Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Education’

Chicago Students Boycott Class, Demanding an Elected and Accountable School Board

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

“David Vitale, we don’t recognize you as the board chairperson… You’re fired!”

Thus Jitu Brown, education organizer at the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization on Chicago’s South Side, began today’s protest rally of about 400 students, parents and community members outside the downtown headquarters of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), where Chicago Board of Education president Vitale and the rest of the board were holding their monthly meeting.

Activists like Brown have been incensed by unpopular board decisions like the recent 50 school closures and massive budget cuts, and students haven’t been happy at the changes, either. Today, dozens boycotted school to join community organizations from around the city at the rally.

The protesters demanded that the school board be directly elected by Chicagoans, rather than appointed by the mayor, to make the body accountable to community needs.

“We have jumped through every hoop CPS has said to jump through, and still, they make the same decisions over and over again that have damaged schools in our communities,” Brown said. “We need an elected school board!”

The boycott was called by community groups earlier this summer. Yesterday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel pleaded with parents not to keep their children home from school.

“You have a disagreement [about school closings]? The court has spoken to that. You don’t like something? There’s another way to speak of it. Do not take the kids out of school and harm them and their future,” Emanuel said.

No boycott organizers or union officials knew the exact number of students who participated in today’s boycott. But the number of students skipping class for today’s rally was far below Civil Rights-era CPS boycotts, like the one in 1963 protesting extreme racial segregation and miserable conditions in the city’s schools. According to community and teachers union staff, most schools continued business as usual.

However, the clamor for an elected board seems to be growing.

Standing in the middle of the crowd with her three children participating in the day’s boycott, Mae McLeninen, a janitor at Curie High School on the South Side, said she kept her elementary-age kids out of school to join the effort against Emanuel and the board.

“We’ve gotta get rid of the mayor, but not just him. We have to hold them accountable through an elected school board,” McLeninen says.

“TIF money is our money. We should be able to tell them to put that money into schools,” says McLeninen, referring to tax increment financing (TIF) dollars—public funds initially designed to alleviate blight that critics say have taken resources away from schools and have become a giant slush fund for the mayor to dole out giveaways to corporations like MillerCoors and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

The Chicago Teachers Union did not officially endorse the day’s boycott, though CTU staffers and members in red T-shirts could be seen throughout the crowd.

“We can’t ask kids not to go to school, but if parents think that’s the best thing for their children, we fully support them,” says Kristine Mayle, the CTU’s financial secretary.

Mayle says she understands the frustration of many parents at massive class sizes in many schools throughout the district and the failure to deliver promised items like iPads and air conditioning to sweltering classrooms during a Midwestern heat wave this week.

“The reports we’re getting from schools are that the promises the district gave them are not being kept, so it’s understandable they want to fight,” Mayle says.

As I reported for Al Jazeera America last week, many CPS parents were worried before the school year began on Monday that schools would not be able to meet students’ basic needs, thanks to budget cuts of $162 million and teacher layoffs throughout the district, as well as school closings and consolidations in neighborhoods of color on the South and West Side.

That worry has come true, according to several of the day’s speakers. After the protesters marched from the school board headquarters to city hall, Jamie Adams, a sophomore at Roosevelt High School in the Albany Park neighborhood, told the crowd that her school saw $1.6 million in budget cuts and layoffs of six teachers and counselors, leading to overcrowding.

“We’re literally fighting over desks. Some of us are sitting on the floor,” Adams said.

Adams joined a group of about 20 students affiliated with the newly-formed Chicago Students Union, who say they will be waging a campaign for a seat on the city’s school board for students.

At the Board of Education meeting this morning, parents, teachers, union officials, and community organization representatives denounced the board’s actions during the public comment period, in a scene that has become routine in this city. Lane Tech parent Adenia Linker promised parents will keep fighting “until this board is history.”

The beginning of last year’s school year saw the Chicago Teachers Union walk out in a historic strike. With several hundred parents and students marching on the third day of school, a growing campaign to end mayoral control of the city’s school board, and rising anger among parents and students over austerity measures, the new school year promises to be just as contentious.

This article originally appeared on Working In These Times on August 28, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Micah Uetricht is an In These Times contributing editor. He has written for SalonThe Nation,The American ProspectJacobin, and the Chicago Reader. Most importantly, he is also a proud former In These Times editorial intern. Follow him on Twitter @micahuetricht or contact him at micah.uetricht [at] gmail.

Affirmative Action Ban in State Constitution Violates US Constitution (8-7)

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Michigan voters adopted a state constitutional amendment that prohibits “all sex- and race-based preferences in public education, public employment, and public contracting.”

The 6th Circuit (8-7) held this provision – as it relates to education – violates the 14th amendment’s equal protection clause.

Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action v. Univ of Michigan (6th Cir 11/15/2012)

(Plaintiffs limited their challenge to racial discrimination in public education.)

The court said that a black applicant could seek adoption of a constitutionally permissible race-conscious admissions policy only through the “lengthy, expensive, and arduous process” of amending the state constitution. On the other hand, someone wishing to change any other aspect of a university’s admissions policy has four options – lobby the admissions committee, petition the leadership of the university, seek to influence the school’s governing board, or initiate a statewide campaign to alter the state’s constitution.

“The existence of such a comparative structural burden undermines the Equal Protection Clause’s guarantee that all citizens ought to have equal access to the tools of political change.”

Seven judges wrote five DISSENTING opinions. Six said that the majority relied on two US Supreme Court cases that “have no application here,” and one said that the majority relied on “an extreme extension” of those cases. The cases are Hunter v. Erickson, 393 US 385 (1969), and Washington v. Seattle Sch Dist, 458 US 457 (1982).

This post was originally posted on Law Memo on November 16, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Ross Runkel is Professor of Law Emeritus at Willamette University College of Law. He has spent 35 years specializing in employment law, employment discrimination, labor law, and arbitration.

A Closer Look at Results-Focused Education

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

We sat down and had a conversation with our good friend Jeff Herzberg at Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency (PLAEA) about ROWE and education. We trained PLAEA’s pilot team through a Beyond Telework Workshop and recently brought selected PLAEA employees through our Training Certification program.  Those certified internal trainers will now lead the entire agency into a ROWE!  PLAEA is an organization that assists over 33,000 students and supports 3,500 educators and 200 administrators in central Iowa. Some of Jeff’s stories are going to be featured in the new book, Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix It, so we wanted to share some of that conversation with all of you today. 

I’ve been really pleased and surprised with how ROWE has resonated with educators and the effort to not just reform education, but reimagine it, as Jeff says in the interview.

Below is part of our conversation with Jeff and a clip of the interview, which you can watch in full here if you’re interested in learning more. And of course you can pre-order your copy of Why Managing Sucks to read more about ROWE in education. We’re really excited about Jeff’s chapter!

Cali: What made you crazy enough to be the Results-Only Work Enviornment pioneer in education?

Jeff: Besides the fact that you two were so convincing, after we read the book and had some conversation, it just made sense. School is not working for everyone, everyone knows it but no one was willing to do anything about it. I knew it was the right thing to do and just went right ahead.

Jody: Teachers can’t be ROWE! What do you say when people push back?

Jeff: Is what we’re doing working today with all kids? If we’re all honest and willing to risk saying it, then the answer is: Absolutely not, it’s not working for today’s kids. Everyone is working so hard–parents, teachers, kids, administration. The system’s broken. It doesn’t need reforming, but reinventing.

Cali:  Companies are freaked out about being first in their industry, when it comes to big changes like ROWE. What has changed for you?

Jeff: In Iowa, we got rid of seat time. We don’t want to focus on time as the constant. We want to make extended, high-quality learning the constant. Our current system worked 100 years ago when we were preparing kids for assembly lines. We’re moving toward competency-based education.

Jody: What were some of the challenges to adopting ROWE?

Jeff: We’re still experiencing them as we expand from our 50-person pilot to implementing throughout the agency of 240 employees. The big question is, how do we define results that we’ll be held accountable for? I want to shoot for something bigger than standardized test scores. Look at the big picture, not just all the activities that we’re doing. Like your new book says, we want to manage the work, not the people.

Our showstopper when people challenge what we’re doing is to say: “You don’t want to focus on results?”

Cali: Do people look at you like you’re crazy?

Jeff: People are polite and say “That’s nice” and they stand back and see if it’s going to work for us.

For the first time in my career we’re getting to have multiple conversations about employees really talking about the work. There’s a lot of excitement internally, but some fear like “what if it doesn’t work?”

Cali: It’s about waking people up to be accountable and really own the job.

Jeff: Most people want to be accountable and responsible. Recent Gallup study: only 11% of workers report being “engaged” in their work. If education workers are following that trend, well no wonder we’re not getting good outcomes! We’re talking about unleashing the potential of our employees. Stop doing things that are a waste of time, and start doing things that will really have an impact.

This article was originally posted on ROWE on November 11, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Authors: Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson are the Founders of CultureRx and creators of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). Their first book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, was named “The Year’s Best Book on Work-Life Balance” by Business Week. They have been featured on the covers of BusinessWeek, Workforce Management Magazine, HR Magazine, Hybrid Mom Magazine, as well as in the New York Times, TIME Magazine, USA Today, and on Good Morning America, CNBC and CNN.

On Both Sides of the Border, Teachers Fight Corporatization

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Last month, the success of the Chicago teachers’ strike forced the mainstream media to present a rare picture of public school teachers: as organized, defiant and victorious. But prior to the Chicago teachers winning a major deal, there was no shortage of dismissive, condescending and misleading coverage of teachers unions.

Recently, that disdainful media gaze has turned southward. Various outlets–public radioUSA TodayMcClatchythe Economist and Washington Post–have depicted the Mexican teachers union as a sinister force in the national struggle over public education policy. The reports generally focus on Mexico’s poor academic performance in international rankings and zero in on the “boss” of the National Education Workers’ Union (SNTE), Elba Esther Gordillo, who is cartoonishly portrayed as an authoritarian collector of fancy handbags.

A June Washington Post report on Mexico’s crumbling schools, published on the eve of a landmark national election, said, “Twenty percent of the country’s budget goes to education, about $30 billion a year. More than 90 percent goes to salaries–negotiated by the teachers union, which dictates policy.” The piece quotes education scholar Carlos Ornelos of the Autonomous Metropolitan University about the alleged black market in teaching jobs: “The group Mexicans First estimates that 40 percent of the teaching jobs are still sold, or inherited, or exchanged for political or even sexual favors.” Yikes.

The source Ornelos cites, Mexicanos Primero, is a think tank that seems to closely align its politics (and name) with high-power U.S. reform groups like Students First. In the vein of “Won’t Back Down”, Mexicanos Primero has sponsored its own cinematic screed on teachers, “¡de Panzazo!” (“barely passing”), depicting corruption and incompetence throughout Mexico’s education system.

Both ¡de Panzazo!’s claims and the American press’s disdain for Mexico’s teachers show only one sliver of a complex, often misrepresented political context. Yes, there is documented evidence of rampant corruption as well as [certain] persistent cronyistic practices in the Mexican teachers union, such as reserving teaching positions for family members. But that’s not the whole story.

In both Mexico and the United States, schools are an ideological battleground. Corporate-minded school-reform groups such as Mexicanos Primero and Students First promote curbing teachers’ unionstiering their pay schemes, and running schools more like businesses in an educational “marketplace.”

To suggest that unions are primarily driving Mexico’s educational challenges is to echo the corporate reformers in the U.S. that pit “unions” against “reform”. This myopic mentality misses the fact that educational policy reflects the priorities of the political class while silencing communities and thus masking the underlying crises that affect educational achievement.

In fact, rank-and-file teachers are often at the helm of movements for real educational equity. Dissident members of SNTE, known as Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), have actively challenged authoritarian union officials, and at the same time resisted hardline reforms they see as corrosive to a democratic, broad-based education. They’ve also mobilized against sweeping new neoliberal labor legislation.

Reporting on teacher protests last year in Oaxaca (the site of a mass uprising in 2006) Dan LaBotz noted that the dissident educators demonstrated not only against education authorities’ plans to impose a controversial national exam system, but also against Gordillo’s rule:

Teachers blockaded government offices and private companies, closed major intersections, and “liberated” the toll booths on the privately owned highway to Mexico City. They also attempted to shut down the airport….

The Oaxaca teachers are making no new wage demands. They insist, however, that the Oaxaca state government install computers in all elementary schools and pay the schools’ electric bills. According to union spokespeople utility bills are currently paid by parents.

In a statement on CNTE’s blog posted in August, the group called the reform agenda an assault on the government’s obligation to provide free basic public education. Also the CNTE calls the standardized testing system “an insult to the economic, cultural and social development of our country because [of] deepened inequality of schools, students and teachers.”

Marco Fernandez, an education scholar who has written on education and union reform, says that dissident-led strikes and protests hurt more than help. “I cannot see how the teachers’ absenteeism and strikes [will lead to] the quality of education that a kid needs… for eventually getting a good job,” he says. When labor disputes lead to disruptive actions that upend schooling and testing, he argues, “The ones that in the long run pay the consequences are the kids. And this is a tragedy.”

Yet some see corruption baked into the core of education policy. Educational researcher Manuel Gil-Antón of the College of Mexico, publicly warned that authorities might aggravate persistent educational inequities and that the official reforms might lead to “manipulating the data and an unjustified triumphalism.”

Longtime labor journalist David Bacon, who has tracked cross-border solidarity movements, tells Working In These Times that in the school reform debate in Mexico, as in the U.S., tends to zero in on teachers while ignoring deeper social deficits; one key problem is simply that schools are deeply underresourced and many families simply can’t afford education. In the long run, he says, “These are social problems that you can’t cure with an educational system… You need a fundamental social change in Mexico, a part of which would be making everybody literate. But you can’t make everybody literate in the absence of other changes that are gonna happen in their lives.”

Bacon sees teachers not only as political actors, but bearers of a progressive tradition in Mexico:

If you go into little towns in Mexico out in the countryside, teachers are community leaders… in very large part, they are also the repositories of progressive values and ideas. So if you talk to Mexican workers, people will use words like “capitalism,” and “the working class,” and even “socialism,” and it’s because there are teachers who are giving this understanding to their students.

While many Americans may write off Mexico and its schools as “Third World” bastions of corruption, teachers’ resistance to neoliberal reforms is a striking parallel to the school labor dramas in Chicago and across the United States. Maybe rank-and-file educators in Oaxaca and Chicago can exchange best practices on how to take their fights outside the classroom and bring a lesson in solidarity to the streets.

This post originally appeared in Working In These Times on October 11, 2012.  Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Michelle Chen work has appeared in AirAmerica, Extra!, Colorlines and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She is a regular contributor to In These Times’ workers’ rights blog, Working In These Times, and is a member of the In These Times Board of Editors. She also blogs at Colorlines.com. She can be reached at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.

New Report Reveals The Extent of For-Profit Colleges’ Corruption

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Roger BybeeCutbacks in public technical school and university programs have created new opportunities for for-profit colleges, which have skillfully used public money to churn displaced workers and other students through their machinery, leaving them worse off than before, according to the findings of a two-year investigation of 30 for-profit colleges released this week by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

The report from Harkin, chair of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, confirms what Michael Rosen, president of American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 212 at Milwaukee Area Technical College, has been witnessing in recent years. Laid-off workers desperate for a new career, Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans hoping to re-start their lives, and recent high school graduates have all been frustrated by long waiting lines for programs at public technical schools and universities. Rosen has been a passionate critic of public technical-college cutbacks, the distortion of technical education as it falls under increasing corporate influence, and the growth of for-profit colleges like the University of Phoenix, Kaplan and others.

“The losers are students who are paying four to five times as much for a public education, but wind up with an inferior education that doesn’t help them in today’s job market,” Rosen says. “In this economy, we are seeing layoffs in every occupation—whether flight attendants or factory workers—so the number of people looking for training has increased, but the funding for technical schools has decreased. This leaves some people out [unable to find the program they want in public institutions], and these people are preyed upon by for-profit colleges.”

And Rosen notes it’s not only the students who are losing out, but also U.S. taxpayers. “The for-profit schools get over $32 billion or 80% of their revenue from federal funds via student loans and grants,” Rosen says. “They cash in on up to 25% of federal financial aid, but account for just 13% of college students.”

The HELP report makes for a thorough indictment of the for–profit college industry, which has expanded exponentially over the last few years. Enrollment more than tripled from 1998 to 2008 to about 2.4 million students. Fully three-quarters are enrolled at colleges owned by huge publicly traded companies with a mission of maximizing profit. Increasingly, private equity firms are buying into the industry.

Among its appalling findings, Harkin’s investigation revealed:

FEDERAL FUNDING THE FOUNT OF PROFITS: Over 80% of the for-profit colleges’ revenue comes from taxpayers. Since veterans’ benefits do not count against a 90% ceiling on federal funding, veterans have become a target for for-profit college recruiters.

PROFITS EXCEED INSTRUCTIONAL COSTS: “Among the 30 companies, an average of 22.4 percent of revenue went to marketing and recruiting, 19.4 percent to profits and 17.7 percent to instruction,” reported Tamar Lewin in an excellent New York Times piece on the report.

FIND ‘EM AND FORGET ‘EM: The for-profit schools also have an extraordinarily miserable record in retaining and educating their students: “the majority of students they enroll leave without a degree, half of those within four months,” Lewin wrote.

And recruiting practices—until some recent reforms—stressed enlisting students without regard to their suitability for the schools, with recruiters formerly paid on a “piecework”-style basis for each student they recruited, Rosen points out. The 30 for-profits studied have roughly a 9-1 ratio between recruiters and support staff to assist the students in planning their careers.

“Enrolling students,” wrote Lewin, “and getting their federal financial aid is the heart of the business, and in 2010, the report found, the colleges studied had a total of 32,496 recruiters, compared with 3,512 career-services staff members.”

Meanwhile, according to the AFT’s Rosen, the quality of teaching in the for-profits is generally abominably low.

“For students in medical fields like nursing, they don’t work under an instructor and actually have direct patient contact,” says Rosen. “The education is just in the classroom environment, and even there, they don’t even have the proper equipment. For the relatively small percentage of students who manage to graduate from for-profit schools, they discover soon that their degree is generally not taken seriously by prospective employers.”

ULTRA-COSTLY FOR STUDENTS: The report found that associate-degree and certificate programs at for-profit colleges averaged about four times the cost of those at community colleges and public universities.

“And tuition decisions seem to be driven more by profit-seeking than instructional costs,” Lewin wrote. An internal memo from the finance director of a Kaplan nursing program in Sacramento, for example, recommended an 8 percent increase in fees, saying that “with the new pricing, we can lose two students and still make the same profit.”

The students who drop out are left to make loan payments without having gained any credentials. It is not surprising, then, that former students of for-profit schools account for 45% of college loan delinquencies.

Despite the overwhelming evidence amassed by the investigation, Republican members of the HELP Committee claimed that the study showed antipathy to the sacrosanct “free market” (as if an industry that gets more than 80% of its funding is part of the “free market”!). They also objected to the inclusion of some testimony and documents damaging to the industry. As Lewin noted:

The Republicans on the Senate committee criticized the Democrats’ investigation for including testimony from Steve Eisman, the hedge fund manager who was one of the first to compare for-profit colleges to the subprime mortgage industry; for making public the internal company documents that the committee gathered; for refusing to broaden the investigation to include abuses by nonprofit colleges; and for being what they said was a hostile partisan effort.

The Republicans’ unwillingness to confront the industry’s corruption—enabled by the clear misuse of taxpayer dollars—is more testimony to the GOP’s slavish servitude to corporate donors and lobbyists. But the for-profit schools’ loyal protectors have been drawn from both parties. As David Halperin pointed out,

There is stalemate in Washington on holding this industry accountable, because the big money that it spends on lobbying, lawyering, and campaign contributions has bought the allegiance of many congressional Republicans and Democrats and has thwarted federal regulations.

And so, for the forseeable future, the for-profit schools’ hustle will continue to squeeze earnings out of America’s most vulnerable citizens—displaced workers, recently discharged veterans, and naive high school graduates—with an assist from U.S. taxpayers.

This blog originally appeared in Working In These Times on August 3, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and progressive publicity consultant whose work has appeared in numerous national publications, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, Yes!, The Progressive, Multinational Monitor, The American Prospect and Foreign Policy in Focus. His e-mail address is [email protected]

Profile of Minimum Wage Workers Isn’t What You Think

Monday, July 23rd, 2012
Credit: Joe Kekeris

Credit: Joe Kekeris

Opponents of increasing the nation’s minimum wage always fall back on the argument that it doesn’t need to be raised because it’s mostly teenagers working part-time for extra pocket money who are getting that hourly figure (which right now is $7.25).

A new study shows that stereotype isn’t true. In fact, the majority of minimum wage workers have completed some college, live in families making less than $40,000 a year and so are contributing to the family income, and are working full-time.

Economic Policy Institute (EPI) economist Doug Hall blows up the myths behind the minimum wage at EPI’s Working Economics blog, where he also shows that the vast majority of minimum wage earners are white and only 15 percent are part-time workers.

Hall argues that now is the ideal time for Congress to raise the minimum wage.

As my colleague David Cooper wrote in April, increasing the federal minimum wage to $9.80 by July 1, 2014, would benefit more than 28 million workers and increase national GDP by over $25 million, in the process creating more than 100,000 jobs. Given the lackluster recovery that continues to cast a pall over the nation, this positive step should be embraced by all those who care about the well-being of working families.

Minimum-Wage-Workers-Aren-t-Part-Time-TeensHall writes that Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin (D) introduced the Rebuild America Act, a bill that contains important provisions to strengthen the economy and improve the well-being of working Americans.

Among the many worthy elements of this bill is a proposal to increase the federal minimum wage to $9.80 by July 1, 2014.

Next week marks the third year since the federal minimum wage was increased. But it’s a good bet for many members of Congress, the only way they would raise the minimum wage is if they actually had to live on $7.25 an hour.

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) just released a new report that also provides unexpected facts about minimum wage workers, including the fact that the majority (66 percent) of low-wage workers are not employed by small businesses, but rather by large corporations with more than 100 employees. Read the report summary here.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on July 20, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee they were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union (the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism (covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia) she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

Public education is a labor issue, even if you don't care about teachers

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Laura ClawsonThis year’s students are the workers of five or 10 or 15 years from now. There’s an obvious statement for you, but it’s one that is too rarely considered in discussions of education policy as hedge funders and corporate billionaires try to claim the mantle of doing what’s right for kids, implying or saying straight out that teachers are too self-interested to represent kids and should be left out of the discussion altogether. The fundamental question is this: If you don’t trust Wall Street or the Walton family to do what’s in your best interest as an adult in the American workforce, why would you trust them to do what’s in the best interest of the next generation of workers?

School, from the first day we set foot in a classroom to graduation from the highest level of education we achieve, trains us to be workers not only by teaching us math and grammar but by teaching us how to respond to instructions, orders, or discipline. It teaches us how to sit still, how to show that we’re making the kind of effort our superiors want to see from us, how to work toward socially approved goals. For many jobs and careers, school gives us training or credentials we need. The level and quality of education we get to a great extent determines what jobs we’ll be considered for, how likely we are to be unemployed, how much money we’ll earn.

So the structure of education in our country trains kids for what to expect as adults and says a lot about how we envision work and people’s access to good jobs. Deprive schools of funding and you’re creating a generation that doesn’t have the education needed to succeed. Or, you’re creating a big chunk of a generation that doesn’t have the education needed to succeed—some kids’ families will be able to buy them a better education directly, some kids will live in well-to-do areas where the schools remain well-funded or where wealthy parents can subsidize public schools heavily.

This then sets up the conditions to justify not hiring people. Already we hear about how there just aren’t enough skilled workers and that companies want to hire, honest they do, they just can’t find trained workers to do the skilled jobs for which they’re offering to pay a pittance. Or we hear how companies have to move jobs overseas, because, again, American workers just can’t hack it in the information economy. It’s mostly an excuse anyway, but you think that’s going to get any better in 20 years if our public education system is gutted now?

If you create a class of schools that, while theoretically public, can effectively exclude homeless kids or disabled kids or kids whose first language isn’t English, and leave all those excluded kids in the public schools you’re telling everyone are second best, you send a message about who’s desirable as students and who will remain desirable as workers. If a state happens to funnel its entire school maintenance budget to that separate class of schools, the message is reinforced again. If you tell everyone that the new class of schools is better (even if in fact the evidence suggests otherwise), but there aren’t enough spaces for everyone, you send the message starting ever earlier in kids’ lives that they are disposable, that some of them will be left behind no matter what. Public schooling should send the opposite message—that all kids deserve a good education, an equal education, that the government is invested in all of them and that they can all succeed.

But in America today, our public schools are not just underfunded. We’re not just losing schoolteachers at an astonishing rate. We’re not just setting up new classes of education rife with abuses and with profit put before educational outcomes. We’re not just turning education over to profit-driven, ill-supervised testing companies despite a host of weaknesses from measurement error to cheating. No, we’re doing all of this thanks in large part to a massively funded campaign by a bunch of really rich people who think they know better because they’re rich. We’re letting phone tappers and people whose money comes from a company that leads the field in undermining local economies and driving down wages and benefits fund the remaking of our system of public education.

Then there’s higher education, where at the same time as a college degree becomes a near-requirement for entry into the middle class, per-student government spending is at a 25-year low and the number of administrators, and their pay, has shot up, while the number of faculty who actually teach students, and their pay, has lagged behind the administrators. As public higher education becomes a more difficult option, for-profit colleges step in to fill the void, not by being cheaper or better but by marketing themselves more aggressively despite abysmal results. Students, meanwhile, are forced to take on more and more loan debt to get that college degree, meaning they enter the workforce already desperate, to the benefit of employers who can capitalize on that desperation to keep workers who might otherwise move on or fight back.

So while I believe that teachers are important—important because they are the ones in the classrooms every day, doing an incredibly difficult job for not very much money and because they are an important part of a middle class that Republicans are trying to wipe out of existence—I understand and write about education as a labor issue not just because Mitt Romney’s top education priority is to break teachers unions, but because Mitt Romney’s next education priority, one he can only get to after breaking the unions, is to privatize public education, weakening it as a public good that serves everyone close to equally and instead bringing profit in, creating more and more unequal outcomes. I write about education as a labor issue because when Romney tells teachers class size doesn’t matter, even though he sent his own sons to a school with an average class size of 12, that’s class warfare from above in a nutshell. Class size only matters if you can pay for it to be small. If you can’t, screw you, your kids will be in the swollen classes that result from firing their teachers.

Similarly, Romney slashed higher education funding while governor of Massachusetts, pushing more students into debt—not something his own trust fund babies ever had to worry about. I use Romney as an example, but of course it’s not just him, it’s his party. Rep. Todd Akin, running for Senate from Missouri, referred to federal involvement in student loans as “the stage three cancer of socialism.” Rep. Paul Ryan, who paid for college with Social Security benefits, wants to cut Pell Grants for a million students. Rep. Virginia Foxx has “little tolerance” for people with student loans, but champions the for-profit college industry that owes its existence to, and relentlessly seeks to maximize, those loans. And so on.

Education is a labor issue because it’s how we train children to someday be workers, determining many of the conditions under which young adults enter the workforce. It’s a labor issue because school funding represents an investment, or a failure to invest, in the mass of people. Abandoning them as children, whether by underfunding the schools they attend or putting corporate profits first, is basically a guarantee they’ll face worse as adults.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on July 8, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Certificates can help boost pay. More if you're a man, of course.

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Laura ClawsonFor some high school graduates looking to get some more education and increase their income, or for people with college degrees looking to retrain into a new field, a certificate can be a good alternative to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. But like just about everything else, certificates pay off less for women than for men:

Men who earn certificates earn 27 percent more than high school educated men. Women with a certificate, by comparison, only receive an average 16 percent increase in earnings over women with a high school diploma.

Some of that difference is because men are more likely to get certificates in higher-paying fields, such as construction, while women are more likely to get certificates in lower-paying fields, such as cosmetology. But that doesn’t explain the entire gap:

A male with a certificate in computer and information service can earn about $72,000 per year—more than 72 percent of his peers with an associate’s degree and more than 54 percent of male bachelor’s degree holders.

Notice we said “male.” Thanks to gender inequity, just as a man with a bachelor’s degree can out-earn a woman with a master’s degree, women don’t benefit from certificates as much as the guys do. A woman working in that same field only earns about $57,000.

That’s just one of the ways that the value of getting a certificate is variable: fewer than half of certificate-holders work in a field related to their training, and those working in other fields see just a 1 percent increase in median pay relative to high school graduates. But those who do work in the field they’ve trained in earn only slightly less than the median worker with an associate’s degree. Impact varies by race, as well, with Latinos getting the biggest earnings boost from a certificate over a high school diploma, while African Americans benefit the least from certificates. White certificate holders get much less of a boost than Latinos—but because white high school graduates earn more than Latinos, white certificate holders don’t need a big increase to keep out-earning Latinos.

The picture on certificates is mixed: Some certificates in some fields can mean real pay increases for some people. The picture on gender inequity remains clear: In any level of education, in just about any field, women are left behind.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on June 12, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Wages for Young College Grads Fall

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Image: Mike Hall Most recent young college graduates are a carrying a heavy debt load for their education, and they face a harder time paying it off because their wages have plummeted as well—part of a decade-long decline, according to a new Economic Snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

“Between 2007 and 2011, the wages of young college graduates dropped by 4.6 percent (5.1 percent for men and 4.1 percent for women). However, the wage growth of young graduates was weak even before the recent recession began. They have fared poorly over the entire period of general wage stagnation that began during the 2000-2007 business cycle. Between 2000 and 2011, the wages of young college graduates dropped 5.4 percent (1.6 percent for men and 8.5 percent for women).”

For more information on the job prospects of this year’s graduates, read EPI’s recent report, “The Class of 2012: Labor Market for Young Graduates Remains Grim.”

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on May 16, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL-CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

It's All Your Fault, Economy!

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Maria SaabThe beginning of a new year is a time of reflection- what am I going to bring forward into the new year and what I am going to leave behind in the old year. Recently having celebrated a birthday and reaching the “I’m half-way done with law school” milestone, I have found myself reflecting more and more about where I stand as a young adult. While every human has that moment, or has the several moments, where they stop to think about where they are going and what they are doing with their lives, I feel like I spend most of my days pondering these questions. I know what you may be thinking- bring out the violins, another sob story (My comeback, however, is that this is no sob story, but a Saab story. Get it? A little homophone if you will). I largely attribute this feeling to the state of the economy , which at this point is an easy target and a catch-all reason to blame many of our sorrows upon.

However, my problem with the economy is not so much the scarcity of jobs- but the decreasing number of opportunities to follow your dreams, capitalize on your interests, or even develop a passion (I’ll elaborate more on this-just you wait). I recently read an expose in The Washington Post about the  top fourteen college majors with the highest unemployment rates. Lucky for me, my liberal arts degree and my yet-to-be-completed Juris Doctor help me to occupy two of the fourteen categories for highest unemployment but I digress. Most of the majors in this list can be categorized as part of the social sciences and liberal arts. While the hard sciences like engineering and computer science did make the list, most of the majors with the highest unemployment rates were not of technical backgrounds.

With this in mind, I registered to attend the Center of American Progress’s presentation “Keeping the American Economy Competitive in the 21st Century.” At the presentation, Secretary of Commerce John Bryson unveiled the COMPETES Act report on U.S. economic competitiveness and innovation. The presentation was timed perfectly with President Obama’s announcement that 200,000 jobs had been created in the past month. The report was prepared by the Department of Commerce in consultation with the National Economic Council and addressed topics such as tax policy; general business climate in the U.S., regional issues such as the role of state and local governments in higher education; barriers to set up new firms; trade policy; and science and technology education. Some of the key conclusions of the report outlined the need to invest more money in research and development initiatives, including investment in higher education focused on science, technology, engineering an mathematics (STEM) as well as mediums for increased innovation.

The panelists spoke of innovation as being a key element of our economic success- but elaborating on a sense of stalled innovation in the American economy. For example, Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, spoke of America inventing wireless broadband, but that most broadband headquarters are no longer in the U.S. There is no doubt that innovation and invention are the key cornerstone to economic success. Even Steve Jobs once said “innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower” and I believe him wholeheartedly- as I type away this blog post on my MacBook Pro, while holding my iPhone, and jamming out on my iTunes (loyal consumer is what you may call me). The report emphasized that by positioning American efforts on innovation, there will increased investment in STEM education, resulting in a greater demand for individuals in jobs within these fields. In order for America to move forward and continue to stay competitive in the global economy, it will need to be able to explore, invent, and create cutting edge technologies.

The presentation was excellent- I really enjoyed listening to the panelists and listening to their responses to questions I never would have thought to have posited myself. I did get to ask a question in the break-out session, where event attendees could ask questions to some of the researchers involved with the report. The question I posed was largely based on the Washington Post article I recently read. If our current economy is lagging because of high unemployment rates, but the highest unemployment rates come from fields not within the hard science background, why choose to invest our federal dollars in a sector that is not ailing? Can we stay competitive and keep our economy afloat by relying solely on innovation and R&D in technology? The response I received was that this report didn’t address that issue, but focused on the topics presented that day. I guess it wasn’t a bad answer- it was the truth, but it left me pondering and I hate to say this, but also a little disheartened. I had the Washington Post and the Department of Commerce telling me I probably would have been better off pursuing a different field of study. This is where I can clarify my statement about the economy- I genuinely enjoyed being a liberal arts major and I have always wanted to become a lawyer. To hear that things are moving in a direction that I am clearly moving the opposite of kind of stings. While things, I know, won’t come easy and perseverance and dedication always are rewarded- for now,  I’ll just blame the economy.

About this Author: Maria Saab is a law student intern at Workplace Fairness. Her Bachelor of Arts in International Studies combined with her career experiences working on Capitol Hill and with Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 encouraged her to pursue law school. As a hopeful lawyer, she plans on specializing in regulatory law and hopes to one day concentrate her work efforts towards policy development.

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