BC Liberal leadership candidate Kevin Falcon’s campaign team sent out a press release yesterday (Jan 4) proposing that BC teachers’ pay should be tied to student performance. Falcon offered only vague ideas on methods and criteria for measuring student performance.
Falcon’s proposal has drawn condemnation from many quarters – not only teachers unions, but also the Vancouver and Burnaby school board chairs. Today, even the Globe and Mail editorial (entitled “Show us the money”) was thoroughly skeptical of proposal’s costs/benefits.
Vancouver School Board Trustee and Vice-Chair Jane Bouey told The Mainlander today (Jan 5) that Falcon’s proposal “assumes the greatest problem facing BC students is teachers. There is no evidence this is true.” If anything, fault lies at the foot of Falcon and his party: “The real issue is chronic underfunding, after more than a decade of cuts at district levels.”
Of Falcon’s proposal, Bouey said “there is no real evidence that merit pay works. Children are not widgets that just need to be produced more efficiently…It isn’t just that it doesn’t work, there is some evidence that it actually can make things worse.”
Where today’s Globe editorial proclaimed “Show us the money,” one might add: “Show us the evidence.”
Bouey said the cost of implementing standardized testing in every grade, perhaps twice per year, are enormous. And the teaching environment is undermined when teachers “teach to the test.”
Bouey added it is difficult to design these tests in a manner that does not discriminate: “how do we take into account all the differences, like poverty, language, special needs, between different classes, and different schools?”
Furthermore, those who do poorly on tests may in fact be those most in need of resources. As was reported in the Vancouver Sun today:
Offering teachers incentive pay could encourage them to seek jobs in higher income neighbourhoods because that’s where they might expect to find students who do well on tests…
Why did Falcon do it?
Surely, Falcon’s PR consultant must have anticipated this controversy. If Falcon’s team felt itself comfortably in the lead, it would avoid, rather than court, controversy. That was likely the case in mid December – the occasion of Falcon’s previous policy announcement: an *earth-shattering* proposal to keep SkyTrains running later on weekends.
But now Falcon’s active rocking-the-boat suggests desperation. His internal polling must show Christy Clark pulling away from the pack, and he is trying to pick a fight with unions (“union baiting”) in order to mobilize the conservative base of the BC Liberals. With the leadership race being an intra-party affair, in the short term Falcon can afford to alienate everyone – except for party members.
Asked to speculate why Falcon has taken the approach he has, Bouey said:
I think he and his advisors think it does two things. It makes him seem innovative, although how dragging out old ideas is innovative beats me. And it plays to his right-wing base that buys into the myth that what is wrong with public education is bad lazy teachers, kept in place by powerful unions. Ideologically it is consistent with the BC Liberals’ tendency to retread old discredited neo-liberal British and American policies.
One reason this approach resonates with the Liberal’s base, argued Bouey, is that some have misconceptions about the Canadian public education system:
BC education consistently ranks very high internationally. I think that there are a significant number of people who are influenced by media coverage of the US education system, which consistently ranks very low internationally and is in serious trouble. Those folk might be swayed by Falcon and Clark’s proposals.
Image by Flickr user brent_granby.