Leadership, Opinion, Promising Practices, School Community

Bossism in Public Education

A few examples of legislative/regulatory overkill in our education systems

In my last blog post, I railed against excessive centralization of public education using Ontario as an example. Now it’s time to flesh out some details.

When I taught an education course at Queens University in the 1970s, I made frequent reference to the Ontario Education Act and had a copy in hand which I quoted sparingly – thus to minimize boredom. Recently, I scanned two new books about Ontario school law compiled by Jennifer Trepanier. She reveals that the current act (2010) and regulations fill up 1,200 pages of legalistic prose. This, presumably, is to be read carefully by the functionaries of the system (central bureaucrats and local administrators, political advisors, school board members, school superintendents, principals, guidance teachers, and other interested parties).

In earlier years, the purpose of the Act was to make clear that the Minister of Education, a politician, was the top dog in all matters of public education in the province. There were lots of regulations but – and this is the critical point – there was ample room for interpretation at the board and classroom levels.  Not anymore. The age of monkey-see monkey-do in public education is upon us.

Here are a few examples of legislative/regulatory overkill in recent years:

  • The Minister may establish a code of conduct governing the behaviour of all persons in school. Every board shall establish policies and guidelines with respect to the conduct of persons within the board’s jurisdiction and the policies and guidelines must address such matters and include such requirements as the Minister may specify. A board may direct the principal of a school to establish a local code of conduct consistent with the provincial code. These codes must set out clearly what is acceptable or unacceptable for all members of the school community (e.g. parents, students, staff, visitors, volunteers).
  • Activities leading to suspension or expulsion are elaborately described as well as follow-up actions thus to ensure that the affected pupil carries on with studying the content of the approved curriculum. To that end, the school must prepare a SAP (student action plan) for pupils on long-term suspensions (11 to 20 days) or expulsions. Many, many pages of regulations are filled up with the minutiae of managing suspensions and expulsions. A principal contemplating such action against a refractory pupil would have to spend long hours studying the law and regulations lest he/she make a mistake with bad legal consequences.

These two examples with their abundant legal overtones exemplify the now-Stalinesque powers of the Minister of Education in Ontario. Presumably, other provinces and territories have cloaked the minister with comparable absolute power. The central authorities would, of course, defend this burgeoning of school law by saying that the Minister must ensure that there is consistency of treatment of pupils and teachers and parents all across the jurisdiction, that fairness and equity must be universally honoured. The question that is begged is this: Why must there be consistency in such a vast assortment of persons, places, traditions and social priorities as in Ontario? Surely the Minister should be satisfied that the elected boards respect principles of fairness and equity and, at the same time, have rules in place that respect local preferences.

My concern is that teachers on the frontline, as long as their working lives are entangled in skeins of petty provincial legal niceties, are not likely to achieve professional status. In the current circumstance, they are passive union workers adhering to the terms of the collective agreement.

Next time, I’ll offer my interpretation of teacher professionalism and explore some possibilities for its realization.

The views expressed or implied by Peter J. Hennessy are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CEA. http://www.cea-ace.ca/terms

Meet the Expert(s)

Peter H. Hennessy

Born in 1927, Peter Hennessy walked to a red brick schoolhouse where the teacher taught all the subjects to all the grades at the same time. After sailing through the eight elementary grades in four years and completing high school, he studied history/political economy at Queens University and graduated with honours in 1948.

Based on these early life experiences in the Great Depression, underlined by the horrors of WWII, set him on a mission to bring more fairness and equity into all aspects of society. From 1949 to 1968, he was a high school teacher and administrator, followed by 16 years as a professor of education at Queen’s. Officially retired since 1984, Peter has dabbled in sheep farming, writing, and prison reform. He has written six books, a slew of newspaper columns and journal articles.

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