By Akil Wilson
As of Monday January 14th, the country’s 2nd largest public school system was being paralyzed by a teachers strike. The Los Angeles Sentinel reported that the walkout was followed by a plunge in student attendance, with about 144,000 students out of more than 600,000 students. On Tuesday that number grew to 159,000 students without instruction. This work stoppage was the latest in what has become a wave of similar protests in our nation’s public school systems.
Teacher concerns transformed into organized protests when, in early 2018, the West Virginia teacher’s strike made headlines, lasting over 2 weeks. Local education activists and teacher advocates forced the state legislature to address many of their concerns through the statewide strike. Afterwards, teachers returned to their classrooms with a 5 percent pay raise.
The strike lead to similar actions in several other school districts across the country including Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky and North Carolina.
Teacher grievances in Los Angeles echo the concerns of teachers in many school districts nationwide. Among their demands are smaller class sizes, an increase in support staff and higher pay.
The Los Angeles Unified School District is overwhelmingly comprised of low-income students, with over 80% of its students qualifying for free or reduced lunch.
Within this immense school system of 900 schools and roughly 30,000 teachers, classroom sizes can often exceed 32 students per teacher at the elementary level and up to 39 students per teacher for middle and high school. This student-to-teacher ratio greatly exceeds the 16 to 28 students per teacher national averages in urban school districts, according to the National Teacher and Principal Survey of 2015-16.
One of the Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA) primary mandates involves building systems of support for educators through the use of additional funding and initiatives provided in Title II.
Title II funds purpose to support class size reduction, encourage performance-based pay for effective educators and develop opportunities to improve overall school conditions. In addition to funding, ESSA will enable school systems to attempt to address the shortage in classroom instructors by shifting the emphasis for teacher evaluations away from student standardized test performance — a point of stress for many educators.
Thus far, the Los Angeles Unified School District has offered a 6% pay increase as well as a classroom cap size of 35 for elementary schools and 39 for high school English and Math courses. However, in a school district as massive as Los Angeles, support staff is also vital.
Teachers in Los Angeles are also demanding that something is done to address the current state of affairs, which allows a workload of over 500 students per guidance counselor and over 2,000 students per nurse in the county. The school district has promised to address these concerns by offering one additional academic counselor per high school in the district and ensuring that each elementary school has daily nursing services.
If you are in Los Angeles or a similarly affected school district, learn more about ESSA’s impact on Title II and find out how your State Education Agency (SEA) and Local Education Agency (LEA) can support the extremely important work our educators are doing to advance our students’ success.
Akil Wilson is a Washington, DC-based podcaster and parent. He is a contributing writer for the Washington Informer in addition to providing broadcast commentary for a variety of media outlets.