Nova Scotia’s teachers have been without a contract for nearly two years, about the same time as the Department of Education announced a six-person panel to deal with the state of education.

Less than nine months later, in October 2014, it was released as the Freeman Report, touted as the most comprehensive examination of the province’s school system in a quarter-century.

The panel consulted more than 19,000 Nova Scotians and covered seven areas where the most improvements were required: curriculum, teaching, transition, inclusion, school climate, health and well-being, and modern structure, to ensure the system met needs of a new century.

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Tim Houston, Conservative MLA for Pictou East, raised it during debate of Bill 75 in the Legislature on Wednesday morning.

“This bill does nothing to resolve the problems in the education system,” he said, adding that teachers were skeptical because it was adding another committee that wouldn’t tell them anything new.

Houston said the Freeman report “actually got people excited.”

“Teachers were excited all these changes were going to be taking place in this school year. September came and went — no changes, nothing implemented. September 2016 came and went, nothing implemented, nothing is changing,” he said.

“The Freeman Report hasn’t been completely shelved but it’s accurate to say some of the most significant shortfalls identified in that report, the most significant shortfalls in the education system, are tied up in extremely long phase-ends. There is nothing being done.”

Houston said one step that can be taken immediately is to cut the burden of data collection and computerized reporting that has been dumped on teachers.

He said reporting tools TIENET and Powerschool demand more of time from teachers who “have no time for this nonsense.”

Under section 145 of the Education Act, he said, “it’s very clear that the minister can force compliance with anything related to what goes on at the school during class times . . . including reporting systems and forms for the administration of carrying out of the Act.”

Mike Henderson was one of the Freeman Report’s six panel members. The former vice-president of manufacturing at Stanfield’s Ltd, he is the chairman of the South Colchester Academy’s School (7-12) Advisory Committee.

He spoke to the Chronicle Herald about Bill 75 in relation to his role on the panel, stressing that he was just one voice on the panel.

Although he knows there are teachers who will disagree with him, he thinks the government is trying to do the right thing by them in terms of education delivery in the province.

“The government could have stripped everything off the bill, but my guess is that they didn’t want to cut out the gains they (the teachers) had made in the previous tentative agreements, such as the $20 million investment.”

He said there were items the department acted on within the first year of the report being released, such as an increase in time devoted to early elementary math, English-language arts and physical education in the curriculum.

Henderson said other issues, such as inclusion, were not expected to be addressed as quickly because they couldn’t be addressed outside of collective bargaining.

“I’m glad to see the bill is providing a mechanism to deal with this important item and move it forward,” he said.

The report stressed a pressing need for the government to move forward with a full range of recommendations that are interconnected.

“Some will be challenging and some will require a longer implementation period than others,” the report stated.

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union has consistently stated that the government could have introduced measures at any time outside their contract that would have provided the support the teachers were seeking.

Henderson said of all the issues, he could only speculate that the union was talking about data entry, keying in marks and attendance, among other things.

“Teachers find that’s time-consuming and cuts into their teaching time. They also don’t like the time spent on national and international assessment testing.

“Our panel did talk about assessments, because we wondered about them quite a bit,” said Henderson.

The department advised the panel that assessments were necessary to provide a measuring stick within Canada and internationally.

“A cynic might argue that the NSTU might want to get rid of them not so much from a work perspective, but because they are a measuring stick on teachers’ performance.”

He said the Freeman Panel report doesn’t cover the topic because they left it alone.

“But if the teachers don’t do it, are you introducing another layer of someone else to do it? It’s probably worth looking into something like that.”

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