Yesterday the B.C. government introduced Bill 11 -- a new law that will, among other things, change the system of teacher professional development in British Columbia. Without any consultation with teachers or their union, the BCTF, the government is legislating a new system of authorized continuing education that may be required to maintain teacher certification.
Not surprisingly, having been rebuffed by the B.C. courts twice with unilateral changes to teachers' collective agreements, the government is trying a different tack. Leave the collective agreement provisions in place, but add new restrictions through the regulatory framework. Having failed to bargain teacher professional development changes, the government is turning to its tried and true formula: legislate.
The new provisions will depend to a large degree on the accompanying regulations, which of course are not yet known. But the basic framework of the new system looks fairly familiar. It appears to be modelled on the type of mandated professional development requirements that have been put in place for other regulated professions, such as lawyers and nurses. In these frameworks, a certain number of hours of authorized activities are required, sometimes along with a professional development plan, self-reflection, or peer review. What is not yet clear is to what degree the profession itself (teachers) will have control over the authorization process, if any.
The current system of teacher professional development is highly autonomous and predominantly public. While there are teachers and others who run businesses to sell professional development services and materials, most teacher professional development is conducted teacher to teacher, at school, or in non-profit teacher led organizations. In B.C. we have a system of local specialist associations for the different teaching areas who put on large conferences annually where teachers share new practices. We also have many regional conferences hosted by teacher associations on a non-profit basis. Finally at the school level, most school based professional development activities are organized and run by a professional development committee at the school. Outside speakers are brought in when expertise beyond the teaching profession is required for specific topics, such as to learn about development disabilities.
The system that the new legislation appears to envision, which is modelled on other regulatory professional development frameworks, is considerably different. Like just about everything the BC Liberals do, it is market based. Each individual teacher will have their own private professional development requirements, and will go out to the professional development marketplace to find courses and webinars and activities to fulfil the requirements. I would certainly hope that the major events that currently take place, such as the provincial conferences, will be authorized as approved activities. But it isn't at all clear that less formal school or department based activities, or even individual teacher activities such as reading education journals, will be authorized, or what type of bureaucratic hoop jumping might be required to get authorization. If the process is cumbersome or the approval system ideologically driven, it will open the door for an increase in for-profit professional development services to replace teacher driven activities. In other words teacher credential-ling requirements could be used to force teachers to become the customers of an expanded teacher professional development industry.
The second major concern is the influence of the approval process. The legislation as introduced gives government the power to enact an approval system of its choice. Who approves and what is approved will be key to the degree of coercive control the new scheme represents. If you do not yet have the same degree of scepticism as many teachers about how bad this can be, check out this short video of a test preparation professional development session from the Chicago Public Schools. In the worst case, the approval process could mean direct interference from the Ministry or government or school Districts or Principals into the topics, format and delivery of teacher professional development in a highly prescriptive manner. Rather than teachers identifying their own professional needs based on the subjects they teach, the students they serve and their own individual areas of growth, someone else will be making that decision for them.
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