Education, Michigan Republicans, Teachers — November 16, 2015 at 6:48 am

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The teaching profession is steadily being transformed into a “gig job” on the model of Uber, Lyft and AirBnB wherein customers are paired with independent providers via Smart Phone apps. The model grew out of human desperation during the bleakest days of the Great Recession. As teacher shortages roll out across the nation we can count on Republican legislatures to follow the “shock doctrine” and use the disturbing teacher shortage situation to implement their ideological agendas. In this case it’s the ongoing destruction of classic American public schools and placing K-12 education in the largely untested hands of those for whom schools are just another institution to be run on a business model, especially the for-profit model.

Here in Michigan the most recent evidence of this is the November 5th passage of Senate Bill 491, introduced by Phil Pavlov (R-Port Huron) and passed 27-11. It is supposed to be a response to the teacher shortage that the Republicans, with help from some Democrats, have encouraged with their campaigns against public schools and teachers, going back to the John Engler days when school vouchers were being pushed by the right wing but were rejected by voters.

This bill follows passage of an earlier bill that changed the law to allow retired teachers to return to work as substitute teachers without imperiling their monthly pensions. Interestingly, some of these retired teachers were offered buy-out packages to leave their positions (and their union affiliations, input into curricula development, and relationships with students, parents and other teachers) and must now be lured back in order to maintain adequate local staffing levels on a short term or “gig” basis. Substitute teachers are generally contacted for assignments less than 24 hours before they are to occur, although anticipated teacher absences such as medical leave allow for more adequate notice.

The new bill adds writing, journalism, and health sciences to the list of subjects on the “critical shortage” list that non-certified teachers can teach. Additionally, if someone lacks a major in the subject they would be assigned to teach, they could proceed if they had spent five of the past seven years working in a related field. And finally, the law allows someone seeking a provisional teaching certificate to have extra subject matter endorsements if they have more than one degree or more than one major and meet the other certification requirements.

These teacher candidate activities in pursuit of full certification are going on in the background and are not seen or appreciated by many who persist in thinking teachers work only nine months of the year, a myth supported by the anti-unionists. (It’s noteworthy that the Michigan tourist industry lobbies for continuing the traditional school year with a Fall school start-up date after Labor Day, which partially explains why the idea of year round school has not gotten statewide traction when year-round school would ensure that teachers have the same time grind that other segments of the workforce do.)

Destroying teacher unity and their unions is key to the GOP because unions have historically been able to keep their members politically informed and therefore able to vote in their own best interests. What better way to destroy an informed voting bloc than to pit certified teachers against non-certified personnel and against one another and to have as many of them as possible working on a per diem on-call basis that provides no benefits and no professional cohesion?

If one looks at the legislature with their guaranteed $71,685 for working exactly half the number of days that they complain teachers do, one is tempted to propose the “gig” model for them as well, as they are among the most highly paid and under worked lawmakers in the nation. Because ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, has already drafted the laws for Republican majority legislature and underpaid aides have pretty much done all the rest of the real work, lawmakers need only be on-call to show up in Lansing to cast votes, take advantage of photo ops and look intense during one-day caucuses. This would reduce the cost to taxpayers by providing legislators with only a modest per diem and mileage reimbursement. Lawmakers would then have extra time to raise campaign funds on their own time and engage in the activities of their own school districts where they can take a very close look at what their ideological handiwork is doing to Michigan’s children, families and communities.