Sunday, May 15, 2011

From New York to California: American teachers protest education cuts

Across the United States, the feeling of energy and purpose that drove the protests in Wisconsin is now igniting similar protest movements in other states.

Last week there were rallies across California - in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. Signs read "Tax the rich" and "Bail out schools, not the banks".

In New York City on Thursday, 20,000 protesters marched down Wall Street. New York is implementing thousands more teacher layoffs this year on top of the recent loss of 5,000 teaching positions, despite a $3.2 billion surplus. The protests have a working class overtone. The Nation reported: "Some attendees view the budget cuts as a first shot in a much larger cultural conflict between the wealthy ruling elites and working class people. Mike Fox, a teacher at a Brooklyn charter school, believes the cuts and layoffs are the start of a class war. “It’s anti-city worker, so I’m here not just as a teacher, but for sanitation workers, policemen, firemen, all of the people who make the city work,” he said...As for sharing the burden, Fox said he doesn’t see people other than the poor sacrificing, and Bloomberg is playing too nice with the corporations on Wall Street when he should be demanding they contribute fairly to society." (

This summer, there will be a large, pan-American March on Washington in support of public education, called Save our Schools ( The protest is addressing funding cuts, teacher collective bargaining, high stakes standardized testing, and narrowing of the curriculum.

The teacher bashing in the Unites States has been widespread and particularly noxious. In keeping with an ideology of blame and shame, mainstream US media and government has waged a war against teachers and particularly teacher unions. The standardized testing regime that began in the 1980's, has reached its peak in the US, culminating with today's teacher evaluation system in New York City where 40% of the evaluation is based on student test scores.

Not surprisingly, the real reasons for so-called "reform" in the US are basically the same as here: cost savings, weakening union rights, and privatizing. But in the US, they have taken somewhat different forms.

Glut the Market - Lower standards for the teaching profession

The introduction of "Teach for America" came just as there was a looming teacher shortage in the US. "Teach for America" provides a shortened teacher training program and resulted in a massive increase in "certified" teachers in a very short period of time. This was critical to undermining union strength by creating a large pool of new teachers looking for employment and willing to take jobs with lower salaries and fewer employment rights.

In Canada, the same objective was achieved by increasing class sizes. This similarly led to significant layoffs just as a teacher shortage was approaching back in 2001.

Weaken union rights

This was late in coming to the US - our local BC government was one of the first when it introduced "Essential Services" legislation back in 2001. In the US, the attack on public sector union rights began in earnest this year and state government controlled by "Tea Party" Governors are leading the charge in legislative attacks on the right to organize, collect dues automatically, require membership and take job action.


In BC, this takes the form of the Fraser Institute rankings, opening of the catchment areas, and all the policies erroneously labeled as "choice" for parents. Choice means better quality for those who can afford it, and poor quality for those who can't. Able to drive your child across town? Then find the highest ranked school and register. Able to afford private school? Then you can easily have class sizes under 20. Able to pay school fees? Then welcome to Acadamy X, where your child gets additional programming and services.

In the US, they have used Charter schools and vouchers for the same purpose. Both allow public money to fund privately run schools, and have seriously eroded the public school system and the oversight of democratically elected School Boards. The result? An increased stratification in the school system between the haves and have nots. Interestingly, while US schools on average do rather poorly on international standardized tests, individual schools excel or fail. Income inequality and racial bias is reentering the US school system on an unprecedented level.

No comments:

Post a Comment