University of Chicago Law school study prompts more debate about the effect of unions on education outcome

21 Sep

Moi wrote about teachers unions in Teachers unions are losing members:

All politics is local.
Thomas P. O’Neill

Moi would like to modify that quote a bit to all education is local and occurs at the neighborhood school. We really should not be imposing a straight jacket on education by using a one-size-fits-all approach. Every school, in fact, every classroom is its own little microclimate. We should be looking at strategies which work with a given population of children.

A Healthy Child In A Healthy Family Who Attends A Healthy School In A Healthy Neighborhood. ©

The question which increasingly asked is whether teachers unions help or hinder education.

PBS has a great history of teaching, Only A Teacher: Teaching Timeline which discusses unionization:

There are two national teachers unions in the United States today, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. The NEA was founded in 1857 as a policy-making organization, one that hoped to influence the national debate about schools and schooling. Over the next hundred years, it played a significant role in standardizing teacher training and curriculum. Until the 1960s, the NEA tended to represent the interests of school administrators and educators from colleges and universities.
The AFT, on the other hand, was always much more of a grass-roots teachers’ organization. It was formed in 1897 as the Chicago Teachers Federation, with the explicit aim of improving teachers’ salaries and pensions. Catherine Goggin and Margaret Haley allied the CFT with the labor movement, going so far as to join the American Federation of Labor – an act that horrified everyone who wanted to see teaching as genteel, white-collar employment. At the same time, the union conceived its work in terms of broader social improvement, bettering the lives of the poor and the alienated. By 1916, several local unions had come together to form the AFT. In the 1940s, the AFT began collective bargaining with local school boards, which again horrified some people. Collective bargaining always carries the threat of strikes, and teachers, as servants of the community, were long seen as both too indispensable and too noble to engage in work stoppages. The issue of strikes remains contentious today.
Teacher militancy has waxed and waned over the past 50 years. But many teachers believe that whatever gains they have made — in pay, benefits, job security and working conditions — have come from the efforts of their unions. Today, the NEA and AFT flirt with the idea of merging and have made significant strides towards combining their memberships. Their common interests — greater professionalization, increased authority for educators, enhanced clout in Washington, better working conditions and improved schools — dictate working together, and perhaps even becoming one very powerful union.

See, “Understanding the History of Teachers Unions,” a Panel Discussion with Diane Ravitch

Julia Lawrence reported about an interesting University of Chicago study at Education Week.

In State teacher union strength and student achievement, Lawrence reported:

Researchers at the University of Chicago Law School discovered an interesting correlation between the strength of the local teachers unions and student performance. The stronger the protection afforded to teachers based on their latest employment contract, the worse the performance of their students on standardized tests. According to analysis published in the latest issue of the Economics of Education Review, recent small-scale studies have shown that students tend to get lower assessment scores in larger school districts and districts where unions won better terms for their teachers in the latest round of contract negotiations. Jonathan Lott and Lawrence W. Kenny also introduce two metrics for measuring the level of influence of local unions – dues dollars per district teacher and union expenditures per district student. When looked at in these terms, the conclusions are stark. John Dwyer, the Director of Education Reform for Illinois Policy Institute, writes that a hike in union dues by as little as $200 a year translates to a 4% drop in student performance on standardized exams. A similar decline in scores also accompanied a 13% increase in per-student union spending. – See more at:


Economics of Education Review
Volume 35, August 2013, Pages 93–103

State teacher union strength and student achievement
• Johnathan Lotta, E-mail the corresponding author,
• Lawrence W. Kennyb, Corresponding author contact information, E-mail the corresponding author, E-mail the corresponding author
• a University of Chicago Law School, Chicago, IL, United States
• b University of Florida, Dept. of Economics, Gainesville, FL 32611-7140, United States
Received 9 September 2012
Revised 26 March 2013
Accepted 31 March 2013
Available online 8 April 2013

District union strength (e.g., restrictiveness of the contract) may affect student test scores.

The impact of teachers union financial resources on student test scores has not been explored.

Teacher unions are major contributors to candidates in Congressional and state legislature races.

We find that student test scores are lower in states with teachers unions with greater union dues.
A new and very small literature has provided evidence that students have lower test scores in larger school districts and in districts in which the district’s teachers union has negotiated a contract that is more favorable to the district’s teachers. The teachers’ unions at the state and national levels contribute a great deal of money to candidates for state and federal offices. This gives the unions some influence in passing (defeating) bills that would help (harm) the state’s teachers. We introduce two novel measures of the strength of the state-wide teachers union: union dues per teacher and union expenditures per student. These reflect the key role of political influence for state-wide unions. We provide remarkably strong evidence that students in states with strong teachers unions have lower proficiency rates than students in states with weak state-wide teacher unions.

Here are the key details of the study from Media Trackers:

Pennsylvania Teachers Unions Harm Student Learning, New Study Shows
By: Sarah Leitner | September 10, 2013
A new study published in the Economics of Education Review found states with strong teachers unions have lower student achievement than those with weaker unions.
The study’s authors — Johnathan Lott of the University of Chicago Law School and Lawrence W. Kenny of the University of Florida — looked at two different factors to determine the strength of different statewide unions: union dues per teacher and union expenditures per student.
The study looked at 721 school districts with 10,000 students or more across 42 different states for the 2005-06 school year. Overall, the 721 school districts make up 5 percent of all U.S. school districts and 46 percent of all U.S. students.
“We find student test scores to be lower in states in which state-wide teacher union dues and expenditures are higher,” the report reads. “These results are quite insensitive to changes in the specification.”
The study looked at the growth in proficiency rates between fourth and eighth graders on math and reading test scores. Lott and Kenny found a one-dollar rise in union spending per student resulted in a 0.23-point fall in that growth rate in math and a 0.25-point fall in that growth rate in reading.
“Our finding that student proficiency rates in math and reading are lower in states with strong teacher unions than in states with weak teacher unions is quite robust,” they write.
Union dues in the study varied anywhere from $24 to $883, while union spending per student ranged from $3.15 to $63.82.
Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) members pay dues of $498, and in 2010-11 PSEA’s spending was $75.7 million or around $42.53 per public school student in the state. Those numbers put Pennsylvania in the top bracket of union strength.
Pennsylvania public school revenue has increased from $7,200 per student in the 1995-96 school year to over $14,000 this past year. But despite increased school spending, National Assessment of Education Programs (NAEP) scores have been relatively flat over the past ten years. From 2009 to 2011, fourth grade students did slightly better, while eight graders did slightly worse.
Though the study looked specifically at fourth and eighth grade test scores, the state’s average SAT scores show a similar flat-lining and even a decline in the past ten years.

This is not the only study to categorize Pennsylvania as a state with strong teachers unions. Last year, a Thomas B. Fordham Institute study ranked Pennsylvania as the state with the fourth-strongest teachers union presence and put it in the top tier on its union strength scale.

The Fordham Institute used five indicators to determine each state’s ranking: resources and membership, involvement in politics, the scope of bargaining, state policies, and perceived influence. Pennsylvania teachers unions ranked seventh in both their scope of bargaining and perceived influence, tenth in involvement in politics and 13th in resources and membership. In the state policies category, however, the state ranked 41st in large part to its charter school laws.
PSEA spokesman Wythe Keever said, “I don’t give interviews to Media Trackers” when called for comment.

There must be a way to introduce variation into the education system. To the extent that teachers unions hinder the variation in the system, they become a hindrance.


Debate: Are Teachers’ Unions the Problem—or the Answer?

Quiet Riot: Insurgents Take On Teachers’ Unions,8599,2087980,00.html#ixzz1zgjC7qGS

Can Teachers Unions Do Education Reform?

Let a New Teacher-Union Debate Begin

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