Thursday, October 9, 2014

Outsourcing, Teaching, and Not Understanding the Free Market

The destruction of teaching as a US profession continues to move forward.

Takepart yesterday reported on the increasing use of teachers from the Philippines to fill empty spots in the US. The article focuses on this move as a response to teacher shortages in Arizona, but it alludes to teacher shortages around the country.

This is a tricky subject. On the one hand, teacher shortages are a fairly predictable outcome of the continued assault on the profession. By stripping teachers of autonomy, dropping the pay level, reducing teaching to clerical script-reading work, removing all job security, gutting the parts of teaching that traditionally attract people, and denigrating the profession on a regular basis, the Folks In Charge have assured that teaching today is far less attractive as a profession than it has ever been. For example, given the current conditions there, what person in her right mind would pursue teaching as a lifelong career in North Carolina?

On the other hand, teacher "shortages" are being used as an excuse for any number of misbehaviors. The article mentions a group of Filipino teachers recruited to teach in Baton Rouge, and if gulf coast Louisiana, where 7500 teachers were wrongfully fired from the New Orleans school district-- if that part of the country has a teacher shortage, I'll eat my hat.

The importing of Filipino teachers is already revealing itself to be borderline human trafficking. Those Baton Rouge teachers won a $4.5 million suit against the "recruiters" who charged them $7K for their "applications" and demanded a cut of their wages. Turns out these kinds of shenanigans are not that uncommon.

Nor is the article very forthcoming on the wage issue. The income that the Filipinos make is described as ten times what they could make back home, but it doesn't address whether they are paid the same that a home-grown teacher would have made. Are they being hired at US bargain prices? It's hard not to suspect as much.

In US labor issues, management often develops a sudden lack of understanding of how the free market works. So let me refresh their sad memories.

The free market sets prices by a very simple mechanism. If you want to buy gold for a penny a pound, you offer that amount. If nobody will sell you gold at that price, you have to offer more. You have to keep offering more until somebody will sell.

It is no different for labor. If you want to pay a dollar a day to hire someone for a job, and nobody will take the job, you have to offer more, and keep offering more until someone says, "Yes."

If you have a labor "shortage," then unless you are on a desert island with just two other people, you don't really have a labor shortage at all. What you have is a Willing To Meet the Minimum Conditions Under Which People Will Work For You shortage. Even minimum wage employers, who in lean times will advertise that they're hiring for more than minimum wage, get that.

In a very real sense, there is no teacher shortage in this country at all. What there is is an unwillingness to make teaching an appealing profession that people will actively pursue and stay with for a lifetime. Depending on your location,it may be about money, or autonomy, or job security, or basic teaching conditions (if you're in some place like North Carolina, sorry, but it's all of the above). Another question the article doesn't ask is this-- why isn't Arizons headhunting in other states? Even Virginia (not exactly a teachers' paradise) recognized that North Carolina teachers were ripe for poaching. Why would you recruit teachers from the Philipines, unless you were specifically looking to recruit people who would work for less than the professionals here on the mainland?

Of course, if no one will sell you gold for a penny a pound, another alternative is to find somebody who will sell you really shiny metal that's sort of gold colored. And if your business model is actually about selling fake gold at huge profit to suckers who mistake it for the real thing, this arrangement is perfect. Since many of our reformsters don't really want lifetime career teachers anyway (too expensive, too uppity), refusing to meet the conditions for employment is a great way to shut out the "overqualified" labor they don't want.

That this brings human trafficking into the world of education is no surprise. Much of modern school reform is based on a disregard for the humanity of students and teachers, and one huge thrust of reform has been to define teaching down from a skilled profession to unskilled labor. Trying to profit from trafficking in that labor just seems like a logical extension of the ethics already in play. It's appalling and inexcusable, but it's not unexpected.


  1. I wish more people would read "Wake the Frog" the author tells about fallacy in the "so-called FREE" market and he says it is not sufficient to help us with things like Climate Change...

    1. While I agree that the free market is not the answer to everything, particularly in the field of education, I think the hype over climate change comes from much the same place as the U.S. schools are failing us and our future economic well-being panic. The fact is the climate is always changing; we don't live in a static world.

      That aside, if the free market fixed everything, there would have never been a need for unions, and despite what some people say, there was (and is) a need for unions.

  2. These are labor market conditions we expect to find in South Seas fishing fleets.

    Teachers -- wow, I'd say I cannot imagine what is next, but it seems there is no level they won't stoop to.

  3. You are exactly right. This goes on all over the US, and it is for individual greed. But when school districts find out, they either stay silent, turn away and do nothing, or they sweep things under the rug, hoping the problem will go away.

    In Garland, Texas, we had this same problem, and while there is now an investigative ongoing suit, the lives of many have been usurped. When I wrote my piece (, all 5 people had their teaching positions. Now 4 have another year pending, but the 5th had to leave his job a few weeks ago.

    The school said they could not keep him on.

    I do not know where this teacher is. His daughter was born in the US. He had been at that school for 8 years, teaching faithfully and well.

    But the district turned its back.

    That district had also hired countless Philippines, but they would not step forward, so I could not write about them.

    The superintendent in charge at the time "retired." The man supposedly embezzling has been put on paid administrative leave.

    And the teachers? Ah, the teachers...

    Besos, not borders,

    Ana M. Fores Tamayo, Adjunct Justice
    Facebook Page:

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  5. Thank you Peter Greene. But destruction of public education and the planet are part of the same stupidity -- and greed -- that are in charge in the U.S. and elsewhere.
    As for climate change, I can't let this comment pass -- it is so unutterably lacking basis in fact. Just a little information:

  6. Another question the article doesn't ask is this-- why isn't Arizon[a] headhunting in other states?

    As an Arizona teacher, I may suggest a coordinating reason: namely, even school officials here recognize that we've been so low in the national indicators for so long, such a recruitment effort might prove futile.

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