Teachers’ union political activism doesn’t help educators or students

For decades, teachers’ unions have flexed their political muscle, seeking to convince both their members and the general public that their involvement in and prioritization of political issues is for the benefit of the teachers they represent and the nation’s students.

But the far-ranging political activism unions focus on “deviates from unions’ primary mission to support and advocate for the professional lives of teachers — to the detriment of both their members and our children,” writes Nathaniel Grossman of the Fordham Institute.

This is because the time, effort, and expense needed to fight these political battles cannot also be used to support teachers in educating students. When unions combat climate change, they ignore the chronic absenteeism that has plagued schools since the pandemic began. When they attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestine conflict, they lose sight of the scope of learning loss that needs to be overcome before students are college and career ready.

Both national teachers’ unions — the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association — have a track record of using their meetings to discuss controversial issues that they intend to solve. From the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and abortion rights to disinvesting from fossil fuels and discarding arcane words like “mother” and “father,” the teachers’ unions can’t take on everything without ending up doing many things poorly, Grossman continues.

“It’s a zero-sum game, and every bit of energy that’s dedicated to these extracurricular projects is taken away from the primary mission of supporting teachers in their day-to-day professions.”

“Other costs, too”

“There are other costs, too,” Grossman writes.

The national teachers’ unions each lost over 2 percent of their members during the 2019 school year — 2.3 percent for the NEA and 2.1 percent for the AFT. The unions actively worked to keep schools closed during the past couple of school years. Public school enrollment has dropped as families choose private school options and homeschooling. Even recent polling has likely voters in battleground states and battleground congressional districts trusting Republicans more than Democrats on education issues.

“Instead of creeping into other causes, [the national teachers’ unions] should reaffirm their commitments to their primary missions,” Grossman concludes.

Learning loss is a national emergency, and educators are on the frontlines of a generational struggle. Children deserve the complete dedication of their teachers, and those teachers deserve the committed support of their unions.

North Dakota educators who are union members pay dues to support the national teacher unions’ political activism. Don’t let the unions pick your politics — you can opt out of union membership until Sept. 30 (the opt-out window opened August 1) by sending a resignation letter to:

North Dakota United
301 N. 4th Street
Bismarck, ND 58501