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Two decades for $200 billion: How teachers unions sold out our kids in the pandemic

The following was originally published by the New York Post

National teachers unions left kids out to dry and traded two decades of learning for $200 billion.

Results the National Center for Education Progress published Thursday show severe learning loss during the pandemic. Nine-year-olds’ scores plummeted, erasing two decades of incremental progress, in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which measures proficiency in math and reading.

Worse, losses were not evenly distributed — the students already struggling experienced the most learning loss.

These results are nauseating but unsurprising. Numerousstudies have shown the disastrous effects of pandemic school closures on students. The NAEP results confirm what we already knew: Many students are behind a full academic year due to the pandemic, and low-income and minority students have borne the brunt of this damage.

More frustrating is that the worst of these results were avoidable had teachers unions and education gatekeepers not put their political interests before kids’ well-being.

The initial school closures in early 2020 were a reasonable reaction to an unprecedented situation, but evidence quickly showed little reason to extend closures beyond the fall. Nonetheless, teachers’ unions forcefully lobbied to keep schools closed — which directly translated to learning loss.

A 2021 Freedom of Information Act request, for example, shows that the American Federation for Teachers — led by Randi Weingarten — lobbied the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on school-reopening procedures. Emails show the CDC’s willingness to accept Weingarten’s suggestions, and AFT’s language appeared exactly in the CDC’s final text.

Also in 2021, the Los Angeles teachers union published its report on safely reopening schools — and included completely unrelated political demands such as Medicare for All, a wealth tax and a ban on charter schools. What do those things have to do with student learning?

American Federation for Children’s Corey DeAngelis’ analysis showedthat school reopenings had a much higher correlation with power dynamics than with the health and safety of students. In other words: It was never about health and safety.

These events culminated in the passage of the American Rescue Plan, which included a $200 billion cash infusion into the public-education system above and beyond existing federal aid. Instead of using this money to reopen schools and mitigate learning loss, most school districts doubled down on their spending strategy and padded union-membership rolls.

Little to no evidence suggests schools have used this money for students’ benefit. In the meantime, after a year of closed doors, the American Federation of Teachers made a seven-figure ad buy to run propaganda proclaiming its commitment to returning to classrooms.

The NAEP results are a day of reckoning for teachers unions, showing how much their scheming has cost students. To combat this learning loss and ensure that powerful special-interest groups can never do this to kids again, we must empower families with school choice.

If there is one silver lining to be found here, it’s that families all over the United States have awoken to the power the education system has over their kids. In the last two years, primary-school parents have cemented themselves as a powerful special interest willing to fight for their kids.

The reason is obvious: Parents want their kids to learn. Eleven empirical studies have shown the positive effects of school-choice programs on test scores, and numerous studies show that the resulting competition extends those benefits to nearby public schools. Reviews of charter schools’ academic performance, moreover, consistently show black and Latino students in urban settings benefit most. It’s lunacy not to prioritize school choice in our efforts to remediate learning loss.

These dismal NAEP scores show that an entire generation of kids has suffered because of the teachers unions’ political games during the pandemic. The worst thing we can do for these kids is continue supporting the same system that led us here. Especially in this time of crisis for millions of K-12 families, we must carefully reflect on who should hold power: parents or the unions.

Nathan Cunneen is a communications associate at the American Federation for Children and a past recipient of Florida’s school-choice program.


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