Posts Tagged ‘labor’
Kindergartner students in the deep blue state of Massachusetts are being shamed by publicly posting their test scores. Here’s Sarah Jaffe reporting on “data walls”:
Last year, K-12 teachers in the Holyoke, Massachusetts school district were told to try a new tactic to improve test scores: posting “data walls” in their classrooms. The walls list students by name and rank them by their scores on standardized tests. This, they say administrators told them, would motivate children to try harder on those tests.
Teachers did so, many unwillingly. Agustin Morales, an English teacher at Maurice A. Donahue Elementary School in Holyoke felt pressure to comply, but finds the data walls cruel. One of his top students did poorly on a standardized test in November and found her name at the bottom of the data wall. Afterward, in a writing assignment for class, she “wrote about how sad she was, how depressed she was because she’d scored negatively on it, she felt stupid.”
“So why do I hate data walls?” he continued. “Because of how she felt that day. She felt worthless. She felt like she wasn’t as good as other people.”
Morales isn’t alone in opposing the data walls. They’re widely seen as just the latest front in a war being fought by educators, parents and students nationwide against what teacher educator Barbara Madeloni calls “predatory education reform.”
Earlier, Jaffe wrote about the difficulties of kindergartners given standardized tests in New York , which “pit children against one another instead of teaching them to share, which can turn even a kindergarten classroom into a den of hyper-individualistic bootstrappers.” And indeed, like the data wall and the shaming it facilities, “This is a feature, not a bug, of the testing regime.”
These sort of stories should not be dismissed as outliers. They are part of the same drive to relentlessly rate the relative merits of students, teachers, and schools, to place them in competition with one another, to address education problems by mass firings of teachers or mass closure of schools, to devalue the contributions of experienced teachers as well as traditional (or more accurately, real) public schools.
“Accountability” is also an excuse for treating children cruelly while claiming to improve the behavior of parents. Melinda Anderson wrote about a case in Utah where students’ food was taken from them and thrown in the trash because parents have not paid for school lunches. Anderson noted that while this case, involving a largely white and non-poor student body had made national news and led to an outcry, earlier incidents had not.
What could possess any adult to even consider this an appropriate action? And again, I come back to the institution inflicting this harm: schools. This is a place where kids come to learn. How can they do that if they’re hungry?
School districts insist this measure is to hold parents accountable. But it punishes students, not parents. Not too many first-graders have control over their parents’ checkbooks. Instead of finding ways to shame and stigmatize children, the adults that implement these policies should put attention and energy toward finding ways to make sure children can get affordable or free meals. Educate parents on financial assistance available to them. Find effective methods to communicate to a child’s family that the lunch account has gone dry. Most delinquent accounts are likely caused by an oversight, not abuse.
Yet as Anderson notes, close to a quarter of American children live in poverty. And the Republicans in Congress recently refused to extend unemployment insurance and Democrats joined them to cut SNAP. Further efforts to address poverty and joblessness are unable to even get taken seriously. (I don’t count the president’s recently announced “Promise Zones” since I don’t believe too much regulation is the cause of poverty).
Sadly, harsh punishments, which disproportionately target the most disadvantaged, are all too common in our schools, as Robert Ross and Kenneth Zimmerman noted.
But too many schools still use severe and ineffective practices to address student misbehavior. Large numbers of students are kicked out, typically for nonviolent offenses, and suspensions have become the go-to response for even minor misbehavior, like carrying a plastic water gun to elementary school or sometimes simply for talking back. The Civil Rights Project at U.C.L.A. found that the number of secondary school students suspended or expelled increased by some 40 percent between 1972-73 and 2009-10.
Rather than teaching kids a lesson, these practices increase dropout rates and arrest rates — with severe social and economic consequences. They also disproportionately affect students of color and students with learning disabilities. A study of nearly one million Texas students found that those suspended or expelled for violations at the discretion of school officials were almost three times as likely to be in contact with the juvenile justice system the following year.
But these patterns can be reversed, in innovative school districts and with help from teachers’ unions.
Not long ago I heard Diane Ravitch suggest that our public school system in the United States was nearing a tipping point. We see a push for harried charter school expansion along with the continued defunding of public schools, which makes existing long-term funding disparities between city and suburb–and more importantly black and white–even worse. We see accelerated teacher firings and school closures in urban areas. All of these developments are pushing public schools in many cities towards collapse. In its place would be charter schools of wildly varying quality, almost entirely non-unionized, largely unregulated, which have actually increased segregation, which is no small feat given how segregated schools in these areas were to begin with. But what happens if public schools are wiped out in places like Philadelphia, or New Orleans or Chicago or Washington, DC? The two parties largely work together to impose corporate ed reform, while teachers unions try simultaneously to prevent GOP victories and push their supposed Democratic allies to attack them with a little less vigor. Teachers unions have been the most important force trying to put the breaks on these developments, and despite supporting other fundamental changes, they are often tarred with being ‘anti-reform’ or ‘pro-status quo.’ Leave aside for a moment, but only a moment, what happens when all those jobs disappear, when people are robbed of a neighborhood school–with its impact both on students and the community as a whole, when people of color are displaced in these cities as ed refomy mayors like Rahm Emanuel try to entice wealthy white people into the city. What happens when unions are decimated by this process?
Unions are one of the few countervailing powers trying to stop all this and reverse it. If there are no countervailing powers, if the corporate reform agenda can be imposed without limits, what becomes of public schools then? What becomes of what’s left of the protections of the New Deal and Great Society? How do we ever reach the promise of quality education for all? How do we defeat the folks at the top who think we’re all lazy, undeserving grifters, no matter if you’re disabled, a veteran or a kindergartner? (Don’t forget that ‘ed reform’ heroes like Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo undermined efforts at addressing educational funding equity in their respective states. They have other spending priorities, like opening more charters and more high stakes testing.)
The fight against the data walls is being spearheaded by Educators for a Democratic Union (EDU), a caucus within the Massachusetts Teachers Association. Like CORE, which successfully took over the Chicago Teachers Union and MORE, a similar group that has yet to achieve that sort of success in New York City, EDU advocates for a more aggressive approach in opposing corporate ed reform, that places a heavy emphasis on “choice”, competition, and measurement. As Jaffe notes, progressive caucuses have found “it is indeed possible [for teachers unions] to gain traction with parents and communities, particularly by focusing on broader issues of inequality.” In some places, like Philadelphia, a key part of the community has been service union workers like those who staff public school cafeterias who are also under attack and have in turn joined forces to protect the public schools and advocated for a more equal education for the students they serve. (For those teachers interested in joining the fight, Jacobin recently released Class Action: An Activist Teachers’ Handbook, a project with the CORE caucus and other allies). Aside from the political value or such an approach, and the appropriateness in a democracy of placing equality at the center of our thinking on education, it strikes me that building strong alliances with teachers, parents and students requires taking their concerns and perspectives seriously, which would be a good thing on its own.
There was a time when equality was the watchword for the federal government’s role in education, and real (yet too limited) progress was being made. But in the last few decades increasingly the push has been away from equity as a concern towards a crisis narrative that insists that public schools as a whole are “failing,” necessitating the adoption of corporate inspired and influenced policies. This despite the fact that the crisis narrative ignored that poor schooling was not provided to children of all races and classes and heavily influenced, where it existed, by the related problems of concentrated poverty and a funding system guaranteed to provide all the resources needed for the most privileged students and to not provide even the basics for the most disadvantaged.
The solution to this problem is a revitalized union movement, one that takes seriously our collective commitment to the worth of everyone, and it willing to challenge the forces arrayed against that ideal. Without that, we’re all screwed.
Josh Eidelson has a piece about the AFL-CIO “exploring new investments in alternative labor organizing and a multi-union effort to transform Texas.” And that is good news. While there has been so much talk about the possibility of a major electoral shift in Texas, there hasn’t been much talk about an opening for labor. But I agree, based on what I can see from here, and what I’ve heard from those on the ground, that Texas could be an opportunity if the resources were there and an aggressive multi-union strategy. And that appears to be what we’re talking about here: “Becker also told The Nation that the AFL-CIO plans to support an ambitious multi-union effort to organize in Texas.” That’s AFL-CIO General Counsel Craig Becker, whose leading the “Initiative on the Future of Worker Representation” to come up with ideas to be discussed at the federation’s convention.
There is also talk of increasing support for alt-labor groups, along the lines of OUR Wall Mart or Working America.
I’ve argued here before that blaming voters for bad policy or consumers for things like labor conditions is a cop out. (Here and here for voters, here and here for consumers). The general idea is that social outcomes are not a product of unalloyed aggregated individual choice. Institutions matter, power matters. Elites shape the ideas (or people) that can get a serious hearing, and the structure of the choices people get. They work to suppress information and to coopt efforts to challenge them. They make symbolic moves to demobilize those challenges. They act to influence the preferences people hold. Those who hold positions of power and authority are supposed to do things like follow the law, act morally, represent us, etc. When they fail to, it’s their fault – ‘why did you let me?’ is a ridiculous response to a charge of dereliction of duty.
There are often two response to this claim that raise an important point, and addressing them helps me clarify my argument. First is the idea that I’m saying that people have no responsibility to act at all–that I’m essentially leaving them out of the conversation entirely. Second is the idea that saying they aren’t to blame is saying they have no role. Read the rest of this entry »
Laura Bassett and Dave Jamieson have a piece on Democratic strategy, Minimum Wage, Sick Leave Rebranded As Women’s Issues To Pressure GOP that I find troubling (the strategy, not the piece).
Pelosi and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) met with House freshmen two weeks ago to brief them on the new “women’s economic agenda,” which includes raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing workers the opportunity to earn paid sick leave, expanding affordable child care programs and passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Democrats have long supported such worker-friendly reforms. What’s changing this year are their political tactics. Rather than frame these issues in the traditional terms of economic fairness, they’ll be repackaging them as a matter of gender equality and family stability. As they push specific pieces of legislation, Democrats plan to roll out an aggressive communications effort to pressure Republicans who’ve declared the workplace measures job killers.
The strategy takes a cue from last November: If Democrats have managed to trounce Republicans with women voters, then why not turn labor issues into gender issues in pursuit of progressive reforms?
I’d love for Democrats to push harder on these issues. And I’m definitely for connecting issue of economic fairness to gender equality is a good one. I want to see more of that. The various issues that make up left politics are not a series of disconnected issue positions, as they are often framed, but are rather connected. At the core of both of these things is the question of who counts as a full and equal person. The answer should be everyone. But if we don’t draw the connections across these different areas, we’re operating at a serious political disadvantage. Certainly the right appreciates these connections. When we make the connections, people are more likely to see the issues that affect them personally as related to those that affect others. It helps them see these as a similar struggle. It helps produces solidarity.
But that isn’t what this story is about. Rather, it’s about replacing the economic framing with the gender framing (see my emphasis above). Read the rest of this entry »
[Update: Jerry Davis had a longer piece on this issue at Yale Global Online.]
Jerry Davis objects to my post, accusing me of misreading him because I didn’t read him (allegedly). “I would not summarize my argument as ‘Blame the consumers,’ and tried to be careful not to phrase it this way.” I gather part of the complaint is that ‘blame the consumers’ implies it is solely their fault, whereas (at points) Davis is clear blame is shared. Fair enough.
Let’s start with the original post.
Blame quickly extended from the owners of the building and the factories it contained, to the government of Bangladesh, to the retailers who sold the clothing. But the culpability extends all the way down the supply chain — to us.
Our willingness to buy garments sewn under dangerous conditions, chocolate made from cocoa picked by captive children, or cellphones and laptops containing “conflict minerals” from Congo create the demand that underwrites these tragedies.
I’ll concede he doesn’t actual apply the word blame to consumers – he used culpability (seemingly as a synonym for blame, which is used at the beginning of the sentence, but let’s leave that aside). Where does our culpability come from? “Our willingness” (a phrase I already quoted) to buy such goods. Read the rest of this entry »
[Update: On Orhtheory, Jerry Davis object to my comment (which was the first draft of this post) for claiming that he is calling to blame the consumer.]
[Update 2: Davis also makes his objections in this comments to this post. My response is here]
[Update 3: Jim Naureckas has a good post on this topic: You're to Blame for Factory Deaths. Well, You and Walmart]
[Update 4: You can take the National Consumers' League 10 cent pledge here.]
Speaking of the awful Bangladesh factory disaster that killed at least a thousand people, Brayden King at Orgtheory quotes Jerry Davis in the New York Times who blames consumers for working conditions in the Third World. In essence, consumer demand for cheap products are what forces wages down and makes working conditions so dangerous, so the blame lies with those consumers.
I see a few problems with this. First, if the all-powerful consumer was driving this, we wouldn’t see businesses making high profits, because that too raises costs. This is not the case. Second, even with expensive goods, where consumers are willing and even eager to pay high prices, we see similar working conditions (think Apple products).
Progressives have forgotten how to think about the constitutional dimensions of economic life. Work, livelihood, and opportunity; material security and insecurity; poverty and dependency; union organizing, collective bargaining, and workplace democracy: for generations of American reformers, the constitutional importance of these subjects was self-evident. Laissez-faire, unchecked corporate power, and the deprivations and inequalities they bred were not just bad public policy—they were constitutional infirmities. Today, with the exception of employment discrimination, such concerns have vanished from progressives’ constitutional landscape.
That has to change.
Today, Matt Dimick called attention Williams Forbath’s piece in Dissent, “Workers’ Rights and the Distributive Constitution” which opens with the above quote. It makes a good follow up to my last post on the role of money in putting deeply unpopular Social Security cuts on the agenda, or more simply, the power of the donor class. Forbath notes that conservatives use constitutional language to advance their agenda, while progressives often respond defensively. But Forbath calls for progressives to recapture a constitutional tradition that would insist that government has not only the power but the duty to push back against the conservative assault on the New Deal and Great Society.
The great Mark Price has a piece in the Guardian today, Wealth inequality will keep growing unless workers demand better, that gets to the heart of the problem with our broken economy’s failure to provide the security, opportunity, and basic needs we all deserve. Two points are worth mentioning. First, it’s taken as a matter of faith that conservative prescriptions for the economy are easy to understand and more left-leaning approaches are more complex. I think that’s rubbish. Read Mark here. It’s not difficult at all. If people don’t have jobs, they can’t spend, and we all suffer. If there are way more applicants then there are jobs, there’s no way out of this mess. Inequality is the problem, equality the solution. It’s not that hard. (I made the same point about Robert Reich before). He also discards the silly notion that government has been trying to fix this problem, or that the solutions are unclear. Read the rest of this entry »
In my Inaugural I laid down the simple proposition that nobody is going to starve in this country. It seems to me to be equally plain that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By “business” I mean the whole of commerce as well as the whole of industry; by workers I mean all workers, the white collar class as well as the men [sic] in overalls; and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level-I mean the wages of decent living.
Franklin Roosevelt, Statement on the National Industrial Recovery Act (1933)
Lew, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton, joined NYU as chief operating officer and executive vice president in 2004. At the time, NYU was the only private university in the United States whose graduate students had a union contract. By the time Lew left two years later, NYU graduate students had lost their collective bargaining rights. In between, picketers hoisted “Wanted” posters with his face on them.
Reached over email, Andrew Ross, NYU professor of social and cultural analysis, charged that “the administration followed every page of the union-busting playbook, as instructed by the anti-union lawyers retained for that purpose.” Ross, a co-editor of the anthology “The University Against Itself: The NYU Strike and the Future of the Academic Workplace,” wrote that despite broad faculty and community support for the union, “students on the picket line were threatened with expulsion. There was no indication that Lew, as a senior member of the team who executed this policy, disagreed with any of these practices. To all appearances, he was a willing, and loyal, executor of decisions that trampled all over the students’ democratic right to organize.”
By the time Jack Lew left his post as NYU COO to become COO of Citigroup Wealth Management, the six-month strike was over, and the union had lost.
When we talked last year – soon after Obama had promoted Lew from his OMB director to his chief of staff — Local 2110 president Maida Rosenstein told me that Lew had acted as “the point person” in “representing management’s position” against GSOC.
Josh’s piece generated some attention, leading Elias Isquith to question whether the Treasury Secretary has anything to do with labor unions. Shawn Gude and Erik Loomis both have responses that I largely agree with. But I wanted to add a couple of thoughts that relate to some of the themes I’ve been talking about here.
Read the rest of this entry »