Teachers should be evaluated every five years to maintain their professional accreditation in an effort to ensure that educators are effective and competent in the classroom throughout their careers, a new report says.

The recommendation, contained in a report from an Alberta government-appointed task force and obtained by The Globe and Mail, will enrage the province’s teachers union and, if adopted, will raise questions about whether the model should be expanded across the country.

Several jurisdictions, including New Zealand and Michigan, require teachers to renew their licences every five years based on assessments by principals and professional development requirements. But in Canada, public school teachers receive certificates for life from provinces after graduating from teacher education programs, and are not required to participate in regular professional development, although many do. The only way a certificate can be revoked is if there’s disciplinary action taken against a teacher.

The task force, formed by Education Minister Jeff Johnson, stated in its report to be released Monday that a small percentage of these teachers may be considered “incompetent or unprofessional.” Travelling across the province, the task force heard opinions from students, principals, teachers, businesses, parents and students. Some of those who identified themselves as educators said they were concerned that school districts were limited or prevented from removing poor-performing teachers. The report said that some who were consulted said the union unfairly protects under-performing teachers.

If the province doesn’t adopt a new approach to ensure teacher competence and accountability, its “impact on children can be profound,” the report stated.

The task force recommended that a teacher’s status be evaluated by the provincial government every five years through progress reports from the principal and a dossier of evidence from teachers on their professional growth and competency.

Glenn Feltham, chair of the task force and president and CEO at Edmonton-based Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, acknowledged that some of the recommendations would be controversial.

“The interest of the student was paramount – the child came first,” Mr. Feltham said in the report. “We were bold in our recommendations and independent in our assessment.”

The task force also recommended an honorarium be given to educators who have consistently demonstrated teaching excellence, as well as a mentorship program for young teachers.

Mr. Johnson said in an interview Sunday that the government will work with various groups on the recommendations. He acknowledged that some of them may be contentious, but he added: “If we truly want to do what’s best for kids and students, we’ve got to have the guts to have these conversations.”

Alberta has faced tensions with educators over what teachers say are large class sizes, but the province has settled negotiations with less disruption than in Ontario or in British Columbia, where teachers are currently refusing to supervise recess.

The issue of how to make Canadian teachers more effective and accountable has been the subject of much debate in the education community, with some alluding to financial incentives based on performance or a teacher recertification program. In Ontario, when former Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris introduced a recertification program, teachers unions voted against complying and boycotted courses associated with the program, saying it showed a lack of respect for their professionalism. The program was scrapped in 2003 when the Liberals came to power.

“It’s a bad idea,” said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, when asked about policies that call for the periodic recertification of teachers. “If [teachers] are going to have to go through a very bureaucratic and prescriptive system that really has no place in their reality as professionals, that can be discouraging.” Teachers, he added, are evaluated by their principals on a regular basis.

Dianne Woloschuk, president of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, stressed that many teachers already engage in professional development to improve their professional skills. “Teachers would be asking themselves why this is necessary,” she said.

In New Zealand, where teachers are recertified every five years, officials are looking at whether to shrink the recertification period to every three years. In Michigan, teachers have been subject to recertification requirements for more than three decades. New teachers are subjected to a six-year provisional teaching certificate and can then apply for a professional education certificate after meeting necessary criteria, including three years of successful teaching. The professional certificate has to be renewed every five years after meeting certain requirements.

“The whole idea is to make sure that they continue professional development so that they are competent to teach,” said Bill DiSessa, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education. “We need to put the best and brightest teachers in our schools.”

The Globe and Mail
Published Monday, May. 05 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
Last updated Monday, May. 05 2014, 12:12 AM EDT