Category Archives: Strike

“Turning the Streets Into Our Classroom”: Vote for May Day Strike!

dearbornPublished by The South Seattle Emerald

by Jesse Hagopian 

By Wednesday this week every school in Seattle will have held a union vote to decided if our Seattle Education Association (SEA) should go out on strike on May Day—International Worker’s Day—to demand full funding for education, to support our immigrant students, and to defend union rights.

I am voting yes!—and I hope that the rest of the educators join me in authorizing this walkout for the schools our students deserve.

Here in Washington State, our state Supreme Court ruled in the McCleary decision that our state legislature was in violation of the state Constitution’s “Paramount Duty” to amply provide for education.  The court has fined the legislature and found them in contempt of court for failing to support public education.  And yet we have seen our legislature continue to funnel money to the wealthiest corporations in our state, giving away billions in tax breaks to Boeing and maintaining tax loopholes for the rich.  Washington State is one of only a few states without an income tax and ranks dead last with most regressive tax structure in the nation.  The year 2017 was the final year that the state Supreme Court gave the legislature to fix the funding problem and it is clear that the legislature has no plans to start following the law anytime soon. ft-teachers-washington

We have tried emailing, calling and asking nicely for the legislature to follow the law and fund education. That hasn’t worked.

Now it’s time to show the collective power of labor.  We held a one-day walkout two years ago as part of a rolling strike wave across the state to pressure the state legislature. That was an important action that raised awareness, brought families into the streets with teachers in a common struggle, and gave teachers a glimpse of their power.  But this one-day strike has the potential to have a much bigger impact than the last because the Martin Luther King County Labor Council passed a resolution calling on all the locally affiliated unions to go out on May Day. As the Seattle Weekly reported,

SEA isn’t the only union flirting with a May Day strike. UAW Local 4121 is also voting on strike action, according to the op-ed. (We’ve got a line out to the union.) And the Martin Luther King County Labor Council voted last week in favor of a resolution supporting strikes and other direct actions (for instance, teach-ins) on May Day in cooperation with organizers of the labor and immigrant marches.

Many unions are looking to the SEA to see if we strike. If we do, others could follow and it could become a mass outpouring of labor solidarity that truly has the power to shake up the one percent and their political representatives in the legislature and make them heed our demands for education and union rights.

In addition to the urgency around education funding in our state, the May 1st Coalition in Seattle has called on workers to strike for immigrant rights on May Day, and there will be a massive outpouring of humanity at a rally that day to stand against Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. All the anti-immigrant rhetoric and deportations are demoralizing our students, splitting them apart from their families, and leading to hate crimes. Moreover, there is a push by the Trump administration and within the federal government to ratify anti-union, so-called “right to work” legislation, that would gut union protections.

I am voting to strike because I believe we as educators should join the struggle for immigrant rights and I see that as a vital component to a better education system.

I’m not content to teach students about the mass strikes and boycotts of the past that won social programs and the right to unionize–I know we actually need to bring back that history and make it real for our students by demonstrating what it looks like in practice. I’m ready to make the streets my classroom on the first of May and teach a lesson about union power and collective struggle that the rich and powerful won’t soon forget.

“The reforms are introduced with blood”–A Oaxaca teacher on the life and death struggle against the testocracy

The teachers in Oaxaca, Mexico have been setting the international standard for social movement unionism and the defense of public education for many years.

In her 2005 release of Granito de Arena, my friend, award-winning Seattle filmmaker Jill Freidberg, captured the story of hundreds of thousands of public schoolteachers in Oaxaca who have built a powerful grassroots movement, endured brutal repression over some 25-years of struggle for social and economic justice in Mexico’s public schools.

In 2013, when teachers at my school refused to administer the MAP test as an act of defiance to the corporate education reform test-and-punish agenda, I was worried about the consequences that such an action could have. I also remember talking with other teachers about the fact that if the teachers in Oaxaca could build barricades in the streets to defend their schools from corporate takeover, we could manage to organize the MAP boycott. And, in fact, teachers from Oaxaca came to our aid, writing the Seattle boycotting teachers a letter of solidarity.

Today, the struggle to stop the abuses of standardized testing of teachers and other corporate reforms in Oaxaca has literally become a life and death struggle with police officers brutally gunning downing at least eight protesters, including community members and teachers (for information about sending letters of protest, please visit the NPE site).

My good friend Shane Dillingham recently moved to Oaxaca, Mexico where he is working on a book about the history of indigenous struggle in the region.   Shane conducted this remarkable interview for Jacobin magazine with René González Pizarro, a Oaxacan teacher and union member, to discuss the impact of corporate education reform, union democracy and this history of his local 22 in the struggle for social justice.

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"The reforms are introduced with blood," mural in Oaxaca, Mexico in 2016. A. S. Dillingham

“The reforms are introduced with blood,” mural in Oaxaca, Mexico in 2016. A. S. Dillingham

Ten years ago, as a group of striking teachers slept in their encampment during the early hours of June 14 in the state capital of Oaxaca, Mexico, government forces launched an attack to remove them from the zócalo, or town square. Riot police cleared the plaza while helicopters dropped tear gas from above.

The striking teachers were beaten, arrested, and pushed out of the city center. But not for long; the teachers and their supporters quickly regrouped, fighting back, block by block, and took the plaza back by midday.

The violent repression of striking teachers in 2006, ordered by the state governor, launched a social movement — called the “Oaxaca Commune” by supporters — that grew to encompass much more than the local teachers’ union.

The movement mobilized large swathes of Oaxacan society against the repressive governor. Aggressive federal intervention hobbled the movement, but failed to wipe it out. Today the dissident teachers’ movement is in the streets again, this time in opposition to the federal government’s “education reform” program.

The teacher’s movement is also more widespread than in 2006. Militarized attacks on striking teachers have occurred in Mexico City and throughout the country’s southern states. In the last month, the state of Chiapas has seen pitched battles between teachers and police forces, and the Zapatistas have spoken out in favor of the striking teachers.

Last week the Mexican attorney general’s office arrested two of the leaders of the Oaxacan section of the teachers’ union, Local 22, on corruption charges. Then on June 19, federal and state police attacked protesters in Nochixtlán, Oaxaca, a town on the highway between the state capital and Mexico City, resulting in the death of at least eight protesters.

The blatant attack on outspoken government opponents unleashed a wave of protests in the state capital in response.

2006–2016. Street graffiti in Oaxaca City, commemorating the ongoing teachers’ struggle. Shane Dillingham / Jacobin

It’s become somewhat of a cliché to describe the situation in Mexico as a “crisis.” Indeed, la crisis is frequently satirized in Mexican film and popular culture, with Mexicans unsure when the last crisis ended and the next began.

Yet it’s true that in Mexico has experienced a wave of tragedies since 2006. Over one hundred thousand thousand people have died, over twenty-five thousand have been disappeared, and more than one hundred journalists have been killed in the decade since former president Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels.

Some of the crisis’s numbers are unforgettable. The forty-nine children burned to death in a government-outsourced daycare center without safety protections in the northern state of Sonora in 2009; the seventy-two migrants found in a collective grave in the state of Tamaulipas in 2010; and most recently the 2014 disappearance of forty-three Ayotzinapa Normal School students in the southern state of Guerrero. Tragedy’s numbers are a defining part of daily life and conversation in Mexico.

Enrique Peña Nieto’s election in 2012, coming after years of drug-war-related violence, was seen by many as a possible reprieve, a return to the nostalgic days of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) rule when governance was at least stable, if not democratic or transparent.

Yet President Peña Nieto’s sexenio (six-year term) has been marked by continued mass violence, corruption, and impunity at seemingly all levels of government. From shady government contracts in Mexico City, to his wife’s extravagant home paid for by dubious means, to the flagrant and repeated government lies over the forty-three missing students, Peña Nieto’s popularity has plummeted.

Recent state-level elections saw the PRI lose power in a number of its former strongholds. Mayors in Mexico are targeted by cartels, in a way that suggests they are siphoning funds directly from the state, in addition to drug and human trafficking.

The multiple captures and escapes of “El Chapo” Guzman, the infamous drug trafficker, lent credence to the popular belief among many Mexicans that the line between the traffickers and the state is blurry, at best.

Peña Nieto’s 2013 education reform plan — the piece of legislation under contention today — is just one component of a broader set of structural reforms pushed through by the president and the PRI.

While other reforms — such as the partial privatization of the state-run oil company, PEMEX, and corporate tax reform — have been relatively successful (on their own terms), the education initiative has proven the most difficult to implement, sparking opposition by not only the dissident section of the teachers’ union, the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), but also broader sectors of the national teachers’ union, the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE).

This opposition and the militarized approach of the government employed to implement the reforms, with thousands of federal police securing teacher testing sites, has led the international press, much of which until recently was supportive of Peña Nieto, to declare him a failure.

The education reform is better understood as an attack on labor. Much like the discourse of recent education reform movements in the United States, the Mexican reformers invoke notions of “accountability” and “quality” instruction.

But the reform itself contains numerous measures aimed at undermining the power of teachers’ unions including measures that weaken the union’s control of the hiring process at normal schools (which they historically controlled), eliminate teachers’ ability to pass down a position to their children, make it easier to fire teachers who miss work, and limit the number of union positions paid by the state.

These measures are all directly aimed at undermining the union’s power, but the central point of contention has been the evaluation of teachers through state-administered standardized tests.

At the end of last year, teachers across Mexico sat down for new nationwide teacher evaluations. In Oaxaca, the scene outside the testing site resembled a military exercise.

Ten thousand federal police were deployed to facilitate the administration of the evaluations, reflecting both the federal government’s desire to see their reform implemented as well as the widespread opposition to the new law.

Oaxaca is home to one of the most outspoken union locals in Mexico, Local 22, a member of the dissident CNTE movement — a movement that emerged in the late 1970s in opposition to the authoritarian, PRI-aligned SNTE.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the CNTE struggled against entrenched PRI control of union locals, with newly minted indigenous teachers playing a key role in southern states such as Oaxaca and Chiapas. The CNTE has remained a powerful force and controls, in addition to Local 22, sections of union locals in Michoacán, Guerrero, Chiapas, and the Federal District (Mexico City).

Given Local 22’s historic militancy, the state’s response was not surprising. Yet similar scenes of police coercion played out across the country, alongside a massive media campaign denouncing the dissident teachers’ union as self-interested and corrupt.

Historian A. S. Dillingham sat down with René González Pizarro, a Oaxacan teacher and member of Local 22, as well as a former delegate to its assembly, to discuss the nature of the reforms, the government’s strategy, and the history and culture of Local 22.


Can you first tell us a little about your own experience as a teacher? Why did you choose the teaching profession?

My professional training was originally in graphic design, but I’ve been immersed in the education world ever since I can remember. Actually, as a baby I was part of the teachers’ demonstrations of the 1980s and I remember that as a six- or seven-year-old I’d chant along with the slogans of the teachers.

After eight years teaching in private schools, I entered Local 22 thanks to my father. One of the benefits of the union members (eliminated by the recent reform) was the ability to inherit the position of one’s parents upon their retirement, as long as one had initiated their teacher training.

My father was in the indigenous education system, so I started there, with lowest category of promotor bilingüe or bilingual promoter. These positions were created in the 1970s and it is the category I continue to hold.

I started work in an indigenous boarding school in Coixtlahuaca, a rural, mountainous region in the western half of the state.

Let’s begin with the June 19 attacks on the teachers’ blockade in Nochixtán.

The federal and state police’s recent violence merely demonstrates the total obstinacy and refusal to negotiate on the government’s part. The teachers’ movement and much of the public generally have spoken out against the structural reforms, not just the against the education program.

On Sunday, the federal police first denied their use of live ammunition against demonstrators. Then later, after the confirmation of the first two dead, the secretary of government claimed it wasn’t police who fired, and said the photographs of police firing assault rifles were from another date and time.

But the media reaction was quick and the Associated Press confirmed the photographs of police firing on crowds were indeed from that Sunday and not manipulated.

Finally, at a press conference late that afternoon, the police admitted to their use of live ammunition.

Protesters carry a banner featuring "The Virgin of the Barricades" on June 14, 2016 to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the Oaxacan social movement. Shane Dillingham / Jacobin

The key from the government’s point of view has been the implementation of last year’s teacher evaluations. More than ten thousand federal police arrived in Oaxaca to facilitate the new evaluations.

The state government and Ministry of Education claimed it was a success. How do you view what took place with the evaluations?

The new state education ministry (IEEPO), which was legally reconstituted during the summer of 2015 to weaken the union’s control, has been trying to legitimize itself since its restructuring last July.

They’ve begun a series of actions, particularly on social media, to try to show that the Oaxacan teachers wanted to get rid of the “yoke” of the union.

On social media they have bombarded Oaxacans with messages like, “The new IEEPO is better, nothing remains in the union’s hands, now union coercion is no longer needed to access labor rights, the evaluation isn’t meant to take peoples’ jobs, now children will have all their classes.”

But the message is funny, if not ironic, in the face of the deployment of federal forces, not just in Oaxaca but in other states where the CNTE hasn’t had much presence.

Two or three years ago, before the reforms began in earnest, many non-CNTE teachers in the rest of the country viewed the evaluations as a good thing. (Actually some Oaxacan teachers did, as well.)

But with the full implementation of the reform there has been an upturn in the scale of opposition to it. Even in places where one hasn’t seen teacher protests before, one sees them now; the state of Jalisco and the state of Mexico are clear examples of this.

You mentioned the “new IEEPO” and what took place last July when the state government legally abolished — with the support of the federal police — the previous education ministry, in order to facilitate President Peña Nieto’s reforms.

How do you view that action? Does this constitute a death blow to Local 22’s power?

The government’s actions last July were a major blow to Local 22. But they weren’t a death blow. It wasn’t enough to merely freeze the union’s bank accounts, prosecute them financially, invent connections to organized crime, or try to do something from the financial side.

Nor has it been sufficient to detain the leaders. Actually, the detainment of four leaders and recently three members of Local 22’s executive committee sparked more desire to resist within the union.

Now the new state education ministry, supported by the reforms and federal education authorities, says that there will be no more marches and no missed class days. Three absences will mean the loss of one’s job, one absence will mean your pay would be docked.

The same happened with the federal ministry, after the first three days of the strike that began on May 15, 2016 the federal education ministry announced the firing of over four thousand teachers in Oaxaca, Michoacán, Guerrero, and Chiapas.

Do the authorities have the power to do that? To fire the teachers? That seems to be something new, given the union’s previous control over hiring.

According to the new reforms, yes they do have the power. The IEEPO asked the teachers to either go to class or have a day of pay deducted, because that is what the new law stipulates. Many teachers took to the streets. Some, out of fear or because they didn’t want their pay to be docked, stayed in the classrooms. Yet the threat of firing hasn’t stopped collective action. In fact, since May 15, the start of the strike, the movement has only grown.

The reform has allowed the state authorities to change how the IEEPO functions, right?

The new IEEPO is a mess. Within the actual office building, they have no idea what they are doing and they dismantled the apparatus, which, even if it was overly bureaucratic, knew how to function.

That is why they have turned to their massive publicity and social media campaigns, to improve the image of the new IEEPO.

In your opinion, what is the worst part of the education reforms?

That it’s not about education. That is the part that bothers me the most. From reading Peña Nieto’s reforms, the laws, and the auxiliary laws, it isn’t at all clear — and I’m not the only one that says this — that it’s about education reform.

It’s about yet another neoliberal government attack on trade unions that demonstrate any type of opposition. When one looks at the structural reforms in this country (and globally) one notices these reforms are directed at eliminating trade unions.

The strong unions have either been co-opted or eliminated. This happened in Mexico first with the railway workers, then the telecommunications workers’ union, the Luz y Fuerza union, the Federal Electricity Commission, and PEMEX. All that’s left are the teachers and public health workers.

With each reform, there is a direct attack on trade unions or civil society organizations.

You mentioned that you attended teachers’ marches as a baby with your parents. Not just in Oaxaca, but also in many other states, the democratic teachers’ movement emerged around that time. Local 22 and the CNTE nationally have their origins in that period. Is that history important for those in the movement today?

Yes. That generation from the 1980s just retired a few years ago (my father is one of them) and now there is a whole new generation of teachers. I know the history of that struggle because I lived through it but I’m not sure other comrades do because even those whose parents were also teachers in the 1980s don’t always seem very interested today.

There are two factors that might explain this dynamic. One is the distance that has developed recently between the union leadership and its bases, and the other is social pressure, particularly in the media, that casts the union in a negative light.

So the new comrades are often not interested in, nor committed to, the idea of struggle, either because they don’t feel represented by their leadership — because of corruption or poor management of the union — or because the media accuse the movement of being lazy and something bad for the country.

Yes, and many teachers say the relationship between the union leadership and the rank-and-file has changed dramatically since the 1980s.

Among the comrades that do participate, one major difference between today and the 1980s is the mandatory participation in union activities.

Today (although the state education ministry says the restructuring has taken this power away from the union), los puntos sindicales, the union point system, determines whether teachers can change their job category, school, or school zone, move between levels, and it also determines benefits, such as union-sponsored personal loans.

How do you see the Oaxacan struggle relating to the national context in Mexico? After Ayotzinapa, and the struggle for the missing forty-three students, have things changed in Oaxaca?

Unfortunately, Local 22 didn’t immediately join the movement for the missing forty-three students. The lack of solidarity among resistance and left movements in Oaxaca and Mexico generally is symptomatic.

After 2006, it has been virtually impossible to organize and unite the Left in Oaxaca. Many of us teachers have watched and followed the Ayotzinapa issue, and we are part of that movement, but not formally as Local 22.

It was only during the one-year anniversary of the disappearances that Local 22 made official statements of solidarity. I remember the first national teachers’ action in Mexico City after the disappearances; there was nothing in the official accords or assembly demands about Ayotzinapa.

The march was full of signs and banners addressing what had happened but it wasn’t even discussed, let alone made an official demand, by the organized union movement.

And why do you think the union leaders haven’t focused on supporting Ayotizinapa?

I’m not sure. Since I joined the union I’ve noticed a lack of interest in other movements and a basic lack of solidarity.

And that dynamic, of not taking up demands of other movements, contributes to the notion that the union is only concerned about its own interests. You can’t ask for support if you’re not supporting other struggles.

Exactly.

This brings me to a longstanding frustration with the reporting on teachers’ struggles in Mexico that leaves out important conflicts and problems within the union. As Benjamin Smith points out, there are problems within the dissident union movement itself, like the ability of teachers to pass their job on to their children, corrupt internal arbitration practices, and pay scales that benefit the union hierarchy.

What we shouldn’t lose sight of is that, even with the problems within the CNTE leadership, we cannot blame teachers themselves entirely for the education situation in Oaxaca or Mexico.

And there are real fights within Local 22 for internal union reform and alternative education reform. For example, Local 22 has developed a counter-proposal to the government’s so-called reform over the last few years.

Our counter-proposal is an effort from the union and the base-level membership, organized around two important points. First, it proposes a curriculum based in the local culture and context of Oaxaca, which is diverse, indigenous, and multicultural. Secondly, it is based in the theories of critical pedagogy.

Of the most important changes it proposes, in my view, regards the system of teacher evaluation. The union’s proposal eliminates standardized testing (there will be exams but the use of standardized exams will be abolished) to evaluate either students or teachers. It focuses entirely on the qualitative aspect of education.

I served as advisor for a process in which indigenous teachers from all over the state of Oaxaca discussed and debated methods of evaluation that fit indigenous education and what we aim to accomplish as indigenous teachers.

“No to the Education Reform! Only Books will Bring this country out of Barbarism.” Street graffiti stenciled on offices of Banamex, a Mexican bank. “No to the Education Reform! Only Books will Bring this country out of Barbarism.” Street graffiti stenciled on offices of Banamex, a Mexican bank. Shane Dillingham / Jacobin

With the imposition of the new law, our proposal has lost steam. Now there is no openness on the part of the government or education authorities to even listen to our proposals.

In terms of the crisis of participation and distancing between the base and the leadership within Local 22, that is something far too complex to be solved with one or two actions but I would venture two reforms that, to me, would be fundamental in shifting toward a more democratic and militant unionism.

Within the union, one important change would be to eliminate the mechanisms of coerced participation. The teachers’ movement of the 1980s had a genuine interest from the bases in fighting against union corruption and in favor of the people and their right to a public and quality education.

Teachers participated with conviction. They slept on sidewalks waiting for the results of the state union assembly and valued the actions decided there.

Over time, that same leadership promoted a system of coerced participation, in which, through the point system, gave benefits or transfers, even salary raises, to those with the highest points.

This has meant that in the last few years union activities continued to have large levels of participation but not necessarily due to political conviction.

The other important change would be for us teachers to regain the parents and general public as allies in our struggle. In many communities the teachers left to participate in union actions without explaining to the parents why they did so or convincing them of the importance of their activities.

In the recent struggles it’s encouraging that more parents seem to be upset about how the reform will affect public education and are joining us in the streets.

It’s important that the school becomes once again part of the community and that the community itself becomes part of the education system.

For example, since June 19 of this year many NGOS, be it local, national, or international, have shown their solidarity with the movement and rejected the government’s use of police repression.

As I mentioned, the support of the communities and parents’ groups is decisive to reinvigorating the movement and one has begun to see that in the recent highway blockades, maintained for many days by parents and community members.

That popular participation is what held back the federal police across the state. The state violence over the weekend has only released a bigger wave of support from local communities.

What you raised at the beginning, that one cannot isolate the teachers from the broader social context in Mexico, seems crucial. Even the OECD, whose statistics are trotted out frequently to describe the poor quality of education in Mexico, notes the statistical correlation between poverty and education outcomes in southern Mexico.

The notion that poorly administered teacher evaluations will solve this problem is laughable and that teachers are primarily to blame for poor education conditions in their communities absurd.

Precisely. One has to keep in mind the structural poverty in this country.

The education reform doesn’t address the physical conditions of public schools, classroom technology, continuous teacher training, nor the distinct pedagogies that might fit particular regional contexts throughout the country. For me poverty is the principle problem affecting the education system.

Why Chicago Teacher Sarah Chambers Is Voting To Strike

SarahChambers

Chicago teacher Sarah Chambers speaks truth to power

In 2012, the Chicago Teachers Union waged a successful strike that revived the lessons of social justice unionism and taught educators around the country that it was possible to beat back the corporate education reform agenda. This strike was the opening salvo for much of the recent uprising around the country against the privatization of education, for the resources our schools need, and against the abuses of high-stakes testing.

When I heard that the Chicago Teacher’s Union (CTU) members started a social media campaign to explain why they were voting once again to authorize a strike, I knew I had to find Sarah Chambers’ video.

Sarah is special education teacher for Chicago Public Schools, and serves as the elementary functional VP for CTU executive board. She is an author who published an essay about the testing boycott she helped to lead in the anthology I edited, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.  She has been a tireless advocate for social justice education and a relentless defender of her students from the embattled Chicago Mayor, Rahm “The School Yard Bully” Emanuel.

I asked Sarah to explain to me the context of the strike vote and she told me,

Chicago Public Schools are trying to cut teachers pay by 12%, raise class sizes, cut 5,000 teachers, raise health care costs, removal of steps and lanes and cut teacher pensions.  CTU is refusing to accept these proposals.  CTU is demanding small class sizes, freeze on healthcare costs, reduction in standardized testing, removal of k-2nd testing, maintaining steps and lanes, restorative justice programs, etc.  The strike authorization vote is Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. After the authorization is approved with over 75% of our membership voting yes, the CTU house of delegates votes on whether we go out on strike. According to Illinois law, we would probably not be striking until the end of March or April, which is testing season.

With the strike vote set to begin Wednesday, Sarah lays out why the Chicago teachers, once again, must be prepared to strike for the school that Chicago students and teachers deserve:

To Sarah and to all of the Chicago educators: We who believe in social justice stand with you. Solidarity!

 

The Seattle Educators’ Strike for Social Justice: Groundbreaking victories and so much more to fight for

The Seattle Educators’ Strike for Social JusticeIMG_3520

On Sunday evening, thousands of Seattle Education Association members gathered in a general membership meeting and voted to approve a new contract with the Seattle Public Schools. This vote officially ended the strike by Seattle educators, which began on September 10, 2015, and interrupted the first five days of school.

This new contract contains many hard fought wins for social justice that the school district said it would never grant. These groundbreaking victories are against the abuses of high-stakes standardized testing, for more recess, and for race and equity teams in the schools are a dramatic departure from our previous  broken model of collective bargaining and hold the potential to transform educator unionism in the nation. Yet the contract also contained some needless concessions to corporate style reforms—including succumbing to the district’s disrespectful pay raise offer, raising caseloads for some special education teachers, extending the school day and reducing teacher planning time—that could have been avoided if the union had kept the picket lines up for a few days longer and organized mass mobilizations.

But the most important outcome of this contract negotiation won’t be found in the fine print of the agreement. The true triumph of this contract battle was the achievement of solidarity—between teachers, office professionals, nurses, school librarians, instructional assistants, parents, and community organizations—in the struggle for the public schools.

Thousands of parents joined in solidarity with the teachers, including the celebrated “Soup for Teachers” group that formed to bring sustenance and solidarity to picket lines at every school in the district. The Coalition for the Schools Seattle Deserves united community organizations and joined the great Kimya Dawson to host a benefit concert to raise funds for the striking teachers.  The Seattle City Council, led by councilmember Kshama Sawant, passed a unanimous resolution in support of the strike. Marching band students used their pep-band anthems to root on striking educators, and local businesses donated to the picket lines.  Even the mainstream media regularly reported that parents were in support of the strike and that the educators were winning. There can be no doubt that this strike was overwhelmingly supported by the people in the Seattle area–except, perhaps, for the regions’ wealthiest resident, Bill Gates, who has invested his fortune in schemes to privatize education and reduce our schools to test prep centers.

So many of the union’s social justice demands were advanced in the current strike and negotiations–creating a compelling model for educators around the country who believe in social justice unionism.

IMG_3560We won an end to the use of standardized tests scores being used in teacher evaluations, the so-called “student growth rating”—a huge blow to the testocracy in Seattle and across the country. This victory clearly comes out of the years long struggle of educators, students, and parents in Seattle who have taken bold action to oppose these tests. In 2013, the teachers at Garfield voted unanimously to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress test and the boycott spread to some six other schools. Last year in Seattle, every single 11th grader at both Nathan Hale and Center school opted out of the SBAC common core test—joining some 60,000 other opt out across the state.

Our victory for a guaranteed minimum of 30 minutes recess in every elementary school is perhaps the first of its kind in the country. A story from a local NPR station in the spring of 2014 exposed the vanishing recess time in the Seattle Public Schools and showed how schools that served low-income students and students of color were particularly recess deficient. All last year I worked with a city-wide organization called “Lunch and Recess Matter,” that organized, petitioned, and rallied for the right to eat and play. This is a concrete victory for a research driven reform that has been shown to be vital for the social and emotional development of children.

We also won enforceable caseload caps for our Educational Support Associates (ESAs), such as school psychologists and speech language pathologists—a victory for vital services to support some of our most vulnerable students.

One of the most important gains for public education in this contract was the creation of race and equity teams. The Seattle Education Association advocated for every one of the Seattle Public Schools to have such a team to tackle issues of institutional racism–and in so doing won the support of many Black Lives Matter activists, including Seattle NAACP members, who issued a statement supporting the strike. The Seattle school district originally said they would only agree to having these teams in six schools. However, the power of the strike pushed the district to agree to allow thirty schools to have these anti-racist committees. Given that the Seattle schools have been found to suspend African American students at four times the rate of white students for the same infractions, it is clear that every school in the city needs to organize actively against inequality and racism.

With this visionary set of demands and the overwhelming support of the parents, students, community, and even city officials, it is truly disappointing that the union ended the strike before we achieved all we could at the bargaining table. Seattle has the fastest rising cost of rent and is among the top ten in highest cost of living in the nation. Educators have not had a cost of living increase in six years, and are increasingly unable to live in the city where we teach. It was a mistake to agree to 3% raise the first year, a 2% raise the second, and a 4.5 % raise the third, which won’t do much to even off set our rising cost of healthcare. With this contract, nurses in the Seattle Public schools will still have to split their time between several schools and can’t possibly provide the care that our students deserve. We achieved lower student to teacher ratios in some preschool and Distinct special education programs, but increased the special education “Access” programs caseload by 30%, going from 10:1:3 to 13:1:3 (student:teacher:instructional assistant). With the current ratios the Access students are able to participate in the general education curriculum and setting with support, however the new ratios put that inclusion model in jeopardy and will overwhelm Access case managers. We also submitted to the district’s demand to lengthen the school day by 20 minutes, which will reduce teacher planning time. There is no definitive evidence that a longer day produces better student outcomes, but we do know it will increase the burden on educators.

IMG_3513The fact that the union never organized a mass rally to bring the maximum pressure on the district was really disappointing. I know that if the union had organized a demonstration with all of our 5,000 members, many thousands of parents would have joined us and the pressure would have been enough to get us big gains on all the major issues we were fighting for. This reality reveals that the key to building the power we need to achieve the schools our children deserve will be in combining social justice demands with a social movement unionism approach that seeks the full mobilization of the membership and the community in pursuit of those demands.

All that said, I also know our strike has already gone a long way in transforming our union, city politics, and the labor movement for the better. So many educators, parents, students, and community members, in Seattle and around the nation, understand the issues that we face in education so much better as a result of this struggle. With so many more parents made aware of the dangers of over-testing by this strike, the opt out movement in Seattle will be truly massive this spring. The issue of disproportionate discipline as a component of the school-to-prison-pipeline has now been exposed in our city and I believe this will help embolden the Black Lives Matter movement in the coming months. So many in our city have been made aware of the need to fully fund our schools at the state level and I believe teachers, parents, and students will collaborate more than ever in challenging the state legislature to live up to its constitutional duty to amply provide the resources needed to run our schools.

As the Social Equality Educators—a rank and file organization of educators in Seattle—recently wrote, “The sleeping giant of our union has awoken from its slumber and begun to stretch its muscles. SEA members showed a tremendous amount of creativity and courage on the picket lines.” When our union fully commits to using this newfound strength, the corporate reform bullies will be once and for all chased out of the schoolyard.

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Jesse Hagopian teaches history and is the adviser to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School–the site of the historic boycott of the MAP test in 2013–and is an associate editor for the acclaimed Rethinking Schools magazine.  Jesse is the editor of More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.

Seattle Black Lives Matter Organizers: “We are in full support” of the Seattle educator strike!

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Students joined the picket line to make their voices heard

The 5,000 members of the Seattle Education Association led a five-day strike that was nothing short of transformative of our education system and our city.  Thousands of parents joined in solidarity with the teachers, including the celebrated “Soup for Teachers” group that formed to bring sustenance and solidarity to picket lines at just about every school in the district.  The Coalition for the Schools Seattle Deserves united community organizations and joined Kimya Dawson to host a benefit concert to raise funds for the striking teachers.  The Seattle City Council, led by councilmember Kshama Sawant, passed a unanimous resolution in support of the strike.  Marching band students used their pep-band anthems to root on striking educators.  There can be no doubt that this strike was overwhelming supported by the people in the Seattle area–except, perhaps, for the regions’ wealthiest resident, Bill Gates, who has invested his fortune in schemes to privatize education and reduce our schools to test prep centers.

So many of the union’s social justice demands were advanced in the current strike and negotiations–creating a compelling model for educators around the country who believe in social movement unionism.  This is why so many were greatly frustrated that the union ended the strike before a fair workload and pay agreement could be reached between the union and the school district.

Parents join the picket line!

Still, the union’s demand for “race and equity” teams was groundbreaking.  The Seattle Education Association advocated for every one of the Seattle Public Schools to have such a team to tackle issues of institutional racism.  The Seattle school district originally said they would only agree to having these teams in six schools.  However, the power of the strike pushed the district to agree to allow 30 schools to have these anti-racist committees in the tentative agreement that was reached between the union and the Seattle Public Schools.  Given that the Seattle schools have been found to suspend African American students at four times the rate of white students, it is clear that every school in the city needs to take to organize actively against inequality and racism.

Tomorrow, Seattle educators will vote on the tentative agreement.  Many of us will ask the union leadership why they never organized a mass rally of all our members and our parent supporters to give the bargaining team the support they may have needed to get the very best possible contact.  Many of us will continue to push the union stand up and advocate for the planning time and pay that Seattle’s educators deserve–something that was not achieved in the current tentative agreement.  But all of us will be proud that our union stood up for racial justice as a critical component to education and any contract that truly values students.

Below is a stunning statement issued by many Seattle area Black Lives Matter organizers in support of the striking educators.  Our movement has clear lesson: The power of labor, fused with movements for Black liberation, can even defeat the will of the nation’s billionaires.

—–

In Solidarity with the Seattle Teachers’ Strike

Seattle Black Lives Matter Organizers and Activists

Seattle, WA— September 15, 2015September 9th, 2015, the first day of School, Seattle Educators went on strike demanding the District provide a contract settlement that guaranteed student recess, professional pay, fair teacher and staff evaluations, reasonable testing, ESA workload relief, office professional workload relief, and student equity around discipline and the opportunity gap.

The District is comprised of over 53,000 students. In 2013 black students represented just over 20% of the 12,500 high schools students in the Seattle district and 18% of the 8,000 middle school students, but accounted for over 40% of all suspensions and expulsions in those schools. This is not new information. In fact, the school district has been under federal investigation by the Department of Justice for disproportional and disparate school exclusion practices.

Seattle Black Lives Matter Organizers and Activists stand in solidarity with Seattle Educators because our fight for Black Liberation is intertwined with the Educator’s fight for equitable education and opportunity for all students. We are in full support of the demands made by the Seattle Education Association. In particular, we highlight those demands which most impact student equity and the opportunity gap.BlackStudentsLivesStrike

SEA has requested the School District put “Racial Equity Teams” in all 100 Seattle Public Schools to ensure that our black and brown children no longer fall victim to the “School to Prison Pipeline” and the opportunity gap. The District initially agreed to only provide six teams to six schools; which represents only 6% of a district under federal investigation for racially biased school exclusion practices.

Furthermore, the SEA has requested that any standardized test above the federal mandate be discussed with SEA prior to implementation. Presently, students between K to 12th grade could be subjected to upwards of 65 standardized tests. Children as young as Kindergarten are required to take standardized tests to determine their eligibility for Spectrum and Advanced Placement Programs. These tests are becoming increasingly computerized. Therein, those children with access to computers are more likely to do better on computerized standardized tests than those students who do not have access to similar technology. Furthermore, those tests which determine a student’s eligibility for graduation prevents many students from graduating. The students negatively impacted by these tests are increasingly black or brown and/or socio-economically disadvantaged. Those students who can financially afford additional tutoring and access to resources are more likely to pass standardized tests. Also, there are inequities in network serving capacity and the availability of computers from school to school. Generally schools attended by students of color have slower networks and less access to computers taking away time from teaching and learning. Therein, standardized testing and inequitable access to technology in the Seattle Public Schools District contributes to school segregation, the widening opportunity gap, the “School to Prison Pipeline,” institutional racism, and maintains the myth of white supremacy.

Bobby Seale said, “You do not fight racism with racism, the best way to fight racism is with solidarity.” We, Seattle Black Lives Matter Organizers and Activists, stand in solidarity with the Seattle Teachers’ Strike. We know that there are many institutions in the United States and all of them are have been birthed from the same system—a system, which since the inception of this country, has valued black lives as little more than property. We recognize that education is an institution of socialization in the United States. It is essential for Black Liberation that the institution of Education be challenged and rebuilt in a manner that is decolonized, equitable, and believes that Black Lives Matter. Therein, we stand in solidarity with Seattle Teachers who not only seek equitable pay and fair treatment of their time in the classroom, but who have also taken a stand against racism and anti-blackness in Seattle Public Schools.

In Solidarity,

Seattle Black Lives Matter Organizers, Activists, and Organizations

#BLMSeattleTeachersStrikeSolidarity

  • Seattle King County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
  • Seattle Black Book Club
  • The United Hood Movement
  • The Hip-Hop Congress (Sea-Tac Chapter)
  • Various Members of Outside Agitators 206
  • Aretha Basu, Women of Color for Systemic Change
  • Harmony Wright, Women of Color for Systemic Change
  • Jesse Hagopian, Seattle Public Schools Teacher (Garfield High School)
  • Dustin Washington, Ending the Prison Industrial Complex
  • Dan Bash, Local Organizer/Activist
  • Sarra Tekola, Local Organizer/Activist
  • Michael Moynihan, Local Organizer/Activist and Undergraduate Student at the University of Washington
  • Nikkita Oliver, Local Organizer, Activist, Artist and Mentor Artist with Creative Justice
  • Monica Thomas, Local Organizer/Activist
  • Nikki Etienne, Local Artist
  • Ela Barton, Local Artist
  • Imani Sims, Poet and Educator
  • Aaron Counts, Local Artist, Program Coordinator Creative Justice, Writers in the Schools
  • Garfield Hilson, Local Artist and Seattle Poetry Slam Slam Master
  • Obadiah Terry, Local Activist and Filmmaker
  • Mariama Suwaneh, Local Activist/Organizer and Undergraduate Student at the University of Washington
  • Afam Akiya, Real Change, EPIC, and Black Out Washington
  • Shontina Vernon, Local Artist and Creative Justice Mentor Artist
  • Gabriel Teodros, Musician, Writer, and Teaching Artist
  • Om Johari, Local Artist and Activist
  • Rashad Barber, Local Activist and Organizer
  • Evana Enabulele, Local Activist and Organizer
  • Na’Quel Walker, Local Activist and Organizer
  • Mohawk, Local Activist and Organizer

If you are black organizer, activist or organization who would like to sign-on in solidarity, please email:

Nikkita Oliver

konikita@gmail.com

We will republish the statement as new signees join.

Seattle Educators on Strike!: Walking the picket line, day one

The first day of the strike by Seattle’s teachers and educational support staff was incredible.  The solidarity from the community was truly inspirational, and the spirits of the educators are high. Teachers at the picket line at Garfield High School were especially proud to have played a roll in launching the rebellion against high-stakes testing that the union is taking up so strongly in the current contract negotiations.

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Every school across Seattle had an enormous turnout of teachers walking the picket line to demand a school system worthy of the students we educate.  I stepped away from the picket line at Garfield during my lunch break to give this interview, along with the great Wayne Au, about the strike and the recent ruling by the Washington State Supreme Court that charter schools are unconstitutional:

Seattle Teachers Launch First Strike in Three Decades (1/2) Professor Wayne Au and Seattle teacher Jesse Hagopian discuss the reasons for the strike as the superintendent goes to court to compel teachers back to work DATE: 2015-09-09 | LENGTH: 08:16

Seattle Educators Vote to Strike for “Much more than pay”: Interview with Jesse Hagopian on social justice unionism

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General Membership meeting of the Seattle Education Association, September 3rd, 2015

On Thursday, September 3rd, I joined thousands of Seattle educators in a packed downtown concert hall for a general membership meeting to decide whether or not to go on strike. After all the updates and debate, the meeting chair called for a voice vote on the matter at hand. An awesome cry of “aye” reverberated throughout the hall. Yet that thunderous roar of rejection for disrespect, the testocracy, and corporate education reform was belittled by the breathtaking silence that followed when the “no” vote was called for. In that blissful moment of peace, not a single educator in Seattle made a sound—and then pandemonium. An incredible jubilation resounded through the hall as it sunk in that we had just voted unanimously to strike for the schools that our students deserve.

It didn’t have to come to this, but the Seattle School District waited until the last days of summer to respond to any of the proposals put forward by educators, or to put forward any serious proposals of their own. When the district finally responded to the union, they rejected every one of the union’s innovative initiatives, and only offered teachers the opportunity to work 30 minuets a day for no extra pay.

Jaisal Noor of The Real News Network, interviewed me about the issues at stake in this contract battle—inGenMemMeetingcluding the union’s demand for a 6 percent raise for each of the three years of the contract, a race and equity team in every school, expanded recess for elementary school students, an end to using test scores in teacher evaluations, caseload caps for counselors and school psychologists, and more. As I told Jaisal Noor,

The issues that we’re taking up are much more than pay. Teachers and educational support staff deserve a living wage in a city where the costs are skyrocketing, where teachers can no longer afford to live in the city where they teach. So we’re definitely fighting for fair compensation. [However] We’re fighting for an incredible list of educational reforms that will truly improve the lives of children in Seattle…I’m really proud of the work that my social justice educator colleagues have done over the years to help move the union in a direction that takes up the political demands that will help us achieve the contract that will improve public education.

Here then is the video of the interview on Seattle educators’ strike:

Not Just for Better Pay: Seattle Teachers Vote to Strike for Social Justice

Teacher Jesse Hagopian says Seattle educators will walk the picket lines beginning Wednesday, September 9 if their demands are not met.

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Ready to Strike for the Schools Seattle’s Students Deserve!

Today, I went to the Strike Captain meeting of the Seattle Education Association (SEA, the union that represents Seattle’s teachers and educational support staff) and I can tell you that our educators are fired up and prepared to strike, if necessary, to win a contract that helps us achieve the education system that Seattle deserves.

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2015 Seattle Education Association Bargaining Team

The SEA has been bargaining with the Seattle School District over a new contract all summer. We are now in the final days before school starts and the union and the school district are very far away from reaching an agreement. Thousands of educators will be gathering for general membership meeting on Thursday, September 3rd to either vote to ratify an agreement or to go on strike—but given the disorganized and disrespectful manner in which the Seattle school district conducted itself, I don’t expect that there will be an agreement by the time of our meeting.

It didn’t have to come to this, but the district waited until the last days of summer to respond to any of the proposals put forward by educators or put forward any serious proposals of their own. The proposals from the District, as you will read below, will do almost nothing to support Seattle’s educators or students, and in some cases would do great harm.

In contrast, the bargaining team for the educators has never in my time as a teacher put forward such a visionary set of proposals to advocate for the type of reforms that would dramatically improve our schools.

IMG_1996The union is advocating for a decrease in the use of high-stakes testing. This would include forming a joint committee with the union and the district to accept or reject any standardized testing beyond the federally mandated tests and getting rid of the “Student Growth Rating” that ties tested subject teacher’s evaluations to standardized tests scores. The Seattle School District has inundated our school with dozens of tests that students have to take in their lives as K-12 students, and it’s past time that we reclaim our classrooms for teaching rather than test prep.

The union is also fighting for equitable and ample recess across the school district. Many schools in Seattle—predominantly the schools that serve low-income and students of color—have only 15 min of recess, and the union is insisting that every school have a minimum of 45 minutes. This union demand was an outgrowth of the coalition of parents from around Seattle that formed last school year called “Lunch and Recess Matter” who have been fighting for student’s right to have enough time to play and eat.

IMG_1933-2Moreover, our union wants to implement “race and equity teams” at each work site that could identify structural inequities and institutional racism and make recommendations about how to address those issues. The Seattle Public Schools have been shown to suspend African American students some 4 times higher than their white peers. The School Seattle district should be impressed by the leadership from educators in addressing these injustices in the schools, but instead they have rejected this proposal.

In addition, our union is asking for case load caps for our schools counselors and psychologists so that they can provide the individual attention that all students deserve. At many schools, including Garfield High School where I teach, counselors have hundreds of students on their caseloads and can’t possibly provide them all the social and emotional supports they need. At my son’s elementary school this year, the principal had to stop all spending on school supplies like paper and pencils in order to use those funds to save our counselor position. These issues are especially connecting with parents around Seattle and are sure to generate a lot of community support if we do end up striking.

As of today educators are asking for a 6 percent raise each year for the life of the three year contract—a minimal increase given the fact that we have not had a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) in 6 years, while the district has received some $40 million in new monies from the state this year and has approximately $50 million in its reserves. The cost of living has skyrocketed in Seattle and it is becoming increasingly impossible for Seattle’s educators to afford to live in the city where they work. Several other school districts around Washington state pay educators more than they do in Seattle, even though the Seattle’s cost of living is by far the most expensive. This is unacceptable and the Seattle School district needs to compensate educators fairly.

Our bargaining team has done the important work of putting forward proposals that actually meet the needs of Seattle’s families, teachers, and educational support staff. Our members are energized and willing to go on strike, as their participation in the one-day strike action against the State Legislatures’ failure to adequately fund education demonstrated. The SEA leadership has indicated that they are willing to go on strike in a way they never have before in my time as a Seattle teacher.

It appears that the Seattle School district has a clear choice: accept our proposals for a just contract that improves eduction for Seattle’s students, or reject our proposal and trigger a strike.

Here then is the flyer that the Social Equality Educators (SEE) handed out to hundreds of teachers at the General Membership meeting last week, outlining what we should be prepared to strike for:

We Will Not Be Disrespected:

We Are Ready to Strike for the Schools Seattle’s Students Deserves!

As a union we need to take a stand for what we believe will not only benefit our members, but also address the opportunity gap and make all public schools better for our students. If needed, going on strike is a necessary step to take ensure that the school district listens to educators on what strategies work best in that endeavor instead of an obsession with over-testing. The real threat of strike action can force the district to negotiate and present reasonable proposals and gives us time to organize for a strike and prepare our community for this action. BlackStudentsLivesStrike

What should we strike for? The SEA has brought very reasonable and thoughtful demands to the table. While no proposals can be cost neutral, the SEA proposals are cost effective. The Social Equality Educators think the following are 8 lines in the sand that we, Seattle educators, should stand for to get children the schools they deserve and begin to address the achievement/opportunity gap in those schools.

The schools our children deserve and addressing the opportunity gap include, among many other things:

      1. Hard caseload caps for Education Staff Associate (ESAs, School psychologists, school counselors, etc.)

The district has proposed hiring 7 new ESAs for the entire district… A drop in the bucket.

  • After the last negotiations SPS was supposed to work with SEA to develop firm caps for ESA’s caseloads. That never happened. Students of color are disproportionately impacted when our support staff cannot fully address their needs.
  1. Fully funded and supported Race and Equity teams at each building to begin to deal with the problems of disproportionate discipline actions and institutionalized racism.
  •  The district has proposed piloting the teams in only six schools…phased in over three years. A plan that is already in place. This is not a program, but a structure for every school to begin to systematically think about how race and equity can be addressed in a real way that works for each site. There is no need to pilot committee work
  1. Hire more office professionals (SAEOPS, the Seattle Association of Educational Office Professionals who are the classified/clerical employees of Seattle Public Schools) so that their workload is manageable.
  • Another quote from Geoff Miller here, “If we were to pay the SAEOPS all the overtime they work, it would bankrupt the district.”
  • Our school secretaries have been saddled with more work as admin struggle to manage the labyrinth of over-testing and evaluations. The only real answer is to their workload issue is to hire more staff to accommodate the increased demand.
  1. Scrap the Student Growth Rating! Uncouple test scores from teacher evaluations and develop a fair and equitable evaluation procedure that has integrated reliability (works the same no matter who is evaluating you).
  • Coupling test scores and evaluations is based on junk science in the first place and is completely inequitable given not all teachers teach tested subjects.
  • This kind of “accountability” only serves to drive the best teachers away from schools facing social and economic disadvantages.
  1. Mandatory 45 minutes per day of recess for children.
  • Exhaustive studies have shown that more academic instruction commonly referred to as “seat time” does not equal better test results, let alone a better education.
  • Social and emotional development is of extreme importance in childhood development. The unstructured environment of recess is crucial to this process.
  1. An increase in compensation that reflects the fact that there has not been a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) in 6 years and that the district has received quite a bit of new discretionary funds from the state.

The Seattle School District administration offered a 2% raise the first year, 3.2% the second year, and a 3% raise the third year. In contrast, SEA has proposed increases of 7 percent a year for three years, which is much more in line with what is needed to continue attracting and keeping educators in Seattle. There are several other school districts around Washington State where the teachers make more money, yet Seattle has by far the highest cost of living.

  1. No lengthening of the school day. Especially if the district is not willing to pay for it.
  • As mentioned earlier, there is no evidence that more instruction time alone will produce results. The district is once again telling students and teachers to do more with less.

The money is there.  The district has received an extra $32-40 million from the state and levy funding.  That is to say nothing of the reserves, which are more than double their legal requirement. We say that money ought to be spent to begin to give our children the schools they deserve.

RespectSEEThis flyer was created by the Social Equality Educators

Who are Social Equality Educators (SEE)?

We are a rank-and-file organization within the Seattle Education Association that is dedicated to strengthening progressive values inside SEA, promoting quality and culturally relevant pedagogy to provide the best possible education for Seattle’s students, and building a strong SEA that can fight for the rights of our membership. http://socialequalityeducators.org/

“Stop Blaming Teachers, Start Funding Schools”: 30,000 Teachers Walk Out in Protest of Big Class Sizes in Washington State

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Educators, students, and parents rally in down town Seattle during the one day strike on May 19th, 2015. [photo taken by Jesse Hagopian]

The economic justice periodical In These Times recently ran this important article on the mass rolling strike wave of teachers and educators across Washington State--including now some 65 different union locals–who are standing up to a lawless state legislature that refuses to obey a court order to fully fund education.  As I point out in the article, Washington State has the most unequal tax structure and it is time we taxed the rich to fund our schools.  And as In These Times points out,

…the state’s top 1% contributes 2.4 percent of family income in state and local taxes while the poorest 20 percent contribute 16.8 percent, making Washington the “highest-tax state in the country for poor people.”

Meanwhile, the state’s largest corporations have received eye-popping tax breaks in recent years: In 2014, Boeing was awarded the single largest tax break a state has ever given a company: an $8.7 billion cut. Microsoft reportedly avoided $528 million in state taxes between 1997 and 2008 due to lax legislative oversight concerning the company reporting its revenue through its licensing office in Nevada, despite basing its software production in Washington….WEA members say that if legislators don’t resolve funding issues by the end of the second special legislative session, rolling strike waves will begin again when school begins in September.

Let the Washington State Legislature know that they must come up with the money for our schools by emailing them here.  As a popular sign carried by striking Washington educators reads, “On strike against legislature – stop blaming teachers – start funding schools.”

 

Seattle Educators On Strike!: Photos & stories of the struggle

Today was an incredible step forward in the struggle to fully fund education in Washington state: our union, the Seattle Education Association (SEA), went on a one day strike, joining over 50 local educators’ unions in a rolling strike wave to demand that the State Legislature spend billions of more dollars on the schools.

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Jesse Hagopian rallies the crowd at Garfield High School at the beginning of the strike. Photo credit: Truman Buffett

I have been part of a rank-and-file organization in Seattle called the Social Equality Educators (SEE) who have argued for years that if we want to achieve the schools our students deserve, we will have to take collective action to force those in power to back down.  We have helped organize collective action in the victorious MAP test boycott, the successful Garfield High School walkout against the proposed displacement of one of our teachers, and to support the mass boycotts of the SBAC testing this year.  However, we have said that if the union as a whole were to take up these struggles, the power of our thousands of  educators across the city would be strong enough to reverse the attack by the corporate education reformers.

IMG_1933-2Today, the SEA learned from these previous experiences of collective action by the rank-and-file, as well as other smaller locals around the state that began this one day rolling strike wave. The day began with educators, students, and parents rallying at designated high schools. Educators at these spirited morning rallies took up chants beyond the funding issues to also address abuses of high-stakes testing and Black Student Lives Matter.  Then everyone boarded buses and headed for the Space Needle where we gathered to begin our march.   As nurses, counselors, librarians, instructional assistants, family support workers, office staff, teachers, other educators, students, and parents stepped out into the street to begin the rally, I began to realize how many thousands of people were ready to take direct action to defend our schools–likely some 5,000 people joined the rally.

Why were so many educators, students and parents motivated to join the rally?

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Seattle educators on strike, marching down town. Photo credit: Mr. Conroy

Washington State ranks 40th in the nation in per-pupil funding, a fact that has caused increasing hardships to Seattle Public Schools students. The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled the State Legislature is in contempt of court for failing to comply with the court’s McCleary decisionthe school funding order designed to uphold the Washington State Constitution, which reads in part,

 Preamble, Article IX, Washington Constitution: It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.

Failure to fully fund education has had disastrous results for the students in the Seattle Public Schools.  The elementary schools in Seattle have lost funding for their counselors, leaving hundreds of our most vulnerable young students without the social and emotional supports they so desperately need.  Transportation services have been dramatically cut, leaving families scrambling every morning to find a way to get their children to school.  Elective courses, art, music, drama, and other enrichment programs have been eliminated. Educators have seen their pay lag the increasing cost of living in Seattle. Class sizes have ballooned and students are being denied the individual attention they deserve.  Moreover, all of these problems have disproportionately impacted lower income students and students of color—contributing to an opportunity gap between socio-economic classes and between students of color and their white peers.

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One of the main issues motivating teachers at the one day strike was opposition to high-stakes testing.

In the current legislative session, the Washington State Legislature has not done enough to address these severe funding problems.

Both the Senate and the House propose to ignore the recently ratified I-1351, the class size reduction initiative, flouting the democratic will of the voters. For the last six years, the state Legislature has suspended voter-approved cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for school employees.  Now, the current proposal is to raise educator pay by only 1.8%–while the Legislature has proposed raising their own pay by 11%.  In a region as wealthy as ours, it simply isn’t fair that average teacher pay in Washington State ranks 42nd in the nation.

Some members of the state Legislature have said that they will only support additional funding to the schools if teachers agree to use standardized test scores in their evaluations.  This stipulation that funding be tied to increased use of standardized testing is not part of the Washington State Supreme Court’s McCleary decision on fully funding schools.  Moreover, the use of value added modeling (VAM) to use standardized tests scores to judge teacher performance has been thoroughly debunked by leading educators and statisticians.  The American Statistical Association, the oldest and largest statistical association in the world, recently slammed the high-stakes value-added method of evaluating teachers, saying, “VAMs are generally based on standardized test scores and do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes…VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.”

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Thousands rally in the streets of down town Seattle to demand full funding of the Washington State schools.

It is true we need accountability in education, but this should start with politicians being accountable for fully funding education and ending the opportunity gap.

Today’s strike by Seattle’s educators, and the mass outpouring of supporters, is just the beginning in the struggle for the schools our children deserve.

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Jesse Hagopian teaches history at Garfield High School and is the editor of the book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.

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