Is it COVID or Teachers Unions Keeping Schools Closed from In-Person Instruction?

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Picture the look of a deer caught in headlights. That captures the response of many Maryland educators and local officials to Governor Hogan\’s announcement authorizing Maryland public schools for in-person instruction.

The president of the association representing Maryland\’s superintendents, Talbot County Superintendent Kelly Griffith, claimed that schools had \”no advance warning\” of the Governor\’s announcement. [i]  Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski tried to pass responsibility for his County\’s lack of reopening plans to the state for not detailing reopening guidelines.[ii]

Where have they been for the past six months? Stuck in their basements with their Internet turned off?   

State and local officials for months have been anticipating a variety of reopening scenarios.  At the same time, Governor Hogan and health officials have been tracking the steady progress Maryland has been making at reducing COVID’s impact. This information has all been widely available to these officials daily.

Unquestionably, the opportunity to reopen schools should not come as a surprise.

Another take on the school reopening question comes from data crunched by Corey DeAngelis and Christos Makridis. DeAngelis is the director of school choice at Reason Foundation and an adjunct scholar at Cato Institute.  Makridis is an assistant research professor at Arizona State University and a senior adviser at Gallup.

These researchers worked with data published at Education Week on the reopening decisions of 835 public districts covering about 38% of all students enrolled in K-12 public schools in the country.  They found that school districts in places with stronger teachers\’ unions are much less likely to offer full-time, in-person instruction this fall.

In DeAngelis and Christos Makridis’ words:

\”For example, our models indicate that school districts in states without right-to-work laws are 14 percentage points less likely to reopen in person than those in states with such laws, which prevent unions from requiring membership.

\”A 10 percent increase in union power is associated with a 1.3 percentage-point lower probability of reopening in person. In Florida, for example, 79 percent of 38 school districts in the Education Week dataset are planning to offer full-time in-person instruction to all students. However, in New York, a state with much stronger teachers\’ unions, none of the 21 school districts included in the dataset are planning to do the same.

\”We also find that a one percentage point increase in union membership at the state level is associated with a 1.5 percentage point lower probability of reopening in person. Then, too, a 10 percent rise in union workers at the county level is associated with around a one percentage point decline in the probability of reopening in person in the fall.\”[iii]

Ample evidence of this phenomenon is available in our state. Maryland\’s teachers\’ unions presented their demands in July for using distance learning exclusively during at least the first half of the 2020-21 school year.[iv] Within a matter of days afterward, districts, such as Montgomery County\’s school system, responded by reversing their tentative reopening plans. They opted instead for an all virtual, online fall semester.

A drumbeat of advocacy by Maryland\’s teachers\’ union has advanced the objective of closing the state\’s achievement gap across geography and economic class.  That remains a very worthy goal.

And yet, when presented with the opportunity to avoid COVID-19 induced educational inequality, Maryland\’s teachers\’ union chose to fight to keep their members missing in action.

Going forward, the “Apple Ballot” should be known from now on as the “Keep the Kids at Home” Ballot.


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