Erin McHenry-Sorber is an assistant professor of higher education at West Virginia University. She does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond her academic appointment. This was originally published in The Conversation.
The first mass teacher labor action of 2019 is unfolding in California as United Teachers Los Angeles walked out for the first time in 30 years.
This strike, which began on Jan. 14, isn’t just about what's going on in Los Angeles. Here are three reasons the nation should pay attention.
1. The L.A. case is different
The L.A. strike is a standout due to its sheer size.
The L.A. strike also involves 34,000 teachers.
To compare, the statewide 2018 teacher strike in West Virginia – where I am researching teacher strikes and teacher shortages – involved about 20,000 teachers and affected approximately 270,000 students.
Also, the political context is different. When West Virginia teachers walked out of the classroom, they were battling a conservative state legislature in a largely rural, majority-white state. Los Angeles is urban, far more diverse and located in a state that has voted mostly Democratic in presidential elections since 1992.
Los Angeles Unified School District’s student population is 73 percent Latino, 10.5 percent white, 8.2 percent black and 4.2 percent Asian. The district serves over 150,000 students and their first language is not English.
The situation for the L.A. teachers union is also different in several ways. For instance, it is engaged in an active fight against the rapid growth of charter schools. Los Angeles is home to 277 charter schools, the largest number of such institutions in the U.S.
Since 2008, the charter industry in Los Angeles has grown 287 percent. According to the L.A. teachers union, the charter schools are effectively siphoning away $550 million per year from the district’s traditional public schools.
The teachers union has proposed greater transparency and more accountability for L.A. charter schools and has called for an immediate cap on charter school growth in the school district. The district has provided no counteroffer to these demands.
This is not uncommon. For example, Oakland teachers in Northern California have been working without a contract for more than a year. A recent contract resolution following a Pennsylvania school district strike came after teachers worked without a contract for 3½ years.