Denver teachers went on strike Monday morning over concerns about low pay and a bonus pay system that they say harms teacher retention, forcing higher turnover. Classes for 5,000 preschool children have been canceled. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association and Denver Public Schools negotiated into the weekend but negotiations broke down, with lead union negotiator Rob Gould saying, “You’ve strung us along the last two days. It appears your proposal is to satisfy a headline and not teachers.”
Like teachers in so many other cities and states where teachers have gone on strike over the past year, Denver teachers report working second and third jobs and living with roommates to make ends meet. Like the sixth-grade math teacher who told CNN she works as a nanny in the summer but is still driving a car with 310,000 miles on it and moving into a friend’s basement to save money. Or the physical education teacher who works several extra jobs and has three roommates. Or the award-winning digital art teacher who also hostesses at a restaurant and does freelance graphic design work while living with her parents at age 30, and is thinking about leaving teaching due to her low pay.
Even if teacher performance bonuses had been shown to make a substantial difference in educational outcomes—and they haven’t, at best making a small difference in ways that are so unexplained as to be suspect—if the theory is that teachers will work harder to get those bonuses, then there’s a giant flaw in providing pay that’s too low to live on while dangling a bonus. People who are working extra jobs to pay the rent don’t have time and energy to devote to additional professional development or otherwise improving their teaching in hopes that maybe they’ll get a bonus at the end of it. The Denver schools management has set up a system where working in a restaurant or driving Lyft is a more promising way to make ends meet than dedicating extra time to the already long hours teachers work as educators.
So Denver teachers are the latest to strike … but maybe not for long, since Oakland teachers are also on the brink of a strike.