Thousands of teachers across this country see their work as not a mere occupation, but as a calling.
Teachers unions are another matter. They are nakedly transactional political entities. Their purpose is to increase their own political power, which is already fearsome, and that goal involves the crushing of rivals.
Currently, the front line in their assault is right outside of the nation’s capital, in Montgomery County, Maryland. There, out of self-interest, fueled by a homogenizing ideology that fetishizes centralization and disdains pluralism, teachers unions are waging war on private schools, while unions and governments around the country wait to follow suit.
The county government there has recently barred non-public schools from meeting in person. When Gov. Larry Hogan nullified the first order, issued after sundown on a Friday night, and as parents and teachers at the county’s private and religious schools celebrated, the county’s politicians crowed “racism” and “privilege,” while its lawyers cobbled together a second order.
That second order, which appears to be lawless, triggered immediate legal challenges. County officials claim they are acting on “science” and “data,” but that assertion is not credible. These officials refused even to look at private schools’ reopening plans and dismissed federal and state guidelines for reopening schools, on the grounds of a general concern that community spread had been increasing and was too high. CDC guidelines say that schools can reopen if less than 5% of coronavirus tests are coming back positive. In the days between the county’s two orders, the three-day positive test rate fell from 3.1% to 2.6%.
County officials clearly acted based not on science, but on politics, specifically doing the bidding of the teachers unions.
Teachers unions successfully opposed in-person schooling at public schools, which sparked an exodus of students from public to private schools. The county action against private schools, they hope, will stanch the bleeding.
Over time, public records will likely make this undeniable, but even now, it’s not hard to connect the dots.
Start with the county’s second order. One of its “whereas” clauses to justify closing non-public schools is “Montgomery County Public School Systems have been closed …” There is no logical connection there. The county Board of Education wanted to open for in-person instruction at some point in the fall, but the teachers unions objected, lobbied for an all-virtual first semester, and won.
So, the Board of Ed’s decision was a political cave-in to the unions — not a decision based on science or data. In contrast, private and religious school teachers want to reopen. So, by the public schools’ metric (what the teachers want), private schools should be allowed to reopen. Also, it’s obvious that private schools, being smaller and more flexible, are more able to make schooling safer than massive, inflexible public schools are.
The citation of public school closures as a justification for this order makes sense only if the primary concern is to make sure public schools don’t look bad in comparison.
When asked to comment on the order closing only non-public schools, one Maryland union official explained to the New York Times, “Public education is about leveling the playing field.” In other words, teachers unions will work to hobble private education and prevent it from occurring in person so that it doesn’t outperform public education too badly.
The New York Times’s article had a telling headline: “If Public Schools Are Closed, Should Private Schools Have to Follow?” Also telling, the Montgomery County schooling ban explicitly exempted day-care facilities, which do not compete with unionized public schools but which are no less likely than private schools to spread the virus.
Also, many public school buildings are opened for full-day private child care, which during the school year will include “learning assistance” for a fee.Who are the private tutors at these supposedly not-private schools? A lot of them are public school teachers, whose work schedules are more flexible, thanks to the lack of in-person schooling.
National Public Radio carried a story in July about two public school teachers who saw a golden opportunity. “This week the duo decided to launch their next professional venture together: a private business called ‘Beyond the Tutors,'” NPR reported. “The teachers, who will keep their day jobs with the Lower Merion School District, have been batting around the idea for years, but decided to launch now because of unprecedented demand from parents facing the prospect of a largely virtual school year.”
Here’s the really pernicious part: Smaller private schools, especially religious ones, will truly suffer from an unneeded ban on in-person schooling. Many working-class and middle-class parents spend all of their extra income for an education that reflects their values. It will be harder to justify that expense when school is in a diminished virtual form, and it will be harder to afford if at least one parent has to stay at home to monitor distance learning.
The result will be the closure of small private schools populated by middle-class families. That’s horrible for everyone involved. Except for the unions, who will be pleased to have eliminated a competitor, all at the expense of students.