Letting Non-Teachers Lead School Boards Is a Non-Issue

July 10, 2020 Updated: July 10, 2020


If you are interested in becoming a director of education at an Ontario school board, this could be your opportunity. With a nearly 20 percent turnover rate in these senior positions this year, school boards are going to be doing a lot of hiring.

Directors of education are the top positions in Ontario school boards. This person oversees an organization typically consisting of dozens of schools and hundreds, often thousands, of employees. It’s the approximate equivalent of being CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation or the executive director of a regional health authority.

According to the Ontario Education Act, school boards can hire whoever they want to fill this position as long as that person holds a valid teaching certificate. In other words, only people with education degrees and valid teaching certificates need apply. Most often, directors also have administrative experience as a school principal.

Nevertheless, it is an antiquated rule to only consider people with valid teaching certificates, which is why the government is updating the Education Act to remove this requirement. After all, administering a multi-million-dollar organization requires a very different skill set from teaching Grade 1 students. Both are important roles, but teaching and administering are not the same thing, and being successful as a teacher does not predict the success a person will have as a senior administrator.

Interestingly, teacher union activists are up in arms over the government’s proposal. They argue that only a person with classroom teaching experience should be allowed to be the chief administrative officer of a school board. However, the reality is that by the time a teacher moves up the ranks to become an education director, he or she hasn’t been in the classroom for a long time, often not for decades.

The typical career trajectory for directors starts as classroom teachers, then vice-principals, then principals, then various upper administrative roles, and then the person will be considered to be a director of education. Because of the many years of administrative experience required, teachers who become directors have often spent only a few short years at the classroom level before moving into lower-level positions in administration.

In other words, by the time a classroom teacher becomes a director of education, his or her time in the classroom is but a distant memory. One of the worst-kept secrets in education is that it doesn’t take long after moving into administration for a former teacher to forget all about the day-to-day realities of classroom teaching.

By opening up the top administrative job to non-teachers, school boards will have a much larger pool of qualified candidates to choose from. Given the choice between a mediocre administrator who spent five years in the classroom thirty years ago and an outstanding health care administrator with no teaching experience, many hiring committees would probably agree to hire the candidate with administrative experience in health care.

That being said, we aren’t going to see transformative change merely by changing the name at the top of an organizational chart. That’s because the progressive educational philosophy still dominates the ranks of school board administrators, education professors, and department officials.

Progressive educators are beholden to long-debunked theories such as whole language reading instruction, discovery math, reduced curriculum content, and project-based learning. As long as school administrators remain wedded to these failed educational fads, we aren’t going to see meaningful changes in the achievement of students.

If the Ontario government is serious about improving student academic performance, it needs to stop tinkering around the edges. For example, its new “back-to-basics” math curriculum is meaningless if it relies on proponents of discovery math to implement it. Similarly, allowing school boards to hire non-teachers as education directors won’t change much if school principals and other administrators climb the career ladder by implementing progressive education fads.

The Ontario government needs to stop tinkering around with provocative, yet largely ineffective, reform policies and get serious about taking charge of education in public schools. It needs to loudly and clearly proclaim the importance of a knowledge-rich curriculum, teacher-led classrooms, common-sense math instruction, and orderly school environments. Once the government has its priorities in order, it must then hire department officials who believe in the new direction and who know how to implement it.

If the government did these things, school boards would quickly get the message that they need to hire education directors who will get on board with this new educational agenda. Then we might see change for the better.

Students deserve the best education that we can provide. They don’t need governments, school boards, and teachers’ unions fighting about things that don’t really matter.

Letting non-teachers lead school boards is only the first step in transforming schools. If this minor reform is the best the Ontario government can do, then students, parents, and teachers are going to be profoundly disappointed.

Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher and author of A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.