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Originally published on The Progressive website.
The Attack on Teachers Goes to College
The dramatic lockout of faculty at Long Island University in Brooklyn this fall brought home the reality that what is happening in higher education is closely related to the attack on education in our K-12 public schools.
On August 31, 2016 the contract between the faculty on the Brooklyn campus and Long Island University (LIU) was due to expire. The negotiating team was told on that day if they did not accept the contract, faculty would be locked out.
The faculty members turned down the contract offer but did not vote to strike. In response, LIU cut off professors’ email accounts and health insurance. The professors were locked out of their classrooms and told they would be replaced. If faculty members went into the university buildings where their offices and classrooms were, they were told they could be criminally charged for trespassing.
Some of those faculty members had been teaching at LIU for twenty or thirty years.
As I listened to some of them express their shock at being treated so poorly to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, I was reminded of what I have heard K-12 teachers in schools across the country say about endless budget cuts, union-busting, and the threat of being replaced by less-skilled (and cheaper) employees.
One of the issues of concern in the LIU contract was a two-tier wage system that would pay new full time and adjunct instructors less. In addition, the university wanted to stop funding the Adjunct Benefits Trust Fund which helps adjunct professors buy health insurance.
After the lockout was announced, the school administration replaced the faculty with non-faculty employees, and placed advertisements on Monster.com for replacement instructors.
The students did not stand for the actions taken by the school administration and joined the teachers in protest, chanting,” LIU professors locked out, students walkout!”
On September 15, the twelve-day Long Island University lockout of the school’s faculty ended, but none of the issues in the dispute were resolved. The current contract was extended until May 31, 2017.
Faculty members were docked a full week of salary, which amounted to approximately the same value as the 2 percent raise they had asked for in contract negotiations. As LIU Professor Michael Pelias stated during an interview on Democracy at Work with Economist Richard Wolff, that same 2 percent raise, which would have gone to 600 people, is also equal to LIU President Kimberly Cline’s annual salary.
Undergraduates at LIU pay $33,678 per year in tuition. This does not include room and board. Students borrow approximately $35,000 to $45,000 by the end of four years.
The two-week conflict at LIU mirrors what has been happening in K12 public schools across the nation over the last ten years.
As Srividhya Swaminathan told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!,
“The whole notion that you could replace a faculty by advertising on Monster.com just flies in the face of what academia is actually about.”
Public school teachers make a similar case about Teach for America, Inc., an organization that recruits recent college grads, provides them with five weeks of training and then populates charter schools and sometimes whole urban public school districts with these amatuer teachers. The recruits sign a two or three-year contract to remain in the program, and they are not required to have a degree in education or a related field, any expertise in the subjects they are teaching, or a desire to stay in the profession.
Consequently, TFA recruits add to churn and stress in the lives of our most vulnerable students. By design, TFA teachers have no particular loyalty to the community where they work, and they provide a loophole to allow “alternative certification” and waiving licensing criteria for states and schools that receive Title I funding.
Another goal of the LIU lockout was “keeping workers unorganized … even as their institutions are corporatized,” according to Deborah Mutnick– Academe magazine blog.
In K-12, charter schools generally do not allow unionization of school staff, and some promoters of charter schools openly express a desire to crush teachers’ unions. Stuart Fishelson told Democracy Now!,
“This is what corporations are trying to do to education. They’re trying to corporatize and remove the familiar and the important parts of learning.”
The same is true in K-12.
Charter schools are run by CEOs, not principals, along with an appointed board that imposes a corporate, top-down management style.
This is the corporatization of our public schools.
Charter schools receive very little public oversight, even though they are funded by public tax dollars. Charter schools also can be co-housed in public schools while paying little or no rent. They can use a school district’s website to advertise for students and benefit from other public resources. But charter-school students and parents do not have recourse to democratic mechanisms such as hearings by the district school board.
Other corporate interests that seek to make a profit from our education system—at the expense of real teaching and learning in the classroom—include such companies as Pearson, that sell standardized tests. In Seattle last year fifth graders took eight standardized tests and eighth graders took nine standardized tests. This did not include quizzes or tests created by a teacher directly relating to what was taught in the classroom. These were tests paid for by school districts and required by politicians who get donations from corporations with a stake in testing.
Then there are businesses, such as Zynega, which groom students for jobs in their companies through specialized education programs.
In public schools, and, increasingly, at the college level, crucial decisions are being made by people with little or no experience in education. In the case of LIU, according to Sealy Gilles on Democracy Now!, the LIU president “has very little in the way of academic background. She sees herself as a corporate turnaround artist..”
We see the same scenario in the Los Angeles school district, where Eli Broad, the founder of the Broad Foundation, is a proponent of charter schools and believes schools should be run like a business. He favors retired military personnel and people with backgrounds in business, and wants them to run the nation’s schools. So he created the Broad Superintendents’ Academy, which produced several school turnaround “experts” such as Marie Goodloe-Johnson who was briefly Superintendent in the Seattle Public School district but was fired due to a financial scandal; Beverly Hall, former Superintendent of Atlanta public schools who was indicted by a grand jury in a cheating scandal; Jean-Claude Brizard,who received a vote of no confidence with the Rochester City School District and resigned from chief of Chicago Public schools after only seventeen months; LaVonne Sheffield who as Superintendent of Rockford Public Schools (RPS) was the subject of a lawsuit and soon resigned and left the district; and Robert Bobb, the former Emergency Financial Manager for Detroit who also became the subject of a lawsuit because he was receiving money from the Broad Foundation during his tenure, which represented a conflict of interest.
These people were placed in school districts to close public schools and convert them into charter schools. They and others have been the “turnaround artists” of K-12 public schools.
“The other issue was academic freedom,” explains Deborah Mutnick on Democracy Now!. “This management has attempted more and more to encroach on curricular issues that really are the purview of the faculty.”
The same could be said of corporate-run K-12 schools. Standardized testing leaves much less room for K-12 teachers to develop and use their own lesson plans and curriculum.
Because of the pressure on districts to use tests associated with the Common Core or lose Title I funding, teachers are focusing more of their attention on test prep than providing a well-rounded education that includes the development of critical and creative thinking
Finally, the LIU walk-out resembles recent teacher strikes which have drawn the support of students and parents. Whether at LIU or in public schools across the country, when teachers go on strike not only for fair wages but also to fight for a better learning environment for their students, students, parents and the community stand with them.
We saw that in Chicago where parents and students marched with their teachers and in Seattle where parent groups formed quickly to join the strike lines and serve hot coffee and soup to the teachers.
It’s time for the teaching community, students, and parents to stand together in all realms of education and ensure the development of a well-rounded education that addresses the needs of all students.
Dora Taylor is a Northwest Regional Progressive Education Fellow. She is a founding member and President of Parents Across America, and has co-authored two books, Digital Networking for School Reform and Left Behind in the Race to the Top: Realities of Education Reform.