Teacher education must rise above political correctness

Canadian universities’ recruitment of teachers must be done purely on academic merit, say Rodney Clifton and Alexandra Burnett 

二月 22, 2018
Blackboard covered in maths equations
Source: iStock

Increasingly, Canadian universities seem to be more concerned about political correctness than educating students.

A prominent illustration of this is University of Toronto psychologist Jordan Peterson’s public battle with university administrators, professors and some students over his refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns when referring to students with varying sexual orientations.

A less well known but arguably much more serious example is the increasing tendency for Canadian faculties of education to use admissions criteria that are unrelated to the characteristics and skills needed by effective classroom teachers. At the University of Windsor, for example, special consideration is being given to candidates who reflect “the ethno-cultural and social diversity of Ontario’s schools”. And, last September, the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba went even further by aiming to admit 45 per cent of incoming teacher candidates on the basis of their self-identification as members of marginalised groups, such as indigenous, disabled, LGBTQ, minority ethnic or socially disadvantaged.

These admission policies are being implemented so that teachers increasingly represent the ever-changing social demographics of provinces. There is some merit to that aspiration, but there are several serious problems. One is that such self-identities are difficult to verify and, consequently, are potentially easy to “game”. A second is that such policies are not useful for identifying and admitting candidates who actually have the potential to become effective teachers, which is the most important reason for having faculties of education at universities.

Parents, students and even school administrators already know that there are substantial differences between the most and least effective teachers. A number of excellent studies have shown that the top 25 per cent are able to effectively teach 18 months’ worth of curriculum content in a year, while the bottom 25 per cent are able to teach only about six months’ worth. In short, the best teachers are three times more effective than the worst teachers. Addressing this unacceptable disparity should be the most important priority among Canadian faculties of education.

In addition, the literature identifies three characteristics of effective teachers: high language ability; a good education in the subjects taught; and a grasp of a variety of reliable assessment instruments and techniques.

Hence, it would make much more sense for universities to assess would-be teachers on the basis of their verbal and mathematical ability. In Canada, teacher candidates generally enter the professional programme after they have completed an undergraduate degree. Consequently, faculties of education should ensure that candidates are among the strongest in the university courses related to the subjects that they expect to teach.

Unfortunately, Canadian universities and ministries of education do not currently treat the education and certification of teachers as seriously as they treat the education and certification of dentists, lawyers and medical doctors – or even the certification of meat-cutters and hairdressers – all of whom are assessed on the basis of competence alone. After completion of their programmes of study, aspiring teachers are certified in varying ways across provinces. But they should be required to pass rigorous exams, covering both knowledge and actual teaching proficiency, such as the theory and techniques of test construction. The empirical literature shows that teachers spend about 15 to 20 per cent of their time formally and informally assessing students, yet they do not always know the best ways to do this.

Both universities and ministries of education have fiduciary responsibilities to prepare and certify the excellent teachers that all Canadian parents and students deserve. Fortunately, excellent admission and certification exams already exist. The Praxis exams, developed by the Educational Testing Service, could be used for selecting candidates and certifying teachers across English-speaking Canada, if not the entire nation.

All it needs is for universities and provincial ministers of education to stop being distracted by identity politics and put into practice such simple reforms, which will benefit all Canadians, regardless of their background.

Rodney A. Clifton is senior editor at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and emeritus professor at the University of Manitoba; Alexandra Burnett is an intern at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.


Print headline: Too PC on teacher ID



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Reader's comments (2)

No, not MORE money, more control, more bureaucracy for the education tyranny. Private education, free choice, voucher system and let parents DECIDE for themselves who they hire and what they teach their children. The public, state controlled education system must end. Just because children needs to be educated, does not mean the state needs to do it. It doesn't
Hold on a second. Is this true: "special consideration is being given to candidates who reflect “the ethno-cultural and social diversity of Ontario’s schools"? How is that legal? That seems in direct contradiction of the Ontario Human Rights Code. Specifically, Section 5(1) states, "Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to employment without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability." Universities are provincially regulated and are subject to this law. They are not allowed to hire people based on such traits. Further, the Ontario Human Rights Commission describes discrimination this way: "Discrimination is not defined in the Code but usually includes the following elements: (-) not individually assessing the unique merits, capacities and circumstances of a person, (-) instead, making stereotypical assumptions based on a person’s presumed traits, (-) having the impact of excluding persons, denying benefits or imposing burdens." (http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/iii-principles-and-concepts/2-what-discrimination) The Canadian Human Rights Act also has such provisions, specifically Sections 7 and 8: "7. It is a discriminatory practice, directly or indirectly, (a) to refuse to employ or continue to employ any individual, on a prohibited ground of discrimination." "8. It is a discriminatory practice (a) to use or circulate any form of application for employment, or (b) in connection with employment or prospective employment, to publish any advertisement or to make any written or oral inquiry that expresses or implies any limitation, specification or preference based on a prohibited ground of discrimination." The prohibited grounds of discrimination are given in Section 3(1): "For all purposes of this Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination are race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered." So I ask again, how is any of this legal?