EdVo-Post: Unions’ Priorities Don’t Mention Students

How to decide who is looking after the interests of students

One of the most confusing parts of the coverage of these teacher negotiations is who is most committed to student achievement and well-being.  Both the unions and the school boards claim that their positions will help students and the other side’s positions will hurt students.

One way to decide who proposals are best for students is to study the proposals and analyze the effect the competing proposals will have on students.  I have tried to summarize the major differences between unions and boards on the “Detailed Issues Summary” page.

Another way is to look at the priorities that each group has set for themselves before going into these negotiations.  I’ve gone to the web-sites of the three main players in the Public School negotiations so that you can read what their stated priorities are for 2014/5.


Different priorities: union leaders, school boards, & classroom teachers

I found it quite surprising disheartening that the leaders of the Elementary Teachers union (ETFO) nor the leaders of the Secondary Teachers union (OSSTF) think enough of students to even mention them in their 2014/5 priorities.

To me, it is obvious that these union leaders are on a completely different page than classroom teachers. The teachers care deeply about the children in their classes.  They put a tremendous amount of effort, time, and thought into helping the children in their care to grow into capable, caring, curious, and resilient adults.  I suspect that most teachers have never read the priorities set by their union leaders, and that they would be surprised to find that students are never mentioned.

The Ontario Public School Boards Association (OPSBA) is the group that is negotiating with the unions and the Province about major issues relating to Ontario’s Public schools and students.  OPSBA’s priorities were set by a board of directors made up of Trustees from every Public School Board.  As you’ll see below, every one of OPSBA’s priorities is directed at supporting students.  This is in keeping the the primary duty of School Boards and Trustees as set out in 169.1.1a of Ontario’s Education Act: “to promote student achievement and well-being”.  In my opinion, the priorities of the School Boards are very similar to those of classroom teachers.


Here, in their own words, are the 2014/5 priorities for each of these organizations [I’ve included my comments in italics].


ETFO’s leaders set 9 priorities 


  1. To protect the collective bargaining rights of all members [Unions are supposed to look after their members, so perhaps it is natural that the union leaders don’t seem to be interested in the education rights of students, or the information rights of parents.]
  2. To defend publicly-funded public education [I completely agree, as do most citizens when they think that our public schools are being put at risk].
  3. To serve the needs of the membership [I can’t argue with this, this is every union’s primary legal obligation, but it says nothing, and does nothing, to support students]
  4. To provide for the professional development of members [It strikes me that to get maximum student benefit, school Principals and not union leaders should decide what sort of professional development (aka learning) a teacher needs]
  5. To promote social justice in the areas of peace, anti-poverty, non-violence, and equity [I’m all for peace etc. but what about promoting effective supports for students?]
  6. To support international assistance and co-operation [Laudable, but what does this have to do with supporting Ontario’s students?].
  7. To promote the care and protection of the environment [As a citizen, I agree completely.  But as a parent I’d want my child’s teacher to “care and protect” my child above the environment]
  8. To actively engage members in the Federation [Why not “Find ways to increase the engage of students in their learning”?]
  9. To promote and protect the health and safety of members [Absolutely, but I would have liked to see “promote and protect the health and safety of members, students, and others involved in our schools”]


OSSTF’s leaders set 5 priorities [each of OSSTF’s priorities are several sentences long, I’ve only included the section headings]

  • Negotiations (“reaching a fair deal for all members”) [That is the obligation of any union, but I wish that the union leaders would be clear with the public that they are looking out for what they think their members want, not for what is good for students.]
  • Promoting Local Labour History [Wouldn’t it be great if union leaders were more concerned about promoting student mastery of world history and geography and maths and music and sports and reading and writing and french and ….]
  • “My Union” and Member Engagement [Missing: student engagement in learning.]
  • The Environment [No-one can argue with protecting the environment, but shouldn’t the learning environment in schools be a higher priority for teachers than the environment of the planet?  Certainly teachers have more control over school culture than they do over climate change]
  • OSSTF’s 100th Anniversary [It speaks volumes about the focus of union leadership that this is a separate priority, and not included in “Local Labour History” or “My Union”]


Ontario Trustees set 5 priorities for 2014/5  [see pages 7 through 12 – the details of each of these priorities take up most of a page. I’ve only included the section headings, and a small part of the associated text]

  • Labour Relations … “teachers and education workers deeply influence a positive and productive learning environment for students” [I completely agree that the success of collective agreements and labour relations must be measured based on how well these support students]
  • The Whole Child and Student Well-Being … “ensuring that we work collaboratively for the social, emotional, mental and physical well-being of all children and youth” [Isn’t this what we, as parents, strive for for our own children?]
  • New Generation Education … “preparing students for success in the 21st century” [Our society is changing rapidly, and the skills needed to succeed at work are changing too.  Perhaps the greatest challenge facing schools is that of responding to these changes with new curriculum, revised teaching methods, more robust cultures of kindness and inclusion in our schools, and meaningful ways to measure the progress of our children as they grow into adults.]
  • Trustees – Building Leadership Capacity … “trustees make a significant and direct contribution to the achievement of all students” [This is somewhat inward looking, but even here the goal of any professional development for Trustees is clear – to directly contribute “to the achievement of all students”]
  • Education Funding … “setting the conditions that promote and sustain student achievement” [There is always a need for incresed funding in schools, but the purpose shouldn’t be simply for more money.  The purpose should be to have have funds to better “promote and sustain student achievement”.  I think that OPSBA partially missed the boat by leaving out student “well-being” as well as student achievement.]