By 2008, an anticipated shortage of teachers in BC had disappeared. In a National Post article, the change seemed almost inexplicable:
“My sense is that there are more teachers than we need in a couple of subject areas,” said Marie Crowther, registrar for the B.C. College of Teachers. “Overall the anticipated shortage hasn’t materialized and from my perspective, I don’t think it will materialize.”
So what happened? Why does BC now face a teacher surplus?
Much has been made of this surplus. Indeed, it’s become a favourite topic amongst the right-wing corporate apologists who dominate BC’s media landscape. According to these pundits, the law of supply and demand should impose a significant degree of discipline on future contract negotiations; the BCTF ought to stop comparing its members to other Canadian jurisdictions and face the realities of classical economics. To put it simply, BC teachers must embrace the government narrative and accept lower salaries.
But let’s be clear: the BC Liberals have engineered a teacher surplus. Since 2002, when there were dark rumours that the Liberals were going to fix a looming teacher shortage, BC’s pupil-teacher ratio has steadily climbed, and according to Statistics Canada we are the only jurisdiction in the country (2006-2011) where the PTR has become worse rather than better, despite similar demographic trends across the country. And overall, BC’s PTR is now the worst in Canada.
According to SFU education professor Peter Grimmett, there is a direct correlation between higher pupil-teacher ratios and lower demand for teachers. He argues that “every one-point increase in the pupil-teacher ratio [means] 2,500 fewer teachers”. Facing a teacher shortage? Jam more kids into existing classrooms and suddenly you don’t need as many teachers. Voila, problem solved.
I’m sure many will argue that PTR doesn’t matter, but try telling that to our coddled private schools. Since the Liberals eliminated most Grade 12 provincial exams, small class size has been a prime selling feature in private school advertising. Don’t believe me? Look it up here or here or here.
Of course, our corporate media could fall back on another BC Liberal press release and argue that our “outcomes” are excellent, so why should we worry? [Fellow media hack Sean Leslie was ranting about this last weekend on another right-wing bastion, CKNW.] The outcomes angle might be comforting if the PISA scores that the Liberals like to trumpet weren’t actually going down (see below), or our graduation rates weren’t based on steadily declining standards like lowered grad requirements and a less rigorous exam system.
Wouldn’t it be nice if our media commentators didn’t sound like the agitprop department of the sitting government?