Teachers Union Looks to Falsely Take Credit for Reopening Schools
As pandemic conditions around the country continue to improve, America’s K-12 schools have been bringing students back for in-person learning. Unfortunately, many schools are still lagging behind. We have seen the Chicago Teachers Union start their negotiations for in-person learning by demanding the public school system support rent abatement among other political demands, even resulting in pushback from progressive Mayor Lori Lightfoot. In Des Moines, Iowa we have seen the local superintendent violate orders from Governor Reynolds by initially refusing to provide an in-person learning option. In San Francisco, California we have seen the city sue the local school district in order to provide an in-person learning option. Despite support from President Biden for in-person learning and prioritization for vaccination, unions and administrators have continued to put up roadblocks.
Therefore, it may surprise you to learn that the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Randi Weingarten, announced that the union would support and push for full-time in-person learning next fall. In her own speech, Ms. Weingarten notes that 97% of schools are now reopened for in-person instruction, but fails to thank leaders like Governor Kim Reynolds, Governor Ron DeSantis, and Governor Abbott for stepping up to require an in-person learning option for kids. Instead, AFT wants credit going to President Biden and themselves.
The position reversal is surprising, considering how staunch the union was in their opposition to in-person learning. In fact, a working paper from Annenberg Brown University in October 2020 found that areas with larger unions and less education freedom correlated with lower odds of reopening. In her speech announcing the reversal, Ms. Weingarten defended past union actions by asserting that “creating safe conditions in schools during a public health crisis is not an obstacle to reopening classrooms.” Of course, the problem here is that many school districts followed the CDC guidelines and created those conditions, but many unions continued to resist a return to in-person instruction. Some unions, like the Chicago Teachers Union, even took this as an opportunity to make political demands with no relation to safely returning to in-person instruction. “Creating safe conditions” for reopening simply does not include asking the government to support rent abatement.
Ms. Weingarten also asserted that virtual instruction is “not on par with in-person teaching and learning.” AFT’s stance on this is likely influenced by the fact that public schools widely failed in their attempt to provide virtual learning to students. Zoom is not a learning platform, nor was it ever designed to be, and teachers weren’t trained or prepared for an overnight switch to Zoom learning. Students have been overwhelmed by the many different software packages, websites, and Zoom links that they are expected to manage. Teachers have also been overwhelmed, and many are working longer hours to help their students keep pace.
Instead, school districts should have consulted with any number of virtual education providers, like Stride, Inc., who have been administering a quality virtual education for over two decades. Through their years of experience, organizations like these have identified and implemented the best practices in virtual education. They offer personalized learning, specially trained teachers, and a seamless learning platform that doesn’t confuse or aggravate students. Sadly, too many students and teachers were thrown onto Zoom and told to “figure it out.” This likely explains why just 6% of parents indicated a preference for remote learning.
It is welcome news that the union is now placing an emphasis on a return to in-person learning, which will benefit many students who perform better in a traditional classroom environment. However, we cannot lose sight of the many students who are thriving in alternate learning environments such as virtual, homeschool, charter, private, and more. Now more than ever, it is critical that we ensure every parent, child, and community has freedom in education.