Students and parents have come out en masse to join the marches and picket lines of the ongoing teachers strike in Oakland, California. All say that they are trying to save the city’s public school system.
“This is a strike to save our district,” said Heath Madom, who’s taught 10th grade English for three years at Oakland Technical High School, which is referred to as “Tech” by educators and pupils. “Our Tech community is committed to saving public education. Twenty-four schools are on the chopping block. We could become like New Orleans, with no public schools and all charters, if this keeps going.”
Like other teacher strikes around the country, the Oakland conflict is fueled both by a determination to protect the public school system itself and by the crisis in funding that has led to huge classes and deteriorating conditions in the schools themselves. According to Madom and the Oakland Education Association, only 5 percent of the district’s 37,000 students have passed through their schools’ doors over the last three days — evidence of vehement parent and community support.
Parents, students and teachers all condemn the rise in class sizes. “My class is a catch-all, because all students have to take it, so class size is a huge issue,” said Rho Seidelman, who’s taught ethnic studies at Tech for three years. “There’s no tracking, which is great, because we have students from all backgrounds and previous schools. But it’s hard to build community among the students when there are so many. The contract says 32 is the limit, and I routinely have at least 33. Research shows that the best learning environment is in a class of 18, where students can really learn and build community. When students are absent and my class size goes down to 28 or 26, I’m really happy.”
Madom says most classes at Tech have 35-40 students, and the school, built for 1,800, has a student body of 2,000. “We only have two part-time nurses for 2,000 students, and they…