Brief In the Strike Zone: New Data to Contextualize the Recent Surge in Teacher Strikes
Melissa Arnold Lyon
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In 2018 and 2019, teachers in hundreds of school districts in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia walked off the job, demanding higher wages and increased education funding. And from conflicts over school reopenings in 2020 to recent district standoffs and strikes in Chicago, Minneapolis, and Sacramento, teacher strikes continue to play significant a role in public education. Patterns in teacher strikes between fall 2007 and spring 2019 show that most of the 696 strikes that occurred over those 12 years happened between 2017 and 2019, and most of them were part of coordinated efforts within states across numerous school districts.

Key Findings

  • Although 150 teacher strikes took place within individual districts, 546 were part of coordinated efforts across districts within a state.
  • Teacher strikes have increased in recent years, with 497 strikes taking place during the 2017–18 and 2018–19 school years.
  • Forty-seven percent of individual district strikes took place in the Northeast, whereas none of the coordinated strikes did.
  • Coordinated strikes mostly took place in the South (50 percent) and the West (45 percent).
  • Though districts with and without strikes had similar student bodies, expenditures were similar in districts with individual strikes and in nonstriking districts but were substantially lower in districts with coordinated strikes.
  • Strikes took place in districts that were, on average, lower achieving than other districts.


Before the 2017–18 school year, strikes tended to take place within an individual district with demands directed toward school district leadership. These strikes were in districts that were slightly less resourced in terms of staffing but had student characteristics that roughly approximated national averages. But the 2017–18 and 2018–19 school years saw an increase in coordinated strikes, which occurred in districts where staffing levels, expenditures, and student achievement were substantially lower than in nonstriking districts. These coordinated strikes targeted state-level—rather than district-level—politics and policymaking.

With the various long-term consequences the pandemic will have on both teaching and education broadly, the nature of and politics behind teacher strikes have shifted. In addition to the pandemic’s effects on educators, these changes occur against the backdrop of long-standing structural shifts in education governance, changes to teacher unionization and state-level labor restrictions, and state budget cuts to education.

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Additional Resources

Research Areas Education
Tags K-12 education
Policy Centers Center on Education Data and Policy