It is Time for the Premier to become Educated about Students’ Needs
Recently, the Gallant government announced that they would be cutting 249 teaching positions (FTEs) from New Brunswick schools. The province is facing some difficult economic challenges, but to base these cuts solely upon a simplistic comparison of the number of teachers and students over a fifteen-year period, indicates that the Government has no understanding of the diverse and the ever-growing needs of New Brunswick’s students nor the reality and complexities of today’s classrooms. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly apparent that they don’t seem to care enough even to educate themselves about Canada’s most-inclusive system. If reading their own studies takes too much time, the following paragraph provides a basic summary.
The “data” used by the Province to justify their cuts was simply the number of teachers and students in the year 2000 compared to those today. Unfortunately, this decision only makes sense if the Education system was properly funded fifteen years ago. The MacKay Report (2005), a comprehensive Government study which consulted seven hundred individuals in 35 sessions over a 9-month period, found the exact opposite; that the public education system was under-resourced and not able to meet the student learning needs being required of it. In response, the number of teachers in the Province was increased for a few years, but over the past eight years these additional positions (517) have been lost, meaning the total will be 766 fewer teachers by September, 2015. In 2012, the next major Government study on the NB public education system, the Porter-Aucoin Report, once again clearly demonstrated that the system was under-resourced considering what was being asked of it.
Our system is not just inclusive, but we have moved from educating groups of relatively homogeneous student to fulfilling the complex, varied, and often overwhelming collection of individual learning needs of our students in all-inclusive classrooms. This is an entirely different challenge. While the number of students has dropped, the total individual needs have increased dramatically. Many students in this province literally wait years for speech language support, are medically fragile, are gifted or just require a little extra help with Math or Language Arts. An increasing and disturbing number require professional mental health supports far beyond what schools can provide. The clear result is a system stretched beyond capacity, and this is evident to anyone who spends even a few days in a variety of schools in NB.
The stress on our health system is easy for all to see due to extended waiting times for outpatients services, appointments and procedures and in overcrowded hospitals. Most New Brunswickers, however, do not witness the pressures in the education system because they do not have children in school. For those that do, the true costs of these cuts will become obvious this Fall. Parents will see more combined classes, fewer course offerings and less individual learning supports for students.
During the public consultations on the Strategic Program Review, participants indicated how important it was to invest in education in order to ensure our children meet with success. No one suggested that cuts to Education were a good idea, however, the most significant change in the 2015-2016 Provincial Budget was a reduction in the number of classroom teachers. The premise challenges logic – that the literacy and numeracy skills of the students will increase by cutting the number of professionals who contribute the most to student success.
At the announcement of his first Provincial Budget, the Premier indicated he had not heard of or even read the MacKay or Porter-Aucoin Reports. We believe this is a must. We expect the Premier to read and understand the recommendations in these comprehensive reports before he considers further targeted efficiencies of 100 million dollars in the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. This information should provide him with the necessary tools to make decisions based on facts and expert research, rather than simplistic misconceptions. If decisions in public education are made exclusively to balance the province’s books, then the result will be nothing more than mortgaging the future of New Brunswick by short-changing the leaders and citizens of the future.
The Premier should understand that children aren’t numbers and fulfilling their educational needs is not a simple task. As a society, one of our most effective ways of levelling the playing field for kids is through public education. These cuts will have their greatest impact upon the most vulnerable.
The teachers of NB remain ready and willing to work with the Government, the DEECD and other stakeholders to improve our system. It is the Premier’s responsibility to demonstrate leadership and prove that he has a basic understanding of our public education system he seems willing to push beyond the breaking point!
Peter Fullerton & Philippe Cyr
Co-Presidents NB Teachers’ Federation