Our Back of the Napkin Solution

Tired of all this teacher griping in Ontario?  We covered off how good teachers have it in Ontario before.  Now they’re going to stamp their feet in protest at the McGuinty/Hudak alliance and don’t want to coach or supervise extracurricular activities.

We all know teachers – they’re everywhere, most everyone either has a family member or good friend who’s a teacher.  A lot of good decent people with best interests at heart.  But then again, there are a lot of decent people in all walks of life, including the private sector, whose taxes support those on the public payroll.

They work hard.  But you know what?  We all work hard, so bravo, but that doesn’t entitle teachers to any special brownie points.

Is it wrong to have the Ontario government come in and lay the hammer down on a wage and grid freeze?  Yeah, probably.  It’ll probably be ruled unconstitutional when it gets to the Supreme Court, because they’ve upheld the right to collective bargaining before, and they’ll say this is an infringement on collective bargaining rights again.  And when that happens the teachers will get all their banked sick time back, their 3% pay raise and whatever else they wanted extended from the previous agreement.

So where does that leave the taxpayer, the one in the private sector, who is being asked to finance the “haves” – those who have a great paying job by almost any reasonable standard, have an average of 185  working days per year vs. 235 for the rest of us stiffs (more if you are a professional on salary in some jobs), have a great benefit plan and pension plan and, have a great super-funded activist union backing them.  The rest of us are increasingly becoming “have-nots”.

Here’s the quick and dirty, back-of-a-napkin solution to ending the teacher’s unions grip on the rest of us and removing the sword of Damacles they hold over every parent’s head during contract disputes;

  • We spend in this province, on average, $8,000 per kid in the system.  So cut a cheque to every parent for $8,000 to be redeemed for educational purposes only, but spent where they want, at the institution of the parent’s choice.  Parents are allowed to supplement this amount as they see fit;
  • Set up a comprehensive set of standards and testing regimens so that anyone who then wants to set up a private school must insure that a mimum basic curriculum is being taught.  Licenses to run private schools will be contingent on meeting minimum criteria year to year;
  • Watch as thousands and thousands of kids flee the public and Catholic school boards for alternative private schools; art schools, schools that promise to teach Mandarin and Swahili, schools that have half day hockey practice and schools that teach calculus to Grade Sixers – whatever the parents decide.  Watch as thousands of young unemployed teaching school graduates finally find work in private non-union institutions.

It’s not new, the ideas are in practice already elsewhere.  Simplistic.  Yes, it is.  Would there be problems?  No doubt.   But to just allow government monopolies, in this case the education monopoly, to continue unabated, is to just put our heads in the sand and ignore the basic problem – we cannot afford to continue along the same path we are following.

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8 thoughts on “Our Back of the Napkin Solution

  1. Knowyourhistory says:

    Look, I’m not a union guy. The teacher’s unions are being petty and should have realized that McGuinty would eventually turn on them, like every government eventually has to do when education is such a big chunk of the budget. Public Education is a messy and haphazard affair. If this was a private business, the teachers wouldn’t have been legislated back to work, they would have been locked-out (witness the current threat on the NHL season). So why not lock-out teachers? For the same reason that teachers only work 10 months of the year. The public does not want it. So you plan to fix this problem by handing choice completely over the public since what you propose is a school voucher system. The same system that was tried in that bastion of conservatism: Sweden. So let’s go over your school voucher system and see the consequences:

    Any school that would want to compete in your new system would have to attract a lot of students to be viable (since they are not going to get any extra government funding). In fact, your entire system is dependent on a competition for students! You are dreaming in techni-colour if you think small town schools will actually offer better and more diverse studies which will be able to compete with bigger population centers, but let’s ignore that. Since potentially you won’t create more schools rather this system will actually create fewer schools. But I suppose it will be good to shut down all the small little schools that are in small communities everywhere. You guys are conservatives, you like big bureaucratic structures don’t you?

    So how is your system going to prevent monopolies? You bemoan the monopoly that Ontario teachers have on the school system and yet advocate a system that might very well lead to new “corporate” monopolies being created. Are you going to stop school “franchises” from popping up? Maybe this isn’t a problem but maybe the public school system has the most students, because, most parents want their kids in a public school system. Maybe money isn’t actually the issue. So what exactly are you changing? Maybe parents will use their money and flock to a plethora of diverse choices. Or maybe they won’t. I mean, certainly parents are currently sending their kids to tech schools in droves… oh wait, no they aren’t.

    Certainly whenever a niche product comes onto the market, it does well on its own and is able to survive and thrive and grow. Look at a cable network like APTN, it has enough viewers to sustain itself without government funding…oh wait… no it doesn’t. Oh, well maybe that’s too niche. Maybe Canada’s best selling magazine, Maclean’s, survives without government funding…. oh wait… no it doesn’t either. Then again, maybe you also aren’t looking at this post using a Microsoft product. Is Microsoft better? Not really. Is it bigger? Yes. Are most people too lazy to find a new browser? Yes. Is that why people use it? Yes. Will most people just send their students to the school that is closest to their house? Yes. Will that privilege some schools on the mere basis of location? Yes. But again, maybe not, let’s have faith in the people that monopolies will not be created and that what most people really want is diverse and vibrant choice and teaching excellence. Your voucher is going to bring back choice … Until you state that parents can supplement the funding. So what exactly are you changing?

    This is what happens today. And make no mistake, this will create “ghetto schools.” If parents are allowed to supplement the amount, than richer students will benefit by having a private school that now has extra government funding. In the current education system, there are already schools that have a socio-economic advantage and that’s with relatively equal funding. (Look at the Frasier Institute rankings for Ontario schools: The best secondary school in Toronto (and #1 in the province) has an average family income of $110,000. The worst school in Toronto has an average family income of $42,000; your delusional if you don’t think these things are related. That’s not a funding issue that’s a parenting issue. Or maybe it’s the teachers, yup, got to be the teachers.) Your solution, therefore, only exacerbates that problem. So if you want to create a second-class of students in favour of a select elite group of students, then I suppose that’s not bad. I suppose that it could work. It has, after all, worked wonderfully in places in the United States where school are paid for by the taxes of a particular area. Certainly this did not cause affluent people to abandon the downtown for the suburbs and create elite suburban schools. Certainly the inner-city schools in places like Detroit are the model of educational achievement and economic choice! But then again, you’d have standards for the curriculum so all would have to achieve… oh wait, you mean like the one’s that already exist?

    Private schools already have to meet the minimum curriculum. So do home schools. What exactly are you changing again? Oh that’s right, your putting the choice in the hands of the parents who are being held hostage by the bully tactics of the teachers. It’s not like any parent is free to choose to opt out of the Catholic or Public system right now (as long as they have the money to do it). The only difference is that now, a la John Tory, you want to give these people more funding. And, this apparently will cause a revolution in education that will see “thousands and thousands of kids flee the public and Catholic school boards for alternative private schools; art schools, schools that promise to teach Mandarin and Swahili, schools that have half day hockey practice and schools that teach calculus to Grade Sixers”
    So let’s ignore the obvious argument that this will cause disunity and not encourage “assimilation” (since you guys on this blog are big on that too). Let’s ignore the fact that this is is the main reason why Ontarians rejected John Tory. Let’s go back to the idea of what exactly this is changing since all the schools you list currently exist within the public system. Or did you miss the controversy when the “Black-Focused” school was created in Toronto a few years ago (there’s even a “social justice” focused school for the hippy crowd) But these schools only exist in big city centres that have the numbers of students to sustain that choice. So, wait, how exactly is your system different? What would it change? Ah wait, this was a scheme to eliminate the “monopoly of the Catholic and Public Teachers.” (Which is a pretty lousy monopoly considering that, of the 4 unions in Ontario, 2 have signed, and 2 (Public Secondary English and Elementary English) have not.)

    Yup, you’ve really shown those teachers, since you’ve solved the problem by making every institution unstable, inefficient and underfunded. By potentially encouraging monopolies, by increasing inequity, and basically throwing government funding into a system that already exits. And once you give the parents choice, they will send all their kids to non-unionized schools! Wait, what exactly is stopping the teachers from unionizing in all these new schools? Are you going to make that illegal? Why will teachers want to work in private non-union institutions? Because the parents have more choice? Oh, that’s right, most fast-food workers aren’t unionized because people can choose which way they get obese… or not. Or maybe the car companies aren’t unionized since people will choose not to patronize those CAW workers… or not. What exactly is stopping the teacher’s union again?

    So in an era of declining enrollment in Ontario where schools need to be closed because funding is untenable, let’s see what happens if your system works: You’ve proliferated the number of teachers (more schools = more teachers) and increased the number of schools while effectively creating have and have-not schools. For a bunch of guys who have wrote several long rants on the evils of multiculturalism, you have also just become the greatest proponents of it. And for some magical reason, the teachers will not unionize in these new schools. Bravo guys, well done.


    • Where to start?

      The goal of the voucher system is in a nutshell to be more efficient with our education money, and also, to be very blunt, diminish the power of the teacher’s unions. They are self-interested, which is their right to be so, but when they decide to go on strike or pull a work-action stunt it affects a very broad swath of the populace. As a result, people have low tolerance for prolonged teacher disputes and the weak-kneed politicians eventually buckle. This is the modus operandi for almost every public sector union dispute, and essentially the leverage these unions have is their virtual monopoly on the service they provide. You want to reduce their leverage, the introduce choice – if GM workers go on strike, and stop making GM cars, then the consumer can always go buy Toyota, Chrysler et al… where does the average parent take their kid if there is a prolonged dispute with the teachers?

      You seem to think that by semi-privatizing education, which is what we are suggesting, that there will still be an inordinate amount of money sucked up by bureacracy. That is flatly wrong – the private sector is much much better at finding efficiencies and providing services through flatter organizations. We are no fans of the Taj Mahal school board buildings you see in just about every city, staffed to the gills with superintendents of this, project managers of that and a raft of bullshit positions. We firmly believe in a semi-privatized system that money would get filtered down to where it belongs – teachers, books and materials and buildings.

      Who cares if school franchises pop up?

      John Tory made a tactical error, not a ideological error. If you have a standardized minimum curriculum, as in this level of composition and math skills must be learned at a particular grade, these books must be taught, this much geography and Canadian history/civics knowledge learned, then who cares if this material is taught in a afro-centric school, an Islamic school, an art-school? So long as it is basis, we have a common knowledge base for all Ontario students.

      As far as affluent parents having access to better schooling – isn’t that the case now? I can fund my kids’ tuitions to a private school with better teachers and access to more materials and resources but the welfare mother down the street cannot. Nothing changes on that front. If you want, you can in the interest of social equity introduce tweaks such as schools above a certain size must alot a specified number of placements to economically disadvantaged children.

      Again, we admitted that the idea is not perfect. We’re not policy wonks, the details would certainly need to be ironed out.

      But we just love when people piss on alternative ideas without proposing any new ideas of their own. No new ideas means acceptance of the current system and the status quo. In which case you are foolish and deluded that we can continue in our current direction.

      Thanks for commenting though.


      • Knowyourhistory says:

        I don’t want to make this into an extended debate. But I think I should respond to a couple of your points. I also eagerly await your rant about doctors (since they too have threatened legal action against McGuinty’s cuts), police and firefighters. Or maybe you’re just picking on teachers because they are an easy target.

        First and foremost, “pissing” on your alternative idea is not an acceptance of the status quo. That’s disingenuous and you know it. Unless you want to admit that your criticism of Justin Trudeau is also, therefore, a tacit approval of Bob Rae. I am not disagreeing with the premise, but rather the proposed solution. The same holds true with your idea.

        But since you insist, here’s three ideas: The public school system currently is a hybridization of a provincial ministry and local school boards. This duality is redundant. Either eliminate the local school boards (as they have done in Newfoundland and Quebec) to ensure that there are not be multiple rounds of contract disputes or strengthen them and eliminate the provincial control (which is, in a sense a version of your semi-privatization). If you do the latter, then any disruption by workers will be minimized to one localized area e.g. when profs at U of T go on strike, classes at York continue unabated. Secondly, how about eliminating the redundancy of multiple school boards (i.e. Public vs. Catholic) instead of your idea which would increase the number of school boards, and potentially increase the number of school disruptions. Thirdly, how about you remove teachers from the union (as Harris did with principals and vice-principals) and make them independent professional contractors? I am not a policy wonk either and these ideas are not perfect but I offer them for criticism.

        I’m also glad 1) You have faith that a semi-private education system would, first of all not build large Taj Mahal type buildings that are filled with unnecessary bureaucratic structures because certainly no large corporation does that and 2) I’m glad you believe that corporations would not try to cut services to keep profit margins viable; would also not try to increase profits by charging extras and everything would filter down to the schools and teachers. After all McDonald’s always uses the most expensive types of meat available, banks don’t charge service fees and gas stations don’t spike prices during long weekends. There is nothing wrong with the above practices, but to deny that this would could happen in a semi-private education system is delusional.

        Finally, your right, the ultra rich can currently afford to send their kids an elite academy. Your plan won’t change that, except, that you are now giving a private institutions government funding (that they don’t need). That’s a very conservative idea. But then again, when it comes to education you guys are also staunch defenders of multiculturalism, cultural relativism and affirmative action? A school for every culture, ideology, belief system and special interest groups outside of any contact with any other outside culture or different ideas. Social equity tweaks that require elite schools to take in other minority or disadvantaged students? This is all very progressive.


      • Here’s the thing you miss, and it is a standard oversight by leftists when the topic of privatizing anything comes up; privatization means turning a service over to businesses. So the left love to jump a few steps ahead and right away say, “a ha! Privatization and efficiencies is code for squeezing profit by lowering wages, skimping on materials, cheating and cost-cutting wherever possible in the name of profit” as you poorly try to point out with your McDonald’s argument. But a business does not have a business if it is not providing something that people want. That is the whole basis of the capitalist system – you are rewarded based on demand for the service you provide. No artifical economies. If McDonald’s is serving faux-meat, as you try to infer, then that’s because people are willing, or happy even, to purchase this product. In this case what we are proposing is a competitive system – schools will need to compete for that $8k cheque. They will need to demonstrate that they are providing something more than the next guy in order to win over business. And when the service is providing quality education and meeting minimum testing standards, how can they skimp on that? If they can’t do it, they will be found out. There will be the occasional failure of a school or disappointing result – I guess those don’t happen now? If a private entity has a Taj Mahal headquarters, by and large that building has been built on the basis of successful business, not taxpayer funds.

        OK, you have some ideas. None of them introduce choice or eliminate union power. Localizing disputes doesn’t provide the parents in those local areas any more choices or options during a dispute. Giving jurisdiction back to local school boards just exposes lower level politicians, school board trustees, to pressure that they are even less equipped to deal with than provincial politicians. Consolidating school boards just broadens disputes and actually adds to union power.


  2. Windsor Baba says:

    1. School vouchers are not a new idea. Milton Friedman proposed them 30 years ago in his book “Free to Choose”. And apparently Alberta has had some limited success with the system.
    2. The Fraser Institute (“if it matters, measure it”) has published report cards on 5,700 high schools, representing 3 million children. Teachers, or more correctly Teachers Unions, are on record as opposing such measurements (“not fair!”), yet reports were downloaded from Fraser’s web site more than one million times. Parents do want to know!
    3. Good teachers work hard. The best teachers put their heart and soul into their work. So do ALL professionals who are good at what they do.
    Just saying. For sure, no simple solutions.


  3. Conservative Mommy says:

    I am amused at the arguments above. There has been and always will be a discrepancy between high and low income families when it comes to education. Is it the schools, the teachers or the parents? Arguably it’s the parents for the most part. It would seem that parents with higher education and/or income tend to spend more time reading to their children, enrolling their children in extracurricular activities (such as music lessons and sports) and tend to provide better nutrition for their children, all of which eventually lead to higher test scores. This happens now as “knowyourhistory” mentions (referencing the Fraser Institute rankings) so I’m not sure why he’s so against a voucher system and saying that would happen if this was instituted since it occurs now. Perhaps a voucher system would help to abolish the unions as they would possibly have less power. Currently if you want your child to attend a public school you are forced to send them to the one within your geographical boundaries. With vouchers you could send your child to whatever school you wanted and if it was a half hour drive away, you find a way to get your child there. Also, despite all the “government funding” parents of children who attend public schools (and their families) are subjected to annoying fund raising efforts. (It amazes me every year when these schools that are such “nazi’s” about bringing any nuts or peanut products to school – it’s akin to attempted murder – will then send these children out with chocolate covered almonds to hawk to everyone they know and guilt them into buying them so as to raise money for school materials). Wouldn’t those schools with afluent families attending would be most successful at raising those extra funds and thus get more from these efforts? A friend of mine who also happens to be a ETFO teacher told me the Catholic union was the first to “settle” not because they are morally more superior to the other unions but because the government threatened to abolish the Catholic board altogether. If this was the case isn’t it likely that that board would have come out and said something so as to get the Catholic public to back them? As a Catholic parent that would have made me very angry with the government and possibly have helped secure my support for them. How much propaganda do the unions tell their members? This same friend 10 years ago was a staunch conservative with a bad taste in her mouth for having to pay union dues and have that money fund left-wing interests just because she chose the profession of teaching. That same friend now has been awash in the union propaganda machine so long that she’s actually leaving her young children at home to be babysat while she marches at Queen’s park protesting during her summer break. I have a hard time being sympathetic to a profession where you can make 80+K a year based solely on the amount of time you’ve been doing the job (and not on merit as it should be based) while actually only working about 9 months of that year, all the while secure in having a very generous pension when you retire.
    I agree with WindsorBaba that good teachers work hard and that all professionals who are good at what they do work hard. I happen to know some great teachers that go above and beyond. The difference between the teachers and the professionals is that the teachers haven’t had to face economic reality under Dalton McGuinty. The professionals have to constantly be aware of the possibility of losing their job altogether, not just that their wage might be frozen for a couple years and they would have to lose banked sick days and retire with only their very generous pension (as there is no such thing in the private sector as banked sick days and very rarely pensions). The professionals can’t hold parents hostage if they don’t like what their employer is paying them or the benefits they are getting (they are free to look for another job). If teachers hate their plight so much they are free to come and work in the private sector with the rest of us and give up their summers, Christmas breaks and March breaks and job security and pensions. It seems petty to be fighting about giving up banked sick days and a 2 year wage freeze in light of all that, doesn’t it?
    As for the doctors “knowyourhistory” mentions – I’m all for semi-private healthcare too, but that’s another whole debate.


  4. justin says:

    Sounds like US charter schools which are somewhat of a debacle. So perhaps not so simple.


  5. Sinan says:

    Amen to your list!! And don’t forget d) as the creitave photographer mom there’s an expectation of us to do something cool (like the cupcake!!) I have an 8 year old Olivia and the photo thing too I think you have it all pulled together much better than I do! I love your work, and I’m thrilled to hear I’m not the only one balancing the world, oh and yes dress up day too!


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