Friday, April 27, 2018

AZ: It's More Than Money

I've been through two teacher strikes in my career, one as a rank and file member and one as a local union president. If you are not a teacher, here' a thing you need to understand about teacher strikes-- it's really hard to get teachers to walk off the job.

That's why I'm struck by the following data points from Arizona.

Number of teachers who walked out Thursday and filled up the streets of the capital: 50,000 to 75,000.

Number of public school teachers in Arizona: about 50,000.

That is astonishing. Remember that teachers are a large and varied group with a lot of disagreement about politics (remember, 1/3 of NEA members voted for Donald Trump). How do you get such massive support for a walkout-- particularly in a right-to-work state where a work stoppage is illegal and the consequences are potentially grim?

Easy. You make the consequences of doing nothing even grimmer.

Arizona has been quietly but resolutely competing for the crown of Worst State for Education in the US, and they have made some real headway. In fact, the teacher walkout has already been going on for several years-- just one at a time. Teachers have been walking out all along; it's just that Thursday saw the trickle become a torrent. Arizona has a huge teacher shortage and while it periodically studies the problem, it refuses to learn anything useful from those studies. Meanwhile, they keep turning up sobering statistics like those from a study released in April of 2017:

* 42% of the teachers hired in 2013 left within three years.
* 74% of AZ superintendents report shortages of teachers
* When you adjust for cost of living, AZ elementary teachers are the lowest paid in the nation. High school teachers come in 48th.

But it's not just the pay (though the stories of teachers taking multiple jobs just to make ends meet are legion and troubling all on their own-- but there's more to it.

Arizona has followed the Florida model for privatization-- if you don't have enough demand for charter schools, then help create the demand by gutting public schools. It's disaster capitalism with a man-made disaster. And in this case, the leading men in disaster creating are the Koch bothers. As Derek Black notes:

At a policy conference in California in January, they announced plans to support a statewide referendum that could shovel even more taxpayer money into private schools. When they offered Gov. Ducey the podium, he was all in. "I didn't run for governor to play small ball. I think this is an important idea," he said. Next door, Nevada's state supreme court recently declared just this type of voucher idea unconstitutional because it put finding priorities for private education ahead of public education.

Arizona is determined to divert money away from public school and into charter business pockets, and that means making sure that charter operators are free to do as they please. Tracking the money tells a story of wild west style abuse, fraud and graft- but that's the Arizona way. Here's a whole website to browse the many charter abuses.

So Arizona's walkout (like the walkouts in Colorado and Kentucky and West Virginia) is not some old school "I'd like to make more money and get better benefits" strike. These are teachers who have finally realized that their pay and working conditions are not just being diminished, but are being diminished as part of a plan whose endgame is the complete dismantling of public education. And while this may be a red state phenomenon now, there's no reason to think blue states are immune-- after all, these walkouts also signal that teachers are awakening to the realization that there are few politicians (and no party) on the side of public education.

Meanwhile, the legislature includes guys like this asshat who thinks that teachers are just working multiple jobs for the perks like an extra car. And today (Friday) the legislature reportedly scooted out early because those darn teachers came back!

What gets 75,000 Arizonans walking out for public education? The understanding that if they don't, nobody will, and if nobody will, the future for public education just gets bleaker and bleaker.


  1. Dear Mr. Greene:

    Quite a picture, isn't it? Governor Ducey is playing at being amazed that the teachers did the Walk Out after he announced his "plan", which is to give the teachers a raise by 2020 by tapping into EXPECTED higher tax revenues (paying off a loan?...just tell 'em you're expecting money in the future, right?) and also taking it from universities, programs for people with developmental disabilities, the arts, and hospitals. My understanding is that champions of each cause will meet in a big cage, and only one will emerge with the funding...

    If you look closely to the left of the stage, you can see me waving. I'm wearing a red shirt. See?

    My favorite sign featured a picture of a taco. It said, "Can We (taco) bout School Funding?" Very Arizonan!


  2. Yep. Arizonan here, and you've got it exactly right. (I quoted your article about Florida's "teacher shortage" earlier this week.) The thing I can't quite figure out right now is how this will end. Our teachers are ready for this conversation, and the legislator has simply decided not to come. They adjourned as soon as teachers showed up at their door yesterday. (All the while decrying the teachers for walking out on THEIR jobs). If they want public ed to fail, are they best served by doing nothing? I'm afraid that's the case, and we'll be running Solidarity School out of our Sunday school classrooms through the next election cycle.

  3. You hit the nail right on the head with this post Peter. This has been about far more than just more money for teachers. If it was, when Ducey proposed a $20 increase by 2020, they would've taken it and walked away. This is, and always has been, about ensuring students have access to a quality public education. Teachers are doing what our legislature hasn't; they're standing up for our students and our public schools.

    While legislators have boasted our school choice program, which was ranked #1 by the U.S. Chamber Foundations Leaders and Laggards report, our public school teachers have been left to deal with the consequences of reduced funding to our public school classrooms. And it's more than just classroom spending that has been cut. When I ran for the legislature in 2016, I repeatedly tried to bring attention to the fact that, after an investigation, our Auditor General put out a report that the biggest drain on classroom spending was the fact that our legislature abolished the "School Maintenance Fund" schools were having to divert even more funds from the classroom to fix buildings that were falling apart.

    This is more than just about money. This is about counteracting a culture at the legislature that is systematically, and intentionally, destroying our public education system in order to help a select few make more profit as we have no choice but to move towards privatization.

  4. Good afternoon,
    Yesterday and today I was apart of the sea of red that flowed through the capital and chanted for a change in the funding of education. I rallied around my colleagues from my site and other districts to support our students. I realized there is a lot of support, but still some people are unaware of the full scope of the problem.

    I could not agree more that this is more than teacher pay. A narrative by the media and Governor Ducey has been portrayed as the only demand, however, teacher pay is important. Due to the lack of funding my district has fallen prey to hiring Teach For America teachers. I was unaware of alternative certification paths before I moved to Arizona. For someone who spent money to learn the craft it perplexed me that schools would hire people who had less experience than me.

    This led to me doing some research for one my courses to understand the effect of having TFA teachers in the classroom. It turned out that on common formative assessments students who had a first year teacher or a TFA teacher scored about the same. This surprised me, but I figured this was due to the fact that they were both new to being in the profession. The biggest difference was the fact that many TFA teachers use the program as a resume builder and leave the profession after their 2-year commitment. This leads to future students getting the first year test scores again as a new TFA teacher comes in to replace them.

    I know that TFA has great value. Communities need the programs to sustain an education program for their students, but what if education in Arizona was funded more? This could possibly lead to more TFA teachers remaining in the profession because the salary is competitive compared to other professions. Traditionally trained teachers are also leaving the profession, but because of low pay and working conditions. Arizona currently has over a thousand available positions that need to filled and no response from the government to solve the problem.

    Teacher salaries are far from the only problem. With 1.1 billion dollars in cuts since 2008 there have been many school districts that do not have up to date materials to support their children’s learning. Teacher pay may be a place to start as the district I work in has 50 positions open for the fall with no candidates in site. We need to develop a plan to get highly qualified teachers to remain in the classroom by increasing their pay and improving working conditions for our students.

    I am excited to continue to advocate for my 120 students for them to get what they deserve!

    Goldhaber, D., Liddle, S., & Theobald, R. (2013). The gateway to the profession: Assessing teacher preparation programs based on student achievement. Economics of Education Review, 34, 29-44.

    Heineke, A. J., Mazza, B. S., & Tichnor-Wagner, A. (2014). After the two-year commitment: A quantitative and qualitative inquiry of Teach For America teacher retention and attrition. Urban Education, 49(7), 750-782.

    1. I'm struggling to understand this: "I know that TFA has great value. Communities need the programs to sustain an education program for their students, but what if education in Arizona was funded more? This could possibly lead to more TFA teachers remaining in the profession because the salary is competitive compared to other professions. Traditionally trained teachers are also leaving the profession, but because of low pay and working conditions. Arizona currently has over a thousand available positions that need to filled and no response from the government to solve the problem. "

      How does TFA have "great value?" How does throwing teachers w/a few weeks of training TOTAL contribute "value" to AZ public schools? And is it more important to get THEM to stick around more than 2 years than it is to improve working conditions for teachers already there while (hopefully) attracting new *qualified* and *certified* teachers?

  5. The Arizona legislature has cut taxes for thirty years, then says there's no resources available.
    Currently they support universal vouchers, even for students who attend private and religious schools. Folks worked in the summer heat to get signatures to get the issue on the Nov. ballot, to hopefully defeat this.
    Our legislature only responds to education needs when there is a lawsuit. I sadly expect future court fights just to force the legislature to follow our state Constitution.

    In case you aren't aware, this fight is only about K-12.
    Don't get me started on college funding...(sigh)

  6. I appreciate your ability to capture the mindset of so many teachers in Arizona. Choosing to walk out was far more difficult than I anticipated. Despite largely statewide, district level support, there are still schools that remain open. The charter school I teach at is one. The majority of our teachers felt their conscience ease when they decided to schedule our first walk-in to support the cause on the day of the walk outs. Yet others actively shared their opinion about why teachers (them being one…only uncertified) were dumb and completely unaware about how the “real-world” works. The passive aggressive emails helped solidify that not only was I going to be the only one to walk out, but, come summer, I will walk out of the school for the last time. Sadly at strike facilitator meetings, many described similar strife, but as you previously stated, the price of not walking out is too high in eyes of some, for them to not be counted in the number of those in protest.

    This movement has been careful to ensure that the public perceives this walk out as more than an initiative for increased pay, but to “fully fund” our classrooms. The 2008 levels have been the target. The current plan released by Ducey two days ago reported on, gives the impression that it is meeting both those demands in a compromised fashion. My fear is that, if accepted, the public will perceive that we have set our schools up for future success. It is true that the 20% pay increase will make a teacher salary more competitive. According to the National Education Association’s April 2008 Report’s Arizona would go from the current rank of 44th to 31st in the next year, 24th with 15% the following year and fittingly 20th in 2020. However the revenue per student in Arizona is ranked at 50th, and we will stay at the rank until the promised $371,000,000 discretionary spending is fully enacted in FIVE years from now. To get to the 48th rank would require another $303,180,219 in addition to Governor Doug Ducey’s plan. Even the requested one billion dollars by the #Red4Ed movement leaders would only result in $9,273.67 per student and place Arizona at 46th in the nation( (Note: all projected pupil revenue amounts factor in the incremental 20% salary expansion for all teachers and is compared to 2017 rankings.)

    By no means did I think that that this movement was going to be able to fix the spending epidemic in Arizona education over a few strike nights. My hope is that the public doesn’t think that once teachers have left the capitol, that the battle is over. Cutting taxes has a cost. Come November, I hope the picture of thousands of red shirts shutting down streets like you included are imprinted in the public's minds so that this can be a turning point in our state’s priorities versus a placation to keep teachers quite.