'Fighting for Incredible List of Educational Reforms,' Seattle Teachers Go on Historic Strike

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'Fighting for Incredible List of Educational Reforms,' Seattle Teachers Go on Historic Strike

Garfield High School in Seattle.  (Photo: Joe Wolf/flickr/cc)

For the first time in 30 years, Seattle teachers are hitting the picket lines on Wednesday after the teachers union and the school board failed to negotiate a tentative agreement.

The Tuesday decision to strike—made with what the union describes as "an unprecedented, thunderous unanimous vote," closes schools on what would have been the first day of school for roughly 50,000 students.

The problems the public school teachers say are driving the strike include those teachers across the nation have also cited, including an over-reliance on standardized testing and  flawed methods for evaluating educators. The Seattle Education Association (SEA) outlines the issues summer-long negotiations have failed to resolve:

Professional pay: We need to attract and keep caring, qualified educators in Seattle, which is one of the most expensive cities in the United States. We've gone six years with no state COLA and five years with no state increase in funding for educator health care.

Fair teacher and staff evaluations: Educators should be evaluated fairly and consistently, and the focus should be on providing the support all educators need to be successful.

Reasonable testing: Too much standardized testing is stealing time away from classroom learning.

Educator workload relief: Current workloads mean many students aren't getting the help they need.

Student equity around discipline and the opportunity gap: We need to focus on equity issues in every school, not just some.

The administration's proposal to make teachers work more for free: It is unrealistic to expect teachers to work more hours without additional pay, and the district administration has been unable to explain how their proposal would help students.

Seventh-grade language arts teacher Theo Moriarty told the Associated Press, "We didn’t want to strike, and it seems to be the only way to have a dialogue with our senior administration."

"We all know it’s an inconvenience but ultimately it’s far better for the future of students and families to get what we’re asking for," he said.

As Seattle Public School teacher Jesse Hagopian told the Real News Network following the vote to go on strike,"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," he continued. "So we're definitely fighting for fair compensation. We're fighting for an incredible list of educational reforms that will truly improve the lives of children in Seattle."

Voicing her support for the striking teachers is Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant.

"The educators' demands are completely reasonable. In the face of skyrocketing rents and increasing costs for basic needs, the teachers have sacrificed for six years with no pay raises from Olympia," Sawant said in a statement.

"For too long the legislature has ignored the needs of the children and bent over backwards to give corporations handout after handout. Boeing executives got a special session. Where is the special session for education? Teachers are faced with stagnating salaries, overcrowded classrooms, too many standardized tests, and inadequate resources. It's high time the legislature did their job, stop ignoring the mandate by voters to lower class sizes and raise teachers' pay. Fully fund education now!" she added.

The Socialist council member also called on the community to stand in support with the teachers—a path some parents of Seattle public schools students have already taken.

In an op-ed in Seattle weekly The Stranger, parents Sarah Lang, Jana Robbins, and Naomi Wilson write that they "stand firmly with the teachers who are fighting to provide a high quality education for all our kids." They add that the school district "continue[s] to resist [SEA's] sensible proposals, just as they have resisted parent efforts to address these same problems."

As union activist Darrin Hoop also notes, "The strike in Seattle is only the latest in a growing list of struggles for the future of public education all over the U.S.."

Follow Twitter users documenting the day's action with the hashtags #SPSStrike and #SEAStrike:

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