Course Correction Time for Teachers Unions?
Unlikely elsewhere, but in California, just fuggedaboutit.
As I wrote recently, the teachers unions had a bad week in early February. Anti-forced unionism lawsuits, the emergence of yet another right-to-work state and the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary all combined to make for a miserable few days in Unionland. But unlike waking from a bad dream, the next morning did not bring sunshine and chirping birds.
Looking at the teachers unions’ big picture, things are not going well. As Mike Antonucci has reported, the National Education Association’s total membership loss between 2008 and 2015 was 322,000, over an 11 percent drop. In fact, due to right-to-work legislation and the proliferation of charter schools and voucher programs, just 48.7 percent of the teaching force in the U.S. is now unionized.
So how to stop the bleeding?
One thing the teachers unions could do, as Antonucci suggests, is put an end to political endorsements and stick to involvement with basic education issues, like school funding. By endorsing only left-of-center candidates, the unions alienate about half their membership. The two national teachers unions went all-in for Hillary Clinton and other Democrats in many state races in 2016, spending over $46 million in the process. (Their outlay did little good; we now have a Republican president, Republican majorities in the Senate and House, 32 Republican dominated state legislatures and 33 Republican governors.)
While neither national union made an official endorsement, both union presidents personally endorsed Keith Ellison as head of the DNC who many, including Democrats, consider a Jew-hater. Ellison, a far-lefty who regularly calls for climate justice, racial justice and wage justice, wound up losing to not-quite-as-far-left Tom Perez.
Also, with no knowledge of how its membership felt about the nomination of conservative school-choicer Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, NEA rallied its activists to send over a million emails and make over 40,000 calls in an attempt to lobby Republican Senators to vote against her confirmation. That, too, failed.
So is it time for the teachers unions to depoliticize just a bit, and take into account that a large group of their members are just not buying what they are selling? If California is any indication, the answer is an emphatic “No.” In fact, unions in the Golden State are doubling down.
The California Teachers Association’s brand new “Call to Action” website is chock full of leftwing agitprop that will appeal to anyone who has an affinity for the chaotic and destructive 1960s. A poster which screams “Stand with me! Stand for…SOCIAL JUSTICE FOR ALL” is adorned with a clenched fist and “WeAreCTA,” just as a reminder who’s sponsoring the message. The social justice toolkit is full of documents, posters and “shareables” that would make V.I. Lenin and George Soros proud. But what about the 35 percent of the union’s members who former CTA president Dean Vogel claims are to the right of center? They are invisible; their views are nowhere to be found.
The California Federation of Teachers website is also a leftist’s dream. “After the most divisive election in living memory, healing begins with resistance” is just the beginning of an anti-conservative tirade that is indistinguishable from the most vitriolic soap-box socialist harangue at Berkeley circa 1968. Present on the same page is a link to the always endearing Zinn Education Project, which “stands in solidarity with those who have denounced Donald Trump’s racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and Islamophobia—as well as his ignorant and deadly proposals about the environment and climate change. We have been encouraged by the young people—in our classrooms and in the streets—who are living the maxim that ‘people make history.’”
Yes, people do indeed make history, and the people elected Donald Trump. But I guess The CFT/Zinn crowd considers some people more equal than others.
In Los Angeles, teachers had a chance to vote out the current union president, Alex Caputo-Pearl, who threatens a “state crisis” if his leftist demands aren’t embraced. His opponent, Lisa Karahalios, running as a reformer, claimed that Caputo-Pearl was neglecting the needs of individual teachers as he pursued his political agenda. But with a small turn out – only 26 percent of members voted – Caputo-Pearl garnered 82 percent of the votes cast. So the incumbent won by getting the vote of just 21 percent of all teachers – hardly a mandate. What of the 79 percent who didn’t vote for Caputo-Pearl? Many of them have views that clash with United Teachers of Los Angeles’ radical agenda and they will remain invisible.
Clearly, there is no place for conservative teachers at the union table. And considering the fact that it is unlikely that teacher union politics will undergo a sea change – certainly not in California – look for membership numbers to dwindle further. Additionally, should right-to-work legislation and litigation continue to advance, the teachers unions may well see a rush of members heading for the exit.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, 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.