Carol Burris is the executive director of the Network for Public Education. She recently received a press release from Betsy DeVos’s organization, the ironically-named American Federation for Children, asserting that the drop in test scores during the pandemic was the fault of the unions. The purpose of the “American Federation for Children” is to promote vouchers, especially for religious schools, and it is always eager to criticize public schools and teachers’ unions. AFC much prefers religious schools where children are indoctrinated without apology and where discrimination against unwanted children is common. Maybe they should change their name to the American Federation for Some Children (who share our religious views).

Burris writes:


Walter Blanks, the Press Secretary of the American Federation for Children, got on the rickety old soapbox of Betsy De Vos to blame teacher unions for the recent drop in student performance on NAEP. Moms for Liberty then jumped on calling for parents to “fire teacher unions.”

Did children suffer a decline in learning progress during the pandemic? Of course.  Anyone who has ever taught in a school, unlike Mr. Blanks, could have predicted a drop.

As a former teacher and principal, I know that the relationship between a student and teacher and the relationship among students is critical for learning. And I also remember all those students who, without my cajoling and watchful eye, would have been content to put their heads down or look out the window instead of at their books. That’s kids. The warm smile directed at them, the subtle tap on the desk, you can’t do that over the internet.

But are unions the culprit for the NAEP score drop? There is no evidence of that. 

First, if union influence in keeping remote learning were to blame, we would expect to see a larger drop in city scores than suburban scores. Suburban schools, with or without unions, were far more likely to open. However, suburban scores dropped significantly more in Reading for both low and high achievers than for city students, whose scores barely budged. In Math, the point drop for high achievers was the same; suburban low achievers lost more ground than their counterparts in cities. 

Second, we would expect regional differences depending on the influence of unions.

But there is only one point difference in the scores’ drops between the union-heavy northeast and the right-to-work dominated south. And western states, where unions are prevalent in the most populous states, saw much smaller score drops than the south.  

Not content to blame unions in general, Walter Blanks singles out Randi Weingarten as a national villain. Ms. Weingarten, a woman and strong leader, married to Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, has become a prime target for the misogynist right. But the facts do not bear out his accusations. Even as Weingarten was listening to her members concerned with their own family and student health, she was quietly working behind the scenes to get schools safely opened.

As a New York City public school grandma, I know it. And I am thankful for those efforts. My granddaughter returned to in-person learning in the fall of 2020 as New York City public schools opened. There were bumps and starts, but they opened. Even so, the majority of NYC parents still kept their children remote. 

Will Mr. Blanks blame those parents and hundreds of thousands like them who were fearful of sending their children back to school? 

Covid 19 was a national tragedy. Over one million Americans died horrible deaths.  We will feel the pain and ramifications for years to come. And yes, our children deserve all our efforts to repair the academic and emotional damage of the pandemic. But using that tragedy to push an anti-union agenda does not help repair the damage. It continues to enflame the anger of parents still reeling from the pandemic themselves.

Blanks ends his essay by touting how school choice is the answer. I am scratching my head to reconcile that with the American Federation for Children’s stalwart support for low-quality online virtual schools and homeschools. You can’t blame learning loss on a lack of in-person learning and then support virtual learning solutions. Will AFC now advocate for the closure of online charters and homeschools? Don’t hold your breath.