In a recent televised debate over teacher strikes, the representative from the PSEA continuously shouted one question at his opponent. He demanded that his opponent name one student who had lost instructional time due to one of the teacher strikes in Pennsylvania. His point, which he thundered repeatedly, was that strikes only "inconvenience" students.
He claimed that no students are harmed by a teacher strike. He is flat out wrong. Some students are.
Here are just a few examples.
The web sites of districts involved in strikes this year explain that while interscholastic athletic events will continue as scheduled, all other activities, including field trips, will be cancelled for the duration of the strikes. This means that students involved in music, both instrumental and vocal, will lose their scheduled practices. Unfortunately for them, programs such as District Chorus are neither cancelled nor postponed. So these students lose the school district instructional time they need to be able to qualify for participation in Regional and Statewide instructional programs. For students interested in pursuing a career in music, this is a true loss – both in skill development and in college scholarship possibilities.
Let’s move to the students who are involved in programs such as forensics, and Scholastic Quiz. These students do not have the same level of preparation as their strike-free peers. And again, the interscholastic competitions are not cancelled or postponed to accommodate the strike-ridden students. Practice for programs that involve public speaking cannot just be extended from one hour to two hours to make up for the strike. It takes repetition over time to perfect oral delivery, and the students in striking districts cannot recreate lost time. They too will lose instructional time twice, as their lack of initial preparatory time results in missed opportunities to move into regional and state level programs. For students interested in pursuing careers in fields such as pre-law, the loss can also be both instructional and financial.
Now, let’s move to areas such as the SAT’s and ACT’s. Students who suffer through a strike do not receive the same amount of instruction on the same timetable as their strike-free peers. But they need to submit the scores from these tests with their college applications. This is especially devastating for seniors, many of whom are vying for early admission acceptances from colleges – with the early scholarship money that accompanies such acceptances. Neither of these tests come with a box that students can check to indicate that their lower level of knowledge is the result of a strike in their district and not their own lack of ability. Here, the lost instructional time is permanent – and may have seriously negative consequences.
Finally, let’s consider the "they all get 180 days by June 30 so they are not harmed" fallacy. For many students, summer programs like Governor’s School, are an essential part of their instructional package. Many of these programs begin before the end of June, so strike-ridden students lose the chance to participate in these instructional programs. Programs that cannot be duplicated at the local district level. Depriving students of such opportunities, is, by any definition, a harmful loss of instructional time.
Perhaps the representative from the PSEA should spend a little less time shouting down his opponents, and little more time investigating the reality behind teacher strikes. For the innocent students used as bargaining pawns, that reality is an ugly one.