Teachers' 'Time on Task' Affected By Contracts

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Elementary-school teachers who are covered by collective-bargaining agreements spend less time instructing students in the classroom than do their peers who are not covered by contracts, but they devote more time to classroom preparation and administrative tasks, a new study by two University of Oregon researchers has found.

Such time shifts are among the "incidental effects" of collective bargaining that may receive less attention than do some issues at the bargaining table, but nevertheless exert a substantial influence on education--possibly including student achievement--according to the researchers, Randall W. Eberts and Lawrence D. Pierce.

Their study--"Time in the Classroom: The Effect of Collective Bargaining on the Allocation of Teacher Time"--examined the question of whether collective bargaining alters the allocation of teachers' time during a typical school day. It gathered information from more than 3,000 elementary-school teachers in 250 school districts nationwide, according to Mr. Eberts, an economist, and Mr. Pierce, a political scientist.

'Incidental Effects'

The researchers, who have conducted other studies on the effects of collective bargaining on the allocation of educational resources, chose in this study to concentrate on the way teachers use their time, another resource. To the best of their knowledge, said Mr. Eberts, it is the only study that has attempted to quantify these "incidental effects."

"The results at best serve to remind negotiators on both sides of the table that one incidental effect of collective bargaining may be a reduction in instruction time," the researchers note. "And this should be taken into account during negotiations."

The researchers divided the way in which teachers spend their time into five categories. The first, instruction, occupies an average of 60 percent of the school day, they found.

Time spent on the other four categories--preparation, administrative tasks, parent conferences, and other noninstructional tasks--varies, depending on the teachers' preferences and the policies of the district in which they work.

Two of these factors, instruction and preparation time, have been linked with student achievement, as it is measured by standardized tests.

During an "average day," the researchers found, there are noticeable shifts in the way teachers spend their time, depending on whether they are covered by a collective-bargaining agreement. On the average, said Mr. Eberts, teachers in districts that have collective-bargaining agreements spend 9.5 fewer minutes per day in instruction than their colleagues in districts without negotiated contracts.

These minutes, he said, are redistributed among other tasks: 3 minutes are diverted to preparation time; 5.1 minutes go to the performance of administrative and clerical duties; and 1.4 minutes are added to time spent meeting with parents.

Though these shifts may seem slight, they add up to significant blocks of time, the researchers believe.

"Assuming a 180-day school year and using the average hours spent per day in instruction, calculations indicate that collective bargaining reduces instruction an equivalent of 5.6 school days a year," according to the draft report. That means, Mr. Eberts explained, that in unionized districts it would take 5.6 additional days, during which teachers spent 60 percent of their time teaching, to equal the time spent annually on teaching in nonunion districts.

The same perspective can be used with the other categories of time. For example, the study notes, collective bargaining increases preparation by an equivalent 6.5 school days.

The amount of time devoted to administrative tasks also changes with the presence or absence of collective-bargaining agreements, according to the study. The researchers found that, under a formula weighted according to the average amount of time spent on each category of activity, teachers in districts without collective bargaining would have to work an additional 21 school days in order to spend the same amount of time on these tasks in one school year as do their unionized counterparts.

Teachers whose districts lack a collective-bargaining agreement also spend less time meeting with parents. These nonunion districts would have to extend the year by seven school days in order to equal the unionized district in time spent with parents, according to the researchers.

Decrease in Instruction Time

Both parties in negotiations should be aware of these tradeoffs, the researchers note. Of the decrease in instruction time, they write, "This difference may seem small, but the administrator who is considering reducing the length of the school year instead of conceding to a salary increase should also take into account the indirect effects of such a proposed contract."

On the other hand, they continue, "the teacher negotiator may want to assess the increased administrative burden placed on teachers as a result of greater participation in decision-making."

The results of the study, said Mr. Eberts, are subject to a variety of interpretations.

A teacher covered by collective bargaining, for example, may be spending more time on administration because he or she is taking a more active role in the decision-making process of the school, according to the researcher. That teacher may regard the increase in administrative work as positive.

By the same token, the teacher who devotes less time instructing students but more time preparing for teaching may be more effective while he or she is actually in the classroom, Mr. Eberts said.

"What we're showing is that there are incidental effects of collective bargaining. We're not saying that they're beneficial to education, or that they're detrimental to education," Mr. Eberts said in a recent interview.

Based on the value that they attach to the various factors, he said, people must draw their own conclusions.

Mr. Eberts will present the findings from the study at this month's meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

Vol. 01, Issue 24

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