By Ben Velderman
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – A new opinion poll reveals that the nation’s teachers unions are quickly losing the approval of average Americans, including a significant percentage of professional teachers.
According to a poll released by the Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance and Education Next, the percentage of Americans with a favorable view of teacher unions has dropped over the past year from 29% to 22%. Overall, 51% of Americans say they have a negative view of the unions.
But even more alarming for the unions is the changing views of teachers themselves. The poll finds “the number of teachers holding negative views of unions nearly doubled to 32% from 17% last year.” Teachers with a favorable view of the union dipped from 58% in 2011 to 43% this year.
That’s right. Less than half the teachers polled expressed positive views about teacher unions.
Why such a dramatic decline?
The poll’s authors speculate that some teachers may feel the unions – the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – “aren’t fighting hard enough for their interests” in the education reform debates raging throughout the nation.
That might be true for a handful of teachers, but it’s more likely that teachers have come to the conclusion that the unions’ agenda is too radical and too harmful to public education.
For example, the New York Post has done a fantastic job documenting how the city’s teachers union has used tenure protections to keep incompetent and sexually predatory teachers in the classroom, or at least on the district’s payroll.
The large majority of teachers get into education because they want to help children. It must infuriate these professionals when they hear their unions are using their dues dollars to keep sexual predators from being fired.
Another reason for the favorability decline is that teachers see their union leaders championing far-left political causes that have nothing to do with education. Since roughly 50% of teachers describe themselves as “conservative,” as a 2005 NEA member survey revealed, it’s understandable why they disapprove of their unions.
So when the Maine Education Association throws its full support behind a gay marriage initiative, or when the Chicago Teachers Union links arms with the Occupy crowd, it should be no surprise that many teachers conclude that the unions don’t represent their views.
And now that several states have discontinued the practice of automatically deducting union dues from teacher paychecks, these conservative teachers are seizing the opportunity to drop their memberships. As a result, the NEA is projecting a membership decline of 350,000 by 2016, as Mike Antonucci reports.
Obviously, the left-wing radicals who lead the teacher unions – at the national, state and local levels – have succeeded in alienating most Americans and a third of their members. Common sense would suggest that union leaders need to moderate their views, reach out to their more conservative members and do some public outreach to “red” America.
But history suggests these far-left zealots will circle the wagons and become even more extreme in their views and politics. If they do, the NEA and AFT will almost certainly enter a death spiral.
And that would be welcome news to most Americans.