Several days ago I wrote a post on the havoc “flexible scheduling” wreaks on the lives of parents of school children and yesterday’s Atlantic blog by Gillian White featured an article on the same topic. The article offered a good explanation of how this scheduling strategy, which affects 1/6 of the workforce, plays out:
For Americans who work traditional nine-to-five jobs, the life of a worker with a constantly-changing shift schedule can be difficult to fathom. Employees can wind up spending time, and money, commuting to their job, only to be told to leave early, or that they’re not needed at all that day. A sudden call to work can mean scrambling for child care, or turning down much-needed hours. And a constantly shifting schedule can lead to uneven earnings, with income spiking in some months and plummeting in others, making it incredibly difficult to budget. For students using part-time jobs to make ends meet, schedule changes can mean making a choice between attending class and earning enough money to pay tuition. For workers with kids, it can mean a constant struggle to find and afford child care. The problem is bigger than mere inconvenience.
As if research were needed to prove it, the Atlantic cites studies that link this kind of just-in-time scheduling to “…lower levels of job satisfaction… greater levels of work-family conflict… diminished cognition and physical health…and, decreases in their ability to reason, think, and recall information.” As noted in my earlier post, when I worked part time as a grocery store cashier I was in a unionized store. While I did not appreciate it at the time, I now realize that one of the reasons I was able to schedule time-off a week in advance and trade-off with colleagues on an ad hoc basis was because of the contract the provided these rights. The loss of worker’s bargaining power has resulted in corporations being able to schedule full and part-time workers on an at-will basis making it impossible for their employees to make even weekly plans for their families. As White understates in the paragraph above: “The problem is bigger than mere inconvenience.” The problem undercuts parent involvement in the lives of children and consequently makes it more difficult for their children to have an equal opportunity for success in school.
Progressive columnist Ruth Coniff wrote a syndicated column describing and oversimplifying Hillary Clinton’s quandary in taking a position on public schools. Coniff poses two options: should Hillary Clinton support her party’s current neo-liberal test-and-punish regime that promotes the privatization movement or should she support the status quo? As Coniff points out, the privatization movement is not improving things for students though it arguably helps taxpayers by limiting spending increases and clearly helps those who are profiting from the “… shady schemes that channel public funds into private schools”.
As I’ve written in previous posts, presidential candidates DO have a third option, neither of the above! A Presidential candidate who wanted to educate the populous could share some readily available facts on public education that reveal that children raised in poverty have a completely different and qualitatively poorer experience in public school than children raised in affluence, in large measure because they have fewer dollars spent on them even though their needs are greater and also because they enter school with learning gaps that result from poor nutrition, poor health services, and, in some instances, insufficient parent engagement. Instead of accepting the conventional wisdom that “throwing money at the problem” won’t solve the problems facing public education, a progressive candidate might suggest that money needs to be spent on programs that help a child raised in poverty before they enter school. A progressive candidate might suggest that those states who are failing to meet their constitutional mandates for equitable funding must do so before they receive any federal funding. A progressive candidate might focus on the obstacles a child raised in poverty faces instead of the burdens a taxpayer faces or the irresponsibility of the parents. A progressive candidate might champion the efforts of elected school boards who struggle to raise funds to help the children in their community instead of championing “the marketplace” solutions offered by profiteers who promote “choice” and de-facto vouchers… choices that are limited and vouchers that can only be used within the town boundaries.
My fantasy is that the 2016 presidential election will get voters out of the “status quo” versus “reform” debate and reveal that the only children public schools are failing are those raised in poverty and the only way to change that is to address the gross inequality in our economic system. My sense is that a Clinton candidacy will not change the debate— it will only reinforce it and ultimately end to the demise of public education as a means of providing an informed electorate.