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Quebec students’ futures mortgaged by incompetent teachers

Montreal, Monday, January 18, 2016 – Can an incompetent teacher be fired in Quebec? Over the past five years, seven permanent teachers out of a total of nearly 60,000 working for the province’s school boards were dismissed for incompetence, reveals an MEI publication released today.

This proportion of 0.01% seems laughable, since dismissals of teachers for incompetence are as rare as dismissals of teachers for violent or criminal acts, or for conduct of a sexual nature, reasons also raised for seven cases. In order to obtain these data, the MEI sent a request for access to information to Quebec’s 72 school boards.

Is it possible that the competence of Quebec teachers is so high that it can explain these results? “While we believe that the great majority of Quebec teachers are competent, this is not a plausible explanation according to professionals in the field,” explains Youri Chassin, economist and author of the publication. “This very small number, over a period of five years, more likely indicates the difficulty of succeeding in firing an incompetent teacher if he or she has obtained tenure, also known as permanence.”

Indeed, a dismissal mechanism exists in theory, but the process is long and complex. Moreover, the normal procedures are such that once tenure has been granted, a majority of teachers are no longer evaluated on the quality of their teaching. In the end, dismissals are practically unheard of.

Yet the standing of the profession would be enhanced if school boards had greater flexibility in replacing certain teachers whose skills leave something to be desired. “Teachers themselves more often than not suffer from the presence of an incompetent colleague, and would enjoy greater social recognition if problematic cases were handled more effectively,” says Mr. Chassin. “It is students, however, who must be the primary concern of education. The quality of their learning and efforts to keep them in school depend on it,” insists the author, adding that according to Quebecers, the quality of the teaching staff is the single most important factor in the success of students.

It is perfectly normal and desirable for teachers to be able to call upon their unions to defend them in certain circumstances. Having said that, bureaucratic excesses pose a problem, explains Mr. Chassin, who maintains that a mechanism allowing inadequately skilled teachers to be fired would reinforce the relationship of confidence that exists between parents, school administrators, and teachers.

“Unions will surely oppose them, but the ways of fixing this problem are well-known,” adds Michel Kelly-Gagnon, President and CEO of the MEI. “Schools could periodically evaluate teachers, for example every five years, as is the case in Ontario. More frequent standardized tests would also allow for better measurement of the quality of teaching and learning. Finally, merit pay based on regular evaluations, which is common practice in the vast majority of professions, should also be a part of the solution.”

It should be noted that during the most recent school year, in 2014-2015, just one single dismissal for incompetence was recorded in all of Quebec’s school boards.

The Economic Note entitled “Enhance the Standing of the Teaching Profession by Firing Incompetent Teachers” was prepared by Youri Chassin, Economist and Research Director at the MEI. This publication is available on our website.

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The Montreal Economic Institute is an independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit research and educational organization. Through its studies and its conferences, the MEI stimulates debate on public policies in Quebec and across Canada by proposing wealth-creating reforms based on market mechanisms.

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Interview requests: Mariam Diaby, Communications Director, Montreal Economic Institute / Tel.: 514-273-0969 ext. 2231 / Cell.: 514-668-3063 / Email: mdiaby@iedm.org

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