Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Untold Angle on Education Cutbacks.

Full disclosure. I work in communications for the Alberta Teachers' Association. I have been very deliberate about maintaining a distinct line between what I write here and the work I do for my employer. Having said that, I really enjoy working for the ATA because the organization generally reflects my values and aspires to create the same Alberta I envision.

With that out of the way, the topic of today's post is the state of public education in Alberta.

I have expressed concerned in the past about how the Alberta government lacks planning for our future, those concerns are growing rapidly. My concern is that government is going to proceed next year with massive cuts to our education system.

While Hancock is hesitant to quote a number, credible estimates range between $215 million and $400 million. A common number referred to takes the $2 Billion reduction needed government-wide, multiplies it by the 17% of spending that the province devotes to education and arrives at $340 million in cuts to K-12 classrooms in 2010/11. This level of cuts could see the system losing 2000 to 3000 teachers, resulting in significant increases in class size.

While many stories have been written in regards to these cuts, one story flew under the radar because it wasn't labelled as an education funding issue, although it most undoubtedly is.
A love of children draws hundreds of new people to the teaching profession each year in Alberta, but there has been growing concern in both professional and government circles about the number of new teachers who, for one reason or another, stop feeling that love and leave the classroom after a few years.

More than 20 per cent of Alberta teachers leave the job within their first five years, workforce statistics compiled by the provincial government indicate. The problem is particularly evident in northern and rural areas.
Please, take a moment, read the story and come back for further analysis.

Here is my reason for dire concern. Of the up to 3000 teachers being laid off next year, most of those will be teachers with temporary and probationary contracts. These teachers tend to be younger and newer to the profession. These teachers are passionate about their work and their students, but they also worry about their own wellbeing and are considerate of the demands of the job and limitations on being able to meet the needs of all of their students.

If you take a group that is already leaving the profession in considerable numbers and lay a large portion of them off, it is quite likely that many of them will leave the profession or province completely.

Now, let's consider the long term implications. Sophisticated demographic models developed by government are already predicting a dire shortage of teaching staff in the next five to ten years. This will be mainly caused by very high fertility and immigration rates, combined with an outflux of retiring teachers.

So not only will the cutbacks affect classsizes, but they will also ensure astronomical levels of attrition in the teaching profession. And, as Alberta education director of workforce planning Randy Clarke is quoted, "There is evidence that with high levels of teacher attrition, students struggle academically."

So, what value do Albertans get out of slashing public education and laying off scores of teachers who will be desperately needed in five years? Teachers needed to meet the demands of the system that will educate the next generation of leaders in our province? How is this planning for the future?


Derrick Jacobson said...

It is unfortunate the only ones valued by the GOA are themselves. The mismanagement in health, education, as well as financial, will take us back ten years. Once again they have no plan, wiping out the savings and cutting essential services. Pretty sad for a province that has had billions and billions in surplus revenue for the last 15 yrs, yet we have only put enough away for a year or two as long as we make deep cuts. How do the teachers get through those who can't learn, our GOA may be able to use this information?

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Unknown said...

Now that Dave Hancock is promising to cover for some of the deficit, have the school board called back the teachers they laid off? It's unfortunate that the school boards are being pushed around by the government. I'd like to point out also, some school boards have terribly concealed hiring processes (ie Edmonton Public School Board), making it difficult for a newly graduated teacher to break into the field. What exactly are those newly grads supposed to do when teachers who were on probationary/temporary contract are also competing for the limited teaching opportunities??? Retired teachers are called back/willingly going back to being put on supply/substitute teaching list, so new grads don't even stand a chance with subbing either. Just where are the aspiring young professionals supposed to turn for teaching opportunities after they've spent at least 4 years of precious university years on becoming a teacher when they could've easily gone into a trades field and be laughing in their newly purchased homes with their easily earned cash?