Barack Obama’s first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, famously, and cynically, said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” As has become increasingly clear, teachers unions across the nation have used that advice as their playbook during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Exploiting a crisis, as the teachers unions have done for the past 11 months, carries significant risks, however, and the unions will likely soon understand that their strategy of stalling the reopening of schools has backfired. Exhausted parents and exasperated public officials – even some of the most far-left progressive advocates of teachers unions – are increasingly expressing their dismay at the unions’ unwillingness to allow children back into classrooms.
The unions have presented a two-pronged argument for keeping the classrooms closed. First, contrary to the evidence, they argue that virtual education is an adequate replacement for in-person instruction. The majority of students in America’s largest cities have been out of the classroom for almost an entire year, and we now have sufficient data and studies that refute the unions’ arguments. The nonprofit research organization the Rand Corporation, for example, recently produced a study detailing the many ways virtual education has failed to meet students’ academic and emotional needs.
The second part of the unions’ argument in favor of keeping classroom doors shut is the theory that teachers face an undue risk if they go back to in-person instruction. Again, the unions are resolutely determined to ignore the facts. A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that schools pose no great risk of virus transmission, and schools in many parts of the world and in America have reopened safely. Even in cities with extreme lockdown measures such as Chicago, Washington, DC, and New York City, private schools have found ways to conduct in-person lessons, and to do so safely. Public schools have opened in many districts, as states across the country have opened.
Scientific facts are stubborn things, but the unions seem not to care.
There are, however, other types of facts at play, and the unions would be well-advised to take note of two facts, in particular. Fact number one: parents are increasingly wary of the unions’ antics, and, fact number two: progressive officials in Democrat-run cities (normally so accommodating to the unions’ demands) are increasingly willing to tell the public the real reason classrooms are closed – the unions are playing games.
It should come as no surprise that as parents have gotten wise to the teachers unions’ endless delaying strategies, their positive image of the unions has declined. Last August’s annual Rasmussen poll on public impressions of teacher unions shows a decline in the unions’ image, as more Americans believe the unions are looking out for themselves more than they are for students.
Parents are expressing their displeasure with the unions not only through their answers to public opinion polls but also through an even more powerful form of expression – by taking their children out of the public school system.
As private schools have prioritized in-person instruction, parents have flocked to those schools, even where tuition costs are steep.
Homeschooling is also on the rise, and more parents are taking their children out of virtual schooling that revolves around teachers unions, preferring instead to have the flexibility and control of their children’s education.
At the same time that parents are questioning why the teachers unions have so much control over when the schools are allowed to reopen, liberal mayors and city officials are showing similar levels of frustration.
Washington, DC’s liberal mayor Muriel Bowser showed her dismay this past week with the teachers unions’ threat to stage protest and stay home from their first week back in classrooms. “I have to tell you that, just like anyone who is sitting here, when your boss tells you that this [is] where you need to be at work, that’s where you got to be.”
Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, no conservative, to be sure, has been in a heated match with the union there for months. Last week, she noted that her administration has been “a voice and advocate for those parents who just want options. And in this day, the CTU [Chicago Teachers Union] leadership has failed and left us with a big bag of nothing.”
“A big bag of nothing” is a fair assessment of what many parents feel online schooling has provided for their children.
There’s a fine line between Rahm Emanuel’s exhortation to make sure a crisis “never goes to waste,” and turning a health crisis into a national education emergency, and using children as pawns in a political struggle. If the unions don’t alter their stance and start prioritizing children’s education, they may quickly find they have no bargaining chips left to play.
Jenny Beth Martin is Honorary Chairman of Tea Party Patriots Action.