The Los Angeles teacher strike, which concluded last week after six school days of striking, has been branded a triumph for unions on behalf of long-suffering teachers, bravely fighting for lower class sizes and higher pay.
But as teachers rmake demands and weigh strikes in Virginia, West Virginia, Colorado and Oakland, California, don’t fall for it. In reality, the United Teachers Los Angeles union organized its strike based on a series of myths and falsehoods, ignoring inconvenient facts to craft their narrative — and the district bought it.
It’s become the modus operandi of teachers unions, and we can’t let these myths continue to dictate the course of future negotiations and conversations about education in America. Instead, educators and parents should fight for schools that work for children — not to perpetuate a massive, outdated system.
The UTLA’s main talking point in its negotiations was increasing the budget for schools and teachers. The union claimed the district was starving public schools and students of funding and argued more money would equal better outcomes. But the growth in per-pupil spending in L.A. has far outpaced inflation for years.
In the 2006-2007 school year, the Los Angeles Unified School District spent less than $9,500 per average daily attendance (the California Department of Education’s funding metric). But a decade later it spent more than $13,450 — a 42 percent increase, far outpacing inflation. Despite the increased funding, L.A. students still lag behind their peers across the nation, with proficiency rates of less than 25 percent in all subjects and all grades.
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The union’s second talking point was class sizes. Union officials and some teachers said class sizes have climbed steadily in recent years, and that they were “forced” to strike. But in fact, class size has been capped for years, with no cap increase in the last decade, and the average class size in L.A. is the second-lowest in the state among large cities. Nevertheless, the school district originally offered to further lower class sizes across the city, raise pay by 6 percent across the board and make other concessions — but the union rejected the offer and continued its strike.
The UTLA’s final, most revealing demand was a moratorium on charters. They said that charters are the problem — but the opposite is true. Charter schools in L.A. and across the country are achieving higher outcomes with lower funding. The 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that L.A. charter schools scored significantly higher than their public school peers — rivaling the top public schools in the nation. And the charters’ excellent scores came with a lower price tag: charters received 40 percent less revenue than public schools per student.
Teachers strike for control and self-preservation
If spending is up, class sizes are low and the district offered a 6 percent raise, why did the union spread myths and force the strike? And why did they oppose charters, the success story of Los Angeles? The answer is twofold: control and self-preservation.
The UTLA claims to support students, teachers and quality education, but it distorts the facts to increase bureaucratic control of education against students’ best interests. If the UTLA put education first, they would support their fellow teachers at charter schools. Education innovation can only occur when there are widespread, diverse offerings that provide the greatest number of opportunities for parents and children to have education tailored to their needs, not the other way around.
Let’s be clear — this strike was not just about teacher pay, class sizes, student outcomes or school spending. It is about a union increasingly losing power as more and more students exit the traditional system for better options, like those in the charters that serve almost 25 percent of their students. It is about a union losing membership as a result of the freedoms finally restored to teachers by the U.S. Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME. It is about a union protecting a status quo that’s not working for teachers, parents or students who want flexibility, access to path-breaking innovations and improved opportunities no matter where they live.
We really need to fight an old and failing system
In the end, the district gave in to nearly every demand, even the illusory commitment to vote on a charter moratorium. Just like the strike, it’s all smoke and mirrors, given that it is an attack on some of the most successful public schools in the city.
The real issue we should be fighting isn’t district versus labor, but education today versus a system crafted more than 150 years ago. Systems like L.A. Unified are too big to succeed. They are too large to educate the millions of students whose needs and desires transcend borders that were created long before the last freeway was built. And they are too bureaucratic to recognize and embrace flexibility, manage money, account to taxpayers or educate kids.
That is the real narrative. This nation cannot sustain systems that stay in business even if, like L.A., their product fails more than 70 percent of students year after year. We need schools that are made for students, run by educators who have a solution, chosen by families who believe in their mission and funded only when they have voluntary enrollment. Take a page out of the charter book, and you have what public education should look like. That’s where the hope is for our students.
Jeanne Allen is the founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform. Follow her on Twitter: @JeanneAllen
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: As US teachers ramp up pressure, face reality: L.A. strike was about control, not students