To say ‘we strike for our students’ is compelling but it’s also misleading

Moments after Gov. Polis declined to intervene in the impending Denver teacher strike, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) took to Twitter to make their own announcement.

“February 11th we strike for our students.”


Don’t get me wrong, good teachers deserve to be paid like doctors, lawyers, hell, even pro athletes. Like doctors and lawyers, teachers are dealing with life-and-death circumstances at work all the time. And I’ll bet there’s plenty of dedicated teachers who have worked up an Olympic-speed heart rate trying to move a student who’s three grades behind to the same level as his peers. So, I’m all for paying teachers like the professionals they are.

I actually applaud teachers for collectively arguing for a fair and quality salary.  I was quick to support them last spring when they marched to the capitol for fair funding for their students. And unlike 53 percent of voters who rejected Amendment 73 in November, I did more than honk my horn while passing teachers who gathered on street corners to promote the now-defunct $1.6 billion tax increase to fund schools. But as the seasons have changed, so has the union’s real reason for abandoning classrooms.

To be clear, an increase in base pay is what DCTA is fighting for today, and what its members are willing to walk out on students for next week. While it’s a nice rally cry for the union to say it’s going on strike for students—it’s just posturing.

A quick read of the DCTA statement entitled “Why we walked away” proves that.

According to the DCTA, members have three primary concerns with the latest contract proposed by Denver Public Schools.

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The first and only mention of students in these three concerns comes at the end, the very end. And as for the turnover crisis mentioned above — certainly teacher turnover negatively impacts students. But, ya know what else negatively impacts students? Having no teacher at all.

Students in Denver can’t afford to have their teachers go absent for an unknown period of time. All kids will end up further behind than when they started the school year, and students of color may have the most to lose. Meanwhile, the 4,700 3- and 4-year-olds who are just opening the doors to a world of opportunity, will find those doors shut in their face. We cannot afford for Denver’s achievement gap between more-privileged students and less-privileged students to grow any wider.

That achievement gap among students is what motivated Denver Public Schools to put forth its most recent contract proposal.

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The district wants to offer incentives, in the form of additional money, to teachers who teach students and or in schools with the highest needs. It’s a compensation approach rooted in equity rather than equality. Educators working in positions that are typically harder to fill than others will receive an additional $2,500. Educators who work in a Title I school will receive a $2,500/year bonus. Similarly, educators who are retained in a “highest priority school” will receive a $2,500 retention bonus, early in the fall.

The idea here is that those students who need the most support get and keep that support from great teachers who are incentivized to teach them year after year. And with that, the achievement gap closes, teachers get paid more, and hopefully, return again and again to serve even more students.

Given the student population at district schools, 72 percent of teachers would see an increase based on this salary-plus-incentive-bonus package.

But what about the remaining teachers who don’t qualify for the incentives? They’re actually seeing an increase, as well—10 percent to be exact. In fact, all teachers will:

  • Receive a base pay increase for the 2019-20 school year.
  • Be placed on a salary schedule according to their current years of service and the lane for which they are eligible. And those who are above the salary schedule won’t lose any money.
  • Benefit from an additional $3 million of new dollars in ongoing teacher compensation for FY 20-21 above the below proposed Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA).
  • Receive a COLA for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years.

It’s clear that the district’s proposed—and even still imperfect—contract prioritizes students, while also giving teachers more money to provide for themselves and their families. And it’s fair and understandable for the union to negotiate for more base pay. But in rejecting this proposal out of hand and refusing to negotiate further, the DCTA is not prioritizing students at all.

There’s still time for both the district and the DCTA to compromise and do what’s best for students and teachers.

But if members decide to strike on Monday, know this. It will be for an additional increase in base pay, without putting forth every effort in negotiating for that. It may also be for added respect, for support from the community, and even a renewed sense of enthusiasm among members.

But it will not be “for our students.”

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