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Alberta teachers upset by report’s certification plan but say they’ll have open discussions

A task force appointed by the Alberta government wants the province’s teachers to be recertified every five years.


Alberta teachers will participate in government discussions about teacher quality even though they say a new report attacks their profession.

A provincial task force issued a series of recommendations Monday, including one that called for the recertification of teachers every five years. That prompted an irate response from the Alberta Teachers' Association, which dubbed the exercise "an assault" on its members.

ATA president Mark Ramsankar accused education minister Jeff Johnson of not just assembling the task force but directing it and shaping its recommendations. Mr. Johnson described the ATA remarks as "baseless and irresponsible."

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Yet soon after his association's initial bombast, Mr. Ramsankar spoke of having an open discussion with the minister so they could find a workable solution for both sides.

"We have 30 days to react [to the task-force ideas], then we can have dialogue and try to decide what we can do together," said Mr. Ramsankar. "I want to have direct conversation with the Minister of Education. I'd like our senior staff to talk to people in Alberta Education.

"But issuing recommendations without direct conversation with the ATA? Then I have great concerns."

Mr. Johnson said in an interview Sunday that the Progressive Conservative government specifically created the task force with members who were not tied to any organization.

"What's most important for us is what's good for kids, not what's good for an organization," he said. "We wanted people around the table who were very accomplished, very bright, well informed, very credible, but who were objective."

Glenn Feltham, chair of the task force and president and CEO at Edmonton-based Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, said the process was independent. While the task force sought information from the ministry, such as attrition in the early years of a teacher's career, there was no opinion provided or asked for.

"The minister had zero impact on the recommendations. If the minister had interfered, even in a minor way, the task force would have just stepped away from it," Dr. Feltham said. "Independence to us was everything."

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Among the most controversial recommendations in the report was that teachers should be evaluated every five years to maintain their professional accreditation. The task force said it would ensure effective and competent teachers in the classroom throughout their careers. Several jurisdictions, including New Zealand and Michigan, require teachers to renew their licences every five years based on assessments and professional development requirements.

In Canada, the issue is highly contentious. Canadian teachers receive certificates for life from provinces after graduating from teacher education programs, and are not required to participate in regular professional development to keep their certification, although many do.

The only way a certificate can be revoked is if there's disciplinary action taken against a teacher.

In its report, the task force found that over the past decade, there has not been a single case in Alberta where a teacher's certificate has been cancelled as a result of incompetence. The report described this statistic as "almost inconceivable."

Dr. Feltham said his task force's recommendations would bring a sense of accountability into the education system. Teachers would be evaluated by their principals and would have to prepare a dossier of evidence on their professional growth and competency.

The ATA believes the recommendations, if approved, will "strip teachers of fundamental employment protections, force recertification every five years and fail to recognize fundamental differences between policing conduct and reviewing teacher professional practice."

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Meanwhile, Alberta Liberal education critic Kent Hehr, felt teachers were being put in the provincial government's "crosshairs."

"Sprinkled in with a handful of well-intentioned recommendations are right-wing Republican-styled ideas that can only be interpreted as a direct attack on Alberta's teachers and their association," said Mr. Hehr.

The issue of how to make Canadian teachers more effective and accountable has been the subject of much debate in the education community, with some suggesting the introduction of financial incentives based on performance or a teacher recertification program. In Ontario, when former PC premier Mike Harris introduced a recertification program, teachers' unions voted against complying and boycotted courses associated with the program, saying it showed a lack of respect for their professionalism. The program was scrapped in 2003 when the Liberals came to power.

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