Opinion: Five questions for striking teachers

Some school districts are threatening to shut down on April 2 based on demands by the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), the state affiliate of the National Education Association union. Faced with the possible disruption of so many children’s education, Oklahoma parents and others have many questions. Most, like myself, believe teachers do need a raise. Here are five questions that I have heard:

    1. When the school year began in August, every teacher knew what his or her pay would be for the duration of the year. It would be one thing to organize teachers not to come back in August—and it would be far less disruptive to students—unless the Legislature passed a pay raise. Isn’t it wrong to sign a deal and then renege on it in the middle?
    2. Last year, and earlier this year, the OEA was calling for a $5,000 teacher pay raise. Now, it demands a $10,000 raise. Do you agree with doubling the demands? If so, what’s changed since last year?
    3. The OEA and school administrators like to focus on money, but surveys show that many teachers are more concerned about classroom conditions. The OEA’s own poll showed that the public is most concerned about “accountability” (62% of respondents said so, versus just 27% who said “investment”). What else needs to happen, other than just spending more money from taxpayers, to help teachers and students succeed?
    4. There is no way around the fact that a school shutdown hurts kids. That is why people care about it, and why the OEA has leverage. It will be particularly difficult for high school juniors and seniors who hope to attend college. Why should anyone see a school shut down as something other than adults using kids as political leverage to get what they want? (Even if you want the right thing, do the ends justify the means?)
    5. The OEA, to buy political allies, included money for state health care agencies and other state employees in its demands. Some of this money would go to bail out state agencies that have mismanaged funds and are under investigation. Do you support tying agency bailouts to school shutdowns?

Finally, a bonus question of my own. The best teachers know that there are many things we could do better when it comes to our schools. There are areas of waste and mismanagement in many districts and programs. Some administrators enforce a culture of low standards and lax behavior because it makes their own jobs easier. State laws can make it easier to raise money for buildings or computers than for teachers or textbooks (e.g. schools where every student has a MacBook, but teachers are underpaid and classes meet four days a week). So my big question is, can teachers break with groups that simply defend the status quo at all costs and instead help to improve our schools for the sake of students?
NOTE: Trent England is executive vice president for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA). This essay was first posted on March 23 (http://www.ocpathink.org/post/five-questions-for-striking-teachers?utm_source=OCPA+Master&utm_campaign=da5646519e-Freedom+Flash+Nov.+3&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1acebeac5c-da5646519e-137156817)