Teachers are fleeing partisan unions that some say undermine public education

Teachers are fleeing unions in droves, citing the political partisanship of the organizations that charge $750 to $900 a year in membership fees.

The National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers lost a combined total of 59,000 union members during the 2021-22 school year. And they lost 82,000 members the year before.


Teacher shortages aren’t to blame, since schools added 95,000 employees during the last school year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

Derrick Crenshaw, an African American physical education teacher at Glenbard South High School in Illinois, saw his NEA-affiliated union become increasingly partisan. When his local union “started advancing curriculum based on race,” Crenshaw considered joining the non-partisan Association of American Educators.

“The last straw for me was the minority [Advanced Placement] curriculum push, which encountered little or no pushback from the union,” he said. “It was basically a push to place kids of color into classes regardless of their skill level, instead of just looking for individual kids who could excel.

“The national union is partisan, and the local union stopped opposing what I consider bad curriculum policy that has harmed students,” Crenshaw concluded.

Since the Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that employees couldn’t be forced to join unions, over 23,000 Illinois public school employees like Crenshaw – and 15,000 other government employees – left.

Joe Ocol and Olivia Waldron, two teachers in Chicago Public Schools, saw the harm that teacher strikes did to their students, leading them to leave the union. 

Union leaders “were no longer advocating for teachers’ essential labor rights but advocating more for a political agenda,” said Waldron. “They most certainly were not concerned with the well-being of students.” 

Illinois unions aren’t the only ones becoming partisan. 

National Review reports how the Oregon Education Association (OEA) pushes a progressive agenda, including mandatory LGBT training, affirmative action and race and gender hiring quotas. 

OEA lost nearly 20% of its members since 2020. 

“Students are falling further and further behind every year in the educational basics they need because unions and the politicians they’ve corrupted want to turn our classrooms into indoctrination centers,” said Jason Dudash, director of Freedom Foundation Oregon. 

Critics argue NEA’s bias is blatantly obvious in its political endorsements. 

Indeed, in the past election, NEA endorsed 313 candidates, supporting three Independent candidates, three Republicans, and 307 Democrats. That’s 98% Democrat. Even California isn’t so one-sided. 

As far back as 2006, investigative journalist John Stossel blamed unions for poor public education even after they wanted to give him an award for his social work. 

“Unions say, ‘Education of the children is too important to be left to the vagaries of the market.’ The opposite is true,” Stossel wrote. “Education is too important to be left to the calcified union/government monopoly.” 

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