From the New York Times:
Over the past few years, even as Republicans have led efforts to thwart unions, lawmakers previously considered solid supporters of teachers’ unions have tangled with them over a national education agenda that includes new performance evaluations based partly on test scores, the overhaul of tenure and the expansion of charter schools.
As these traditional political alliances have shifted, teachers’ unions have pursued some strange bedfellows among lawmakers who would not appear to be natural allies.
In Illinois, the top two recipients of political contributions from the Illinois Education Association through June 30 were Republicans, including a State House candidate who has Tea Party support and advocates lower taxes and smaller government.
William Seitz, a Republican state senator in Ohio who is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative business-backed group, has received more money this year from the Ohio Education Association than from any other donor. Teachers’ organizations in Georgia and Texas have also donated to numerous Republicans.
In all, teachers’ groups donated $1.23 million to Republican state candidates through June 30, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
While donations to Democrats still far outweigh contributions to Republicans, the proportion of union money going to Republican candidates this year, just over 8 percent, has doubled since the last election cycle, according to the institute. In some states, the increase has been steeper. In Ohio, the proportion of contributions to Republicans jumped to more than 21 percent this year from less than 1 percent in 2010. Similarly, in Illinois, where 16 percent of donations went to Republicans in 2010, the proportion has increased to 22 percent.
During decline, its not atypical for educational interest groups to be badly fragmented. It’s good to see educational interest groups and teacher unions exert influence in the legislative arena. The question will be how much influence will educational groups have? During the 1970s, some educational coalitions were ineffective, however, the teacher unions’ exerted their ability to organize members and finance politicians’ campaigns giving them legislative clout. Subsequently, the unions’ political action arm remained in tact and granted educators active participation in educational policy decision-making processes. During today’s decline, it is much more difficult for teacher unions to find political allies in legislators and governors since the philanthropic movement to invest in schools has been largely bipartisan. I still think the lack of policy alliances have isolated teacher unions and have leveraged state and federal officials to align curricular materials, teaching practices and testing standards to their own values.
The biggest shame in today’s debate about teachers’ unions is the blurring between teaching work rules, salaries and new educational policies through reform. As Dean Baker points out teachers’ unions cannot link new educational policies like evaluation systems with workplace rules including salaries and benefits during the collective bargaining process. However, in order to avert unpalatable educational policies like value added models, teachers’ unions will have to continue to try to link teachers’ right protections with organizational functioning and student learning. That will be difficult during this current decline cycle.
From the Los Angeles Times:
California loses federal funds for teacher database
The $6-million grant must be returned because the governor cut funding from the state budget for the program to track teacher and administrator information.By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times August 5, 2011
The California Department of Education must return a $6-million federal grant intended to help develop a database to track teacher and administrator information, officials said Thursday.
The funds had been earmarked for the data system, which would have collected such information as which courses a teacher had taught and what credentials he or she held. Gov. Jerry Brown cut $2.1 million for the program from the state budget, although he did not ax any funding for a similar database for students.
Brown has said that he believes school districts can keep track of some of their own data.
The Obama administration has made using data to evaluate educators and drive policy decisions a key component for states to receive some kinds of federal aid; some California lawmakers and policymakers had warned that Brown’s cuts could lead to less money from Washington.
But the state will not have to scramble to find funding to replace the grant because it was to be used only for the teacher database, known as CalTIDES, a spokeswoman for the governor said.
California officials had been warned that they might have to return the money and tried unsuccessfully to persuade federal officials to let them use the funds for other projects, she said.
That is an awful lot of money to develop a system to track teachers. Imagine how that money could help teachers refine pedagogical strategies in the classroom. Yes, Republican and Democratic governors have helped gut public schools by significantly cutting public school state aid and imposing property tax laws in an effort to promote efficient schools during austere times. However, this bold move shows that governors have the ability to make some strong political statements. Unlike the 1970s, legislators are not the most influential actors behind educational reform. Governors can exert unilateral political influence to either support or reject educational reform policies. Legislators have been generally afraid during this period of decline to reject educational reform policies. This is a fear of being labeled pro-teacher or pro-union. Legislators today are not the policy initiators they once were in the 1970s and 1980s.
Circles of Political Influence during Current Decline:
As I sat anxiously waiting in the dentist’s office for my biannual visit, I couldn’t help but notice the headline in the local newspaper–six seek two positions on school board. The article began by describing each candidate and their background. The article highlighted that collectively the candidates agreed on one common ideology–to think outside of the box. When I reread the phrase I began to worry. All of the candidates possessed experience working in private sector jobs and little experience leading a school district.
My train of thought returned to discussions during the last budget cycle when outsiders routinely offered outside of the box solutions which were swiftly stifled by educational insiders. Although creative and imaginative solutions superficially sounded superb last year, these solutions were often at odds with existing public education policies and laws.
During this budget cycle, numerous incumbent board seats will be contested. New members will inevitably carry new values and ideologies with them as they replace current board members or fill vacated seats. These members, however, will need to become accustomed with existing school governance structures in order to promote efficiency on the board level. They will need to keep in mind that their leadership and position on a school board is not autonomous. Instead, newly elected school board members will need to understand that they act within a web of dominant values and norms in addition to formal and informal structures that reinforce the legal distinctness of school policy formation.
Subsequently, new school board members need to keep in mind that they do not work in isolation. They will need to rely on superintendents who are present to handle major policy issues. However, I fear that newly elected school board members will assume roles of expertness in managing the affairs of the school especially if there was community angst or resentment over last year’s budget vote. As new board members look to transform the organization by thinking outside the box, the implications will be significant and include:
Policymaking Independence: Newly selected board members who are set on creating educational policies on the local level by thinking outside of the box usually are not married to existing organizational processes or structures. These members were typically never functionaries in a local school bureaucracy. Their chief function is to challenge existing cultures. Ultimately, these members have no career at stake and no reputation to uphold. Initiatives proposed by these types of members usually place significant pressure on superintendents to conform or be labeled as traditional and ineffective.
Results Oriented: New board members who were elected on the premise of being able to think outside of the box to create educational policy may trample over existing communication structures and decision-making process to push forward personal agendas. These members tend to have difficulty playing politics especially if they hit resistance. Ultimately, this type of political orientation can wreak havoc as these members may attempt to subvert school governance structures to push their initiatives through the policymaking process.
Political Management Skills: New board members who have business backgrounds may try to bring business practices to bear on every aspect of school governance. These members look for ways to consolidate areas that the public generally regarded as waste. After realizing that those areas have to exist according to state statutes, these members learn that leading a school district is very unlike leading a business.
It seems like there are a number of school districts across the country that will experience high turnover rates on their school boards. As a result, there will be disruptive effects on school governance structures as newly elected members challenge the inner interactions and decision-making processes that are behind educational policymaking. These members will quickly learn that in order to achieve organizational effectiveness they will need to learn dominant values and norms, and work collaboratively with existing members to reshape values going forward. Although thinking outside of the box to create educational policies to transform schools makes for great campaign banter, the message is usually at odds with political realities that make up local boards.
Ultimately, the push for school boards to think outside of the box is going to test superintendents’ political aptitude as they will have to manage these new values. The process of how new school board members assimilate within existing school governance structures will be interesting and maybe even painful to watch depending on the results. I’ll be anxious to see how it all pans out–almost as anxious as waiting in the dentist’s office…
As reported by The New York Times yesterday, Florida state senators are preparing to vote on the Michelle Rhee backed Senate Bill 736. I wrote about the bill earlier in February:
Michelle Rhee’s Student First advocacy group has been advising governors like Florida’s Rick Scott to abolish tenure. In Florida, republican legislators resubmitted SB736 which was vetoed by Gov. Crist in 2010. The bill would grandfather current teachers in their contracts; however, teachers hired after July 1, 2014 would be evaluated based on standardized test scores. New teachers would receive raises if they are rated highly effective or effective. Additionally, teachers hired after July 1, 2011 would agree to a one-year probationary contract where the teacher can be fired at any point in the year. After the probationary period newly hired teachers would only be eligible for one year annual contracts. Consequently, tenure would essentially be eliminated. Currently, this bill is still in its infancy as the senate educational committee will begin hearings on the reform plan.
According to The Examiner, the Florida Senate will vote on the bill today. The bill is expected to pass without resistance as Republicans hold a clear majority. Amendment proposals to maintain tenure for new teachers after three years were rejected. Additionally, 50% of teachers’ evaluations will be determined by students’ performance on standardized tests. Teachers’ salaries and raises will also be determined based on merit. As this bill has reemerged after former Gov. Crist vetoed the bill last April, it is important to detail what politically changed to allow this current bill to gain so much traction so quickly.
2010 was a year when new values and ideologies stressing fiscal conservatism flooded the marketplace. These sentiments have fueled governors’ ability to dictate fiscal policy decisions as unemployment and deficits rose. In Florida’s case, Gov. Rick Scott’s ideologies and agenda gained momentum as he stressed significant spending cuts coupled with corporate tax breaks and property tax cuts. These proposals resonated with residents as the state faced a 12% unemployment rate in February and had the second largest number of foreclosures in 2010. Democratic state senators found it hard to resist these fiscal policies as Republicans held a 28-12 majority.
Currently, union membership in Florida is low. As membership hovers around 5%, right-to-work laws have allowed non-union members to receive collective bargaining benefits and representation free of charge. As a result, states that implement right-to-work laws tend to see a 5-10% decrease in union membership. Right-to-work laws have been incorporated in Florida since the 1940s. These laws prohibit public sector unions from striking. I question how have low union membership rates and right-to-work laws influenced the pending passage of SB 736? As average teachers’ wages in Florida significantly lag the national average, I wonder how much influence teacher unions have in the state? It is clear that Gov. Scott and the Senate currently enjoy a policy monopoly as educational reformers have touted Scott’s business background and the legislators’ will to pass pro-business legislation.
However, top down structural educational reform has taken a turn for the worse as outsiders like Michelle Rhee have exerted polarizing influences over educational policies across the country. For example, Wisconsin Republican state senators unilaterally passed an unpopular bill to strip unions of their collective bargaining rights. Subsequently, teacher unions do not possess much influence over policymaking decisions during this period of decline. Governors are finding ways to subvert unions even in states where teachers have strong representation or access to legislators. Consequently, I fear the blatant disregard for educators’ perspectives in the direction of educational reform will significantly inhibit any chances for positive change to take place in schools.
Update: The bill passed this afternoon in a 26-12 vote. One state Democratic senator voted for the bill; two Republicans voted against it. Democratic State Senator Bill Montford emphasized the costs associated with this bill:
“The state and counties don’t have the money to develop the tests needed for teacher evaluation. I’m afraid it’s going to collapse under its own weight due to a lack of funding.”
The bill now moves onto the House where Republicans hold a 81-39 majority.
The political battle over teachers’ right to collectively bargain in Wisconsin really targets the fundamental question should teachers have a say in educational policymaking? Local school boards, county councils and state legislatures have traditionally held the power to initiate and shape educational policy. Teachers have held the right to bargain the terms and conditions of their employment and the right to at least engage in educational policy arenas through collective bargaining. However, collective bargaining has limits as governmental bodies possess a tremendous amount of legislative power. Unions for the most part do not have counterbalancing powers.
Since teachers’ primary avenue to shape educational policy is through the collective bargaining unit, access to legislators is pivotal. Interactions with legislators are direct entry points to the primary policymaking domain–the governor’s office. Similar to the 1970s, governors are currently central policy initiators when it comes to policies that impact education. In 1973, educational advocacy groups held these perceptions when it came to influencing educational policies:
1. The governor’s office is the key access point to the policymaking system.
2. Educational interests group’s most potent strategy in influencing the policymaking process is their ability to make recommendations concerning educational policy modifications based on data about the needs of education.
3. Interest group memberships will maintain pressure on their legislative representatives to achieve organizational objectives concerning educational legislation.
Governors’ influences and dominance within policy arenas depends on their veto power, relationships with legislators and abilities to make deals within the legislative body. In Wisconsin, leaders from the two largest unions have maintained pressure on Gov. Scott Walker. Walker has shown his disinterest in brokering deals with legislators to pass legislation which has in turn limited his power. His ability to pass his agenda is also limited by Wisconsin’s strong union support and the narrow Republican majority in the Senate. Walker’s political mishaps have further fueled Wisconsin teachers to mobilize and voice their will to maintain their rights to collectively bargain and influence educational policy arenas. In short, politics matter and Gov. Walker is not very good at playing politics.
However, Wisconsin’s significant state-union dispute has diverted much attention away from Ohio. Last week, the Ohio Senate passed a bill that restricted unions to collectively bargain. The legislation would restrict collective bargaining rights of 350,000 teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public employees. The bill would also ban strikes. The measure narrowly passed the Senate in a 17-16 vote.
The main political differences between Ohio and Wisconsin are apparent. Republicans hold a 2-1 majority in the Ohio Senate. This has allowed the Republicans to make deals and offer head committee positions to specific legislators in exchange for their support on the bargaining bill. It also has also allowed them flexibility to shift memberships in two committees to ensure they had the votes to pass the bill. Furthermore, Gov. John Kasich’s experience as a former congressman proved beneficial as he relied on previous relationships to garner support for his bill. Finally, Ohio’s union membership has significantly declined and is not as strong as Wisconsin’s membership.
Although Ohio Senate leaders have imposed legislation to eradicate teachers’ say in educational policymaking, the issue still has to pass the House of Representatives. There is also talk that if the bargaining bill passes the House then it will show up on the ballot in November for repeal. Regardless, governors in Wisconsin and Ohio have made it clear that they believe teachers should not shape educational policy. However, the current attacks on public sector unions during decline can serve as a prime motivation for a resurgence in teacher unionization efforts in protecting collective bargaining rights. As collective bargaining is still seen as a primary and legitimate way for educators to influence educational policies, legislators like the courageous Democratic state senators in Wisconsin are going to have to take political risks to support unions. Unfortunately, unions cannot maintain their rights without the help of legislators since governmental powers usurp unions’ influence.
Public education in the United States has always been a focus when discussing how our country can advance in a global market. Recent predictions concerning China as the new economic superpower by 2040 has added urgency to educational reform. Educational reformers have garnered tremendous political influence in shaping educational policies through China’s emergence as the premiere economy. Additionally, calls for the transformation to public education in the United States have been driven by a fixation on the economy. Amidst the rhetoric, one would think that China is already the largest economy in the world; however, it is important to remember facts. The United States is still the largest economy in the world as measured by nominal GDP (2010):
Although China overtook Japan as the second largest economy in the world in 2010, the country still lags the United States by a wide margin in military, economic, political and innovation prowess. Subsequently, policymakers, elected officials and pundits must keep in mind the broader political and economic environments in which education operates within. The general misconception and fear that China will inevitably surpass the United States economically has given political and business elites power and influence to determine the educational outcomes for students on a local level.
Although China is growing quickly, China is unlikely to surpass the United States as the largest economic power in the near future. China has risen to prominence primarily because of their ability to manufacture goods. China has also been very proficient in replicating ideas, but has struggled mightily in innovation. As federal officials and pundits remain in awe over China’s rapid growth rate over the last few decades, they routinely make the mistake of assuming that China can maintain that pace in future decades. Granted, the United States is suffering from a very slow growing population, but people are assuming that China’s population will remain constant. Instead, the workers who are responsible for China’s current growth will age and the country will face population concerns since family growth is capped. Additionally, China has very low per capita income growth which means there is great economic disparity between countryside regions and coastal cities. Eventually, the country is going to have to provide for impoverished areas in order to maintain global growth.
Thankfully, astute media pundits like Fareed Zakaria have highlighted the misconception of China’s potential to surpass the United States as a world superpower. On Sunday night, Zakaria aired a special on how the United States can retool aspects of American exceptionalism to continue growth and influence in the future. As Fareed Zakaria ultimately illustrated on his special, China is not necessarily surpassing the United States as much as it is catching up. The special refreshingly did not dwell on the transformation of public schools or the dismantling of unions as factors that will spur economic growth. Instead, Zakaria highlighted key factors like innovation, tax policies and investment in infrastructure and education as critical aspects needed for growth. Additionally, Jeffrey Sachs discussed how current tax policies have created disparate access to resources like educational services across income earners.
There is no doubt that public schools in the United States can use change. However, the national top-down take over of public education in the United States has ignored the need for innovation in our public schools. I am not referring to innovation in the form of technology. Instead, schools need to provide teachers meaningful professional development activities where teachers can learn various effective and innovative pedagogical practices. Positive student learning outcomes will be produced if our teachers can tailor methodological applications in their lessons to the various ways children learn.
This kind of educational reform will require bottom-up approaches where school leaders are needed to participate in sustained conversations with teachers about dilemmas that occur within teaching and learning practices. Teachers will need to be given opportunities to share their perspectives about teaching and learning and school leaders will need to take their contributions seriously. Leaders will also need to give teachers time to understand how to enhance and expand their working knowledge of pedagogical practices as it relates to their classroom. These changes to practice cannot occur without time and the commitment of individuals within schools. Subsequently, local autonomy for schools must be returned to educators. The pursuit of national educational goals through outside experts has adversely impacted trust, morale, job satisfaction and has constrained the chances for successful educational reform to take place on a micro level.
Finally, school leaders and elected officials need to create long-term solutions in order for educational reform to be effective. The current politics that gives influence to actors that can provide expediency through structural reform is taking a toll on school climates. If political leaders and educational reformers can truly understand how public education in the United States can work with rising global economies like China maybe then will real innovation take place in our schools.
Between the 1970s and early 1980s, governors flexed tremendous political muscle by imposing tax and school finance legislation to maintain a stranglehold on setting educational policy during national decline. Through the distribution of limited and scarce state revenues, governors directly set agenda priorities which appeased taxpayers while initiating educational reform.
During current decline, governors across the country are using tax cap, school finance and budget setting legislation to maintain central influence in controlling policy over who gets what, when and how. Governors have also used national decline as a rationale to gut the public sector and use money garnered from this segment of the workforce as revenue. Subsequently, governors have not looked for other avenues to raise revenue since public sector cuts will in essence reallocate funds to the private sector through corporate tax breaks.
As the United States will grow in numbers and public schools will continue to educate more children, states have reduced spending. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report this morning detailing that nearly all states are proposing to spend less money than they did in 2008 even though public sector budgets will need to expand to accommodate more people receiving services in K-12 public schools, higher education and Medicaid.
At least 16 states continue to cut K-12 public school funding. Governor Cuomo in New York is looking to cut 1.5 billion dollars from state aid to schools, while Texas is looking to eliminate pre-K funding that serves nearly 100,000 at risk students. The budget would also reduce K-12 funding to 23% below the minimum required by the state’s education finance laws.
These cuts will inevitably hurt low income families the most as these areas will not be able to offset funding cuts. Higher socioeconomic environments have held up reasonably well during decline as higher income earning families have the capacity to withstand fee based services; schools in these areas also have non-academic programs and services that can be cutback.
At least 14 states have also proposed layoffs or cuts in pay and/or benefits to state workers. States like Florida are looking to cut their public sector workforce by as much as 8%. Below is a map detailing the severity of spending cuts across the nation:
There are some states like Connecticut, Minnesota and California that are trying to raise revenue by increasing income tax rates, expanding sales tax to more services, and curtailing corporate tax breaks. Across the nation, however, higher income entities that can traditionally afford to pay higher costs are receiving relief.
As states continue to hack at the public sector to reallocate funds, governors are playing central roles in deciding who will get what, when and how. As most governors continue to avoid raising revenues through higher income sources or the private sector, federal aid is ending. The public sector can undoubtedly benefit from another federal stimulus package which would help expand local budgets, distribute cuts more evenly and create jobs. As that scenario is certainly unlikely to happen, public sector workers will continue to struggle to wrestle policy influence away from governors.
Whenever I hear about teachers threatening to strike, I worry about how the public’s already poor perception of unions will influence outcomes. As I indicated in my last post, favorability ratings for unions is at a 25-year low. However when it comes to collective bargaining rights, the costs of doing nothing are long lasting and significant. Canadian provinces like Alberta and Ontario faced economic decline in the early 1990s and these cases illustrate how governments have the potential to overpower and control workplace conditions for years when unions remain passive.
In Alberta, a restructuring of education occurred in 1993 where the ruling conservative government campaigned on reducing growing debt and closing deficits. After reelection in Alberta, Ralph Kline reduced funding in post-secondary education 21%, 17.6% in health-care and 12.4% in education. Subsequently, local school boards lost $239 million dollars, public sector workers endured a 5% loss in wages, and school boards were consolidated. Consequently, school board officials lost power to levy taxes to increase education expenditures. The province in turn became the sole source of funding for schools. The government also focused on educational reforms like outcomes-based education along with charter schools and vouchers. Moreover, the ideology that decreasing the deficit would result in a stronger economic and business climate pervaded schools.
For the most part, teacher unions did not effectively oppose these changes. Teacher unions largely lacked the right to strike which fragmented the membership base as teachers feared potential repressive legislation. As a results, teachers faced severe retrenchment along with adverse changes to educational policy, wages and working conditions. Contrastingly, health-care workers including doctors and nurses mobilized and voiced their opposition to the reduction in wages and layoffs which resulted in hospitals temporarily shutting down. Ultimately, government officials conceded to grant hospital workers severance packages in case of layoffs. Ralph Klein also declared a moratorium on further cuts to health-care in 1996. By 2001, heath-care workers also enjoyed higher wages.
Educational and fiscal reform pervaded other provinces like Ontario. For the most part, teacher unions remained passive during the mid to late 1990s which allowed provincial governments to pass bills that altered collective bargaining rights. The passage of Bill 160 stripped critical aspects of teachers’ working conditions like class size caps and instructional time from the collective bargaining realm. The bill also removed $1 billion dollars from Ontario’s education budget. Right-wing governments like Alberta passed bills similar to Bill 160. Other bills continued to impose contractual terms and conditions on teachers and instituted a compulsory mediation-arbitration system presided over by government arbitrators. Overall, these bills gave provincial governments sweeping powers to establish educational policies and regulate local school boards and their officials. The bills also marked a paradigm shift in the collective bargaining framework and constrained local bargaining which established a new workload standard. Teacher unions would remain withdrawn from educational policy arenas until the early 2000s.
By 2002, the public mood in Canadian provinces shifted from deficit hysteria to reinvestment. Instead of teachers having little to say, unions were more active in Alberta and Ontario. However, governments refused to fund education past budgeted levels. Teacher unions assumed a more active stance and ultimately maintained control over monetary collective bargaining rights.
As Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker looks to curtail collective bargaining rights, educators are mobilizing. Walker’s plan aims to control public sector employee bargaining rights excluding firefighters, law enforcement and state patrol troopers. The proposed legislation will control most aspects of collective bargaining, but will allow workers to negotiate over salary. As many are pointing out, state workers have the right to form and collectively bargain. Bargaining has given workers the right to influence their work environment and maintain a voice within educational policy arenas. As decline gives federal, state and local elected officials opportunities to converge their interests and dominate policy arenas, public sector workers’ ability to organize, mobilize and voice will help unions maintain political capital going forward. Unions’ ability to pressure legislators and officials will help highlight issues of concern for all workers and stress the broader framework of labor relations.
The recent news of New Jersey officials proposing changes in health benefit costs and teacher job protection measures coupled with the trampling of collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin illustrates how teachers are unsympathetically and inherently viewed as the root of the problem of poorly functioning systems that are driving decline. These sentiments are not atypical during reform; however, decline has exacerbated beliefs that teachers and schools are not doing a good job resulting in serious societal problems including the inability to globally compete with rising economies. Reform advocacy groups and elected federal and state officials have convinced the public that education is far too important to leave up to the discretion of educators. Consequently, governors, commissioners, chancellors, mayors and philanthropists have been empowered to intervene and fix the problems in schools.
However, central educational policy actors have aimed to solve the nation’s educational problems at the cost of denigrating education as a profession. Decline typically promotes teacher bashing where teachers and unions are seen as the biggest obstacle to school reform. Consequently, teachers have been professionally isolated and marginalized in the policy arena where they feel powerless. Teachers may still feel like they have some control over their classroom practices; however, they generally no longer have access to big-picture decisions that will adversely impact schools and teaching cultures. Teachers may also feel isolated where they no longer have access to professional networks. These networks are critical in their ability to exhibit growth and maintain job satisfaction. Instead teachers have focused on their sphere of influence, which includes helping their students improve and implementing curricula effectively. Up until today, teachers have largely attempted to ignore the negative press about their inability to enact school improvement without structural reform mandates.
Now federal officials like Arne Duncan are urging school districts to develop trusting relationships with their teachers to work together to improve student achievement. This is the same Arne Duncan who belittled teachers in Colorado by stating that they needed to place the needs of students in front of their own interests. As educational reformers and elected officials urge educators to think differently about education, teachers and union leaders are expected to deal with attacks to the profession and comply with the need to immediately reform by voluntarily giving up monetary resources.
Credulously, federal and state officials have neglected the point that hierarchical and mandated educational change affect networks of significant and meaningful relationships that are critical to the work and success of schools. The current climate discounts the emotional labor that makes teaching meaningful which includes teachers’ knowledge, skills and capacity to solve problems and contribute to their working environment. Consequently, the results have been disastrous as teachers are expected to accept public ridicule as authentic and critical feedback. They are also expected to consent to voluntary deprivation through the form of eroding wages. In turn, resentment towards reform will fester in professionals which will undermine the chances for any change to take place.
The current educational policy arena where teachers’ input and contributions are largely ignored or criticized is reaching a boiling point. As Wisconsin educators mobilize and voice their frustrations about not being heard, they are fighting for influence to collectively bargain rather than collectively beg. Their protests make the underlying point that educators will no longer stand for voluntary deprivation in the name of educational reform. Possibly the only way educators can gain political influence is by operating in an adversarial and partisan way. However as educators play political hardball, I urge them to continue to rely on professionalism inside and outside of the classroom to lead school improvement regardless of top-down structural reform.
Nevertheless, it is very disappointing to see President Obama coming to the aid of unions and teachers so late in the game. Similarly to Duncan, President Obama has supported mass firings of teachers and has clearly favored charter schools over public schools hailing them the laboratories of innovation. As the President urges policymakers to avoid policies that assault unions, I ask where have you been? The convergence of numerous private interests on public education came about primarily because the nation was in severe economic crisis which allowed unions and public sector workers to be vilified and shoved out of the policy arena. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top competition has caused many legislatures to change tenure and pay-for-performance laws to gain position in winning funds. In part, President Obama and federal officials have fueled the marginalization of unions and educators. Accordingly, President Obama is clearly back-tracking in Wisconsin since he is aware that he has lost union support.
Finally, I am very concerned like most educators about the future of educational policies and how they will impact the daily interactions that occur in schools. Federal and state officials have clearly exhibited lack of care when it comes to public sector workers and their livelihoods. Additionally, unions have lost tremendous influence with Americans as illustrated through a recent Pew Research Center report:
Hopefully elected officials will not view these types of polls as a political mandate to continue union and teacher bashing. I remain optimistic, however, that educators will gain a voice in the reform debate. Their ability organize and utilize social networks will be critical in standing up against voluntary deprivation.
Urban public schools are not the only institutions facing declining enrollments, shrinking revenues and possibilities of school closures. Cash-strapped Catholic schools across the country are facing dissolution especially in the Mideast. Parochial students in cities like Philadelphia and New York face the prospects of transitioning into local charter schools or public schools once their schools close. Below is a chart detailing declining Catholic school enrollments across regions of the country:
Mideast Catholic schools have been impacted significantly as enrollments have decline nearly 30% since 1999-2000. Similar to the changing face of public education, philanthropists and wealthy donors have stepped in to provide gap funding to help save Catholic schools. In the process, philanthropists continue to transform their roles in educational policy arenas as influential actors.
As families struggle to pay rising Catholic school tuition costs, philanthropists have stepped in to provide immediate revenue. However, I wonder how donor interference will alter existing decision-making structures in Catholic schools? How will philanthropists’ demands for immediate returns on their sizable investments through improved student outputs clash with traditional structures supported by the Archdiocese? How will philanthropists expand the parameters in Catholic schools when church bureaucracies have historically controlled most if not all of the decision making power? How long will gap funding last in Catholic schools if enrollment never rebounds?
Catholic schools seem to be facing similar realities to their public counterparts. Philanthropists could have a significant role in upsetting traditional decision-making structures in these schools especially if they replace current principals with business-oriented leaders or if schools are consolidated. However, flagship Catholic schools are closing in droves. Catholic schools might be better off taking the money and reforming. Unfortunately, urban public and Catholic schools are operating in an environment where they are expected to cooperate with holistic educational reform initiatives or dissolve. The only other choice parochial schools have is to convert their schools into charter schools. Stay tuned…