If you like your job security, teaching is the place for you. Once you’re in the door it’s really hard to lose your job for incompetence, or even moral turpitude.
Last year a Toronto Star investigation unearthed numerous examples of teachers you wouldn’t want anywhere near your kid. One high-school teacher reportedly made lecherous remarks to his female students, drank with students at parties, swore constantly in class, slapped the girls on their buttocks and showered with the boys. Although he was eventually fired by the school board, he remained a teacher in good standing with the provincial licensing body, the Ontario College of Teachers. Its disciplinary arm meted out a one-month suspension and told him to take a course on “boundary issues.” Because he was “on the low end of the spectrum” of problem teachers, his name was never published.
Bad teachers are well defended by their unions, which makes it so hard to get rid of them that powerless school administrators generally give up. Instead, they try to get the bad eggs to move on – a process widely known as “passing the trash.” The regulators are captives of the unions, too. The OCT is dominated by former union executives who caucus together before meetings to hammer out the party line. In theory, their job is to serve the public. In reality, they serve their own.
The Star’s embarrassing revelations prompted the OCT to hire a distinguished retired judge, Patrick LeSage, to tell it how to reform itself. His sensible suggestions, released last week, are a laundry list of the obvious: Disclose the names of all teachers found guilty of misconduct, hold formal public hearings for the most serious cases and revoke the licences of teachers found guilty of sexual misconduct. He also recommended that more non-teachers should sit on the panels that hear misconduct cases.
But these measures don’t go far enough. So long as the unions are allowed to dominate the regulator, “no procedural overhaul, no matter how ingenious or rigorous, is likely to lead to increased effectiveness or public confidence,” writes Doretta Wilson of the Society for Quality Education.
At the root of the problem is the inevitable collusion between teachers unions and governments. So long as politicians depend on teachers unions to support them, reform is all but impossible. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is deeply beholden to the teachers unions, even though the relationship has grown a little frosty since he told them he wants wage freezes. When the OCT was set up in the 1990s it was relatively independent. After Mr. McGuinty was elected, he handed over control of the regulator to “working teachers,” (i.e., the unions), likely as payback.
The need to placate the teachers unions is the No. 1 obstacle to education reform. So long as unions rule, seniority is sacred. Principals have no ability to retain their youngest and keenest teachers if the work force shrinks. Elaborate work rules for everything from hours to class size eliminate their flexibility. In this system it is teachers, not kids, who come first. Plenty of good teachers dislike the unions too, because they protect the less-than-mediocre, spend their dues to support politics those teachers don’t agree with and are run by people at the far left of the spectrum.
Mr. LeSage’s proposed reforms are good. But so long as governments refuse to take the unions on, the schools will just keep passing the trash.