As the teachers unions buttress their roadblocks to reopening schools, parental choice is more important than ever.
By Larry Sand
January 19, 2021
California Policy Center
In September 2020, researchers Corey DeAngelis and Christos Makridis released the results of a study which found that school districts in places with strong teachers’ unions were much less likely to offer full-time, in-person instruction in the fall. The authors stressed that the results were remarkably consistent after controlling for differences in demographics, including age, race, population, political affiliation, household income, COVID-19 cases, and deaths per capita.
Clearly science, which should be the primary factor in the school reopening process, has been disregarded by the unions. A new peer-reviewed study from the American Academy of Pediatrics finds that transmission of COVID-19 in schools is “extremely rare.” Also, a report from the CDC released just last week found that Covid-19 cases among younger children remained low in schools that restarted for in-person learning. And now, a group of Bay Area doctors have called for schools in California to reopen March 1st.
With the availability of vaccines, you might think the unions would back off and embrace a full return to in-person instruction after teachers get inoculated, right? Well, no. As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Jill Tucker, California’s teachers unions maintain that vaccinations alone won’t be enough and are “calling for additional measures not endorsed by public health experts as necessary for students and staff to safely return to the classroom.” For example, the United Educators of San Francisco is insanely demanding that the district install lids on every toilet, even though none of the millions of cases worldwide has been connected to a toilet.
Additionally, scoffing at the health experts who believe the vaccine paves the way for teachers and staff to safely return to school sites, Claudia Briggs, spokeswoman for the California Teachers Association, bizarrely insists, “…right now there’s no research evidence that the vaccine alone eliminates or reduces transmissions. It reduces illness.”
So what will it take for the unions to get their teachers back to school? Money, of course. Lots and lots of money.
The National Education Association claims we need to spend at least $175 billion for schools to reopen safely. Apparently, the union is not happy with president-elect Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan,” which provides only $130 billion for k-12 schools.
Also, as Mike Antonucci reports, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten’s school opening blueprint consists of “food programs, guidance counselors and health and mental health services,” along with “community schools, smaller classes, tutors coordinating with teachers, extra learning time, enriched afterschool and summer school, social and emotional learning and culturally responsive practices. And no standardized tests.”
Back in the real world…. just 5 percent of private schools were virtual this fall, compared to 62 percent of public schoolkids who started the fall on Zoom, according to Burbio, a school opening tracker. So it is hardly surprising that per a November EdChoice poll, the number of Americans who think that the education system is going in the “right direction” has slumped to an abysmal 23 percent, down 10 points from October.
So what is the best way to push back against union dominance?
Carl Cohn, a former California State Board of Education board member and superintendent of the San Diego and Long Beach Unified School Districts suggests, “To help get kids back in school, California should temporarily suspend local collective bargaining.” National Review political writer Robert Verbruggen has an interesting thought on the subject. He writes, “Teachers Shouldn’t Be Vaccinated without a Concrete Promise to Teach In-Person.” While both ideas are worthy of consideration, they are highly unlikely to become reality.
My suggestion is full-bore school choice, which is more important than ever at this time. Why not leave the decision up to an individual school – its parents, teachers and administration? Perhaps parents who are afraid to send their kids to school can be taught online by teachers who fear going into a school building. But parents and teachers who favor in-person education should be allowed to do so. Everyone gets their way with this set-up. Each family and teacher should have the flexibility to make decisions that personally affect them. There is no need for gubernatorial or union one-size-fits-all diktats, or even majority rule in this matter.
Generally speaking, parental choice introduces healthy competition into education. As things stand now public schools and their union masters have had a captive audience for far too long. If families could take their educational dollars and spend them at a private school, the union-dominated public schools just might wake up. At this time, schools being run by the government and its unions are getting boatloads of taxpayer money and are doing very little to earn it, and our children are falling further and further behind.
Something to ponder as we head into National School Choice Week.
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Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.