Local Education Leaders of Color Statement on Oakland Teacher Strike

On Thursday, Oakland teachers commenced a strike while the Oakland Education Association continued to negotiate with the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). As we consider what the wave of labor actions taking place across the country means for the future of our public schools, we, as educators, researchers, policy-makers and advocates of color who serve predominantly Black and Latinx students, feel it’s critical to ensure we don’t lose focus on who and what should be at the center of any labor conversation and resulting agreement – the academic and life success of the children we serve.

We are encouraged by the renewed public interest about how to fix public school funding in our state and the impact of inadequate funding on teacher salaries and retention. Teachers consistently earn less than professionals with similar levels of experience and education. Particularly in areas with a high cost of living, like the Bay Area, these disparities make it very difficult to live and own homes in the communities they serve or send their own children to college. We know that for far too many teachers in Oakland, particularly teachers of color and teachers with significant student loan debt, staying in the classroom amounts to choosing to earn far below the median income. We can and should do better by the people who dedicate their lives to teaching and inspiring our children.

We learned a lot from the recent agreement reached between the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA). While the agreement awards teachers pay increases and offers important supports for students, it does not detail how the new agreement will result in improved student academic outcomes. Student learning must be at the center of these conversations in Oakland and in every other city where we predict we will see more labor action.

Oakland teachers are absolutely among the lowest paid in Alameda County, averaging about $63,000 in 2018 compared to nearly $76,000 in nearby Berkeley. These disparities will continue to make it difficult to attract, support, and retain excellent teachers. As our leaders–district, board, and union–discuss how to address these gaps, we must keep them focused on solving the educational disparities in the district as well.

We have a long way to go before we are serving all students well, providing them with the kind of education that will give them a range of life choices, and preparing them to take control of their own destinies. In a district where some high schools prepare only 1 in 10 of their Black students to enter the Cal State or U.C. systems, we must insist on a labor deal that includes strategies for improving student achievement. In a city where we still have schools where fewer than 2 out of 3 of graduating Latinx students have met Cal State or U.C. admissions requirements, we must demand a labor agreement that prioritizes equity by supporting our most vulnerable students.

We know that OUSD is facing a fairly bleak financial outlook and that without significant cuts and a radical reallocation of resources, it will find itself in state receivership again. The path forward necessitates that all parties call on our state leaders to fix the flaws in our state funding formula which put districts like Oakland at a disadvantage. State leaders must recognize that changing demographics across the state that result in fewer school-aged children and increasing pension debt are putting districts in dire financial circumstances and that jumping on the bandwagon to blame charter schools is not going to change that. Instead, they should focus on policy that unites us and not divides us, policy that stresses collaboration. District-run and charter public schools can no longer work in silos; they need to work in partnership to make progress toward our shared goal of educational equity for all our children.

Our local leaders are not absolved of their own responsibility to reach agreements that prioritize student learning. Yes, teachers absolutely need a living wage that gives them access to the middle class, and our students also need to be provided the kind of education that will give them the opportunity to exit poverty.

In Solidarity,

Charles Cole, III, Founder & Executive Director, Energy Convertors

Elissa Salas, CEO, College Track

Gia Truong, CEO, Envision Education

Jorge Lopez, CEO, Amethod Public Schools

Joy Delizo-Osborn, School Design Lead, Education Resource Strategies

Malik S. Henfield, Ph.D., Associate Dean and Full Professor, University of San Francisco

Michelle Seijas, Oakland Executive Director, The Surge Institute

Minnie Setty, Acting Executive Director, Chamberlin Family Foundation

Travis J. Bristol, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, University of California, Berkeley

About EdLoC

Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC) is a community of more than 300 leaders of color working to elevate the leadership, voices and influence of people of color in education and to leading more inclusive efforts to improve education. EdLoC aims to advance a third way that breaks through the polarizing divides that have consumed efforts to improve public education and to forge the alliances needed to realize and sustain EdLoC’s vision of providing low-income children of color expansive and substantive opportunities for the highest levels of academic and economic attainment.