During the past few months, a number of stories have appeared in major news outlets describing educators inspired to run for office by the teacher walkouts in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona.
Time, The Huffington Post, PBS NewsHour, the Christian Science Monitor, Yahoo News and most recently Bloomberg ran stories with pretty much the same angle: Nearly 1,500 teachers are so incensed by the underfunding of public education that they decided to take matters into their own hands and become elected officials.
That’s news, no doubt. But the stories have also lacked basic information or failed to ask some obvious questions.
Is there any independent verification? The numbers in these stories were supplied by the National Education Association. I don’t doubt the union counted all the candidates to come up with its number, but more attention should have been paid to the underlying criteria and who made the cut. NEA’s own disclaimer notes the list has “current and retired educators, classroom, administration, as well as support staff from K-12 and higher education.” Hypothetically, a candidate fitting the “educator” designation could be a retired university custodian or an executive assistant who worked at the county superintendent’s office.
What’s a baseline number of educator candidates running for office? Michelle Hackman of The Wall Street Journal checked with the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and reported on Twitter that fewer educators are running for office this year than ran in 2016. That blows up the NEA and media narrative.
How many of the 1,500 are incumbents? A teacher defending her seat in the state legislature can’t be described as seeking office because of the 2018 teacher strikes.
How many of the educators are teachers? The Huffington Post headline reads, “Nearly 1,500 Teachers Are Running for Office …” [my emphasis] That’s factually untrue. If you choose to include food service workers and bus drivers on your list of “teachers,” you ought to make that clear to readers.
How many of the 1,500 are current school employees? The Bloomberg story describes Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate Drew Edmondson as “a former teacher and attorney general.” He did once work as a teacher — for a few years in the mid-1970s. He subsequently served as attorney general for 17 years and later went into private practice as a lawyer. His work experience from 40 years ago is much less relevant than the career he ultimately chose and practiced for several decades.
How “former” are the former teachers? There are more examples like Edmondson. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana is a former teacher. He taught music for two years in the late 1970s. He has been a U.S. senator for 12 years and was a Montana legislator for eight years before that. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania is a former teacher. He taught fifth grade for one year in the mid-1980s at a Catholic school. He also has been a U.S. senator for 12 years. These are candidates who have a minimal amount of teaching experience but have since gone on to do very different things with their lives. Placing them in the context of a recent “educator uprising” is highly misleading.
What are the educator candidates’ views on/knowledge of issues other than education? Apart from candidates for state schools superintendent, these educators are running for positions that encompass much more than just public education. If these stories are to be believed, many of them decided to run for office just this year. What do they think about tax policy, roads and infrastructure, health care, business regulation, the environment, etc.?
One last question: I expect this to be a good election for the Democrats, and for many of these educators. But if a majority of them lose, will the union tabulate the results, and how many stories will we see about it?