Ted Byfield: What the teachers’ union lacks as a society of professionals

Ted Byfield: What the teachers’ union lacks as a society of professionals

The Culture
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Permit me to return yet again to that extraordinary brochure entitled PRISM, wherein the Alberta Teachers’ Association delivers its views on the treatment in all Alberta schools of what used to be called sexual “perversions,” and have now become “sexual orientations.” (Which is unfortunate, of course. Where those with the perversions used to be known as “perverts,” those with the orientations cannot be known as “orientals” because that word has already been taken. Meanwhile, “perverts” has been classified as “hate speech,” so we’re left with no word at all, and have to be satisfied with only letters — LBQRS, or whatever– which old people like me can never keep straight.)

Anyway, I’m not dealing today with the content of PRISM, but rather with the question of why it exists at all. Why is the treatment of these variously oriented people being handed over to a union? We didn’t elect the ATA; we elected a government. If that government is now contending it knew nothing about the massive document, this is simply non-believable.

It knew all right, and it will now defend its off-loading of this problematic issue onto a union, by citing the ATA’s “professionalism.” That is, if government faces a public health problem, it consults the medical society. If it faces issues on the administration of the law, it consults the law society. On policies involving the public’s physical safety, it consults professional engineering societies or their members. Likewise, when it faces problems on the treatment of students in school, it consults the teaching society. What’s so unusual about that? Such will be its defence.

However, its whole case stands on the assumption the teachers’ union is a professional institution like the medical, law and engineering societies. But it is not. How much a doctor is paid by the health system depends on how many patients he has, and how successfully he treats them. The money, that is, follows the patient. If he switches doctors, the money switches with him. Similarly with lawyers, the money follows the client. So too with the engineer. Whether he gets the contract depends on the client choosing him, which in turn depends on his capability as an engineer. In each of these cases, the money comes through the customer. But that is not so in the public school system. The money teachers are paid does not follow the student. The money follows whatever the union can negotiate for teachers as a group. That is why one cannot equate the ATA with these professional societies.

The teachers put themselves in this situation more than half a century ago when what became known as “merit rating” developed into a major issue in education politics. Some argued that a system should be established under which good teachers would be paid more than poor teachers.

The unions went into apoplexy. There was no possible way the “merit” of a teacher could be objectively rated, they said. What about the results recorded by their students on departmental examinations? No good, said the unions. These measured the students, not the teachers. What about intro exams at the beginning of the school year and final exams at the end of it, so the performance of the individual teacher would be known. Too many other factors involved, said the unions, doubtless at this point threatening to play its familiar card: If we go on strike, who’s going to take care of your kids? Always a winner. Merit rating was abandoned.

This article continues at [Ted Byfield Blog] What the teachers’ union lacks as a society of professionals

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