MORGANTOWN — A law professor at West Virginia University College of Law recently spoke at a Harvard University symposium, featuring the topic of 2018 educator walkouts.
Joshua Weishart, an associate professor of law and policy at WVU, spoke at the symposium, which was titled "What We All Can Learn from the 2018 Educator Walkouts." The event was sponsored by the Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program and the National Education Association.
"It brought together teachers, principals, superintendents, national and state teacher association leaders, state legislators, clergy, academics and community organizers from all six states where the walkouts occurred: West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina," Weishart said in an interview with The West Virginia Record. "Among those representing West Virginia, were myself, a teacher, a superintendent and leaders from the state chapters of the NEA and AFT."
Weishart said the symposium's format was unusual.
"Rather than have speakers or panels talk to a passive audience, the organizers flipped the symposium so that all [those] attending participated in an open, facilitated dialogue throughout the day in small and large group sessions," Weishart said.
"It was very much an all-hands-on-deck meeting in which participants were trying to understand how these walkouts happened and why they were so successful, but also keenly focused on planning the next phase of the 'Red for Ed' movement."
Weishart was the only education law professor participating in the symposium.
"As the only education law professor, I felt obligated to provide the legal context and background that precipitated this movement," Weishart said. "As I have explained elsewhere and during this symposium, teachers were forced to walk out, in part because state courts have largely retreated from their duty to enforce state constitutional rights to education in the face of stiff resistance to their orders by legislatures and governors."
Weishart said the teacher-led activism we continue to see happening across the nation is about vindicating children’s education rights at a time when lawmakers and courts are failing them.
"What I tried to impress on the symposium participants is this movement should be framed around those education rights because, after all, the bulk of school funding is spent on teachers. Teacher quality is the most influential educational resource affecting student achievement," Weishart said.
Weishart said it was a privilege to have participated in this symposium.
"I took the invitation from NEA and Harvard Law as a recognition that my research on constitutional rights to education, my commentaries on the walkouts in state and national media outlets, and my WVEdLaw blog inspired by #55united have influenced the broader conversation we are having about teachers and our commitment to public education," Weishart said.