Unity or Union Fealty?
President Biden calls for national unity, but his words ring hollow.
The resignation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos the day after the Capitol protests spurred National Education Association President Becky Pringle to spew, “Resigning 13 days before the end of this administration does nothing to erase the harm Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has done to this country’s students, their families, and educators…Her complicity, cowardice, and complete incompetence will be her legacy.” American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten uttered a more succinct, but just as contemptuous “Good riddance.”
To be sure, DeVos had some missteps during her reign, but the number one reason the union bosses could not abide her was because she was adamantly pro school choice. In fact, before working in President Trump’s cabinet, she was chairman of the board of the American Federation of Children, one of the country’s preeminent parental choice advocacy organizations.
In Joe Biden’s inaugural speech last week, he stressed “unity.” In fact, he used the term eight times. So you might think that, in the education realm, he’d extend olive branches to the disparate factions. Well, he did no such thing. Less than 36 hours after President Biden had been sworn into office, the aforementioned union leaders were being honored by Jill Biden at the White House, where she reminded the union leaders that she’d promised that if her husband was elected, the teachers unions “will always have a seat at the table.” It’s worth noting that with National School Choice Week right around the corner at the time, nary a choice proponent was invited to the White House.
At the same time as the Bidens were regaling teacher union leaders, the president announced his choice for Deputy Secretary of Education. It was none other than San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten, who recently promoted the concept that schools “spirit murder” black children and that white teachers should undergo “antiracist therapy.” Marten also has aligned herself with the California Teachers Association in trying to halt the growth of charter schools. The San Diego branch of the NAACP issued a statement which referred to Marten as an “ineffective leader when it comes to the academic advancement of African American children in San Diego public schools.”
While Biden is cozying up to unionistas and radicals, the American public is embracing school choice. Per the latest poll on the subject by the American Federation of Children, 65 percent of k-12 parents back school choice. Also, 74 percent of African-Americans and 71 percent of Latinos, groups that stand to gain most from choice, remain staunch supporters.
If Biden is truly looking to achieve unity, he should have recognized and publicized the many positive outcomes of giving parents choices. For example, he could have acknowledged “The effects of school choice on mental health,” a new study which examines the link between the two. Researchers Corey DeAngelis and Angela Dills analyzed the correlation between adolescent suicide rates and the enactment of private-school voucher and charter programs over the last several decades, and found that “states that enacted charter school laws witnessed a 10% decrease in suicide rates among 15- to 19-year-olds. Private-school voucher laws were also associated with fewer suicides, though the change was not statistically significant. The effect would likely be larger if more students received vouchers.”
Additionally, according to recent survey data, 62 percent of public schoolkids started the fall on Zoom, while just 5 percent of private schools were virtual this fall. In fact, due to union mandated school shutdowns, an entire generation can expect a drop in lifetime earnings of 5 to 10 percent. No wonder that the percentage of Americans who think that the education system is going in the “right direction” has dropped to a paltry 23 percent. Not much unity there.
If achieving unity is really a priority for Biden, he might have acknowledged Greg Forster, a researcher who carefully examines every bit of data he can dig up. Forster reports that in 32 of 34 empirical studies, “school choice improves academic outcomes in public schools affected by the program, while one finds no visible difference and one finds a negative impact.” He also finds that school choice overwhelmingly has a positive effect on taxpayers, ethnic segregation and civic values and practices, not to mention academic outcomes of choice participants.
If Joe Biden is sincere about “Bringing America together. Uniting our people. And uniting our nation,” he would be much more ecumenical in his approach. But at least in the education realm, Biden doesn’t care a whit about unity. He will spend his presidency kowtowing to union bosses, promoting their one-size-fits-all monopolistic ideas, and most assuredly keeping “a place for them at the table.” Children and their parents? They should be seen but not heard.
This Saturday, January 30th, I will be part of a National School Choice Week event which will examine quality school options available for k-12 students in California. To learn more, go here.
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.