If ever there was a time to avoid the misleading use of statistics, job cuts is one. Yet that is exactly what Education Minister Clyde Jackman did Wednesday in response to comments by the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association (NLTA).
Lily Cole discussed the effects of education cuts during an address to the NLTA annual conference in St. John’s Wednesday.
Needless to say, she was dismayed by the estimated loss of 160 teaching positions, saying it will affect the quality of schooling on several levels.
Cole, of course, is an advocate for teachers. The more teachers, the better.
So it would be reasonable to take the source into account.
But Jackman’s rebuttal was obfuscation at its worst.
He begins by citing some numbers:
“Budget 2013 provides $537 million, almost 64 per cent of the entire education budget, for teacher salaries, substitute teachers, student assistants, professional development, and various services for teachers.”
These are numbers in a vacuum.
It’s no secret that teacher salaries account for about two-thirds of the education budget.
Salaries account for the majority of almost any budget.
Then there’s this:
“Minister Jackman noted there will be more than 5,400 teachers assigned to the education system in September 2013, and 265 more teachers in the system in relation to student enrolment than there were five years ago.”
Yes, but 5,400 teachers is still a reduction from previous years.
In fact, there’s been a decline in teaching units in this province almost every year for decades.
That’s because student enrolment has also declined.
And that’s what makes the second figure even more misleading.
There may indeed be 265 more teachers in the system in relation to student enrolment since five years ago.
That’s a ratio, not an absolute number.
There are still fewer teachers.
Teacher numbers aren’t only informed by the number of students.
When rural enrolment goes down, smaller schools still need a minimum slate of teachers and staff to deliver the required programs.
As well, there’s a cap on the number of teaching positions that can be eliminated in any one year.
It’s interesting Jackman uses a five-year mark.
In 2008, the Tory government announced a new approach to allocating teachers, based on the needs of individual schools rather than total numbers per district.
“The new model is based on what is in the best interest of our students and will ensure access to programs no matter where a student lives,” said then-education minister Joan Burke (now Shea).
Few, if any, teaching positions were expected to be lost in the process.
It’s amazing the difference five years makes.