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Education Minister advocates stronger communications role for College

Education Minister Gerard Kennedy greeted College Council in June with apologies and encouragements.

Kennedy apologized for the delay in filling eight government appointee vacancies, citing timetabling difficulties and postponed Cabinet meetings. He had hoped to attend the June meeting with news about legislative changes affecting the College but collective bargaining and creating a framework for school board contracts took precedence.

The Minister said he was aware of the hardships imposed on College Council in not being able to conduct committee business or form investigation panels because of the lack of appointed members.

College Registrar Doug Wilson and Education Minister Gerard Kennedy

"We accept responsibility," Kennedy said. "You will have replacements shortly and my personal commitment that we will not drop the ball again."

The Minister said the College needs to do more to inform the public about teacher professionalism and he said the Ontario Teacher Qualifying Test (OTQT) was an unnecessary $4.5 million "bureaucratic hoop" new teachers had to jump through.

"You are now and particularly in the future meant to be the best reflection of teachers as professionals and the public's view of that," Kennedy told Council members. "Only under a climate of stability can that get fully expressed."

"There is a real lack of knowledge on the public's part of what happens within education. Unfortunately, that means people inside education act as if somehow it doesn't matter what people think outside. Nothing could be further from the truth."

"Having an accurate representation of teaching, of learning, of publicly funded education, of the other education systems that are represented here, is absolutely essential," Kennedy said.

The Minister said the College has a role in building public confidence in education through awareness and engagement. There need to be "breakthroughs in comprehension and understanding" among the public, he said.

"We are trying to understand the needs within education and frame them in a way that can be understandable to the public, which frankly I see as your role as well," Kennedy said. "You are the body to look after the public interest in teaching - not the teacher interest of teaching, not the government interest of teaching - the public interest of teaching."

Understand where the public is coming from and what information it needs to reconcile views about what's happening in education, but don't rely on public opinion polls, he said.

By way of example, he mentioned the qualifying test. Ask the public if teachers should be tested and 85 per cent will say yes, he said. "Teacher testing is a very popular policy." But the pen-and-paper test didn't add to the knowledge or understanding of new teachers. And it wasn't an effective quality screen. Fully 97 per cent of those who wrote it passed, Kennedy said, including 99 per cent of the grads from Ontario's education faculties.

"I think there is probably strong consensus within education that the OTQT was not a great investment of $4.5 million by the government," the Minister said. "It sent the message to new teachers that they had to jump through bureaucratic hoops before they started teaching."

He highlighted plans coming out of one of his Partnership Table working groups to replace the OTQT with a teacher-development-based induction program that "to give fair credit, builds on some of the past work of the College."

"We don't think a pen-and-paper test has any validity and we're not prepared to do it just for political gain," Kennedy said. At the same time, the public needs assurances that quality teachers are in place and supported. New teachers should get developmental support, including a short pre-service period and continuing learning that is meaningful and can be validated when they're finished.

"I thought the OTQT was something of an insult to the College myself, because what was the government doing setting the standard of entry when we have a professional college whose job it is to do that?"

The College can have a role in teacher development, not just at the start of teachers' careers or when there's a disciplinary issue, Kennedy said. The College needs to be an "independent source of approbation" for the public, he said, and it has a part to play along with the government in showing the public "that teachers are progressing, that teachers are in a position of being supported, that they're doing well at it and there are checks and balances in the system."

"There are many, many opinions out there that need to be shaped if we are going to succeed," Kennedy said. "We have to succeed in getting a much greater level of support for the real things that do now need to be done to support education."

Teacher discipline must be placed in context, he said. The system protects the public and the overwhelming majority of good teachers in Ontario classrooms.

One Council member wondered whether teachers at independent schools would see their successful completion of induction programs acknowledged on their teaching certificates.

"We have no way of influencing what would be done within the independent school system whatever," Kennedy said.

Kennedy said the government has "almost no agenda right now for independent or private schools." Government overseeing of independent schools is non-existent in the province, he said. Government inspectors merely enter private elementary schools to conduct fire inspections and head counts. "Once they've established there are five students, they leave." He said further consultation is needed regarding what the government should be doing vis-à-vis independent schools.

"Our legislative structure has the least to say about private schools of any in the country," Kennedy said.

He was also asked whether recognition of successful completion of an induction program could appear on a document separate from teaching certificates. The Minister said it was important that the designation appear to show support of teacher development.

"One thing we want to promote about teachers is teachers as professionals deserving of public respect. You can help us convey that."

Kennedy told Council that College governance "is a priority for us" but that a final decision has not been made, that he didn't want to disrupt the work of Council, and that any changes would have to wait for the fall session of the legislature.