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Teachers’ Unions Deserve Much of the Blame for Pandemic-Era Learning Loss

This article was originally published by National Review:

Back-to-school season is usually an exciting time for students. But this school year starts under a dark cloud — thanks to political games from adults. On Thursday, for the first time since the start of the pandemic, the National Center for Education Statistics released national test scores.

The news was dismal. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores for nine-year-olds exposed the erasure of two decades of advancements in math and reading, with performance tumbling to a 20-year low. Who did the erasing? Some of the biggest culprits want you to believe this educational tragedy happened as unexpectedly as the pandemic. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Teacher’s union head Randi Weingarten displayed staggering audacity by tweeting, “Thankfully after two years of disruption from a pandemic that killed more than 1 mil Americans, schools are already working on helping kids recover and thrive.” It is true that countless teachers in schools across the country are hard at work trying to help struggling students recover. Weingarten failed to mention that teachers and parents are cleaning up the mess she and her union left behind.

Despite gaslighting from unions and their allies, it’s no secret that the American Federation of Teachers and its affiliates fought tooth and nail to ensure public schools remained closed. When information about Covid-19 was scarce, closing schools was a reasonable response, but keeping schools closed when the evidence showed it did more harm than help to children was an extreme blunder. While most schools in Europe were open as early as April or May 2020, the unions were hard at work fighting to keep U.S. schools closed long after any point of reasonable concern.

By October 2020, 90 percent of private schools across America were open, providing instruction without the devastating Covid outbreaks unions predicted. Meanwhile, Weingarten and the unions lobbied the CDC to keep kids out of public-school classrooms. This effort continued even after teachers in many states were given priority for vaccines and an overwhelming majority were vaccinated.

Don’t forget the intense rhetoric. People who wanted to keep kids learning in classrooms were called sexist, racist, and murderers. Some unions even demanded wealth taxes, charter-school bans, and Medicare for All before schools could reopen. Ultimately, school closings had far more to do with politics than public health.

At a time of national crisis, special interests held hostage the education and future of millions of American children in order to extort billions in tax dollars for “safety” — funds that have, largely, not gone toward safety at all. And when parents demanded school choice to attend schools that actually opened their doors to children, the unions fought that, too.

Now that the truly devastating impact of such fecklessness has been laid bare for all to see, the culprits, unsurprisingly, want to pretend it never happened. We shouldn’t let them. Parents and families have the receipts of what really happened. We must demand accountability.

If there is a silver lining, it is just that: Outraged parents are stepping up to create the most meaningful accountability in a generation. Throughout the last several years, a record-breaking number of states passed new or expanded school-choice programs, with 31 states plus Washington, D.C., now offering an escape route for some children the next time they are held hostage by a system that fails to prioritize learning. Most recently, Arizona surpassed Florida as the strongest school-choice state in the nation with its universal education-savings-account program.

The unions’ special interests won’t go away quietly, but neither will parents. The momentum is with families, many of whom are sending their children to schools of choice for the first time this year. As the American Federation for Children’s Corey DeAngelis puts it, the unions have overplayed their hand. With this latest tragic proof of how badly unions’ games impacted students, parents should be even more determined to demand real choices and break the unions’ power once and for all.

WALTER BLANKS JR.  is the Press Secretary for the American Federation for Children and a past beneficiary of Ohio’s school choice program.


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