Last spring, as the COVID-19 virus was spreading across the globe and state and local officials in the U.S. scrambled to announce pandemic safety precautions, most K-12 schools across the country closed as a temporary emergency measure. At the time, parents of school-age children supported closures, given that so many aspects of public life were being curtailed and so little was known about the risks posed by the virus, both to children and to adults.
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had in common: powerful teachers unions. As Corey DeAngelis of the Reason Foundation found, the “relationship between unionization and reopening decisions remains substantively and statistically significant even after controlling for school district size and coronavirus deaths and cases per capita in the county during the month of July.” In districts where teachers unions are powerful, they refused to cooperate with elected officials who wanted teachers back in the classroom, even resorting to lawsuits, strikes, and protests – all while continuing to receive paychecks for doing far less effective, virtual teaching. HOWDIDWE GET HERE? For most Americans, unless you have a teacher in the family or are one yourself, you likely haven’t given much thought to teachers unions. Perhaps it’s time we did. There are two national teachers unions – the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) – as well as countless state, regional, and local teachers unions. The NEA is the nation’s largest public-sector union, with 3 million members. As Daniel DiSalvo observed in an assessment of public sector unions in National
Local school systems cobbled together virtual classrooms as best they could, and parents picked up a great deal of the educational load at home while still juggling their own work responsibilities. Most were happy to make these sacrifices not only to protect their own families but also their children’s teachers and teachers’ families. One year later, the educational landscape looks quite different... While most private schools and some public schools spent the summer of 2020 making plans to reopen safely for in-person learning for students in the fall (at least partially or with a hybrid in- person and virtual model), many more never contemplated reopening. By January of 2021, a clear divide had emerged in the nation between places where kids could go back to school in-person and those where they could not: According to National Public Radio, by early 2021, approximately 18 million American children had never returned to a classroom for in-person instruction. They remained at home, forced to take classes online – and usually with few resources (or even functional Wi-Fi), struggling to keep up with often-subpar schooling. And this wasn’t accidental. There was something these all-virtual school districts
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