In a new report, Harvard Business School professor Joshua Coval has shed light on the facts behind COVID-related school closures. Coval analyzed the data about which school districts opted for remote learning and found that it wasn’t COVID-related issues like case numbers or vaccination rates that drove the decisions. Rather, Coval found:
“If you want to know why your children are in Zoom school, look at your local teachers’ union. The more power it enjoys, the more likely it is that your kids will be in Zoom school, regardless of vaccination rates, infection rates, or emergency-room capacity.”
Unfortunately, it was disproportionately low-income students, urban students and students of color who suffered the consequences: “it is already clear that remote school has hurt the average student,” and even before COVID, these students had “measurably worse educational outcomes,” so school closures made a bad situation worse.
Coval notes that teachers’ unions exist “to protect the interests of teachers, not students,” and as with COVID, when teachers’ interests come into conflict with the needs of students, “teachers’ unions become a serious obstacle.”
This has profound implications for educational equity. The COVID pandemic revealed large inequities in our society, and researchers like Coval are seeking to understand the structural forces behind these inequities. Coval concludes:
“Teachers’ unions should be near the top of any list of structural features in society that need to be reevaluated. Without wholesale rethinking of how to better represent the interests of our most vulnerable students, we are laying the foundation for another generation of inequity.”
Coval’s study has relevance in New Jersey. For example, Sunlight followed the school closures in Montclair, where a powerful local teachers union used its strong connections to then-NJEA Vice President/Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller to keep Montclair schools closed. Who is looking out for the students, Mayor/NJEA President Spiller?