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Efforts to reopen schools in Iraq in 2003 have more in common than we think with reopening schools in the U.S. during COVID-19, according to Williamson Evers with the Independent Institute.
The biggest obstacle in both cases? Special interests (aka teachers’ unions) wanting to protect the status quo.
In Iraq, the teachers’ union balked at the civilian occupying authority’s offer “to put substantially more money into teachers’ salaries if teachers would accept merit pay and a career ladder with more steps,” “quite possibly because it believed an undifferentiated teaching force would be easier for the union to control.” When Iraq needed new textbooks, because the old ones from Saddam Hussein’s era were full of propaganda, Iraqi printers “sought to extort vast sums from the United States and the United Nations to do it” under the guise of it helping Iraq economically recover.
In the U.S., teachers’ unions have threatened to strike if schools reopen but have put great effort into opposing alternative providers who specialize in online education.
Established virtual charter schools have decades of experience in this country. Yet teachers’ unions and local school districts are an establishment that has blocked virtual charters in, for example, North Carolina, Oregon and Pennsylvania, from adding pupils during the COVID-19 crisis. The education establishment has also tried to block the creation of new virtual charter schools.
Teachers’ unions in the U.S. have made other demands (their word, not mine), such as a moratorium on charter schools, moratorium on private school choice, and federal bailouts, “using the rhetoric of public health and school safety to serve their own interests,” Evers continues.
But there are differences between Iraq in 2003 and the United States today that Evers makes sure to point out. While Iraqi parents “embraced standardized testing and were quite concerned that unrest and guerrilla attacks might interfere with the nationwide testing program,” American teachers’ unions “have demanded suspension of accountability testing so that no one knows the success or failure of the online education provided by regular public schools during the crisis.”
We must use the opportunity we have been presented with to make education better, not return to a status quo that serves special interests instead of all students.