Teacher Strikes and the Shortcomings of Establishment Reporting

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

In  August 2018, Los Angeles public school teachers voted to strike, following high-profile teacher walkouts in other states across the country, including West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma, as Michael Sainato reported for the Guardian. A study by Frederick Hess and RJ Martin found that, although the increase in strikes by teachers has been covered by corporate media, these reports consistently marginalized the voices of the major parties affected—parents and students—and neglected to give a clear understanding of teacher compensation (including health care benefits, pensions and salaries).

Teachers across the country have gone on strike to focus public attention on their concerns, but corporate coverage has tended to ignore how the lack of funds for public education is at the core of these actions. The Guardian reported that, depending on the criteria used to rank states, California’s spending per student consistently ranked from 37th to 50th in the country.

Teachers want to reduce class size, improve school safety, reduce mandated standardized tests, and increase wages.  As one elementary school teacher in Los Angeles told the Guardian, “The district says they’ll reduce class sizes, but a provision in the current contract gives them an out. All they have to do is claim financial hardship, show no proof and they make the class sizes what they want.”

Sainato also reported teachers often spent their own money on basic classroom materials like pencils, visuals, and materials for projects and experiments. Los Angeles public schools, he added, have also suffered from limited staff, including shortages in nurses, art teachers, and counselors.

The lack of funding in Los Angeles public schools is linked to the growth of local charter schools. The Los Angeles Unified School District loses funding every time a child leaves public school for a charter school, draining resources from public school students—and dividing students, parents, and teachers on campuses that, under California law, often include both public and charter schools.

As Hess and Martin’s study, “How Did Major Newspapers Cover the 2018 Teacher Strikes?”, found, these factors often went underreported by corporate media, which instead focused on higher salaries as teachers’ main motives for walking out. The audiences for these reports likely got a muddled picture of the protests, due to framing that removed students from the picture and replaced them with politicians and union leaders, as the most frequently quoted news sources in coverage on the topic by outlets like the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Hess and Martin—each of whom hold positions at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative, Washington, D.C., think tank—found that coverage of teacher strikes has been “remarkably impartial” on the contentious issue of teacher walkouts, but that the newspapers’ “selection of sources denied readers the chance to more fully understand anti-strike perspectives.” Unlike Sainato’s Guardian report, Hess and Martin’s analysis did not address how the rise of charter schools has negatively impacted funding for public schools.


Michael Sainato, “‘There’s No Paper in the Classroom’: Why Los Angeles Teachers are Moving toward a Strike,” The Guardian, October 23, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/oct/22/los-angeles-teacher-strike-class-size-testing.

Frederick Hess and RJ Martin, “How Did Major Newspapers Cover the 2018 Teacher Strikes?” Education Next, September 28, 2018, www.educationnext.org/how-did-major-newspapers-cover-2018-teacher-strikes/.

Student Researchers: Haley Cohn, Amy Greenberg, Jennifer Neang, Kevin Scanlon (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)