Home > Uncategorized > The Contingent Workforce: The Future Direction for Public Schools?

The Contingent Workforce: The Future Direction for Public Schools?

July 13, 2015

Over the past four decades there has been a trend in employment in our country: corporations, in an effort to improve their bottom line have moved away from full-time employees in the direction of “contingent workers”. An article in todays NYTimes by Noam Scheiber titled “Rising Economic Insecurity Tied to Decades Long Trend in Employment Practices” describes how this shift played out in corporate America this way:

Far-flung business units were sold off. Many other activities — beginning with human resources and then spreading to customer service and information technology — could be outsourced. The corporate headquarters would coordinate among the outsourced workers and monitor their performance.

The article described at length how this shift was advantageous for some highly skilled workers whose talents enabled them to earn high wages while working flexible hours. But it downplayed the impact on unskilled employees whose work was scheduled “efficiently” to help the corporations achieve a higher level of profit while viewing their labor as easily replaceable. And here’s the rub: as technology advances more and more iterative jobs will be eliminated and more and more unskilled laborers will be marginalized. Worse, as technology advances, so-called “robots” will be able to perform more and more tasks that now require “skilled” workers, further diminishing the workforce. Those “robots” may take the form of DIY devices like ATMs and scanners that enable shoppers to replace check-out clerks or may be literal robots that take orders and deliver food at restaurants replacing the waitstaff.

Public education has not been exempt from the outsourcing phenomenon. Just as the organization of schools mirrored the corporate organizations in place through the 1950s, today’s schools, particularly larger school districts, are moving toward the corporate models when it comes to the provision of support services. It is not unusual for a school district to outsource food services, custodial services, maintenance, technology support, bussing, payroll, and a wide array of testing programs. All of the jobs associated with these services were once staffed by school district employees who resided in the district and willingly paid taxes to support their local schools. Once the jobs were outsourced, however, the employees no longer had an allegiance to the school district and no longer had the assurances that their jobs would be secure.

Until the past decade or so, teachers have been exempt from this outsourcing phenomenon… but no more. One of the results of NCLB and RTTT is the “takeover” of “failing schools” by non-government organizations who, in many cases, were staffed by uncertified college graduates who could provide the iterative instruction needed to improve test scores which are the primary metric used to determine the effectiveness of schools. And here’s the rub: as teaching-to-the-test increases the skill level required by a teacher diminishes and the availability of on-line instruction increases. This vicious cycle mirrors what is happening in corporate America… and the results have not been beneficial for employees or children.

I believe there is a way out of this cycle for public education. If schools embrace the opportunity to use on-line instruction to provide iterative instruction and demand that teachers use their talents and skills to diagnose individual student needs, to counsel students, and to provide the “soft” skills that cannot be measured by standardized tests but are critically important in our democratic society they can emphasize the craft of teaching  and provide teachers with the same opportunities (and wages) that skilled workers receive in the “contingent economy”. If teaching is reduced to training students to pass tests, however, teachers will quickly become as replaceable as Walmart employees and burger flippers.

%d bloggers like this: