Fordham Foundation report: State-by-state analysis of teacher union strength

5 Nov

Andrew J. Rotherham wrote Quiet Riot: Insurgents Take On Teachers’ Unions for Time:

Quick: Which group consistently tops the list of U.S. political donors — bankers? Oil barons? The Koch brothers? Nope. Try schoolteachers. The two major teachers’ unions, despite all the rhetoric about how teachers have no influence on policy, collectively spent more than $67 million directly on political races from 1989 to 2010. And that figure doesn’t include millions more spent by their state and local affiliates and all kinds of support for favored (read: reform-averse) candidates.

For years, union leaders have lambasted as antiteacher pretty much every proposal to expand charter schools, improve teacher evaluation and turn around low-performing schools. Yet these reform issues have moved to the mainstream as even the Democrats, traditionally labor’s biggest allies, have gotten fed up with union intransigence to structural changes to improve America’s schools. Meanwhile, states as diverse as Massachusetts, New Jersey, Florida, Ohio and — you guessed it — Wisconsin are attacking union prerogatives such as valuing seniority over on-the-job performance and collectively bargaining for benefits. At the same time, black and Latino parents are growing increasingly impatient with lousy schools and are organizing in an effort to provide a counterweight to the unions. Just last week, the nation’s second biggest teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers, was embarrassed when a PowerPoint presentation surfaced on the Web outlining strategies for undercutting parent groups. Sample quote: “What helped us? Absence of charter school and parent groups from the table.”

But perhaps the biggest strategic pressure for reform is starting to come from teachers themselves, many of whom are trying to change their unions and, by extension, their profession. These renegade groups, composed generally of younger teachers, are trying to accomplish what a generation of education reformers, activists and think tanks have not: forcing the unions to genuinely mend their ways. Here are the three most-talked-about initiatives:

The takeover artists. The Los Angeles teachers’ union, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), has long been regarded as one of the nation’s most hidebound. But Jordan Henry, a 12-year veteran teacher, wants to change that, so last year he co-founded NewTLA. (Get it? Rhymes with UTLA? C’mon, this is education reform — we must find little bright spots wherever we can.) Henry has managed in short order to build a large dissident faction within the union. After the last union election, NewTLA holds 90 of the 350 seats in the union’s house of representatives, an impressive feat of organizing given how challenging it is for nonmainstream candidates to get much traction within the union. And although Henry is trying to change the union from within, he is not shy about criticizing it publicly, recently telling the Teach For America alumni magazine that, “I don’t think my local affiliate is a leader in reform, as much as it says it might be….”

The outsiders. Educators for Excellence (E4E) is a group of more than 3,500 New York City teachers that is to trying to change laws and policies by going straight to policymakers. For instance, when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed doing away with the current system of laying off the most recent hires first, the union attacked any notion of letting principals unilaterally pick which teachers get booted. But the newly formed E4E forced its way into the conversation and sought a middle ground, proposing an alternative that took into account such things as how often teachers had been absent, whether they were actually in front of students or in nonteaching “reserve” roles and also factoring in performance ratings. The union wasn’t enthusiastic about this approach either, but the idea got traction in Albany. And although the city and the teachers’ union cut a deal on layoffs, the episode established E4E as a voice in education policymaking….

The hybrid. Teach Plus is a network of teachers with chapters in Boston, Chicago, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis and, starting this fall, Washington. The group recruits accomplished teachers who want to take on leadership roles within their schools or to advocate for public policy changes without leaving their classrooms. More than 4,500 teachers are involved so far, and about 250 have gone through selective 12- and 18-month fellowships. Teach Plus says it wants to partner with unions — albeit by bringing reformers inside the tent. Celine Coggins, a former middle-school science teacher in Massachusetts who founded the group in 2007, says many teachers often tell her that the unions “seem like my grandfather’s union, not necessarily mine….”

It’s too early to tell whether any of these groups — or even all of them working in tandem — will succeed in changing the teachers’ unions….

Disclosure: Two of my partners at Bellwether have done executive search and strategy work for Teach Plus, and I have advised the organization informally.

Teacher tenure is a huge topic in education.

People become teachers for many reasons. Among the top ten reasons to become a teacher are:

1. Student Potential

2. Student Successes

3. Teaching a Subject Helps You Learn a Subject

4. Daily Humor

5. Affecting the Future

6. Staying Younger

7. Autonomy in the Classroom

8. Conducive to Family Life

9. Job Security

10. Summers Off

For many who seek an education career, an unspoken reason for choosing education as a profession is the stability which tenure may provide.

What is Teacher Tenure?

A good basic description of teacher tenure as found at teacher tenure James gives the following definition:


Tenure is a form of job security for teachers who have successfully completed a probationary period. Its primary purpose is to protect competent teachers from arbitrary nonrenewal of contract for reasons unrelated to the educational process — personal beliefs, personality conflicts with administrators or school board members, and the like.


The type and amount of protection vary from state to state and — depending on agreements with teachers’ unions — may even vary from school district to school district. In general, a tenured teacher is entitled to due process when he or she is threatened with dismissal or nonrenewal of contract for cause: that is, for failure to maintain some clearly defined standard that serves an educational purpose.

Time has a good summary of the history of teacher tenure at A Brief History of Tenure

Huffington Post reported on a report by the Fordham Foundation about teacher unions in the article, Teachers Unions Strength Measured: Fordham Institute Report Ranks States By Power And Influence Of Teacher Unions.

Here is the press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Stephen Manfredi
October 29, 2012 (202) 222-8028
Picket Lines and Ballot Boxes: New Study Examines Strength of Teacher Unions Nationwide

Washington, D.C.—Today the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Education Reform Now released the most comprehensive analysis of American teacher unions’ strength ever conducted. Published weeks after the contentious Chicago teachers’ strike and days before a hotly contested election, this timely study, How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions? A State-By-State Comparison, ranks all fifty states and the District of Columbia according to the power and influence of their state-level unions.

Reform debates increasingly focus on the teacher unions’ role in the changing landscape of American K–12 education. Critics accuse them of blocking needed changes, protecting inadequate instructors and overpowering the public interest at the ballot box. Supporters object, arguing that unions are critical to defending teachers’ rights, ensuring teachers’ professionalism, and safeguarding them from misguided reforms.

“For better or worse, teacher unions look out for teacher interests,” said Chester E. Finn, Jr., Fordham’s president. “This study sheds light on how exactly they do this, by measuring their strength, state by state, more comprehensively than any other analysis to date. It illuminates their power to hinder—or promote—education reform, on whether what occurred in Chicago could happen anywhere in the United States, and the myriad ways they seek to influence election outcomes and policy decisions.”

To assess union strength, the Fordham-ERN study examined thirty-seven different variables across five realms: 1) Resources and Membership; 2) Involvement in Politics; 3) Scope of Bargaining; 4) State Policies; and 5) Perceived Influence. Using these data, analysts ranked the relative strength of state-level teacher unions in fifty-one jurisdictions (all states plus the District of Columbia), and ranked their strength and influence. The study analyzed factors ranging from union membership and revenue to state bargaining laws to campaign contributions, and included such measures such as the alignment between specific state policies and traditional union interests and a unique stakeholder survey.

The report sorts the fifty-one jurisdictions into five tiers, ranking their teacher unions from strongest to weakest. This review determined that Hawaii has the strongest teacher union in the U.S. while Arizona has the weakest. (COMPLETE STATE RANKINGS CAN BE VIEWED BELOW) The entire study can also be viewed at

Other findings include:

 Teacher strikes, such as the one recently concluded in Chicago, are legal in fourteen states and illegal in thirty-seven.
 In the 2010 state election cycle, teacher unions were one of the top-ten overall donors to candidates for governor and other executive positions, legislature, high court, and elected education positions in twenty-two of forty-eight states. In twenty one states, they were among the top five highest-giving interest groups.
 The percentage of a state’s teachers who are union members varies a lot; in 2008, the nationwide average was 74 percent; in two states it was lower than 35 percent; in sixteen states, 90 percent or more of teachers are unionized.
 Thirty-two states require local school boards to bargain collectively with their teachers, fourteen states permit this, and five states prohibit collective bargaining.
 The unions’ influence may be waning at the state level, however. For the three years prior to the 2011 legislative session, education policies in most states reflected union priorities. In 2011, however, a growing number of legislatures were enacting policies that were less in line with union priorities. (And other sources indicate that many teacher unions are losing members and incurring budget deficits.)
The report has four key takeaways:

1. Mandatory bargaining tilts the playing field in favor of stronger unions overall. It not only increases union resources and status, but also ensures issues are “on the table” (and not under the direct authority of state and local leaders).

2. The scope of bargaining matters a lot, too, as does the right (or not) to strike. Local unions use collective bargaining and strikes to protect teacher interests—but only on issues allowed by state law. When a wide scope of bargaining combines with ill-defined, timid, or absent state policies, unions have better opportunity to negotiate contracts that serve their goals.

3. Resources make a difference. Dollars and members are both important—even (or especially) if unions have limited bargaining rights. With higher revenue, a state union can better finance its lobbying and advocacy efforts at the statehouse, shaping policies that protect its interests while undermining or blocking those that do not. Greater membership means more union representation at the ballot box, more communications with state leaders, and more boots on the ground during rallies and campaigns—and in turn, more revenue from member dues.

4. The fact that a state has mandatory, permissive, or broad bargaining laws—or its unions enjoy abundant resources—does not mean that state policies are union-favorable and vice-versa. Many unions that have mandatory bargaining over a wide range of issues and high membership and revenue still see state education policies that are not particularly favorable to unions. Conversely, some states without strong bargaining rights have union-friendly policies regardless. That’s because other factors matter, too: state leadership (both past and present), federal policy, the condition of the economy, the influence of other key stakeholders, and the state’s own macro-politics.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is committed to the renewal and reform of primary and secondary education in the United States. Education Reform Now is a nonpartisan organization that envisions an America in which every child, regardless of class or race, has the social and economic opportunities afforded by an excellent public education. How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions? A State-By-State Comparison was authored by Amber M. Winkler, Janie Scull, and Dara Zeehandelaar, with a foreword by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli. Generous support for this report was provided by the Bodman Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and Education Reform Now, as well as by our sister organization, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. For further information about this study, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, please visit us online at


How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions? A State-By-State Comparison

Foreword by Chester E. Finn, Jr. , Michael J. Petrilli

Filed under: Teachers

This timely study represents the most comprehensive analysis of American teacher unions’ strength ever conducted, ranking all fifty states and the District of Columbia according to the power and influence of their state-level unions. To assess union strength, the Fordham Institute and Education Reform Now examined thirty-seven different variables across five realms:

1) Resources and Membership

2) Involvement in Politics

3) Scope of Bargaining

4) State Policies

5) Perceived Influence

The study analyzed factors ranging from union membership and revenue to state bargaining laws to campaign contributions, and included such measures such as the alignment between specific state policies and traditional union interests and a unique stakeholder survey. The report sorts the fifty-one jurisdictions into five tiers, ranking their teacher unions from strongest to weakest and providing in-depth profiles of each.

Download the state profiles (Click your state to download):

Full Report

The strength of teacher unions in the U.S.

How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions?

Background about teachers unions:

Debate: Are Teachers Unions The Problem or The Answer?

NPR: The Role of Teachers Unions In Education

Reform and the Teachers Unions

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