Monday, February 22, 2010

Should Teachers Unions Pull Out of Urban Schools?

There is a time to cut your losses. It seems to me that teachers unions are not only losing the fight to provide a quality education in America's cities but they are being unfairly and irreparably harmed for the effort. It may be time to pull out.

Let the philanthropists, oligarchs, big city politicians, urban right-wing parent organizations, and profit-seeking educational entrepreneurs have at it - ALL OF IT.

The teachers unions would be wise to retreat to the places where education can be practiced sanely. A place where expectations are matched by parental attention, an audience that's receptive, and with sufficient resources to do the job.

It will not be long before those who inherit the task will be calling for an end to standardized tests as a metric of success. In fact they'll be angry that public schools with unions have an unfair advantage in providing superior product. It'll be called class warfare and racist and unfair. It'll be a fun lesson in educational pragmatism.

You might be wondering why I make such a suggestion. The latest NYTimes article called The New Poor by Peter S. Goodman about poverty is a start;
Some poverty experts say the broader social safety net is not up to cushioning the impact of the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Social services are less extensive than during the last period of double-digit unemployment, in the early 1980s.

On average, only two-thirds of unemployed people received state-provided unemployment checks last year, according to the Labor Department. The rest either exhausted their benefits, fell short of requirements or did not apply.

“You have very large sets of people who have no social protections,” said Randy Albelda, an economist at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. “They are landing in this netherworld.”

So what's the netherworld look like you ask. In No Child Left Behind as an Anti-Poverty Measure by Jean Anyon & Kiersten Greene we find out;
For more education to lead to better jobs, there have to be jobs available. However, there are not now, nor have there been for more than two decades, nearly
enough jobs for those who need them. Labor economist Gordon Lafer demonstrated that over the period 1984 to 1996—at the height of an alleged labor shortage—the number of people in need of work exceeded the total number of job openings by an average of five to one. In 1996, for example, the country would have needed 14.4 million jobs in order for all low-income people to work their way out of poverty. However, there were at most 2.4 million job openings available to meet this need; of these, only one million were in full-time, non-managerial positions (2002).

Furthermore, the jobs the U.S. economy now produces are primarily poverty-wage jobs—and only a relative few highly paid ones—making it increasingly less certain that education will assure that work pays well (Anyon, 2005). Seventy-seven percent of new and projected jobs in the next decade will be low-paying. Only a quarter of these are expected to pay over $26,000 a year (in 2002 dollars). A mere 12.6% will require a college degree, while most will require on-the-job training only. Of the 20 occupations expected to grow the fastest, only six require college
degrees—these are in computer systems and computer information technology fields, and there are relatively few of these jobs overall (Department of Labor, 2002).

Gender discrimination can work to reverse—or even eliminate—wage gains that accrue to individuals with more education. Female high school graduates earn less than male high school dropouts. And women with post-bachelor’s degrees earn less than men who have just a bachelor’s (Lafer, 2002; Mishel, Bernstein, & Boushey, 2003; Wolff, 2003). If you are female, more education does not necessarily mean higher wages.

Race as well can cut into the benefits of further education. A study of entry-level workers in California, for example, discovered that Black and Latino youth had improved significantly on every measure of skill in absolute terms and relative to White workers. Yet their wages were falling further behind those of Whites. In this example, the deleterious effects of racism outweighed the benefits of education, with minority workers at every level of education losing ground to similarly prepared Whites (Lafer, 2002).

Various other economic realities—such as lack of unionization, multiple free trade agreements which outsource jobs, and increasing use of part-time workers — cut across the college-wage benefit, lowering it significantly for large numbers of people, most of whom are minorities and women.

Even a college degree no longer guarantees a decent job. One of six college graduates is in a job paying less than the average salary of high school graduates (Anyon, 2005). Between 8.8% and 11% of people with a bachelor’s degree make around the minimum wage. This means that an increasing number of college graduates—about one in ten—is employed at poverty wages (ibid.). Even the education levels of welfare recipients are high. The share of welfare recipients who
have high school degrees has increased from 42% in 1979 to more than two-thirds (70%) in 1999 (U.S. General Accounting Office, 2001).

These realities suggest that the promise of good jobs and better pay underlying NCLB is a false one for many people—especially low-income minority students and women—because for them educational achievement brings no guarantee of economic success.

Consider, finally, that the vast majority of low-income students who do attend college do not have the funds or other supports to complete their bachelor’s degree. The majority of low-income students who attend college are forced to withdraw, and only 7 percent of very low-income people attain a bachelor’s by age 26 (Ed. Trust, 2004b).

In addition to these economic realities, there are federal policies that contradict the implicit premise of NCLB that higher educational achievement leads to good jobs. Minimum wage policy and job training policy are two examples.

What this makes plain is that public schools are being pressured to provide career education for careers that don't exist or that pay no more than minimum wage. And what of the college career tracks? Given the dropout rates and the fiscal burden of a lifetime of loan payments, does it serve society's best interest to herd students to college for a life of indentured servitude?

It is time for teachers unions to take a stand. Pull out of the urban quagmire and demand that any union teacher who is enlisted be assured of educational diplomatic immunity from the political toxins at work.

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