Ontario Liberals will win votes with enrollment chop

Addressing oversupply of teachers will please many

Ontario’s government announced today that it plans to double the time students spend in teacher’s college to four semesters starting in September 2015. It will also increase the minimum number of days spent on placements from 40 to 80. And here’s the big news: it will cut admissions, starting that fall, by 50 per cent.

One reason for the dramatic change is the oversupply of education graduates. About 9,000 new teachers per year have been graduating in Ontario. Add in foreign graduates, many of them Canadians who went to U.S. schools, and there are about 11,000 teachers certified each year competing with each other and with graduates from previous years, while only 6,000 are needed.

The plan to double the length of the education was an election promise made by Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals in 2011 and it’s a politically smart move for Premier Kathleen Wynne to follow through on.

The Liberals, after all, fell out of favour with the education community in recent years, particularly after McGuinty passed a law to impose contracts on teachers in January. Wynne has started to win them back. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario agreed in March, shortly after she took office, to bring back extracurriculars. Today’s announcement will woo even more educators back. Here’s how.

First, it makes life easier for graduates. Wynne just renewed hope for thousands of young people.

Second, simultaneously doubling the length of teacher’s college means enrollment can be corrected without huge layoffs at teacher’s colleges. That’s an entire angry mob avoided.

Most important, it takes pressure off Ontario’s roughly 115,000 teachers, who have much less bargaining power in the court of public opinion when there’s an angry horde of qualified young people itching to take their jobs. Voters were starting to say things like: Why are we paying so much for sick days to teachers who retire at age 59 with stellar pensions when my kid can’t get a job?

It will also likely improve the quality of future teachers, both by virtue of the fact that teacher’s colleges can be more selective and the fact that higher quality students are likely to now take a closer look at the profession. After all, interest has been dropping dramatically. Roughly half as many people (8,199) applied to start teacher’s college in 2013 as applied in 2007 (16,042). One can imagine many of best and brightest went to law school instead after realizing the poor job prospects. On top of that, other provinces require two years. Finland, considered the best in the world for education, require master’s degrees.

Of course, not everyone agrees the changes will improve the quality of education. Andrew Langille, a Toronto labour lawyer and blogger opposes doubling the length of teacher’s college:

What I fear and what will no doubt become apparent in the years ahead is that a career in education will soon become impossible for young people coming from historically marginalized groups. With higher sticker shock from the cost of a two year B.Ed degree, the need to engage in prolonged period of unpaid labour to acquire experience, and the need to incur high debt levels due to tuition costs – students from racialized communities, lower socio-economic status, and the children of immigrant parents will inevitably face extremely high barriers to entry. The face of the teaching profession will change to become more White, elite, and unreflective of Ontario’s population.

He’s correct that boards sometimes have trouble finding teachers from certain backgrounds. An internal memo earlier this year from the Toronto District School Board stated, “the first round of TDSB interviews will be granted to teachers candidates that meet one or more of the following criteria in addition to being an outstanding teacher: Male, racial minority, French, Music, Aboriginal.”

Regardless, I would bet the majority of Ontario educators, young and old, will be happy with today’s announcement, and many of them are more likely to consider voting for Kathleen Wynne.