The Last Thing America Needs Is a Teachers Union Boss as Education Secretary

Democratic National Convention via AP

If Joe Biden does become the 46th president of the United States on January 20, 2021, there could be big changes afoot in the nation’s public schools.

Reports are circulating that Biden is considering Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Lily Eskelsen García, former president of the National Education Association, for the position of Secretary of Education.

According to Jeffrey Henig, professor of political science and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, “This sounds like an effort to send an important signal that [Biden] would be considering these folks … Besides knowing the people and the Washington world, they also are aware of this broader landscape of issues and organizations that are important ultimately to education policies but aren’t education specific.”

Henig raises an interesting point. These two candidates, with years of experience running the nation’s two largest teachers unions, are well-versed in both the ways of Washington as well as policies that aren’t education specific.

Although most Americans think teachers unions put the best interests of students first, this is far from true. No doubt that this is what Henig was alluding to when referring to non-education-specific policies.

As a former public school teacher, who was in several teachers union meetings during my five-year teaching career, I can vouch for this based upon personal experience.

However, putting my own involvement with teachers unions aside, the unions themselves have made it clear where they stand on education policies, and they are not always in the best interest of America’s millions of students.

For example, throughout America, teachers unions are fighting tooth and nail against reopening the nation’s public schools.

Even though agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been calling for schools to reopen for months, the vast majority of teachers unions stand firm in their opposition to allowing children to return to in-person learning.

As millions of children languish at home, unable to receive a decent education, teachers unions across the nation have been making outrageous demands before they agree to return to work.

For example, the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) union, which represents more than 35,000 members, issued a list of demands that included a national wealth tax, Medicare for All, defunding of the police, and a moratorium on charter schools, before they would return to the classroom.

Sadly, UTLA’s refusal to do their job is putting children’s safety and futures in jeopardy. Studies show that children fall behind when not learning in-person. They also don’t receive the social interactions they desperately need, as well as access to mental and health services, and meals provided by schools.

Unfortunately, most teachers unions disregard the substantial toll their members’ absence in classrooms has had upon an entire generation of children.

This is reason alone to be suspect of whether or not it is a good idea to place a former national teachers union leader, or any teachers union leader for that matter, as the Secretary of Education.

Teachers unions are political organizations with agendas. Their agendas overwhelmingly cater to the needs of teachers and education employees, even if that comes at the detriment of America’s students.

If Joe Biden is inaugurated as president next year, he ought to put students, not teachers unions, first and foremost. This would best be done by placing a qualified advocate of students as the head of the nation’s education department, instead of a teachers union boss who will assuredly look out for the best interests of education employees.

However, that might be pie-in-the-sky thinking at this point. As Henig said, “I think the bottom line is that both of these individuals and both of these unions are going to have a much more of an inside role than they’ve had in quite awhile at the national policy level, and that’s going to be true whether one of them is actually the secretary or not.”

Time will tell what Biden decides to do, but it appears that under a Biden administration, teachers unions will have more pull than ever at the national policymaking level.

Chris Talgo ([email protected]) is an editor at The Heartland Institute.