Teachers Union Bosses Must Answer for U.S. Students’ Plunging Test Scores

For over a year, parents shouted from the rooftops about the damage being inflicted on their children by policymakers and union bosses who kept schools closed during the pandemic, well after it was evident that schools were not high-risk for spreading COVID.

We were frequently met with ridicule, as some extreme voices accused us of wanting free daycare and not caring about the lives and health of teachers. Mostly, particularly in Democrat-led areas, our concerns were simply ignored. Many kids did not see the inside of a classroom between mid-March 2020 and September 2021.

Turns out, the parents were right all along.

The test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress are in, and they paint an awful picture.

They include historically steep decreases in math scores, reading scores, and widening racial and economic disparities. Unmeasured in this study, but known to parents, are the additional psychological and sociological harms that children are still confronting. The children were, in fact, less resilient than school-closing advocates insisted.

Yes, the novel coronavirus upended the entire planet. And for the first few months, so little was known that an abundance of caution was sensible.

But then we learned more, and yet, people like Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association (NEA), and their political allies, such as CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, colluded to make medical guidance fit their desired school-closure policy—like changing Walensky’s initial recommendation of 3 feet of social distancing to 6 feet, to cite just one example. This, naturally, was physically impossible for schools to adapt, and so many schools stayed closed indefinitely.

It’s time for accountability.

In recent decades, it’s hard to think of any group of policy influencers that have caused greater damage to children’s education and well-being than Weingarten and Pringle—and their reputations should suffer for it. It was Weingarten and Pringle who pressed for teachers to be vaccinated ahead of vulnerable people on the basis that it would reopen schools, and then did nothing as their unions’ membership refused to go back to work even after they jumped the vax line.

“The children were, in fact, less resilient than school closing advocates insisted.”

Now they want everyone to forget. And they certainly don’t want anyone to point fingers.

Both Weingarten and Pringle remain insulated by the D.C. and New York chattering classes, who still hold them up as altruistic figures that did the best they could in a tough time. They continue to land prime solo interview slots on news shows to feign concern about helping the kids recover, while being almost completely unchallenged on the role they played in this debacle. And they get plum invites from the Biden White House and the Department of Education to meetings meant to chart the path forward for America’s education systems.

Their continued presence as thought leaders on education is a slap in the face to the children and families they made to suffer needlessly.

Let’s never forget, the United States was an outlier when it came to school closures within the Western world. We knew early in the pandemic that children were statistically very unlikely to get seriously ill or die. We knew from side-by-side comparisons between open red states and closed blue states that schools were not contributing to community spread. You could even compare block by block between public schools and affluent private schools that remained open and safe.

It was in November 2020 when Dr. Anthony Fauci said “close the bars, keep the schools open,” almost a full year before some of the largest districts in America did fully reopen, mostly against the will of teachers unions.

The union bosses hold disproportionate influence over when your children are taught and what they’re taught. And yet they’re treated as unimpeachable experts, rather than powerful individuals who made controversial decisions yielding disastrous results and, thus, deserving of difficult questioning.

I’m not inclined to want House Republicans to wrap themselves entirely around oversight hearings in the next Congress. It’s unlikely to be used judiciously or wisely. But I will make an exception when it comes to Weingarten and Pringle. House Republicans should make them live on Capitol Hill for a while, answering for what they did.

“It was Weingarten and Pringle who pressed for teachers to be vaccinated ahead of vulnerable people on the basis that it would reopen schools, and then did nothing as their unions’ membership refused to go back to work even after they jumped the vax line.”

People with their kind of power deserve oversight, and public employee unions are organized against the government of the people. So, the people have a right to hold them accountable.

Teachers should want the same. Weingarten and Pringle have sullied the reputation of a noble and vital profession. And to what end?

Despite billions of dollars successfully lobbied for, teachers aren’t paid more. The AFT and NEA have been in business for nearly a century, and if their one mission is to get teachers more respect and higher wages, they’ve failed miserably on both fronts—all while making teachers pay for the privilege out of their modest paychecks.

Red states around the country are already enacting significant policy reforms to combat the influence of these union bosses. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has responded to the mandate of his election with reforms that put parents back in the driver’s seat as much as one can in a politically divided state. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has ushered in sweeping school choice reforms that will put his state at the front of the education reform pack—where Gov. Ron DeSantis and predecessors like Gov. Jeb Bush had already positioned Florida.

You may not like any of those politicians, but they’re pushing through the systemic change Weingarten and Pringle were professionally meant to stop—but instead have inspired. The union bosses awakened a sleeping issue that was mostly discussed in theory at conservative conferences for decades, but which is now a litmus test for candidates in the new populist Republican Party. If you’re a teachers union-supporting liberal, save some of the ire directed at the GOP for the people on your own side who gave your school choice-supporting opponents all the ammunition they’ll ever need.

Parents across the ideological spectrum are mad. They’re mad at what a small number of people did to millions of young kids. They’re mad at Randi Weingarten and Becky Pringle. And anyone still aligned with them would do well to cut ties and move on before they drag the whole ship down.

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