One of the blogs I read daily is written by a real education reformer, Diane Ravitch. Today she cited an article in Huffington Post that describes a teacher shortage in Kansas and what caused it. Many conservatives and pseudo-education reformers (Michelle Rhee, Campbell Brown, Secretary Duncan) argue that education promote choice through charter schools. They point to unions as a cause of poor education outcomes.
What’s happening in Kansas tells a different story. Teacher pay in the state is low, hours are longer, and the legislature has made it easier to fire teachers. The result is exactly what any sane person would expect. Teachers are retiring as soon as they can. Others are changing careers, and college students are choosing majors other than Education. Schools will be forced to rely on substitutes to cover classes.
In the past, I’ve asked who will want to teach if the pay is low, there is no union protection, and working conditions are poor. Market forces work in career choices just as they do in purchasing. If teaching is a difficult and disrespected profession, fewer and fewer people will pursue careers as teachers. Kansas proves this point. I expect we’ll hear similar stories from other states very soon.
Writing in Daily Kos, Laura Clawson examines the plight of temporary workers. In many cases, especially if the worker is employed in a factory, a temp job will pay less, be more dangerous, and not be temporary. Temp workers are performing the same tasks as full-time employees with few being on hired to full-time status. Some of these jobs pay as little as $10 per hour. As the U.S. came out of previous recessions, the rise of contract work preceded increased hiring. Now,employer leverage temp workers as a way to hold down labor costs while getting the same level of productivity. Workers have low pay, few benefits, and no security. If this is the way manufacturing will come back to America, it might be better if this type of job stay overseas.
With little public notice, Chicago Public Schools has put out a call to open new charter schools. Recently the system closed 50 schools, which meant the loss of many teacher jobs. The system also cut school budgets, which led to more job loss.
Most charter schools are non-union (None are represented by CTU). While some of these schools do a good job educating students, they offer teachers little job security or respect. The highest paid people in the charter system tend to be chief administrators who often make as much or more than the head of CPS.
My worry is that – over time – the quality of teaching will go down. It’s a difficult job in the best situation. If pay is cut and benefits are minimal, who will want to make the sacrifice needed to be a teacher? Why will the smartest people chose teaching if other professions offer more reward?
We all want security. In a time of high unemployment and job insecurity, many people look for careers that will be recession proof. Sadly, like the unicorn, such jobs do not exist. Even healthcare, which is clearly a growing field, churns jobs. My clients in this field have told stories of layoffs and reorganizations. Several hospitals in Chicago have reorganized departments and laid off staff. One of my clients survived a layoff. She had to take over a co-worker’s job and her staff had to take on the duties of other laid off workers. So much for recession proof jobs in healthcare. Rather than seeking a security that doesn’t exist, the best career strategy is to be prepared for any challenge or opportunity. Change happens. Make the most of it.
One of my clients, let's call him Larry, has worked for a large bank since graduating from college four years ago. He has been promoted twice and received a 9% raise last year. Sounds good so far. However, Larry has seen unexpected changes come to his department. One of his co-workers, a man who spent 25 years with the company, was laid off for reasons that Larry and most of his co-workers think are political. His department has also been moved from an HR function to Finance, which could mean more layoffs.
Larry's story reminds us that promotions and raises don't mean long term security. He has decided to update his resume and start looking for other opportunities because he no longer trusts his current employer. Too much change. Too much uncertainty.
Larry is putting himself in a position to manage his career. Too many people in a similar situation deny reality and tell themselves, "It's not going to happen to me." Larry is being proactive, and that's the first step to being in control.
In These Times Magazine reports on changes in the Chicago Teachers Union. While the incumbent leadership group won the first round of a recent election, it faces a new faction CORE (Congress of Rank and File) in a run off. This group opposes the system’s recent move to replace traditional schools with charter schools. The 30,000 member union has lost 6,000 members over recent years in which the number of charter schools have expanded.
As I’ve written before, experts in the media and representatives of employers pack all the blame for their problems on employee salaries, usually salaries of working class and middle class workers. Hopefully, CORE is a sign that working people are fed up with layoffs, salary cuts, and furlough days. May working people in other industries follow the example of these brave teachers.
Follow this link to read the article.