Issues & Insights

School Choice Is The Solution To Teachers Union Recalcitrance

An old schoolroom. Today's schools leave out an important part of America's legacy: It's founding under Enlightenment ideals. Photo: Paul Brennan, CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication (https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/)

For almost a year, public schools throughout the nation have been closed for in-person learning while the vast majority of private and parochial schools have remained open for in-person learning.

The reason for the disparity is simple: most teacher unions, especially those in Democrat-controlled cities, refuse to return to in-person learning, despite the fact that in-person learning is safe and far superior to remote learning. The solution to the problem is also simple: school choice.

For years, school choice has been gaining support among parents nationwide. In 2019, well before most public schools went on in-person learning hiatus, 67% of parents supported school choice.

And unlike many social-political issues in today’s deeply divided America, school choice garners wide support across several demographic categories and political affiliations. As the 2019 survey notes, 73% of Latinos, 68% of whites, and 67% of African-Americans support school choice. As do 80% of Republicans, 69% of Independents, and 56% of Democrats.

Given the sheer popularity of school choice, which has increased even more over the past year, one can’t help but wonder why it is so rare in America, and non-existent in my hometown of Chicago? Once again, the answer is simple: teacher unions.

In general, teacher unions, including the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), vehemently oppose school choice because they view it as a potential threat. In most simple terms, teacher unions are anti-school choice because it would bring the much-needed element of competition into the K-12 education environment.

As of now, the 25,000 members of CTU wield vast power because the overwhelming majority of Chicago students attend public schools Not because they are high-quality institutions of learning, but because they have no other options. Unfortunately, this creates a paradigm in which CTU leadership and the rank-and-file have far too much sway and leverage.

School choice would upend the broken public education system by placing the power where it rightfully belongs: in the hands of students and parents. Allowing parents and students to decide which school to attend based on their unique needs and circumstances, as opposed to their Zip code, would produce untold benefits.

Schools would cater to the needs and desires of students, as they should. Competition would usher in the forces of supply and demand, which have been absent in public schools for decades. The quality of education would almost assuredly increase, while the per pupil cost of education would also likely decrease.

Moreover, school choice would finally cause teachers unions to put the interests of students and parents first and foremost, as opposed to the status quo, in which the interests of union leaders and education bureaucrats all too often triumph above all else.

Although teacher unions, including CTU, remain staunchly opposed to school choice, their actions over the past 10 months are causing more and more parents to question their motives and honesty. Since the pandemic began, teacher unions across America have repeatedly moved the goal posts regarding their return to in-person learning.

Meanwhile, schools unaffiliated with teacher unions remain open and more than able to accommodate their students.

Ironically, teacher unions’ single-minded insistence on not returning to work, even though schools across the country have been operating somewhat normally for months, could be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The recalcitrance of CTU and so many other teacher unions is exposing the agenda of these powerful organizations, which is not in-line with students and parents across the district. 

If CTU is unwilling to return to in-person learning, every single parent of a Chicago Public School student ought to get a full refund on all the education-related taxes and fees they have paid over the past year so they can use that money to choose the school that is the best fit for their child. That is school choice in a nutshell, and it might be coming sooner than teacher unions, including CTU, think.

Chris Talgo (ctalgo@heartland.org) is a former public school teacher and editor at The Heartland Institute.  

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1 comment

  • Abolishing/decertifying the unions and firing any teacher who refuses to go back to work also focuses the mind. See also” Ronald Reagan, Air Traffic Controllers 1981

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