Op-ed from CSBA President on NB government’s educational review

What the NB government can learn to improve educational direction and decision-making 

The Canadian School Boards Association recognizes troubling issues with the New Brunswick government’s review of options that could effectively remove local authority over educational decision-making. CSBA has seen the approach of ministerial control fail in other provinces, with the public speaking out against a reduction in local decision-making in districts, a loss of minority voices, and reduced information available to families, educators, and communities. 

NB’s education ministry and each district’s publicly elected District Education Councils (DECs are similar to school boards) share many of the same goals: ensure local democratic voice and accountability, increase student engagement and well-being, enhance educators’ capacity, support school leadership, and eliminate disparities in achievement. 

Community members who dedicate their skills and insights to the four English and three French DECs in NB maintain a governance model, with goals and metrics, that each superintendent executes. When government decisions impact how schools provide learning and well-being to NB’s youth, the DEC responds to ensure the needs of students, families, and citizens are met. This enables the superintendent and education leaders to focus on their schools while elected DEC officials work collaboratively with the ministry on behalf of local communities.  

The timing and proposed strategy for change by the New Brunswick government raises many questions from the CSBA—without enough time for answers. 

Based on what CSBA has witnessed in other provinces, here are the barriers we can expect in New Brunswick. 

Educators are pivoting daily, reconciling how to effectively connect with each student while not knowing if tomorrow they’re teaching in a classroom or online. This requires teachers to invest in additional research and methods to meet the needs of each youth during this pandemic. 

The government’s consideration on injecting governance reform at this time is curious at best and devastating at worst. Why now, when everyone is focused on supporting students and staff? Educators and families coping with COVID distractors have limited or no capacity for inclusion in a reform process. Without their insights, whose needs will be met? 

Effective reform incorporates the views and inputs of all stakeholders to create a system designed for continuous improvement. Impactful redesign comes from evidence-informed research, not homemade surveys that do not collect all voices. A reform should budget time to ensure forward movement, not steps laterally or missteps backward. This is not what families, staff, or community members want—or deserve—right now. 

The timing connects with the possible removal of local decision-making. 

Neighbouring provinces have followed a trend of making moves to favour ministerial control over local authority. Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Manitoba governments were all forced to reconsider changes that reduced local authority because of the resulting public pressure. To avoid seeing the demotion of their local voice, the public spoke out about the expected reduction in local authority in districts, a loss of minority voices, and reduced information and assistance available to families, educators, and communities.   

The New Brunswick government announced its intention to respect the constitutional rights of each linguistic sector—but did not clarify if this means both linguistic sectors will have the same rights.

The Charter specifically protects minority language rights, but questions on the rights of majority-language parents and community are still being determined in the courts. The court is being asked to consider majority language rights because of changes to school boards in Quebec that preserved the rights of the minority while reducing the rights of the majority. PEI and NS tried separate governance structures for French and English and are now bringing back rights for the English majority to allow both linguistic sectors to have a say in education, not to mention other minority voices.  

To retain local authority and rights, CSBA hopes the Minister will listen to the first-hand experience of New Brunswick’s DEC representatives when considering how to enhance the current structure and work in partnership to strengthen education governance. These are the community’s representatives and should be at the table for any discussions on improvement and change.

We are requesting that New Brunswickers contact their provincial government representative to reconsider this inefficient and ill-timed approach to educational reform and the possible removal of democratically elected education councils. 

Taking the time to develop reforms will result in a stronger system for governing boards and their role in ensuring accountable and transparent educational systems and in supporting the government to achieve their mandate.

We recommend that the government work as partners to strengthen the shared commitment and accountabilities for improving student outcomes.

The CSBA is composed of provincial school board associations and represents school boards and trustees throughout Canada. 

Laurie French