As school districts around B.C. hire and train every qualified teacher they can find to fill an allegedly drastic shortage, the education ministry has put out the latest low-key update showing that the actual performance of the B.C. school system has no relationship to the hysterical political and media narrative that surrounds it.
The latest data released by the ministry show the slow but steady improvement in high school completion rates is continuing. The average for B.C.’s 60 school districts reached 84 per cent last year, rising by more than five per cent in the past 10 years.
The improvement for students designated as having special needs is even more impressive. High school completion within six years for special needs students was up 2.4 per cent last year alone, and up 25 per cent in the past decade. Similar results have come in for Indigenous students, closing the gap between those groups and the general student population.
And how are B.C.’s public schools measuring up nationally and internationally? Here are quotes from the current education ministry fact sheet, taken from a 2014 Conference Board of Canada report comparing B.C. to the rest of Canada and 16 “peer countries” around the world:
• B.C. finished ahead of all provinces.
• Only Finland and Japan finished ahead of B.C.
• More than 91 per cent of B.C. residents aged 25 to 64 have a high school diploma, higher than all other provinces and peer countries.
Note that the latest high school completion results are for the 2016-17 school year, before the B.C. government began pouring money in to hire 3,500 new teachers to meet the terms of a Supreme Court of Canada decision last year.
How much money? In the government’s court submission in 2014, it estimated that restoring class size formulas removed in 2002 would add $40 million to the Surrey school district’s payroll costs in the first year alone. That’s just one of 60 districts.
Was this decade-long court battle about improving performance, or hours available for one-on-one instruction time with students, or individual learning plans, or integrating special needs? No, it was not. None of that is mentioned in the reams of legalese produced by three levels of courts.
Instead, it was a narrowly focused attack by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation to capitalize on an earlier Supreme Court of Canada ruling in favour of the Hospital Employees’ Union. Essentially, in 2007 the high court invented a constitutional right to collective bargaining, overturning decades of case law. It ruled that the B.C. government had failed to meet its new standard, in legislative action that occurred five years before this judge-made standard was created.
So what will be the effect of these 3,500 new teachers, many in non-classroom roles such as librarians? That remains to be seen. Perhaps the school completion rates will increase even faster, or the already impressive gains in Indigenous students making it to Grade 12 will accelerate. (This seems unlikely, since that rate is almost 90 per cent now.)
Perhaps B.C.’s already world-leading academic performance will improve, surpassing even the famously rigorous schools of Japan. Testing will continue to determine this.
One of Premier John Horgan’s post-election statements on the subject was to carry on the long assault on the tests of student performance in B.C.’s elementary schools. The Foundation Skills Assessment has been a target of the BCTF since its inception, which is easier to understand when you know the annual results can be used to track individual teacher performance as student cohorts move from grade to grade.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org