Wednesday Reading List: Understanding West Virginia and Taking Down Crappy Research

The West Virginia teachers strike ended yesterday with an unequivocal win for teachers, and for organized labor more broadly. Dana Goldstein of The New York Times looks at the connections to history:

Since the mid-19th century, it has generally been the women who have been expected to do this kind of difficult, nurturing work. That gender divide played a big role in early teacher activism. Today, about 75 percent of teachers in West Virginia and across the United States are female. When teachers first unionized in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century, 97 percent were women, and they were paid little more than maids. Policymakers did not see that as a problem. Instead, they wanted to devote their extra funds to recruiting male teachers, who they thought would be tougher, and thus better able to control those massive, 60-student classes. The women teachers got angry, launched their federation, and within several years had secured a raise.

Goldstein draws linkages between labor movements of past and present, and how those movements have intersected with the broader social currents of their respective times. If you want to read a longer version of that story, Goldstein's 2015 book, The Teacher Wars, is fabulous.

Rachel M. Cohen, writing in The Intercept, wonders if Oklahoma's soil is the next terrain on which teachers will fight for higher wages:

The increasing momentum for a strike in Oklahoma comes as a strike by West Virginia teachers entered its ninth consecutive school day on Tuesday. State lawmakers, hoping to bring the strike to an end, reached a deal on Tuesday morning to raise all state employee salaries by 5 percent. Oklahoma’s 42,000 teachers make even less than their West Virginian counterparts; in 2016, the average Oklahoma teacher earned $45,276, a salary lower than that of teachers in every state except Mississippi. With no pay increases for Sooner State teachers in a decade, educators have been leaving for greener pastures, moving to neighboring states like Arkansas, New Mexico, Kansas, and Texas. Last May, Shawn Sheehan, Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, announced that he would be moving to Texas for more financial stability.

Cohen dives deep into the political machinations in Oklahoma, examining why the relatively popular idea of giving raises to teachers seems to be stymied in the legislature. Her analysis makes plain the various legislative tradeoffs that stanch the educator pay scale. Part of what made the West Virginia strike so successful were the unequivocal optics: low-paid female teachers versus a state government controlled by comically villainous coal billionaires. Based on Cohen's reporting, an Oklahoma strike could hinge on similar dynamics

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Staying on the topic of organized labor, Arianna Prothero of Education Week looks at unionization in charter schools:

In 2010, less than 10 percent of unionized charter schools belonged to either a nonprofit charter management organization or a for-profit education management organization. Today, that number is pushing 20 percent. Why the uptick? It likely comes down to strategy. "One reason that it might be that CMOs or EMOs are more likely to be unionized is is that they are easier targets from a unionization perspective," said Katharine Strunk, a professor of education policy at Michigan State University. "It makes more sense for them to spend their energy going to a place where they can get more teachers and more schools. It's actually a lot of work to try to go in and unionize a set of teachers."

The charter schools sector has been on the ropes of late, with high profile political losses and scandals overshadowing academic successes. It will be interesting to watch how the sector deals with a labor movement that seems to be finding its rhythm after years of prioritizing picayune contract negotiations over grassroots organizing.

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Finally today, Peter Cunningham is at Education Post with an important takedown of some pernicious obfuscation about school discipline policy:

In 2014, the Obama administration issued guidance to school districts across the country encouraging the use of restorative justice practices over more punitive measures that often lead to arrests—the “school to prison pipeline.” Emboldened by the Trump election, conservatives set their sights on repealing the 2014 guidance, which they see as overreach on the part of the federal government ... Lacking any evidence, the think tanks got to work. Max Eden of the Manhattan Institute analyzed school district surveys in New York City taken during the Bloomberg administration, which embraced tougher discipline policies, to surveys taken during the de Blasio administration, which embraced restorative justice practices ... Note that this data is based on student “perception” surveys rather than reported incidents ... The policy community happily links to this research, without questioning its methodologies.

Read the whole piece, because Cunningham does a nice job of showing how a group of related policy institutions essentially launders crappy research into demonstrably false sound-bytes about school violence. This activity is especially dangerous right now, given that the real focus ought to be on curbing the use of guns in school, not criminalizing more children.

Have a great week!