Teaching Profession News in Brief

Teacher Activism Persists in U.S.

By Madeline Will & The Associated Press — February 26, 2019 1 min read
Teachers and school personnel demonstrate outside the House of Delegates chamber last week at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va.
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Frustrated about wages, working conditions, and other education issues, teachers are continuing to walk out of their classrooms.

Labor strife spiked last year as teachers in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Washington state, and West Virginia took to the streets to protest.

Now, just as Denver teachers returned to their classrooms after a nine-day strike, teachers in West Virginia once again went on strike as did their counterparts in Oakland, Calif.

But the flavor of the teacher strikes has changed somewhat. Unlike last year, when teachers across the country shared a similar narrative of crumbling classrooms, unrestrained class sizes, and stagnant paychecks, the strike demands now are far-reaching. Teachers are pushing back against education reform policies like charter schools and performance-based pay. They’re also fighting for social-justice initiatives, like sanctuary protections for undocumented students.

West Virginia teachers, who started it all last spring, walked out again last week in protest of a broad-based education bill that, among other provisions, would have created the state’s first charter schools and allowed education savings accounts for parents to pay for private school. They ended their two-day strike after lawmakers did not act on the doomed measure.

The bill “is now dead. It’s gone,” said Fred Albert, the president of the American Federation of Teachers’ West Virginia chapter. “So our voices were heard.”

In Oakland, meanwhile, the city’s 3,000 teachers, who headed to the picket lines Feb. 21, are demanding a 12 percent retroactive raise covering 2017 to 2020 to compensate for what they say are among the lowest salaries for public school teachers in the exorbitantly expensive San Francisco Bay Area. They also want the district to hire more counselors to support students and more full-time nurses.

A teacher’s starting salary in the district is $46,500 a year, and the average salary is $63,000, according to the district’s teachers’ union. By comparison, a starting teacher makes $51,000 a year in neighboring Berkeley, where the average salary is $75,000.

While the statewide labor actions last year were mostly organized through grassroots Facebook groups, the strikes in major cities have been led by strong unions.

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A version of this article appeared in the February 27, 2019 edition of Education Week as Teacher Activism Persists in U.S.

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