Students missed nearly three weeks of classes because of a teachers strike. The superintendent announced he is leaving the district this summer. A school board member resigned, citing broken trust. And the head of human resources stepped down. That’s all come within the last four turbulent weeks for Minneapolis Public Schools. The strike exposed and exacerbated tensions in the district, revealing division and dysfunction just as a new wave of parents and community members tuned in, wondering what the strike would mean for their own families. They watched as the conflict escalated, frustration built and misinformation and mudslinging spread online.
“I think what a lot of parents are worried about is, there is such a culture of mistrust, and such a culture of disrespect that I see from the district, towards teachers and families,” said Angela Denker, whose two sons attend Lake Harriet Community School. “And I think that led to a lot of the — rancor, I think, is one word I use — within the district that was really difficult to see.”
The dynamics that led to the Minneapolis teachers strike have played out in urban districts from Chicago to Los Angeles. After decades of stagnant wages, diminished funding and sharpened scrutiny, teachers unions in the last few years — even before the COVID-19 pandemic — began to more often use strikes as a tool. And they’ve brought community priorities, from social workers to affordable housing, to the negotiating table.
…”A lot of times when people in the public think about teacher unions, they think about, ‘Well, these teachers are just looking to get better salaries for themselves,'” said Jon Shelton, associate professor of democracy and justice studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. “But this has been a conscious embrace of this strategy, and it’s because many of these unions understand that if they’re going to be able to teach more effectively, their students need to have the support that they need to succeed in the classroom.”