Arguing against studies that suggest extracurriculars help kids learn is so bizarre “it’s like being a Martian,” argued the lawyer for two school boards seeking an end to teachers’ after-school boycott.
Michael Hines called on the Ontario Labour Relations Board on Wednesday to look at several studies that suggest extracurriculars can boost student achievement, and that their loss can even pull down marks.
But lawyers for the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario argued that labour board chair Bernard Fishbein should not admit such studies because they come too late in the hearing for the union to give them proper scrutiny or possibly challenge the research.
“At its height, this is some sort of social science,” countered teachers’ federation lawyer Steven Barrett, who said the union should have the chance to cross-examine the study’s authors and introduce evidence of its own if it wishes.
However Fishbein, who appeared to be growing weary of the length of the hearing — this was Day 7 — declined to say whether he will allow the research to be admitted.
Two small school boards — Trillium Lakelands in cottage country and Upper Canada in eastern Ontario — are seeking a cease-and-desist order from the labour board against teachers’ federation memos telling members not to volunteer for anything other than teaching 300 minutes per day and performing assigned supervision duties. The withdrawal of extracurriculars is meant to protest the provincial government’s imposing of contracts using Bill 115.
While Hines agreed individual teachers have the right to choose whether to coach or not, he said the union does not have the right to tell them collectively to stop, because that constitutes unlawful strike activity when they are not in a legal strike position.
Among the studies Hines wants to introduce is one by professor David Johnson of Wilfrid Laurier University that suggested work-to-rules appeared to affect the test scores of elementary children. Johnson studied the Grade 3 and 6 pass rates in math and reading scores of students during the labour actions in the Mike Harris years between 1998 and 2003, when elementary schools went through 14 strikes, 20 work-to-rule campaigns and one lockout in elementary schools.
Johnson said he found the interruptions usually hurt disadvantaged children the most. Overall, Grade 3 and 6 students who went through a work-to-rule were more likely than others to fail the math and reading parts of the standardized tests run by Ontario’s Education Quality and Accountability Office. He noted a 10-day strike had the most impact on the Grade 3 children of parents with less formal education than others.
“This may suggest that these students benefit the most from teachers going above and beyond their normal duties,” said Johnson.
Another report Hines wanted to introduce was a 2006 report out of Portland State University that suggested taking part in extracurriculars can help students make the transition to middle school more smoothly and help bolster their self-esteem at the emotionally turbulent age.
The hearing resumes Friday.