Monday, June 2, 2014

Misinformation about Alberta Teachers is dangerous

This was written by Jonathan Teghtmeyer who is with the Alberta Teachers` Association. Jonathan tweets here. This post first appeared on the Alberta Teachers` Association website.

by Jonathan Teghtmeyer

Misinformation is a dangerous thing. Put in the hands of the masses it often can be used to reinforce previously held biases.

Unfortunately, the report produced by the Task Force for Teaching Excellence is chock full of misinformation that is now being twisted to and fro in the daily public discourse.

The report suggests, for example, that there are currently “no regular evaluations of teacher performance.” This tidbit of misinformation completely disregards the Teacher, Growth, Supervision and Evaluation policy, which includes processes for teacher growth and teacher supervision.

As well, the report notes, “In the past 10 years there have been no cases in which a teacher’s authority to teach has been cancelled due to incompetence.” Perhaps the reason the task force found this statistic “almost inconceivable” is because it sidesteps two facts: 1) the ATA has run the competency process only since 2009 and 2) superintendents (not the ATA) are the gatekeepers responsible for reporting incompetency.

The statement should read: In the past five years no complaints have been filed by school superintendents. So, now which bit of information is inconceivable? Big holes emerge when the statement is being used to justify returning responsibility for policing conduct and competency to the minister of education.

As my colleague Margaret Shane noted, the ATA has been standing in the batter’s box for five years and we have yet to receive a pitch.

Both of these pieces of misinformation appear in the “Assuring teaching excellence” section of the task force report, a section that is a stockyard of misinformation – you don’t have to walk far before you step in a patty. Notably, the section continuously mixes the terms practice review and conduct. For those in the know, this is laughable. The Association runs two separate processes: discipline, which monitors teacher conduct, and practice review, which monitors teacher competency. One recommendation even suggests that the processes for conduct and competency be separated, even though they already are separate for over 95 per cent of teachers.

Perhaps the reason the task force made this blunder is because they didn’t ask the Association about the processes for practice review or teacher conduct. The terms of reference for the task force state that the group needs to consider “what processes and mechanisms are in place to ensure there is consistent excellence in teaching and that there will be assurances in place to maintain that excellence.” Yet, contact and consultation with the Association was almost nonexistent, even though we perform and work on many of the functions that are under review.

The task force did not meet with the coordinator of Member Services.

The task force did not meet with the secretaries of our professional conduct committees.

The task force did not attend any of the public conduct hearings that occurred as the group was conducting their “research.”

True, the ATA did meet with the task force two times. Each meeting lasted about one hour and, between them, involved only three different members of the task force. The meetings focused primarily on the progress that the task force was making and the process they were using—not on the pertinent work conducted by the Association.

Our public opinion polling shows that three-quarters (73 per cent) of Albertans are either not very familiar with or not at all familiar with the processes used to regulate teacher conduct. The poll also shows that 75 per cent of those who are familiar with the process have confidence in it.

Unfortunately, the task force decided that it wanted to remain unfamiliar with current teacher conduct processes. By doing so, it ensured that the group would not gain confidence in it.

The entire task force process, from launch through consultation and rollout has had an inherent anti-ATA bias. This bias is clear in the report and even in the intent behind the task force’s existence.

This obvious bias is not merely the result of misinformation; it amounts to wilful ignorance.

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