To begin with I must stress that this is my personal opinion and not that of the Chilliwack Board of Education. I write this letter as a member of the community.
I have received many letters from teachers in recent weeks and have had the opportunity to talk to teachers on the picket lines. The concerns from teachers that I hear are not about their wages or benefits, but rather they are concerned about class size and composition. This directly affects their workload, but what I am really hearing is their passion to help their students. I cannot sufficiently tell their stories here but I will say if there is any part of the BCTF’s most recent offer that aligns with the interests of students it has to be the creation of a $225 million fund to address class size and composition. This fund is considerably smaller than the $2 billion figure that the provincial government bandied about. I do not have inside information of negotiations but it is my sense that if the government would concede on this point the union would make concessions on others and a deal could be reached. The government should consider this not only because it would end the strike but because it is in the best interests of our students.
Class size and composition do matter and studies show it. The Tennessee Study of Class Size in the Early School Grades – of which the Brookings Institute called “the most influential and credible” – compared the achievement of students in small classes to those in large classes. It studied 6,500 students in 330 classrooms across 80 schools. This study found that smaller class sizes increased students’ performances in reading, arithmetic, and basic study skills. There is a lasting benefit too, when students who started in smaller classes were returned to their larger classes they performed better than their grade-mates who had started in larger classes. This study makes it clear that smaller class sizes are beneficial to a student’s success. I do not think it a stretch to extend this to composition as it all comes down to teachers being able to spend more time with each student. It puzzles me to hear BCPSEA’s negotiator and the Minister of Education say that class size and composition have no bearing on student achievement. It does not correspond to the research or common sense. It comes down to money and the BCTF’s most recent offer on class size is reasonable in my opinion.
It frustrates me that school boards and the BCSTA have been advocating on behalf of class sizes and funding only to have it fall on deaf ears. I also find it lamentable that it takes a strike to highlight this issue.
Let us hope that both parties return to the table with a mediator as soon as possible so that we can focus once again on the education of students.