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Teachers Seek to ‘Reclaim’ Education

6:48 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

(Chicago Teachers Local Union 1/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Originally published at In These Times

After years of being backed into a corner, on Monday public-school teachers stood up in defiance against what they see as their chief bully—budget-slashing school reforms that have made school more stressful and less fulfilling for both them and their students.

Under the banner of a National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education, educators, students and community groups coordinated demonstrations, rallies and other public gatherings in dozens of cities. In the long run, the day of action kicked off a broader campaign by a coalition of unions and community groups to chart an alternative path to education reform.

According to a policy statement by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the leading union behind the campaign, and its partner groups, the goal is to foster “a community-union movement for educational equity and excellence.” While that agenda may sound neutral to the uninitiated, it speaks to growing resentment toward the prevailing reform rhetoric pushed by the White House and many politicians: corporate-oriented “standards” and “management,” leading to a test-heavy curriculum focused on math and reading at the expense of all else. First imposed under the No Child Left Behind law of the Bush administration, this hardline approach rests on the belief that a lack of academic rigor and “ineffective” educators are impeding U.S. students’ performance. The prescription has been an avalanche of high-stakes testing, public-school funding cuts and free-market privatization measures such as charter schools, often funded by corporate-oriented philanthropists and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

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Educators Wary of Tech Fixes for College Affordability Crisis

1:32 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

(Wikimedia Commons/Avatar)

Originally published at In These Times

As tuitions rise and the job market still slumps, many young college graduates are wrestling with the question of how to make their increasingly expensive educations pay off. Now, new technologies are emerging as a potential solution for the college affordability crisis, according to some educational administrators and officials. The growing public fascination with “Massive Open Online Courses,” or MOOCs, suggests that in the near future, a public university degree may become cheaper and more accessible, with a greater economic “return on investments” for the government. Yet some education advocates are wary of the MOOC phenomenon and urge the government to focus on brick-and-mortar educational investments before seeking a magic bullet.

Though MOOCs are still in their experimental phase, they are being heavily marketed through flashy programs like EdX, which features online courses ranging from “International Human Rights” to “Neuronal Dynamics,” taught by faculty at Harvard, MIT and other top universities and accessible tuition-free, worldwide.

And President Obama’s recently issued college affordability plan cites MOOCs as a tool for boosting return on investment for public education funding, since the model can ostensibly be scaled up to full degree programs—sometimes simply by tacking on a completion certificate that makes the MOOC credentials more official. These education modules are delivered at a mass scale with little overhead, accessible from any Internet connection and supplemented with online tests, peer discussions and tutors.

A new report by the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education, however, warns that college administrators and politicians might be investing too much in corporate-controlled, data-driven online learning programs.   Read the rest of this entry →

Mexico City Erupts Over Neoliberal Education Bill

1:34 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Teachers have gathered en masse in Mexico City to protest President Nieto’s new education reform legislation. (Eneas De Troya/Flickr)

Originally posted at In These Times

In Mexico City, school teachers are meting out some serious discipline to a government gone awry.

For the past several weeks, the metropolis has pulsed with a labor insurrection. There have beenfierce union-led rallies, clashes with police, and mass demonstrations that have paralyzed the city, climaxing with an estimated 12,000 teachers storming the streets on Wednesday. The catalyst is Mexico’s new education reform legislationchampioned by President Enrique Peña Nieto and his PRI party, which teachers union activists blast as a thinly veiled attack on organized labor.

After lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to implement the reforms last week, demonstrations flared across the capital, blocking traffic and drawing crowds around the French, Spanish and U.S. embassies. The National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), a radical union faction representing a third of Mexico’s public school teachers, has mobilized tens of thousands of protesters. The conflict is now widely seen as as a principle test of Peña Nieto’s political strength, symbolizing the class and ideological tensions between Nieto’s center-right PRI party and Mexico’s embattled leftist movements.

The government maintains that the law, which amends articles of Mexico’s constitution that guarantee the right to public secular education, is necessary for improving management of Mexico’s school system and raising the quality of teaching. Reflecting the same neoliberal “reform” impulse that politicians have pushed in the United States with charter schools and draconian testing systems, the idea is to tighten controls on educators and students by imposing standardized tests and evaluations. The reforms would also ease the process for firing teachers, aiming to dismantle traditional union control and cronyism in employment decisions. As in the U.S., the “reformers” are pushing “merit-based” performance measures other market-oriented reforms.

Teachers see this as an assault on a sacrosanct public institution and view the law as a union-busting campaign masquerading as public-minded reform. In a Labor Notes report last December, Dan La Botz quoted Rubén Núñez Ginés of SNTE Local 22 in Oaxaca:

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On Both Sides of the Border, Teachers Fight Corporatization

9:49 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

The Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación has been fighting for greater respect for Mexican teachers, often against the country's teachers union itself. (Saúl Arroyo Morales / CNTE)

Originally posted at In These Times

Last month, the success of the Chicago teachers’ strike forced the mainstream media to present a rare picture of public school teachers: as organized, defiant and victorious. But prior to the Chicago teachers winning a major deal, there was no shortage of dismissive, condescending and misleading coverage of teachers unions.

Recently, that disdainful media gaze has turned southward. Various outlets–public radioUSA TodayMcClatchythe Economist and Washington Post–have depicted the Mexican teachers union as a sinister force in the national struggle over public education policy. The reports generally focus on Mexico’s poor academic performance in international rankings and zero in on the “boss” of the National Education Workers’ Union (SNTE), Elba Esther Gordillo, who is cartoonishly portrayed as an authoritarian collector of fancy handbags.

A June Washington Post report on Mexico’s crumbling schools, published on the eve of a landmark national election, said, “Twenty percent of the country’s budget goes to education, about $30 billion a year. More than 90 percent goes to salaries–negotiated by the teachers union, which dictates policy.” The piece quotes education scholar Carlos Ornelos of the Autonomous Metropolitan University about the alleged black market in teaching jobs: “The group Mexicans First estimates that 40 percent of the teaching jobs are still sold, or inherited, or exchanged for political or even sexual favors.” Yikes.

The source Ornelos cites, Mexicanos Primero, is a think tank that seems to closely align its politics (and name) with high-power U.S. reform groups like Students First. In the vein of “Won’t Back Down”, Mexicanos Primero has sponsored its own cinematic screed on teachers, “¡de Panzazo!” (“barely passing”), depicting corruption and incompetence throughout Mexico’s education system.

Both ¡de Panzazo!’s claims and the American press’s disdain for Mexico’s teachers show only one sliver of a complex, often misrepresented political context. Yes, there is documented evidence of rampant corruption as well as [certain] persistent cronyistic practices in the Mexican teachers union, such as reserving teaching positions for family members. But that’s not the whole story.

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Scant Room for Equity in Obama’s Talking Points on Jobs

7:16 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Photo by Kevin Lamarque-Pool/Getty Images

Cross-posted from In These Times.

President Obama’s jobs speech before Congress struck an uncomfortable balance between the art of the possible and the sophistry of defeatism.

The speech did offer some serious ideas about reinvigorating the stagnant economy. But for all the talking points—from infrastructure investment to initiatives to promote hiring of veterans and the long-term unemployed—his eloquent words sidestepped the ideological barriers imposed by Washington’s reactionary ideologues. Meanwhile, the groups suffering the worst of the economic crisis—the poor, people of color, single women—may be hurt more by his careful omissions than they’d be helped by his proposals.

First, it’s far from clear whether the initiatives laid out in the speech, particularly the tax-cutting provisions, would make a significant dent in unemployment. The Progressive’s Matthew Rothschild points out that the structure of Obama’s highlighted payroll tax cut could be considered “regressive,” in that the bonus will be weighted toward the pockets of higher income-earners rather than the working poor.

More broadly, the pitch for cautiously modest, though earnest, stimulus measures seemed designed to ease the path toward more deficit slashing and cutbacks on social programs in the long run. The subtext appears to be a drive toward austerity and “entitlement reform”—pivoting toward conservatives who routinely demonize “nanny state” institutions like Social Security and Medicare. So despite rhetoric that pundits praised as “Trumanesque” and “fiery,” celebrating historic public works and exhorting Congress to cooperate for once, the speech was silent on the institutional pillars that should buttress any job creation plan. Read the rest of this entry →