Could “Remember in November” Backfire?

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Weingarten and others seem fond of characterizing the recent wave of teacher strikes as a political re-awakenings. Yet preliminary findings from a pending survey suggest that teachers unions and their allies may regret their “Remember in November” mantra.

Commentators spanning the left-of-center spectrum have highlighted how union leaders were largely Johnny-and-Jane-come-latelies to teacher strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, and most recently North Carolina (see hereherehereherehere, and here). This is a significant misstep at a time when unions are fighting for their collectivist lives.

it doesn’t take wildcat teacher pay strikes or Supreme Court cases to see just how out of step unions appear to be with rank-and-file teachers, whose average salaries are seven to eight times lower than what Weingarten or NEA President Lily Eskelsen García makes.

Preliminary results from a pending Educators for Excellence (E4E) survey of American public-school teachers indicate close to one in three unionized teachers (30 percent) believe that their unions are not essential or something they could do without (p. 1). If unionized teachers were not automatically enrolled in their unions, 60 percent say they would still be “very likely” to opt-in (p. 8). The other 40 percent aren’t so sure. As for non-unionized teachers, 61 percent say that they would opt out of paying their unions’ agency fees given a choice (p. 9).

Making teachers’ opt-out decisions easier could be the fact that just 28 percent of unionized teachers believe their unions’ policy decisions represent their perspectives “a great deal” (p. 5). A separate Education Week poll released late last year also found that just 28 percent of teachers said that their unions’ political views represented their own “a lot.”

This disconnect is further reflected in low levels of teacher engagement with their unions, including advocacy-related activities. Less than one in five unionized teachers say they participated in a union-organized rally (18 percent) or took an online advocacy action (15 percent) in the past year (p. 6).

So much for unions’ claims about being the voice of teachers (see, for example, here and here), especially in political matters.

Almost half of all unionized teachers (47 percent) agree that it is just “somewhat” to “not at all important” for their unions to provide them information about political candidates, while close to two-thirds (62 percent) agree that it is only “somewhat” to “not at all important” for their unions to support/endorse political candidates (p. 4).

Consider Arizona, home to the country’s largest teachers’ strike in history. For all the claims about being a non-partisan coalition that simply wants higher pay for teachers, Education Week opinion contributor Lance Izumi documents the decidedly partisan underbelly of prominent strike organizers (see also hereherehere, and peruse here). Several Arizona news media outlets have also reported about the anything-but-apolitical leanings of organizers (see herehereherehere [explicit language warning], and here).

That underbelly, together with heavy-handed attempts to silence dissent from those who don’t subscribe to a preferred ideology (herehere, and here), may be the undoing of a movement that’s hardly a unified front itself (see herehere, and here).

There’s also mounting backlash from Arizona teachers who feel betrayed about the movement’s true intent, which was supposed to be about higher teacher pay (see hereherehere, and here). Yet the same day a 20 percent teacher pay raise deal was reached by the governor and legislative leaders, strike organizers issued four additional demands and continued the strikes (see hereherehere, and here).

Meanwhile, many Arizona parents, who are largely supportive of higher pay for teachers and have approved billions of dollars in additional education spending, are angered that the strikes meant their children missed more than a full school week (see herehere, and here). Want to make parents even angrier? Tell them the strikes were really “for the children” (see comments).

In response, a growing number of parents may be voting with their feet this fall by taking advantage of Arizona’s expansive educational choice programs (see hereherehere, and parent comments here). These choices include public charter schools (see herehere, and here), private schoolshomeschoolingonline instruction, and education savings accounts—options some strike representatives have publicly opposed (see, for example, here and here).

So, come November parents, teachers, and taxpayers in Arizona and other states will certainly remember—but likely not the way strike organizers or union bosses presume they will.

Meanwhile, many Arizona parents, who are largely supportive of higher pay for teachers and have approved billions of dollars in additional education spending, are angered that the strikes meant their children missed more than a full school week (see herehere, and here). Want to make parents even angrier? Tell them the strikes were really “for the children” (see comments).

In response, a growing number of parents may be voting with their feet this fall by taking advantage of Arizona’s expansive educational choice programs (see hereherehere, and parent comments here). These choices include public charter schools (see herehere, and here), private schoolshomeschoolingonline instruction, and education savings accounts—options some strike representatives have publicly opposed (see, for example, here and here).

So, come November parents, teachers, and taxpayers in Arizona and other states will certainly remember—but likely not the way strike organizers or union bosses presume they will.