There are more than 4,500 educators and 45,000 students in Portland Public Schools (PPS) in Oregon —and that adds up to about 50,000 reasons why Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) members are going on strike tomorrow. These dedicated educators and students don’t have what they need—and deserve—to be successful. Here are 50 more reasons: REASON #1: Enormous Class Sizes: Portland teacher Tiffany Koyoma-Lane has had as many as 31 students in her third-grade class, competing for her attention. Frankly, not all of them get it. “The difference between 21 and 31? Every student and family gets less of me,” she says. Class size caps would improve learning, union members say.
Thanks to a complete overhaul of the country’s educational system in the past 15 years, record numbers of students are graduating from high school. Although recent international headlines claim academic spaces are closing in Nicaragua, there is now actually increased access to free public universities. That, combined with hundreds of free vocational programs around the country, means that the class of 2023 has more options open to them than ever before. In a few short weeks, our youngest daughter Orla will graduate from high school. Recently I went to her school to watch as she and her friends marched in blue and white one final time to celebrate Nicaragua’s Independence.
On June 1, the state of Texas removed Elizabeth Santos, an elected school board trustee, from office and replaced her with Janette Garza Lindner, the candidate she defeated in December 2021. The ousting was part of a larger takeover of the Houston public school system by the Republican-led Texas state government — a process that began in late 2019 and became formalized June 1 when Mike Miles, a charter school owner whose school administrator license lapsed five years ago, was installed as the new superintendent of the district by Gov. Greg Abbott along with an appointed Board of Managers.
As if responding to Betsy Devos’ admonition that “K-12 education for too long has been very static and very stuck,” Department of Education Chancellor David Banks declared last week that the City’s new Tentative Contract Agreement with the UFT fulfilled Mayor Adams’ challenge to “reimagine education” and that “the days of simply working … in the four walls of the classroom are over.” To this end, New York City will become “the first major public-school system to develop, implement and expand high-quality virtual learning programs for instruction and related services” by creating a centralized virtual learning program and expanding school-level virtual learning to all high schools by the 2026-27 school year.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed a budget package Tuesday that includes what could be the biggest voucher school expansion since the program started 30 years ago. You would be excused for having flashbacks to the work of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who championed school privatization and greatly expanded the state’s voucher program in 2014. The deal that Evers, a Democrat, supported is a package of bills that were signed along with the state budget and which could increase private school voucher enrollment by 40% statewide. It could effectively be such a strong push toward privatization that it would put the state’s public schools in crisis, pulling students and the funding the goes with them out of already cash strapped public school districts.
The 3,000 teachers and support staff of the Oakland Education Association walked out May 4, shutting down all 85 elementary, middle, and high schools. Community support was immediate and widespread—parents were already familiar with the cuts the district had inflicted or proposed. Many donated food and joined our picket lines to walk, dance, and chant in solidarity. Eighty-eight percent of teachers had voted to strike, after it became clear that our demands were not being taken seriously at the negotiating table. The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) had stonewalled us—delaying meetings, failing to show up, and presenting vague proposals that demonstrated a limited understanding of what’s really needed day to day in schools.
Teach-ins at university campuses, community book drives, read-alouds of banned books on social media, and rallies in front of the College Board headquarters in both New York and Washington, D.C. These were among the activities taking place across the country on Wednesday as part of the Freedom to Learn national day of action spearheaded by the African American Policy Forum, which has been critical of state laws restricting how teachers can discuss race in the classroom. The forum is led by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor and civil rights scholar at Columbia University Law School.
Twenty years ago, the small school district of Woodburn piloted Oregon’s first K-12 district-wide dual-language program. It became a model for schools nationwide. Yet while the district continues to proudly present itself as bilingual, in reality this program—along with the rest of the system—is failing. Last week the Woodburn Education Association voted to authorize a potential strike, as teachers fight for better pay and caps on class sizes. So did the neighboring Silver Falls Education Association. “We see the most issues with the dual-language program,” said Misha Pfliger, a WEA rep and high school teacher. “It hasn’t been supported or sustained as the district has promised. Lots of teachers are leaving.
New York City, New York - Just days before school started last fall, 400 early childhood education workers in New York City were told they were being “excessed,” leaving their students in limbo. The workers sprang into action, and in January they won a short-term reinstatement. But they’re still fighting for long-term job stability as the administration of Mayor Eric Adams slowly dismantles his predecessor Bill De Blasio’s signature program, universal pre-kindergarten. And not only are they fighting the city—they’ve also had to fight their union, the United Federation of Teachers. With 180,000 members, the UFT is the largest teachers union in the country and a powerful force in city politics.
Shakeda Gaines, former president of the Philadelphia Home and School Council, remembers when Paul Vallas began his term as superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia in 2002. Vallas “brought in his corporate vultures and his spreadsheets and tried to sell us a bill of goods,” Gaines says. Vallas, known for his contempt of teachers unions and his ability to capitalize on disasters to upend public school systems, has gone into Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Haiti, Chile, and Bridgeport, Conn., to hawk himself as a pragmatic problem solver, someone who will turn around distressed schools. Despite this brand, instead of fixing disasters, Vallas often has a hand in creating them.
The Network for Public Education strongly objects to the takeover of the Houston Independent Public School District (HISD) by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). We believe this is a cynical political move to disenfranchise the residents of Houston by yanking control of the governance of their schools from their elected board and giving governing power to political appointees. Network for Public Education Executive Director Carol Burris states, “This decision is clearly a calculated move to put Houston schools under the Governor’s thumb. In the past few years, the elected Board, Superintendent, educators, and students of HISD have made great strides in school improvement.
Last Wednesday, the College Board announced new changes to its AP African American Studies curriculum, soon after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis banned AP African American Studies from Florida schools as part of his crackdown on any curriculum acknowledging systemic racism or discussing queer issues in a positive light. Sure enough, the new curricular changes remove several of the more left-wing authors and ideas, relegate contemporary topics like Black Lives Matter, reparations, Black feminism, and the Black queer experience to “optional” or “suggested” status, and add “Black conservatism” as a suggested topic for projects. The president of the College Board, David Coleman, told The New York Times that these changes were all pedagogical, not political. But as a former College Board employee myself, I have a pretty good guess what these “pedagogical” reasons are.
Trenton, NJ - Ebele Azikiwe was in the sixth grade last year when February came and it was time to learn about Black history again. She was, by then, familiar with the curriculum: Rosa Parks, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a discussion on slavery. Just like the year before, she said, and the year before that. Then came George Floyd’s death in May, and she wrote to the administration at her school in Cherry Hill, in New Jersey’s Philadelphia suburbs, to ask for more than the same lessons. “We learned about slavery, but did we go into the roots of slavery?” Ebele, 12, said in an interview. “You learned about how they had to sail across, but did you learn about how they felt being tied down on those boats?”
East Los Angeles is a community rich in culture and a strong history of activism. Our youth led the student walkouts in the ’60s fought against the Vietnam war during the Chicano Moratorium and have since filled the streets protesting the racist policies by the Trump administration. Still, we have been vastly left behind by our local, state, and federal leaders. Policies to protect our local environment, improve access to health care and make sure that our children are well educated have been inadequate. Charter schools swooped in claiming they could fill this void, but their promises were empty. Their presence brought discord, scandals, left our public education even more underfunded, and did not outperform our local schools.
For the 34th straight week, over 700,000 people filed for unemployment in the US according to the Department of Labor’s latest report. The 709,000 state claims coupled with an additional 298,154 initial claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance brings the weekly total once again to over 1 million new claims. Nearly 67 million claims have been filed since mid-March as the worst economic crisis to befall the working class in the United States since the Great Depression of the 1930s leaves millions on the brink of destitution.