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  • Labor Day In Hell

    by Burnie Bond on September 13, 2010

    The new Albert Shanker Institute-supported report, The Global State of Workers’ Rights: Free Labor in a Hostile World, released on Labor Day by the human rights organization Freedom House, has received some notable attention in the press, both here and around the world. One photo essay in Foreign Policy, titled "Labor Day in Hell," illustrates 14 of the worst-offending nations, among them Belarus, North Korea, and Sudan (see the screenshot below).

    Indeed, the report, which examined the state of labor rights in the world for the year 2009, found serious violations of workers’ freedoms in all parts of the world except Western Europe. Countries were ranked on a five-category scale of Free, Mostly Free, Partly Free, Repressive, and Very Repressive.

    The United States was rated as Mostly Free—the same rank accorded to Bolivia, Mongolia, Romania, and Zambia—less free than all of Western Europe and such nations as Australia, Canada, Chile, South Africa, and South Korea. As the report notes, although American law recognizes core labor rights, the U.S. political environment is "distinctly hostile to unions, collective bargaining, and labor protest." So not Hell, but not Heaven either.

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  • Public Apples, Private Oranges: A More Ripened Look

    by Matthew Di Carlo on September 10, 2010

    So, how does the public/private wage gap look when we compare professionals in the two sectors by both occupation and experience/responsibilities?

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  • Green Shoots At The Grassroots

    by Randall Garton on September 10, 2010

    How can unions regain strength in a political and economic environment that has been hostile for decades? What can unions accomplish for working people in the dismal current economy?

    These are tough questions that unionists grapple with every day – not just on Labor Day – and there’s probably no simple answer. One line of thinking is the coalition-oriented view that unions must embrace a "social movement" approach, and connect with other progressive groups that focus on "social identity, the environment, and globalization" (see here). Indeed, according to a recent article in The Nation, unions and environmentalists in New England are doing just that, and enjoying some success. Groups whose primary focus is teaching people how to save energy have joined with unions and community groups in coalitions that seek both to promote environmental stewardship and to create "high road" green jobs. According to activists, these will be good union jobs in sustainable, green industries. By recognizing shared interests and overlapping constituencies, they maintain, traditional tensions between unions and environmental groups have been overcome to the benefit of both.

    This social movement model is founded on three essentials: "deep coalitions, policy research, and political action." It’s an approach in which the article’s author, Amy Dean, has a wealth of experience, and which she describes in a book she recently co-authored. (Full disclosure: The Albert Shanker Institute provided some support to Ms. Dean for the writing of this book.)

    So does social movement unionism really blaze a grassroots trail to a union renaissance? That’s impossible to say with any certainty, but I have a few related points.

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  • Are Value-Added Models Objective?

    by Matthew Di Carlo on September 8, 2010

    In recent discussions about teacher evaluation, some people try to distinguish between "subjective" measures (such as principal and peer observations) and "objective" measures (usually referring to value-added estimates of teachers’ effects on student test scores).

    In practical usage, objectivity refers to the relative absence of bias from human judgment ("pure" objectivity being unattainable). Value-added models are called "objective" because they use standardized testing data and a single tool for analyzing them: All students in a given grade/subject take the same test and all teachers’ "effects" in a given district or state are estimated by the same model. Put differently, all teachers are treated the same (at least those 25 percent or so who teach grades and subjects that are tested), and human judgment is relatively absent.

    By this standard, are value-added models objective? No. And it is somewhat misleading to suggest that they are.

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  • Free Labor In A Hostile World

    by Arch Puddington on September 3, 2010

    Our guest author today is Arch Puddington, director of research at Freedom House. The Global State of Workers’ Rights: Free Labor in a Hostile World, the Albert Shanker Institute-supported report he cites below, is available here. A "Map of Workers’ Rights," depicting its findings is here. 

    This month marks the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of Solidarity, the independent trade union movement that played so crucial a role in the collapse of Communist rule in Poland and ultimately everywhere else where it held sway. Solidarity emerged from a series of spontaneous strikes called by workers at the shipbuilding yards of Poland’s Baltic coast cities. It quickly spread throughout the country, pulling in workers from steel works, textile mills, and coal mines. Soon, the working class was joined by the intellectual opposition, a loose movement of academics and former student activists that had been gathering momentum as the corruption of the Communist system became increasingly apparent. 

    Solidarity thus quickly evolved into a broad movement for democracy, with a free-wheeling press, a diplomatic apparatus, and close ties to Poland’s influential Catholic Church. It was, however, the support of Poland’s huge working class that ensured Solidarity’s staying power. Where Communist regimes had faced down opposition stirrings among students and intellectuals in the past, it had never been confronted by an adversary as large, disciplined, and well-organized as Solidarity came to be.  

    It’s worth mentioning during this U.S. Labor Day period that U.S. unions, led by individuals such as AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland and AFT President Al Shanker (from whom this blog is named), among many others, were Solidarity’s staunchest supporters in the U.S.

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  • Does Language Shape Thought?

    by Burnie Bond on September 3, 2010

    Do the words we use frame the thoughts that we have? And, if so, does the language we speak affect how we think?

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  • Help The Economy: Put A Teacher's Aide In Every Classroom

    by Randall Garton on August 31, 2010

    Economist Robert Shiller (co-creator of the Case-Shiller Home Price Index, an essential tool for investors and economists) has an interesting idea for stimulating the economy: Put a teacher’s aide in every classroom.

    Why? As reported by the Wall Street Journal, "Not only would it employ millions, but it would be good for the children," who would benefit from "the extra attention of another person."

    Shiller is regarded as one of the most important economists today. The Arthur M. Okun professor of economics at Yale University and professor of finance at the Yale School of Management, he forewarned about both the dot.com bust and the housing bubble. For years, he criticized the so-called efficient markets model of economics, which many today cite as a key driver of the policies that led to the financial crisis. He is also the author of many books, including, Irrational Exuberance in 2000, which warned that the peaking real estate and stock markets were in bubble territory.

    Shiller is worried about today’s economy. He estimates that the likelihood of a double-dip recession is growing and that we are "teetering" on the brink of a dangerous deflationary spiral. What to do?

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  • The Test-Based Language Of Education

    by Matthew Di Carlo on August 30, 2010

    A recent poll on education attitudes from Gallup and Phi Delta Kappan got a lot of attention, including a mention on ABC’s "This Week with Christian Amanpour," which devoted most of its show to education yesterday. They flashed results for one of the poll’s questions, showing that 72 percent of Americans believe that "each teacher should be paid on the basis of the quality of his or her work," rather than on a "standard-scale basis."

    Anyone who knows anything about survey methodology knows that responses to questions can vary dramatically with different wordings (death tax, anyone?). The wording of this Gallup/PDK question, of course, presumes that the "quality of work" among teachers might be measured accurately. The term "teacher quality" is thrown around constantly in education circles, and in practice, it is usually used in the context of teachers’ effects on students’ test scores (as estimated by various classes of "value-added" models).

    But let’s say the Gallup/PDK poll asked respondents if "each teacher should be paid on the basis of their estimated effect on their students’ standardized test scores, relative to other teachers." Think the results would be different? Of course. This doesn’t necessarily say anything about the "merit" of the compensation argument, so to speak, nor does it suggest that survey questions should always emphasize perfect accuracy over clarity (which would also create bias of a different sort). But has anyone looked around recently and seen just how many powerful words, such as "quality," are routinely used to refer to standardized test score-related measures? I made a tentative list.

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  • The Cost Of Success In Education

    by Matthew Di Carlo on August 26, 2010

    Many are skeptical of the current push to improve our education system by means of test-based “accountability” - hiring, firing, and paying teachers and administrators, as well as closing and retaining schools, based largely on test scores. They say it won’t work. I share their skepticism, because I think it will.

    There is a simple logic to this approach: when you control the supply of teachers, leaders, and schools based on their ability to increase test scores, then this attribute will become increasingly common among these individuals and institutions. It is called “selecting on the dependent variable," and it is, given the talent of the people overseeing this process and the money behind it, a decent bet to work in the long run.

    Now, we all know the arguments about the limitations of test scores. We all know they’re largely true. Some people take them too far, others are too casual in their disregard. The question is not whether test scores provide a comprehensive measure of learning or subject mastery (of course they don’t). The better question is the extent to which teachers (and schools) who increase test scores a great deal are imparting and/or reinforcing the skills and traits that students will need after their K-12 education, relative to teachers who produce smaller gains. And this question remains largely unanswered.

    This is dangerous, because if there is an unreliable relationship between teaching essential skills and the boosting of test scores, then success is no longer success. And by selecting teachers and schools based on those scores, we will have deliberately engineered our public education system to fail in spite of success.

    It may be only then that we truly realize what we have done.

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  • Selling The State

    by Randall Garton on August 26, 2010

    In a recent post, we discussed the explosive growth in privatization of public services, including one town that recently privatized everything and everybody. Along similar lines, this week, the Wall Street Journal published a story about desperate state and local governments, squeezed by declining revenues, selling or leasing public property to private interests. The reporter notes:

    Cities and states across the nation are selling and leasing everything from airports to zoos—a fire sale that could help plug budget holes now but worsen their financial woes over the long run.

    The notion that we should cede public services to the private sector has assumed the status of quasi-religious dogma in recent years. There was a brief time during the earlier, more dire days of the current recession during which many began to question this market fundamentalism. Such dissent continues in some circles today. But you wouldn’t know it looking at actual policy.

    Things may even be getting worse. Cash-strapped governments have stepped up efforts in a new area: privatization of public assets.

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