Take politics out of education, says teachers' union leader

The head of New Brunswick's teachers' union says the voices of teachers have finally been heard, following the release of a report by the auditor general calling for stability in the provincial education system.

Kim MacPherson found that schools are failing to hit performance targets because frequent changes in education strategy "create instability and shift focus away from educating students."

"The system needs to stabilize," MacPherson said.

Her report explained that a student who started school in September 2004 would have experienced five different strategies, each with its own priorities, by the time they graduated.

George Daley, president of the New Brunswick Teachers' Association, offered another statistic: 37 major changes in the past 35 years.

"I now understand why I never felt I could never get my feet under me: because everything was always changing," Daley said.

"There was a new target, there was a new way of doing something, there was a new program, there was a new district office I had to deal with. It was always there."

Daley said the contents of the audit, which also touched on a lack of accountability for school districts, were not surprising. What did surprise him was hearing a government official articulate what he and his members have been saying for years.

"I think there are teachers out there today that are going to read this auditor general's report and say, 'You know, my voice has been finally heard,'" he said.

Policy changes and reversals

The policy changes cover everything from inclusive teaching practices to beefing up security standards, and there have been plenty of reversals, too. Gym teachers and shop class were nixed and restored, while the entry point for French immersion has changed several times.

MacPherson slammed the decision by then-premier Brian Gallant's Liberal government to return to a Grade 1 entry point for French immersion because it gave school districts only one year to implement the change.

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They education system is still dealing with a shortage of French immersion teachers, said Daley.

Working in a system in constant flux has worn on teachers trying to meet the needs of students without adequate support or funding from the province, he said, suggesting that's leading to earlier retirements and younger people turning away from the profession.

Leave politics out of it, says Daley

The "well-intended" reforms often developed from an election promise or new report that promises to improve the system without understanding its complexities, Daley said.

Change can be a good thing, he said, but it has to be "well thought out, researched, planned, properly implemented," rather than change sparked by political motives.

He want to get politics out of education.

Daley said the role of elected officials should be to establish "realistic goals" for education and then follow up with appropriate funding.

"After that, the decision of how it's applied, what's done, has got to fall back into the hands of the professionals and the educators," he said.

"We need to listen to our teachers, we need to listen to the people in the system."