School & District Management

Do Teachers’ Political Views Align With Their Unions?

By Alyson Klein — December 12, 2017 2 min read
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Last summer, Laurie Villani picked up her monthly issue of the National Education Association’s magazine, NEA Today—which she likes to skim for teaching tips—and was disturbed by what she saw.

On the cover: an article referring to the heartache that President Donald Trump’s moves on immigration has created for the children of undocumented immigrants.

Villani, a Republican who voted for the president, was not amused. The magazine, she said, was “supposed to be about helping my career, helping me teach better.” She did not think the union “should be trying to sway me one way or the other.” Villani, who teaches kindergarten in Virginia’s Prince William County, sent the NEA a “rebuttal” to its piece.

Villani isn’t the only teacher who doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with her union. About 60 percent of the educators who responded to a survey by the Education Week Research Center belong to a teachers’ union. But more than 30 percent say the union doesn’t represent their political views, or only represents them a little. The survey found that 40 percent said they have “some” political views in common with their union. And 28 percent think agree with the union on “a lot” of issues.

Political-Survey-Teachers-Unions

Some teachers see the union as a big-money special interest group.

“I feel like the NEA spends a lot of money on left-wing candidates and not a lot on third-party candidates,” said Tim Erickson, a special education teacher at Detroit Lakes High School in northwestern Minnesota, and a political independent. “They toe the Democratic Party line. They are an example of a corporate lobbying group. .. I’m throwing my money to the far left when I want it to go to the common sense middle.”

About This Survey

The Education Week Research Center surveyed a nationally representative sample of teachers, school-based leaders, and district leaders about their politics and views on a wide range of K-12 issues. The 38-question survey was administered in September and October to 1,122 educators including 555 teachers, 266 school leaders, 202 district leaders, and 99 other school or district employees. The margin of error for the survey overall was plus or minus 5 percent. Followup interviews involved survey respondents who agreed to be contacted after the survey and were willing to be quoted on a range of subjects.

More Survey Findings:

  • Survey Paints Political Portrait of America’s K-12 Educators
  • Many Educators Skeptical of School Choice, Including Conservatives, Survey Shows
  • Educators Conflicted on LGBT Issues, Survey Shows
  • Survey Shows Educators Struggle With Impact of Immigration

Read the full report.

To be sure, plenty of teachers view the union and their politics in a positive light.

Laura Hansen, a Democrat who voted for Clinton and reading specialist in New Hampshire’s Hampstead School District, says she’s seen the union stand up for teachers who get into difficult situations. And she thinks they come down on the right side, more often than not, in making endorsements.

“I feel like my teachers’ union is a very protective blanket,” she said. She agrees with “about 90 percent” of their recommendations on political candidates and issues.

Jason Tackett teaches at Herald Whitaker Middle School in Kentucky’s Magoffin County. He is a Republican who voted for Trump. He also supports the Kentucky Education Association. “I think they are great,” he said of the union. Though he hasn’t had to call on the union for professional help at this point, from what he’s seen “they usually back you up.”

And when it comes to politics, he thinks his state affiliate is “pretty neutral. …. They want what’s best for teachers.”

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