By Matt Paprocki. Media: National Review.
Extreme teachers’ unions can create devastating effects for students and families, and the only ones who benefit financially are the unions’ own elites.
Chicago will vote to elect a new mayor in less than a month. One of the front-runner candidates, Brandon Johnson, is a political operative who is being backed by the socialist party United Working Families and his former employer — the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) — the most militant public-sector union in Illinois and a strong contender for the most powerful in the nation. CTU’s influence to push leftist agenda items is leaving students behind in its campaign for more power.
CTU rose to national prominence by focusing on growing support among public-sector teachers’ unions for political power. Chicago’s experience with CTU should be a warning to school districts across the country: The union’s political ideology and practices harm teachers and students alike.
The primary aim of the Chicago Teachers Union is no longer the teaching of children, but rather political power for the union’s leaders and their ideas. Since a leftist group called the Caucus of Rank-and-file Educators, or CORE, took over CTU in 2010, both student proficiency and enrollment have dropped. The more power the group has secured, the harsher the impacts on students.
Based on an Illinois Policy Institute analysis of Illinois State Board of Education student-proficiency data for third through eighth grades, between 2010 and 2014, the share of Chicago Public Schools students considered proficient in reading dropped by 29 percent. In math, that share dropped 30 percent. After a change in state testing — between 2015 and 2022 — student proficiency dropped 33 percent in reading and 31 percent in math.
As of the past full school year, nearly 80 percent of Chicago students could not read at grade level. Only 15 percent showed proficiency in math. In other words, students suffered as the union bosses grew political muscle.
And the response has been a mass exodus from Chicago Public Schools, especially among minority and low-income kids. More than 87,000 students have left CPS since the caucus took over in 2010. Now, one-third of its schools are half full.
The thousands of teachers around the country who are serving and teaching our children well should beware power-hungry teachers’-union leadership, whose interests are contrary to the heart of education.
Ifeoma Nkemdi is a Chicago Public Schools teacher who laments that truth.
“I cannot stand behind an agenda to politicize education as a status symbol. I want the best outcomes for our children, for them to believe in themselves and believe in their dreams,” she said. Her stance against CTU’s extreme leadership got her berated and bullied by union members. But she has remained loyal to her kids. Nkemdi is not alone.
“The union may be good and may have good intentions, but the people using the union — for their own political gain — are the problem,” said Chicago teacher Joe Ocol.
Ocol started an after-school chess club to keep students off the streets after one of his students was killed by a stray bullet as he headed home. Ocol ran afoul of the union during one of its strikes when he crossed the picket line to be with his students. The union expelled him but continued to take dues from his paycheck that were higher than the membership dues he had been charged as a union member.
“We need to have checks and balances on their power. You see, when both money and power are involved, politics becomes exponentially more powerful,” Ocol said.
CTU financial records show that only 19 percent of union dues go to actually representing teachers. The other 81 percent goes to administrative costs, overhead, and politics. Those politics include advancing socialist candidates such as Johnson.
But the bigger concern is how these ideas are spreading across the country. West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and California teacher strikes were directly inspired — and in some cases even staffed — by the Chicago Teachers Union. This Red for Ed movement, which is focused on activating teachers to use extreme tactics such as walking out on students for days on end to demand pay raises and other benefits, brought strikes “back from the dead.” Under the guise of fighting for health care and pay for teachers, the strikes are actually being used to recruit more teachers to a broader political agenda.
If Chicago’s history with CTU shows anything, it proves how the spread of extreme teacher unions can create devastating effects for students and families — and the only ones who benefit financially are the unions’ own political elites. Could a political ideology suffer a greater failure than professing to want a more equal society when its actions create the opposite?
Learn from Chicago: Letting CTU’s agenda spread will stymie social progress in your community, not advance it. Red for Ed will leave schools dead.