“SUBCONTRACTING” AND TEACHERS WORLD-WIDE
By Kevin Stoda, subcontracted teacher now in the Middle East
“Subcontracting refers to the process of entering a contractual agreement with an outside person or company to perform a certain amount of work. The out-side person or company in this arrangement is known as a subcontractor, but may also be called a free-lance employee, independent contractor, or vendor.”
In the past year I have written two articles on teaching in foreign lands. Both articles included a cursory discussion of the growing trend globally to subcontract for teachers—rather than for a school, college or educational institution to to hire teachers directly for itself. The first article I wrote was entitled, “Comparison of Two Large Foreign English Teacher and Internationalization Projects in East Asia”.
For my first 22 years as a teacher, I personally never worked as a subcontractor for the position (or the positions) where I taught, e.g. at elementary or secondary schools, nor at colleges, businesses, or at language schools . However, since 2006, I have thrice worked for one educational institution while being paid for my employment from a third party (the contractor). This has occurred in Taiwan, Kuwait, and in Germany. It could occur the next time I go and teach in the states, too.
This trend in outsourcing education and educators is all part of the global effort to obtain throw-away employees in the local and international job markets. It is representative of some of the most despicable forms of free market capitalism—all of which have been promoted over recent decades in the name of privatization and efficiency. On the other hand, there are some short term benefits to outsourcing—which keep it perpetuated. Namely, most obviously, money and costs are kept down for the short term, i.e. in terms of old-school free-market accounting models.
This trend in outsourcing at the local, state, and international levels makes teaching jobs less secure–and less enjoyable–in many ways. Teachers and educational institutions world-wide need to take time and rethink this concept of limitless-outsourcing for educational efforts, especially when and where it is done practically solely in the name of saving money or for the breaking of unions 9however dysfunctional some unions may be). .
SUBCONTRACTING SUPPORT STAFF in the USA & Abroad
When I was a child growing up in the state of Kansas 4 decades ago, public schools undertook very little subcontracting—even in the area of support services. I recall the janitors being the one’s who helped fill the coke machines in our hallways, for example. (The janitors knew us at a personal level and we knew them.)All those who did work for the school district were contracted directly with the district. Our food in the cafeteria was wonderful and wonderfully nutritious. All the staff in the cafeteria were employed through the school district,too.
By the 1990s many school districts had outsourced–not-only-school cafeterias but janitorial services as well. Now, some districts are outsourcing bus-drivers to an ever greater degree.
Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for example, has undergone such a process.
It was observe that if the Williamsport district would be successful in subcontracting the positions, some forty “union colleagues [would] face the reality of losing their jobs, or having their wages and benefits eliminated my a private for-profit company.” One potentially affected worker, Deborah Monds, stated that already her husband had lost his job, so she really needed her health care benefits from the school job. “If they cut my benefits, I would have to leave my job and find another that would give me benefits, if that is even possible.”
The women, Deborah Monds, “who has been driving a school bus in Williamsport for 26 years, says she followed in her father’s footsteps, taking over his bus route when he retired after 50 years of service. Her brother has been driving a school bus for 31 years, and another brother has also worked as a district bus driver. Her family has provided more than 115 years of service to the district.”
She added, “I love being with the kids. I was not fortunate enough to have children, but for the few hours each day that I have them on board, I get to threat them as if they are my own.”
In other words, “for support professionals like Monds, the subcontracting of jobs is a constant worry and concern. Those hit hardest include cafeteria workers, bus drivers and custodians and maintenance workers. In the past year, there seems to have been a resurgence of subcontracting threats.”
The Illinois Education Association has claimed: “One of the greatest issues facing ESPs [education Support Professionals] today is privatization. A wide variety of companies and corporations are attempting to take over virtually all of the work traditionally performed by school district employees, from teaching to providing student transportation to cooking meals to cleaning and maintaining school buildings and grounds, and more. The National Education Association is strongly opposed to privatization because of the threat it poses to the quality of education, the accountability of public schools to the communities they serve and to the well being of children in school.”
According to one website, in 2007, the Illinois Education Association achieved a major victory in providing job protection for all ESP employees.”
However, as in neighboring Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin these days, the ESP worker’s sense of security is often low.
In Thailand, another Asian country where outsourcing has become rampant in recent decades for educators, the U.S. A.I.D. had long-ago put out a paper which had clearly discouraged the practice of outsourcing in its rural projects. That is, by the 1980s, there had already been too many detrimental developments in US AID projects “through outsourcing” in Thailand and East Asia—i.e. even at the very early stages of the Reagan and Thatcher era. Nonetheless, globally the rise in subcontracted positions has increased decade by decade—even in U.S.AID sponsored programs as well as in government –run educational projects across the continents.
In Japan, where I previously taught (1992-1994) as an Assistant Language Teacher [ALT] for one of the prefectural boards of education (alongside 20-plus unionized Japanese colleagues) at three rural high schools in team-teaching situations, too many of the 50 prefectural boards of education in the country have been either outsourcing their language teaching aids [ALT positions] or have been considering doing so.
Interestingly, this trend has been allowed to continue in Japan even though it is widely recognized by school officials and teachers nation-wide that there aren’t any “advantages in subcontracting, because a subcontract ALT can’t plan lessons together with the JLT[Japanese Language Teacher--of English]”—i.e. according to labor-union-negotiated rules in that land.
This is why in 2012 “[d]ispatch and subcontract ALTs may be on low salaries (as low as approximately 180,000 yen a month) and face poor working conditions (no social insurance, no unemployment insurance). In addition, some of them are told by their company that they cannot have any paid holidays. What do you think about these conditions?”
One commentator has noted: “It is difficult to teach well when working under such poor conditions. I just cannot believe how bad these conditions are. Japanese school teachers don’t know about this situation. Perhaps it would be a good idea to inform the public about it. If people are required to work without getting any paid holidays, it’s a violation of the Labour Standards Law, isn’t it?”
In short, the educational delivery for the language classrooms in such Japanese prefectures are clearly worsened through the practice of outsourcing. His leads to little contact timed between the ALT and the local Japanese teachers of English. This lack of time includes time for cultural exchange and for building cross-cultural teamwork in the lesson planning.
For years, GABA, one of many Japanese contracting firm, which specialized in hiring educational support staff for Osaka’s school districts, had claimed that its 800 member staff were made up of subcontractors—and therefore they were not eligible to regular employee benefits in Japan. Luckily, the Osaka Courts have informed GABA that the anticipated remunerative benefits to the employees cannot be ignored by simply labeling the employees as “subcontractors”.
Curently there is a movement in Japan to review and halt the national trends in outsourcing ALT jobs.
One participant in such a movement in Japan shares, “If we wish to see improved job security and wages for Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) working at public schools, unions have no choice but to take on the public boards of education. Our demands are for the end of subcontracting and dispatch and for the direct hire of all ALTs.However, with outsourcing ravaging other industries, some boards of education have allowed themselves be misled by dishonest companies into continuing to contract out jobs and avoiding their responsibilities.”
In response to complaints across Japan, MOMBUSHO (Ministry of Education) announced in 2009 that all prefectural boards of education across Japan should clearly accept the fact that “as long as the classroom teacher or subject teacher is the one giving direction to the ALTs and consulting with them on the teaching of lessons, outsourcing contracts may not be made. Boards of education should check the contents of their current contracts and take appropriate measures such as using the JET program, hiring teachers directly at the prefecture or city level, or making legitimate dispatch contracts.”
NOTE: Although the salary for ALTs in the government-run JET [Japanese Exchange Teacher] scheme has not risen in decades, the JET program pays ALTs much better than the salaries criticized above. ALTs in the government-managed JET program receive 300,000 yen per month in salary verses the 180,000 to 250,000 yen offered by other recruiters and contractors I the same country.
Meanwhile, back in the USA, subcontracted-teachers’aids, too, are often simply paid less (than teacher aids who are contracted directly and properly from school districts)–while at the same time they are given less benefits and job security. http://www.nj.com/hunterdon-county-democrat/index.ssf/2010/06/flemington-raritan_school_boar_3.html
This downwards spiral needs to be ended in America, but the advances of charter schools, growth of online classes, and other so-called school reforms are worsening pay and stability for teachers and teachers’ assistants across America.
SUBCONTRACTING TEACHING STAFF in the USA & Abroad
According to ASK.COM: “Usually work will be subcontracted out to specialist firms with specialist skills that the main contractor cannot do as well. For example in the construction industry contractors will sub-contract different parts of the work out like the masonry, cladding, floor screeners etc. They do not only do this for the best quality of workmanship however they are also passing over responsibility of the build to the sub-contractor.”
However, the idea of contracting-out teaching duties world-wide is often done simply for monetary reasons–and not typically for reasons of or for obtaining better quality in educational deliveries.
Supposedly, [a]nother advantage to sub-contracting work out is that it stimulates the economy and keeps a lot of businesses alive which depend on the larger businesses which dominate the market share. It keeps a flow of money.” However, in the real world of outsourced education, I discovered (in Germany in 2009 and 2010), i.e. when I taught for several different institutions as a contracted and as a subcontracted educator, the German federal government’s decade-long process of rewriting its own social net regulations (so as to help it be more competitive within the EU) had allowed the schools and contractors across the land to invite teachers from all over Europe –and even further-a-field –without the German having to worry about such incoming-teachers ever having opportunity to take advantage of the formerly-famous German safety-net.
In short, those foreign-born language teachers who have often arrived on German soil with the impression that they were to be working and living in the OLD GERMANY –when and where everyone who worked was required to gain basic minimal securities, like having good health insurance and unemployment benefits—were in for a very rude awakening.
Nowadays, people can teach foreign languages in Germany for 5, 6,7 or more years before they can access any such benefits ( especially if they are not from a non-European Union member state). I discovered—when my contracting firm was liquidated in December 2009 that the social net in Germany was no more supportive of me than had been my own government when I was living and teaching in the USA as a sub-contractor a decade earlier.
ASK.COM also notes that among the “disadvantages [of subcontracting] are that with the pass[age] over of responsibility to a subcontractor, arguments can arise when something does go wrong between the Main contractor, the secondary contractor, and the sub-contractor. (Is the subcontractor at fault for poor workmanship, or is the secondary contractor at fault for employing an inexperienced sub-contractor?)”
This conflict between those different parties who should have been responsible for me as a subcontracted worker hurt me several times in 2010-2011 while I was working in Taiwan teaching in 3 Taiwanese public schools. I observed time-and-again that my needs, my rights, and any assistance for me often fell simply through the cracks between contractor and workplace managers. This meant for example, that on July 1, 2011 I lost my visa to live and work in Taiwan because both the subcontractor and the local school district failed to take responsibility for filing appropriate paperwork in a timely fashion.
NOTE: I am still awaiting reimbursement of over US$2500.00 in moneys owed to me by that same school district in Taiwan where I taught for 10 months. Meanwhile, the contractor who-originally-helped-me-to-get-hired as a subcontractor has failed to assist me at all in gaining any of those owed moneys to me (now 7 months later) Because I lost my visa in Taiwan, I am not sure what my rights are, i.e. in terms of ever receiving compensation for the work for–which-I-was-never-paid there.
Across the Pacific, many contractors in the USA do not know what their rights are very well either.
Andrea Goldman writes in USLaw.com, there “is a great deal of confusion about what to do when a contractor does not pay the subcontractor.” The best that most American state laws offer any subcontractor is the right to get a lien on the property owned by the contractor. For teachers in public or private schools, getting such a lien is not a useful nor obtainable option. (Imagine if you are a foreign teacher in the USA. You would have even less clear right to stay around in the USA and file in court for such a lien if you were not paid as contracted!)
Moreover, in America today many charter schools do not have functioning teacher’s unions and many have entire staffs of faculty who are treated as subcontracted employees—often hired on the same salary scale as temporary and subcontracted faculty in other parts of the land. The increase in the number of online courses also often means that the number of faculty working as part-time and subcontracted faculty is also on the rise in this newer educational dimension.
ThinkProgress and the Wall Street Journal reported that at least 2.4 million jobs were outsourced in 2010.
At the same time, school districts from across the U.S. are already busy outsourcing teaching jobs to educators from the Philippines, Latin America, China and elsewhere. Some are invited to teach I the USA for a limited time. Others are looking to come and work for longer periods. (I have seen such advertisements recruiting foreign teachers while living in both Latin America and Asia.)
At the same time, tenure rights for U.S. teachers are being undercut already, especially in 2012.
“America’s public school teachers are seeing their generations-old tenure protections weakened as states seek flexibility to fire teachers who aren’t performing. A few states have essentially nullified tenure protections altogether, according to an analysis being released Wednesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality.”
Here are a list of changes from the USA Today from January 2012.
• In Florida, tenure protections were essentially made null and void with policy changes such as eliminating tenure-like benefits altogether for new teachers, but also spelling out requirements under which all teachers with multiple poor evaluations face dismissal.
•Rhode Island policies say teachers with two years of ineffective evaluations will be dismissed.
• Colorado and Nevada passed laws saying tenure can be taken away after multiple “ineffective” ratings.
• Eleven states now require districts to consider teacher performance when deciding who to let go.
• About half of all states have policies that require classroom effectiveness be considered in teacher evaluations.
• Florida, Indiana and Michigan adopted policies that require performance to be factored in teacher salaries.
According to that same USA Today article: “[M]any teachers feel under siege. They argue the evaluation systems are too dependent on standardized tests. While teachers’ unions have gotten more on board with strengthening teacher evaluations, they often question the systems’ fairness and want them designed with local teachers’ input.” However, little cooperation is visible—even on this critical front between teachers and those powers who control the hiring, the firing, and the directing of state and national policies.
A lot of money is also being thrown into cyber schools by the states and federal government—all which undermine teachers who have worked hard to obtain some stability in their workload and lives. Worriedly, “[f]ive for-profit companies control the cyberschool market: K12 Inc., Connections Academy, Educational Options, Apex Learning, and Plato. These virtual charter school providers supply course material, keep track of student achievement and hire educators.K12 Inc., based in Herndon, Virginia, is the country’s largest cyberschool provider. In just four years, K12’s full-time enrollment has more than doubled to 94,000 school kids.In an investigation of virtual charter school companies published in the Nation, Lee Fang discovered a massive but largely quiet campaign by corporate front-groups to push policies in state legislatures that benefit ‘education-technology companies.’”
Worse still for America, “[t]wo of these major players, K12 Inc. and Apex Learning are major financiers of Jeb Bush’s Foundation ,which is quickly revealing itself to be a lobbying firm for the online education industry.” According to Bob sidle, “It is Bush who pushed for the online requirement (not a choice, btw) and who also lobbied incoming governor Rick Scott to sell Florida Virtual School.” Nonetheless, Congress, Obama and the Bill Gate’s Foundation have not done enough to help out schools locally in 2011-2013.
I am currently working for the fourth time in a subcontracted position outside the USA, but I do not feel I would be faring any better in the labor market there. I am teaching in the Middle East where I have luckily had two relatively positive experiences working as a subcontracted teacher.
Let me know how conditions are for you (all of you other teachers in the USA—and around the world) !!