Remember folks.....the massive corporate frauds of last decade of tens of trillions of dollars was meant to place the US into so much debt as to act as an excuse to dismantle all that is public. It is why as well that Obama and neo-liberals suspended Rule of Law to allow the loot to stay at the top....they must have Federal, state, and local governments in debt so as to pretend our public structures cannot be maintained.
I spoke yesterday about the private non-profits in Maryland and Baltimore turning our government into a mechanism for profit. I want to talk today about the privatization of higher education and its goal for the same profit-generating mechanism. I have spoken at length about the capture of our community colleges and transition into corporate job training paid for by taxpayers and students. Some vocational tracks in community college are not bad, but making the entire system based on job training ends yet another avenue for the lower-middle class to enter strong higher education paths.....which is the point. It also seeks to eliminate labor union apprenticeships which have always handled all of these job training duties while an employee was on the job and getting paid.
SEE HOW UNION-BUSTING AND HUMAN RESOURCES OUTSOURCING TO THE PUBLIC IS A PROFIT-MAXIMIZER?
The entire education reform of Obama's terms have been about ending public education and access to the best of education. Remember, the 1% have said that education is wasted on 90% of Americans. This is the goal of these education reforms and it is why they are being fought all across the country. We know that the Captains of Industry and government graduated from public schools when the US was operating its best. Now that Ivy League grads have control----stagnation, crippling fraud and corruption have a grip.
Let's see what people across the country are doing and we thank those groups in Maryland who are starting to shout loudly and strongly-----
WHO'S SCHOOLS? OUR SCHOOLS!!!!
It is very sad how Obama and neo-liberals in Congress have allowed the Department of Education to become a Wall Street credit collection agency complete with fraud, corruption, and profiteering as student loans are treated like pay day lenders. People are forced into repayment plans they cannot afford while already making monthly payments and then fees of as much as $3,000 show up on their balances with no documentation of why. Balances cannot be given they are told because the amounts change from day to day. They have done to student loans what they did to the Federal Housing Agency---FHA. Made it predatory and corrupt and intend to simply blow up these student loan programs.
KEEP IN MIND THAT TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN FOR-PROFIT EDUCATION FRAUD WILL COME BACK WHEN RULE OF LAW IS REINSTATED. THIS INCLUDES ALL OF THIS FRAUD WITH STUDENT LOANS.
It is absurd that all of the politicians below calling for lower rates are not shouting at the degree of fraud and corruption super-sizing these loans. If they were progressive that would be the solution. Obama appointed Duncan just to do what is being done and Duncan saying his job is to lower cost for the taxpayers by raising rates for student loan holders is a lie. Any money saved this way goes out to build the private education structures he pushes.
Student Loan Borrowers' Costs To Jump As Education Department Reaps Huge Profit
Posted: 04/14/2014 9:19 pm EDT Updated: 04/15/2014 12:59 pm EDT
The U.S. Department of Education is forecast to generate $127 billion in profit over the next decade from lending to college students and their families, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Beginning in the 2015-16 academic year, students and their families are forecast to pay more to borrow from the department than they did prior to last summer’s new student loan law, which set student loan interest rates based on the U.S. government's costs to borrow. The higher costs for borrowers would arrive at least a year sooner than previously predicted.
James Kvaal, a top White House official, last year dismissed the possibility that student borrowers would pay higher costs under the new law. The Consumer Protection Financial Bureau on Monday warned borrowers about a "jump" in rates.
The projection, made public Monday by the nonpartisan budget scorekeepers, provides the federal government’s best estimate of how much the government's student loan program will cost taxpayers. That the program is predicted to generate an average annual profit of about $12 billion through 2024 is likely to fuel calls for the Obama administration and Congress to take additional steps to reduce borrowers’ debt burdens, which the Education Department pegs at an average of more than $26,000.
The program produces a profit because the interest rate paid by borrowers exceeds the federal government’s cost to fund those loans and administer the program. The figure also accounts for loan defaults and borrowers’ use of flexible repayment plans that tie monthly payments to their incomes.
The congressionally mandated accounting method that determines the profit figure has been criticized by some experts, including the Congressional Budget Office. The Education Department in the past has disputed the use of the word “profit.”
Education Secretary Arne Duncan has used the profit to help his department reduce its cost to taxpayers to the lowest level since 2001, budget documents show. As Washington focuses on reducing federal expenditures, some experts and student groups said they fear the Education Department may be too reliant on student loan revenues to advocate for debt relief.
“This is a profit-making machine for the Education Department,” said Chris Hicks, who leads the Debt-Free Future campaign for Jobs With Justice, a Washington-based nonprofit group. “The student loan program isn’t about helping students or borrowers -- it’s about making profits for the federal government.”
Education Department representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
Amid an era of falling inflation-adjusted incomes for college graduates and increasing student debt burdens -- total student debt has doubled since 2007, according to the Federal Reserve -- a group of federal regulators, policymakers and student loan experts worry that the nation’s economy will be restrained for years as monthly student loan payments take an increasing bite out of borrowers’ paychecks.
Researchers have found that student loan borrowers are less likely to start small businesses, save for retirement, take out a home mortgage or buy a car. A group of bank chief executives that advise the Fed also have warned about negative repercussions on the nation’s banking system from growing student debt loads.
Hicks said younger borrowers face daunting circumstances. If forced to choose, he said he reckons that borrowers would most likely default on their federal student loans rather than give up their credit cards or forgo health insurance. “I really wonder whether the Education Department is thinking of the consequences of potentially setting up a generation of borrowers to fail,” he said.
To prevent economic ruin, a loose coalition of groups led by the Center for American Progress has been advocating for a federal plan that would enable borrowers with high-rate student loans to refinance into cheaper debt.
Refinancing plans have either been endorsed or formally introduced by lawmakers, including Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
Some White House officials are said to support a student loan refinancing scheme, proponents said, but President Barack Obama has not yet publicly endorsed it.
The Education Department, on the other hand, has told some refinancing supporters that a plan to enable borrowers to refinance expensive debt into loans carrying lower interest rates could cost as much as $100 billion over a 10-year period in foregone federal revenue. The department also has warned that a refinancing plan likely would force it to reduce the number of Pell Grants given to college students from low-income households.
Supporters have taken the rough estimate and Pell Grant warning as an indication that the department does not want to allow borrowers to refinance.
Jason Delisle, director of the federal education budget project at the New America Foundation, said CBO figures show that the Pell Grant program will need more money to continue at present levels beginning in 2017. Assuming that Congress does not want to reduce the amount of Pell Grants available to low-income students, the program would need an additional $38.1 billion from 2017 through 2024, Delisle estimated.
Refinancing supporters argue that student loan profit should be used to offset the loss of future federal revenues that would result from allowing borrowers to refinance expensive student loan debts. Student loan profits are used to fund the federal government generally, rather than specific programs, James Runcie, Office of Federal Student Aid chief operating officer, told a Senate panel last month.
But the CBO estimates have been wrong before, underscoring the danger of basing policy on fleeting budget estimates from Washington’s main arbiter on the cost of federal programs.
For example, in August, when Congress was poised to pass the student loan law that set future interest rates, the budget office forecast that federal student loans would generate a $184.7 billion profit through 2023 -- more than the new estimate. Last year, the budget office estimated that the Pell Grant shortfall would be more than $47 billion, Delisle said. The budget office regularly revises its estimates, taking into account recent economic activity and other data.
Still, the Education Department’s estimated profits show a federal student loan program that is charging borrowers way too much, according to Hicks. Beginning in 2015, the average undergraduate borrower will pay 5.72 percent to borrow from the federal government, the budget office estimates. Graduate borrowers are forecast to pay at least 7.27 percent, while parents will pay 8.27 percent.
All three rates are higher than what borrowers paid in the 2012-13 academic year -- the last year before Congress changed the law. The Education Department could help borrowers deal with higher rates by pushing its loan servicers to offer distressed borrowers flexible repayment plans that base monthly payment amounts on incomes.
Despite White House pressure, the number of borrowers in income-driven repayment plans remains low.
“The public needs to be concerned about a government agency acting like a bank,” Hicks said. “The Education Department has a profit motive.”
The point isn't how much university tuition has been raised over the last few years....the point is that the cost was raised too high over and last few decades to pay for the corporatization and administration costs.
These student loans accumulated over a decade or more have been deliberately inflated to pay for this privatization and now students are left with college debt they should never have incurred. Add to this the deliberate policy of keeping the US economy stagnant as the rich dismantle our government structures and impoverish....and you have the making of totalitarianism.
Students protest college costs Rally at OSU part of national event
By Encarnacion Pyle The Columbus Dispatch • Friday March 2, 2012 10:15 AM
More than 100 Ohio State University students converged on the Oval yesterday to protest growing college costs and what they say is increasing administrative pressure to run the university like a business.
The rally was part of a national day of protests coordinated by several student groups, including the Occupy movement, which had its start on Wall Street.
“If education is a right, then education isn’t and shouldn’t be a privilege only accessible to people of certain financial qualifications,” said Molly Hendrix, a senior sociology major.
Gathered in front of the William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library, students pumped their fists in solidarity as they chanted slogans such as “public education, not a corporation.”
The students complained about the increasing amount of money they have to borrow to pay for school and the poor job prospects awaiting them once they graduate.
Ohio college seniors who graduated with student loans in 2010 owed an average of $27,713, ranking the state the seventh-highest in the nation, according to a report by the Project on Student Debt.
It’s hard to repay loans, the protesters said, when you don’t have a job.
In Ohio, nearly 1 in 5 people between the ages of 20 and 24 were unemployed last year. Only 16- to 19-year-olds had a higher rate, at 24 percent, state statistics show.
They also protested against the state’s enterprise university plan and Ohio State’s willingness to consider leasing its ancillary operations, such as the airport, golf course and parking operation, to private investors. Privatizing operations would serve “private interests instead of the common good,” said Deb Steele, an organizer with Jobs With Justice, a national association of labor unions, faith-based groups and community organizations.
OSU spokesman Jim Lynch said the university has raised tuition only twice in the past five years. “We share our students’ concerns with rising college costs.”
That’s why the university is aggressively pursuing innovative ways to create revenue streams and reallocate existing resources to support teaching and learning, he said.
After listening to more than a half-dozen speakers, the students marched to President E. Gordon Gee’s office, where one of the students read off a list of demands. They then headed to N. High Street, where they spilled into the roadway, blocking southbound traffic for about 20 minutes.
The group ended its march at the Ohio Union with an “open mic” session on a bullhorn, allowing various students to share personal concerns about the future of higher education.
As I have said, this education privatization is ground zero in Maryland as Erhlich and now O'Malley make ending public education their goal. Maryland universities have been gutted and corporatized to such an extent that we have some of the worst education stats in the country. Online universities are now the only path some lower-middle class families have and these platforms are dismal.
Don't go by the media headlines in Maryland.....they have all the data ranking Maryland #1 in every measured area....including education because none of the data is real! That is what corporatized education is about-----no public accountability means they can say anything!
Making adjuncts of academics charged with higher education makes sure the people charged with holding power accountable will not be able to do so. This was the goal of dismantling the tenure/professor as academic structure. No doubt professors had allowed themselves to be removed from the student, but that was because the emphasis on research and being published that came with university privatization.
IF YOU END ALL OF THE CORPORATE STRUCTURES BUILT THESE FEW DECADES TO MAXIMIZE CORPORATE PROFIT AND CAPTURE THE PUBLIC'S MAIN SOURCE OF HOLDING POWER ACCOUNTABLE-----STUDENT TUITION DROPS BIG-TIME AND EDUCATION FUNDING GOES TO SUBSIDIZING THE LOWER/MIDDLE CLASS AND NOT CORPORATE PROFIT.
The story with the institution below, MICA, is doubly-telling. MICA and Peabody Institute for Music were both taken by Johns Hopkins in what can be described as a hostile takeover. Basically Hopkins controls all of the money and City Hall and as they do with everything in the city----they starve communities and/or institutions until they are forced to merge.......THAT IS A HOSTILE TAKEOVER. Simply reversing this structure will go far to bring more power to these instructors.
Since it was O'Malley that allowed all of these structural changes to occur-----we know he is not really going to support any labor issue beyond a statement. Every deal he has made during his tenure has weakened and impoverished labor. In Maryland, pols make statements to get headlines and then the issue is ignored or not enforced.
THIS IS HOW POLICY PROPAGANDA WORKS----IT IS O'MALLEY WHO CREATED ALL THIS CORPORATE STRUCTURE FOR ALL MARYLAND UNIVERSITIES AND NOW THE MEDIA ARE PRETENDING THAT O'MALLEY SUPPORTS LABOR AND JUSTICE!
Thursday, Mar 20, 2014, 2:15 pm
Academic Labor Unrest Spreads to Maryland Colleges
(UPDATED) BY Bruce Vail Email Print
Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley (D) supports a bill that would ease organizing among community college workers. (NASA Goddard/Flickr/Creative Commons)
BALTIMORE – Part-time professors at the historic Maryland Institute College of Art are joining a growing movement of academic workers around the country who want a union to help them with fundamental issues of fair pay and decent job conditions.
A committee of part-time faculty—also known as adjuncts—filed a petition on March 7 with the National Labor Relations Board seeking an election to establish Gaithersburg, Md.-based Service Employees International Union Local 500 as its collective bargaining agent. Joshua Smith, one of the committee’s leaders, tells In These Times that the adjuncts hope to move to an election within just a few weeks.
And instructors at other institutions in the region see the move to unionize as highly necessary. “This is an exciting development. Adjuncts really need a union to protect them from the abuses of a system they are unable to change. At the moment, they have no voice ... There can be no sense of community, scholarly or academic, when adjunct faculty are not included in decision-making as to curriculum or policy,” says Peggy Beauvois, a part-time instructor in the College of Education at the nearby Loyola University Maryland, which does not employ unionized faculty.
“We simply can not meet the needs of students when we must have two—and sometimes three—adjunct positions to even begin to support ourselves. I’ve heard stories about adjuncts who can’t afford an apartment and are living out of the back seat of their cars,” she adds.
Smith estimates there are about 200 adjuncts at MICA, who teach about 45 percent of the school’s courses; overall, he says, the campus environment is a positive one. “We do enjoy working at MICA and it’s a great place to teach,” he says.
But that’s not enough to outweigh the worries about survival and consistent employment that being an adjunct entails, he points out. “Of course compensation and benefits are big issues, but job security is probably the biggest concern,” he says. “You can have been an adjunct for ten years, but you still don’t know whether you will have a class to teach next semester.”
The big question awaiting the adjuncts at MICA is whether the school’s administrators will actively oppose unionization, Smith says. A best-case scenario would see the college bosses adopt a neutral position, as they did at Georgetown University, where Local 500 ran a successful part-time faculty organizing campaign in 2013. Alternatively, higher-ups could take a more antagonistic approach similar to those of Boston’s Northeastern University, where administrators hired the notorious union-busting firm Jackson Lewis last year to stifle organizing. For the moment, though, MICA public relations director Jessica Weglein Goldstein says the school has “no comment” on its position of adjunct unionization.
Smith, however, remains optimistic. The part-time professor, who has taught art history in Baltimore for four years, believes the union will prevail easily in an election. The organizing committee has been active on MICA’s campus since 2011, he says, and has worked to gather support both within the adjunct population and outside of it. For example, members of the committee formally asked full-time professors to remain neutral in an election campaign—a presentation Smith deemed to be effective.
In general, the unionization of adjuncts “is long overdue,” says Michelle Tokarczyk, Vice President of the Maryland Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). There is very little unionization of college staff in the state thus far, she says, but the movement has a broad base of approval from many in the higher education community.
Though MICA is a private institution, labor allies in Maryland hope that its faculty’s efforts will work in conjunction with another campaign focused on community colleges throughout the state. A coalition of unions comprised of the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA), SEIU Local 500 and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is currently working to push legislation through the state house in Annapolis that would ease organizing at community colleges. Given the lack of labor laws specifically covering community college employees, the coalition is advocating for a bill that would provide a statewide legal framework for those workers when they unionize in the future.
Prospects for passage of the bill are good, reports Sean Johnson, an MSEA official, although it does not appear that state legislature is inclined to act quickly. Organizers have garnered support from key state representatives, however, and Gov. Martin O’Malley has pledged to sign the bill if it passes. Right now, a number of community college presidents are opposing the bill, but labor lobbyists in Annapolis believe that opposition can be overcome, Johnson says.
If the bill is passed, the three unions hope to organize some 19,000 employees at 16 community college campuses: MSEA would seek to unionize the regular full-time faculty, Local 500 would agitate among the adjuncts and AFSCME is interested in the other college staff. “Our coalition has been successful in the past,” Johnson says, in reference to unionization of more than 1,000 academic workers at suburban Washington, D.C. Montgomery College in 2008, “and we think it will be successful again.”
The urgency of organizing academic workers—especially part-time ones—is starting to be recognized on a national scale, says Local 500 organizer Kevin Pietrick. Indeed, on the same day the Baltimore art college instructors filed for an election, so did adjuncts at Washington, D.C.’s Howard University. Similar organizing efforts are underway in several other states, he says.
And in Baltimore, a successful campaign at MICA may potentially pave the way for other colleges in the area.
Beauvois wishes the MICA adjuncts well and hopes that union movement picks up steam in the academic community. “As it is now, [working as an adjunct] is not a living wage,” she says. “It’s a hobby, or volunteer work, but you can’t make a living.”
UPDATE: Maryland Institute College of Art confirmed on March 24 that it had agreed to a National Labor Relations Board-supervised election for the part-time instructors seeking union representation. The election, to be conducted with mail-in ballots, will commence April 10, and will conclude with the counting of completed ballots April 29.
The bargaining unit will include about 350 employees.
Below you see a great example of what is happening in the US as well although the US has no mainstream media that isn't captured and corporate so we do not hear about this. This is the dangerous effects of having universities handled as corporations.....the money 'donated' to support these universities come with the direction of curricula.....and if a university is running on money from patented research, then market values take the lead.
THIS IS NOT WHAT DEMOCRATIC EDUCATION LOOKS LIKE.
In the US it will be Common Core taught in the K-12 classrooms that will rewrite history as this standardization hits every single classroom in America. Common Core will do what is being done at the university level-----control all avenue of information a person can access. The power of academics to operate freely and unafraid of stating facts is the primary source of a free society. This is why neo-liberals from Obama and Congress to O'Malley and the Maryland Assembly are building these structures that have as a goal ending democracy and freedom of information.
Academics back students in protests against economics teaching Professors argue in letter to the Guardian against 'dogmatic intellectual commitment' to 'orthodoxy and against diversity'
Photograph: Mark Benedict Barry/Corbis
A prominent group of academic economists have backed student protests against neo-classical economics teaching, increasing the pressure on top universities to reform courses that critics argue are dominated by free market theories that ignore the impact of financial crises.
The academics from some of the UK's most prestigious institutions, including Cambridge and Leeds universities, said students were being short-changed by their courses, and they accused higher education funding bodies of being a barrier to reforms.
In a startling attack on the agencies that provide teaching and research grants, they said an "intellectual monoculture" is reinforced by a system of state funding based on journal rankings "that are heavily biased in favour of orthodoxy and against intellectual diversity".
The academics said in a letter to the Guardian that a "dogmatic intellectual commitment" to teaching theories based on rational consumers and workers with unlimited wants "contrasts sharply with the openness of teaching in other social sciences, which routinely present competing paradigms".
They said: "Students can now complete a degree in economics without having been exposed to the theories of Keynes, Marx or Minsky, and without having learned about the Great Depression."
The attack follows protests at Manchester University. Students there, who formed the Post Crash Economics Society, said their courses did little to explain why economists failed to warn about the financial crisis and had too heavy a focus on training students for City jobs.
Earlier this month an international group of economists, backed by the New York-based Institute for New Economic Thinking, pledged to overhaul the economics curriculum and offer universities an alternative course.
At a conference hosted by the Treasury at its London offices, they pledged to have a first-year course ready to teach for the 2014-15 academic year that will include economic history and a broader range of competing theories.
The debate over the future of economics teaching follows several years of debate about the role of academics, especially in the US, in providing the intellectual underpinning for the borrowing and trading binge ahead of the 2008 crash.
Levels of private borrowing reached record levels in many countries and trades in exotic derivatives, often funded with debt instruments, soared to a point where few bank executives understood their exposure in the event of a credit crunch.
Many economists, including the 2013 Nobel prize winner Robert Shiller, have argued that mainstream economics wrongly teaches theories based on maintaining openly competitive markets and that well-informed buyers and sellers eliminate the risk of asset prices rising beyond a sustainable level for a prolonged period.
The academics, led by Professor Engelbert Stockhammer of Kingston University, said: "We understand students' frustration with the way that economics is taught in most institutions in the UK.
"There exists a vibrant community of pluralist economists in the UK and elsewhere, but these academics have been marginalised within the profession. The shortcomings in the way economics is taught are directly related to an intellectual monoculture, which is reinforced by a system of public university funding (the Research Excellence Framework and previously the Research Assessment Exercise) based on journal rankings that are heavily biased in favour of orthodoxy and against intellectual diversity," they said.
All around the world developed nations are seeing their democratic institutions dismantled as these global corporations seek to create autocratic structures of what are democratic nations. The universities and K-12 are the foundation of free societies which is why Clinton, Bush, and now Obama and our state neo-liberals are dismantling and corporatizing K-college. Having business people replace academics sets the stage for silencing what has always been the source for holding power accountable-----the universities!
Below you see what universities have done for centuries------shouted out and monitored the conditions of society. See how super-sizing privatization with adjuncts and business people as classroom lecturers will do? People fearful of losing a job will not shout.....
MARYLAND IS GROUND ZERO FOR THESE FEARS AS PRIVATIZATION HAS BEEN IN THE WORKS IN MARYLAND LONGER THAN AROUND THE COUNTRY.
We need the citizens of Maryland to stand with these educators from K-college. These changes are killing our educators but as important, they are killing our democracy.
Hundreds of academics protest against mass surveillance
Politics 03 January 14 by Olivia Solon WIRED UK
Academics Against Mass Surveillance was conceived of by four colleagues -- Nico van Eijk, Beate Roessler, Frederik Zuiderveen Borgesius and Manon Oostveen -- at the Institute for Information Law at the University of Amsterdam after all of Edward Snowden's revelations about large-scale surveillance by governments.
"We were discussing that academics had been a tad quiet in the media," explains the Institute's Frederik Zuiderveen Borgesius.
The law professors drafted a declaration and then asked friends (mainly human rights professors) for feedback before they agreed on a text. The text was then shared internationally with colleagues, and almost 300 other academics -- from countries including the US, UK, Turkey, Spain, Italy, Japan, Germany and Austria -- have put their name against the declaration. "It was a snowball effect," he adds.
The declaration points out that intelligence agencies "monitor people's internet use, obtain their phone calls, email messages, Facebook entries, financial details, and much more".
It adds: "Agencies have also gathered personal information by accessing the internal data flows of firms such as Google and Yahoo. Skype calls are 'readily available' for interception...This has to stop."
The declaration points out that the right to privacy is a fundamental one, protected by a range of international treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.
"Without privacy people cannot freely express their opinions or seek and receive information. Moreover, mass surveillance turns the presumption of innocence into a presumption of guilt. Nobody denies the importance of protecting national security, public safety, or the detection of crime. But current secret and unfettered surveillance practices violate fundamental rights and the rule of law, and undermine democracy."
Those who have signed the declaration call for action and urge these spy agencies to be more transparent and accountable. "States must effectively protect everyone's fundamental rights and freedoms, and particularly everyone's privacy," it says.
When asked which organisation represented the biggest threat to digital rights, Zuiderveen Borgesius told Wired.co.uk: "Phew, hard question. It seems to be a draw between the NSA and GCHQ, as far as the Western countries are concerned. But it wouldn't surprise me if more scandals will be disclosed about other European intelligence agencies soon."
He added that the declaration wasn't so much a political message, but "a scientific consensus that this unfettered and secretive surveillance has to stop".
Act Locally » March 26, 2014
Teachers’ Strikes, Catching Fire From Oregon to Minnesota, school is out unless teachers and communities are heard.
BY Sarah Jaffe
Medford teachers protected their preparation time from proposed cuts and limited the student-to-teacher ratio. Portland teachers won an increase in their prep time and the hiring of new instructors to shrink class sizes.
Conventional wisdom holds that it’s hard to garner sympathy for relatively well-paid public workers at a time when fewer and fewer people have jobs that make ends meet. So the so-called “age of austerity” has seen unions of teachers and other public-sector employees accept cut after cut. Teachers in particular have been targeted by an education reform movement that posits unionized educators as a threat to children’s learning.
Yet in spite of that, teachers are beginning to win some battles—by winning over hearts and minds in the communities they serve.
“I think we’ve reached the point where it’s very clear to teachers that we can’t give [students] what they deserve under the circumstances that we find ourselves in now,” says Elizabeth Thiel, a high-school English teacher at Madison High School in Portland, Ore. Parents and students have also realized that endless standardized testing and demands for “accountability” from teachers at the same time that budget cuts swell class sizes and reduce services is a recipe for disaster, not success.
Thiel’s union, the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT), came within days of a strike before reaching an agreement February 18 with Portland Public Schools that includes the hiring of 150 new teachers to reduce class sizes and curtailing the extent that teacher evaluations hinge on student test scores. In Medford, Ore., a 16-day strike ended February 21 when the district conceded to many of the teachers’ demands on pay, benefits and working time. And in St. Paul, Minn., the district agreed to a deal on February 21, the last working day before the union was due to take a strike vote. In all three districts, strong community support helped the teachers win a stronger contract. A year and a half after the Chicago Teachers Union revived the strike with a seven-day work stoppage that became national news, teachers unions around the country are showing a willingness to fight, and are doing the organizing necessary to win communities to their side.
“[The district] didn’t believe that we would go out on strike, and they didn’t believe that after 11 days we’d still be every single one of us strong,” Cat Brasseur, the communications chair of the Medford Education Association, tells In These Times.
The Medford and Portland school districts seemed to be counting on the austerity ideology to hold sway as they demanded “rollbacks” from the workers: 118 separate demands for concessions in Medford, 78 in Portland. Both districts called an end to direct bargaining after the minimum amount of time mandated by law and then declared an impasse after the minimum 15 days of mediation. But teachers called their bluff, and the community was on their side. It turns out that making conditions in schools, not just wages and benefits, central to collective bargaining is popular with the public. In Oregon and Minnesota, the unions built relationships with parents and students that helped convince the school districts that they should accede to some demands.
Medford teachers protected their preparation time from proposed cuts and limited the student-to-teacher ratio. Portland teachers won an increase in their prep time and the hiring of new instructors to shrink class sizes. In St. Paul, teachers secured an expansion of the city’s pre-kindergarten program and smaller class sizes in high-poverty schools, in order to allow teachers to give individual attention to students who need it the most. According to Nick Faber, a 28-year St. Paul teacher and an officer in the St. Paul Federation of Teachers union (SPFT), families are facing more economic challenges than ever, which means students are coming to teachers with more problems that require closer relationships.
Bargaining for policies that help teachers deepen their relationships with parents is not new to the SPFT: Their last contract won funding for a project that trains teachers to make home visits. In addition to maintaining that program, which has now trained more than 400 teachers, Mary Cathryn Ricker, president of the SPFT, says that the new contract allows schools to change how parent-teacher conferences work. In the past, she says, conferences had been modelled on “a generally white, middle-class mom who could find time to stop by after school got out and visit with her teachers.” But today, more children come from single-parent homes or those where two parents work, and schedules can be erratic. And so, Ricker says, St. Paul teachers successfully won the flexibility to design conferences in ways that better suit community needs.