The Nova Scotia education system protects under-performing teachers, which undermines the credibility of the majority of teachers who are doing good work, a new report says.

Paul Bennett and Karen Mitchell wrote Maintaining "Spotless Records" for the Atlantic Institute for Marketing Studies. It was released Monday.

"The blunt reality is that when compared to Canadian best practices and other analogous professional bodies, the teacher certification and regulation policy and practice in Nova Scotia ... are woefully inadequate and fall far short of what might be expected for any respected profession,” the authors wrote.

The report calls for a new, more independent, Teachers Regulation Branch to provide a clear mandate to raise professional teaching standards.

'Call to professionalism'

"The report is a call to professionalism, to start a public debate about teacher professionalism and the ways we can strengthen the profession in Nova Scotia and the other Maritime provinces," Bennett said in an interview. 

"Our study simply reveals that Nova Scotia is an outlier when it comes to setting high teacher standards, enforcing those standards and disclosing more to the public about the teaching profession."

For example, the number of teachers in the province is not public information, nor is the number of teachers who resign or are dismissed each year. The number facing criminal offences is not public either. 

Bennett said his co-author, Mitchell, spent years in the Ontario education system and was "aghast" by how loose regulations are in Nova Scotia and how much is entrusted to the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. 

Conflict of interest

The union is in charge of disciplining teachers, but the union is also in charge of defending them. That creates a conflict-of-interest, the report finds.

NSTU disciplinary hearings are private, so the public cannot scrutinized what happens. The report also attacks the union’s definitions of competence, misconduct and sexual abuse as being so vague that they are easily evaded.

The NSTU collects $690 a year from its 10,300 members to create a budget of $7 million, but it does not need to disclose how it spends its money.

The report says this all creates high stress for teachers, who feel they face a lot of public criticism. About 20 per cent of teachers regret entering the profession.

Because the only criterion for keeping a job is seniority, young teachers are kept back while some senior — but ineffective — teachers hold important jobs.

The report recommends creating a separate body, like a college of teachers, to take care of disciplinary hearings. It asks the province’s education department to come up with the standards for them to enforce.

It also recommends removing principals and superintendents from the NSTU, and giving them their own union, as well as coming up with a way to measure teacher effectiveness.

Six recommendations

The report makes six key recommendations:

  1. Initiate and establish a Teaching Standards and Regulation Act and transfer the responsibility for setting and maintaining the Code of Professional Standards and Discipline to a new branch of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Rename the Teaching Profession Act so that it is termed the Teachers Union Act;
  2. Assign responsibility for overseeing Teacher Standards and Discipline to the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development and require the public disclosure of all proceedings and decisions made under the new Teaching Standards and Regulation Act;
  3. Establish a Teaching Standards Board within the Department of Education to assure professional self-governance for the profession, but limit the size of the board to from 12 to 15 members, appointed by Order-in-Council, to allow for a fair representation of teacher, professional and community interests;
  4. Adopt a Teacher Quality Standard, modelled after that of Alberta and built upon Best Practice in Teacher Quality reform across North America and around the world and introduce regular teacher effectiveness assessments, scheduled every five to seven years at critical stages in the career cycle;
  5. Raise Teaching Standards and uphold Professional Ethics through legislative reform by removing supervisory officers and principals from the provincial bargaining unit for teachers and implementing professional training for school administrators in the assessment of teacher conduct, competency and effectiveness;
  6. Mandate the new Teacher Regulation Branch to initiate, develop and implement an evaluation and accreditation program for faculties of education and teacher training institutes to ensure the validity and quality of professional degree and additional

Bennett is the director of Schoolhouse Consulting and adjunct professor of education at Saint Mary's University.

Mitchell is a former member of the governing board of the Ontario College of Teachers and past-president of the Society for Equal Education.