What Will Schools Lose?

The Nieman Lab announced a few days ago that over 13,000 jobs in newsrooms have vanished in the last three years.   The Nieman Lab is the journalism center at Harvard University, so presumably they know what they’re talking about.  Here’s the Twitter reference.

Overall, that’s a 25% decline.  And while the article behind the Twitter feed goes on to say that hiring is finally on the upswing after a three-year gap, that doesn’t bode well for American newsrooms.

But I think it has implications for teachers, as well. This page, at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows the current numbers of teachers working in US public schools.  Why is it not good for teachers that 13,000 journalists lost their jobs over the last three years?

Well, in the 1990s, the business that was most affected by the arrival of the Internet was the music industry. Profits plummeted as people took their music collections online; Napster and other peer-to-peer file sharing networks began stripping value from music as an intellectual property. While Napster doesn’t do now what it did then, LimeWire and similar peer-to-peer sharing systems are making inroads on other branches and trees in the entertainment industry’s orchard — movies, TV shows and what-not.  When the writers’ guild went on strike just a few years ago to demand more profits from the online display of their efforts, we saw a sea-change in the kinds of television programming available. We saw a dramatic shift toward “reality TV” rather than scripted sitcoms. (Admittedly the shift to Reality TV was already underway, but the writers’ strike accelerated the process).  The result has been the transformation of the entertainment industry.

The same impetus has affected the business models of news corporations, particularly newspapers.  Hence the decline in newsroom staffs, paralleling the decline in newspaper circulation.

Don’t the same forces affecting  journalism and entertainment also hit public schools?  We know that an economic recession like this one — on track to put one to ten million people out of their houses through complex foreclosures of desperate necessity to the economy but of dubious legality — may just wipe out decades of American growth and prosperity in a very short time.  Judging by the example of Japan, the long-term consequences of this recession will linger on for many years.

This affects the tax base with which public school teachers are paid, and affects the income with which private teachers like me are paid. If families make less money, they will have less to tax — and towns and municipalities will look to cut costs, largely by trimming their school budgets of inessential services.  The families that used to be wealthy enough to afford private education  will now send their children to public school, placing the children into schools with limited resources, but not providing any additional funding (after all, these are taxpayers, and they’re already contributing to the maintenance of the public school).  Newspapers solved their budget problems by cutting news reporters; it’s not unreasonable to assume that we, the teachers, are likely to bear the brunt of this cost-cutting.

Over the next three years, what would it look like, say, if we lost 25% of the teaching jobs in the U.S.?

Well, it would mean about 869,050 teachers would be out of work.  That’s about double the number of teachers the United States is expected to add to its workforce by 2018 to keep pace with assumptions about student:teacher ratios.   But those student-teacher ratios would shatter in the kind of budget-crunch we’re talking about here.

Can you imagine your school with 25% fewer teachers than it has now?  And what does Sugata Mitra’s design for the SOLE as described at the end of this video suggest about a school with 25% fewer teachers?

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