Ever wonder why corporate education reformers praise Teach For America temps so much and want to find more ways to fire veteran teachers? Here’s one potential answer in their own words:
“…it is theoretically possible for rapid staff turnover or aggressive organizing efforts by a cohort of Teach For America entrants to give newer employees the upper hand…”
In other words, a newer (read: ignorant) employee is a malleable one. So say the authors of a conservative think-tank paper on how to better raid teachers pensions. New employees don’t know better than to let their pensions be raided.
The 2009 paper is called “But the Pension Fund Was Just Sitting There…”: The Politics of Teacher Retirement Plans by Frederick M. Hess and Juliet P. Squire. It was published by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and is freely available on the Internet. AEI is a private, conservative, not-for-profit think-tank dedicated to research and education on issues of government, politics, economics and social welfare. AEI scholars are considered to be some of the leading architects of the second Bush administration’s public policy and include Lynne Cheney, John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz and Newt Gingrich.
The paper suggests we should reduce pension benefits for teachers and public employees so as to be “fiscally responsible.” I don’t mean to suggest that all corporate education reform efforts are motivated by an urge to reduce teachers pension benefits. I merely suggest that this paper shows how many of the disruptive attacks on our public schools of late follow the pattern outlined here. One could easily see an effort aimed at privatization, for instance, following a similar turn.
Take note of the best political environment from which to attempt such an approach and compare it to what we’re seeing today:
“…embrace a “starve-the-beast” strategy. Since there are temptations for legislators to spend and unions to demand any available dollars, there is a perverse discipline implicit in funding shortfalls that dampens the urge to ratchet up benefits. In other words, the fiscally responsible course of maintaining healthy reserves can be regarded as an invitation to political irresponsibility.”
In other words, if you provide less funding to public schools, legislators will be more prone to cut things like teacher pension benefits. Moreover:
“When those moments emerge, reform-minded legislators and advocates have the opportunity to harness public opinion and frame benefit increases as irresponsible, craven, and kowtowing to “special interests.” Of course, the effort to manufacture such a moment can fall flat... which is why reformers must use fiscal crises as opportunities for promoting measures to modernize benefits and deliver responsible fiscal stewardship…” (Emphasis Added)
Notice the fiscal crisis doesn’t even need to be real. The authors suggest manufacturing such a crisis is perfectly allowable. It’s only cautioned against because the public might not be fooled. But if you can divert funding away from schools say with big business tax breaks or make it look like schools really have less funds than they really have, that’s still okay. How many times at the state and federal level have we seen this happen!?
Another way to grease the theft from teachers pensions is to divide-and-conquer. Specifically, the authors call for bribing veteran teachers at the expensive of new hires:
“…there is a persistent need to buy off, or in more decorous language, to “grandfather,” current teachers and retirees when promoting change. This is due not only to legal limitations but because unions will fight bitterly to protect the benefits of current members while, whatever they say, less passionately protecting those of future members.”
The authors think new employees can be better convinced of the benefits of reduced pensions benefits because:
“…newer teachers are by and large younger and generationally much more familiar with a highly mobile job market than are teachers who entered the workforce two decades ago. Existing pension systems are a legacy of the industrial era, a time when employees routinely stayed with one employer for decades or their entire career—and where benefits premised on long service were the norm. Today, decades in the service of a single employer is no longer the expectation for talented college graduates.”
So new employees have lower expectations. When hired by a school district, they don’t expect to be in the classroom very long before transitioning to their next job somewhere else. This certainly sounds like Teach For America temps, but it doesn’t sound like any public school teachers I’ve ever known. Moreover, it’s hard to see why this would be desirable from an administrator’s point of view. Wouldn’t you want knowledgeable, dedicated staff who devote their careers to the students in their charge? I guess that just costs too much. It wouldn’t be “fiscally responsible.”
However, the most pernicious element of the divide-and-conquer strategy may be that it’s just subterfuge. The authors clearly admit that at the end of the day they don’t care about veteran employees, new hires, administrators or even the public. They only want to provide plausible deniability:
“Finally, modifying pension systems requires addressing concerns of veterans who will feel cheated out of what they’ve been promised, organizing and selling advantages to younger educators and to recruiters, and designing systems that are clearly more responsive to public concerns and to the challenges of staffing schools—so as to provide plausible cover to reform advocates.” (Emphasis added)
Notice that none of this has anything to do with making schools better, providing better outcomes for students, parents or the community. The only concern here is to push forward a corporate education reform agenda – in this case reducing teachers pension benefits. There is no discussion of how this might impact student learning, only in how it would affect the bottom line.
To summarize, this paper advocates the following corporate education reform strategies:
1) Firing veteran employees and/or replacing them with TFA recruits helps the corporate reform agenda because it replaces the staff with more ignorant, malleable employees that can be more easily persuaded to accept changes in the status quo.
2) School funding shortfalls are excellent opportunities to enact changes that would not be considered when things are going smoothly.
3) There’s nothing wrong with creating a funding crisis if you can get away with it.
4) New employees don’t expect to be treated as well as veteran employees and thus can be more easily manipulated.
5) At the end of the day, this is all cover for pushing through the corporate education reform agenda.
So there you have it in the words of the corporate education reformers. If you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall, this was your chance. You can read the whole paper here.
Sadly, there is plenty more available on-line. It just takes a strong stomach to get through all of it. But it only takes a moment with a newspaper to see it being conducted right under our noses.