had been pre-approved before Feb. 19?
Her letter says: “… the pre-approvals were granted in good faith and in accordance with the regulations that existed at the time. They were final administrative decisions that cannot be revoked or changed.”
This is rather different than her comment on April 30: “I just think in fairness to those people, they saw a set of regulations, they applied under that, they were given approval under that, so we were not going to go back and reverse that.”
The May 17 version suggests that her hands were tied. The April 30 version clearly indicates a discretionary choice. That version is more believable.
The pre-approvals were based on a faulty initial assessment that the courses were satisfactory. They should have been cancelled.
Some teachers would already have begun the program. They are also victims of the mistake. A strong argument can be made that, when cancelling the pre-approvals, those teachers should be properly compensated for the time they had put into studies.
But the Minister’s choice goes much further than that. It allows all teachers to complete the program, taking up to seven years to do so. Even those who had not yet begun studies are included. The resulting pay and pension increases for a typical teacher have a present value of more than $100,000.
The cost if all the teachers complete the program would exceed $50 million. Surely there are better ways to spend that kind of money in support of student outcomes. Surely the Minster could have taken a stronger position.
2. More generally why does the department pre-approve programs and provide the consequent pay increases whether or not the skills learned are needed or used?
The minster’s comment on this is even more meek:
“I have corresponded with the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union, as an important education partner, to have the union encourage its members to enrol in high-quality education programs related to the needs of the Nova Scotia students. It is my expectation that the union will work with the department and school boards to ensure funds available for teacher professional development will be used to best meet those needs.”
Those programs are the route to very substantial pay raises. The minister is positioning the union as gatekeeper to the taxpayer’s pocketbook. Does she expect the union to tell teachers not to take the pre-approved Drake courses? Does she expect the union to discourage teachers from taking other courses that might not be used?
That is not the union’s role. The union’s purpose is to advance the financial well-being of its members. It is not reasonable to expect the union to subordinate those interests to facilitate choices that would be better for students. If teachers’ choices for programs do not meet the minister’s expectations are voters supposed to blame the union?
Should not the minister put every existing approved program under review, not only for quality, but also to determine if the skills learned are actually needed or used?
The government showed strong resolve in responding to illegal strikes by nurses. It will have to make many more difficult choices en route to a balanced budget.
It has been more supportive to education than any other area. This minister should therefore feel especially responsible for getting good value for students from every dollar spent.
She is not fulfilling those responsibilities.
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