by Larry Sand
Recently, a report compiled by Mike Antonucci for the Defense of Freedom Institute confirmed that the teachers unions had a heavy-handed role in the COVID-related shutdowns that consumed much of the country starting in March 2020. And the “never let a good crisis go to waste” unions were in prime form in the process. The California Teachers Association, for example, issued a “bargaining advisory” in May of 2020, in which it states, “When exercising a ‘get for the give’ approach to bargaining concessions, locals should consider strengthening or implementing consultation procedures language in the CBA (collective bargaining agreement).” The union added, “Now is the time to secure (contract) language improvements that we have wanted for some time.”
While the California Teachers Association was busy instructing its local teachers unions how to milk the shutdown, Antonucci notes that it was successful on a statewide basis by “winning a ban on teacher layoffs, a substantial reduction in required instructional minutes, and the elimination of public accountability data collections for 2020, including those for academics, absenteeism, graduation and suspension rates, and college readiness.”
While most schools opened full time across the country in the fall of this year, many unions are now demanding “mental health days,” thus shuttering the schools once again. This time the closures are of variable time spans, and are, in part, due to kids acting out and often becoming violent. As Burbio, the invaluable school reopening tracker, notes, by November 22, there were 3,145 school closures for “mental health” out of a total 8,692 for the school year.
Districts are handling the time off in different ways. A proposal from the Portland Association of Teachers asks the school district to convert one day per week at district high schools to an asynchronous day, where students would stay home and complete school work but wouldn’t have any in-person classes. In Detroit, the district has mandated that Fridays this month are for online learning only. Many school districts nationwide decided to shut down for the entire week of Thanksgiving instead of the usual two-day break. So, bizarrely, while school shutdowns have impaired kids’ mental health, districts and unions are now trying to fix the problem by closing the schools yet again.
At the same time that schools are embattled, there have been reports of teachers leaving the profession in droves. While, to be sure, some districts are now shorthanded, there has been no exodus writ large. In a meticulously documented piece written for FiveThirtyEight, Rebecca Klein asserts, “According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer public-education professionals quit their jobs between the months of April and August the past two years than did so during that same time immediately before the pandemic.”
While the “teachers are leaving the field in droves” claim isn’t true, many kids are most definitely not showing up. The National Bureau of Economic Research finds that “kindergarten enrollment fell by 3-4 percent in districts that opted for all-virtual instruction in the autumn of 2020. Elementary school enrollment is down about 1 percent, while middle and high school enrollment was mostly unchanged.” All told, about 300,000 kids left the system and many are not returning. Here in California, student enrollment is down 160,000 (3 percent). In Los Angeles, attendance is off by 27, 000 students, or 6 percent of the total. That number could balloon in L.A. when a strict vaccine mandate for students 12 and older goes into effect after Christmas break in January. At this time, 44,000 students are not fully vaxxed, and needless to say, any easing of COVID mandates is a non-starter for the United Teachers of Los Angeles. Other California districts are running into similar issues. Also, when the statewide vaccine mandate goes into effect in the 2022-2023 school year, there will be even more heading for the exits.
In New York City, the Board of Education has not released any clear data about how many students have left the public school system. But reports indicate that the number could be as high as 180,000 pupils, or 18 percent of the city’s one million students.
While children will be getting an education somewhere—homeschooling and private school enrollments are both way up—there is no doubt that public schools are taking a hit. In New York, an 18 percent drop in students could lead to an 18 percent drop in teachers, which means an 18 percent drop in teacher union dues. So, the union mandated shutdowns could come back to bite the unions big time.
A little schadenfreude, anyone?
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared at For Kids and Country.
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Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network—a nonpartisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.