Teaching Profession

Study Questions Image of Unions As Villains in School Reform Saga

By Jeff Archer — January 31, 2001 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In the ongoing struggle for school improvement, few groups get to play the role of bad guy as often as the teachers’ unions. Witness such recent books as: Power Grab: How the National Education Association is Betraying our Children and The Teacher Unions: How the nea and aft Sabotage Reform and Hold Students, Parents, Teachers, and Taxpayers Hostage to Bureaucracy.

Given such titles, readers might be surprised to find teachers’ groups wearing the white hat in a new study in this winter’s issue of the Harvard Educational Review.

The authors’ nationwide analysis examined student results on the SAT and ACT college-entrance exams and the proportion of teachers in each state who work under collective-bargaining agreements. What the study found was a significant positive correlation between the degree of unionization in a state and how well its students fared on the tests. Moreover, that link remained after controlling for such factors as family income and parents’ education.

“When we started working on this project, we thought there’d be no relationship,” said Brian Powell, a sociology professor at Indiana University Bloomington. “We were really, to be honest, shocked that we found a positive effect. And the more analysis we did and the more runs we made, it was surprising how robust the link was.”

Mr. Powell carried out the study with fellow IU professor Robert M. Carini and Lala Carr Steelman, a sociologist at the University of South Carolina-Columbia.

The study is not the first to question the view that what’s good for teachers’ unions is bad for students. In 1987, researchers Randall W. Eberts and Joe A. Stone found that students in unionized school districts enjoyed a small but statistically significant edge in mathematics scores. By contrast, a 1996 paper by Harvard economist Caroline Minter Hoxby suggested that unionized districts tended to have higher dropout rates.

Last week, Ms. Hoxby criticized the new Harvard Educational Review study for relying on state-level comparisons, to reach conclusions about unionization and performance. “You really cannot control easily with just five or six variables for all the differences between, say, New York and Mississippi,” she said.

Mr. Stone, who is now the dean of the college of arts and sciences at the University of Oregon, sees at least one way in which the Hoxby research can be reconciled with the new study. Since weaker students are the most likely to drop out, he notes, a higher attrition rate could yield a stronger pool of students taking college-entrance exams.

Still, Mr. Stone finds scant grounds to believe that teachers’ unions are anathema to better schools. “Collective bargaining is not the devil behind poor student performance,” he said.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 31, 2001 edition of Education Week as Study Questions Image of Unions As Villains in School Reform Saga

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Student Achievement Webinar Examining the Evidence: What We’re Learning From the Field About Implementing High-Dosage Tutoring Programs
Tutoring programs have become a leading strategy to address COVID-19 learning loss. What evidence-based principles can district and school leaders draw on to design, implement, measure, and improve high-quality tutoring programs? And what are districts

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Teachers Who Refuse to Comply With Vaccine Mandates Won't Face Consequences in Many Places
Some districts and states aren't even keeping track of how many teachers are vaccinated.
8 min read
Teachers protest against COVID-19 vaccination mandates in New York on Aug. 25, 2021. On Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied an emergency appeal from a group of teachers to block New York City's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public school teachers and other staff from going into effect.
Teachers protest against COVID-19 vaccination mandates in New York on Aug. 25.
Mary Altaffer/AP
Teaching Profession What New Teachers Need
Ideas from the real world on making teachers' first years less overwhelming and more fulfilling.
5 min read
Illustration of a classroom diorama sitting on a student desk.
Illustration by Laura Baker/Education Week (Images: iStock/Getty)
Teaching Profession Opinion This Year Almost Drove Me Out of Teaching. The Right Leader Made Me Stay
After seven years teaching and one class away from becoming an education specialist, I have seen the highs and lows of education leadership.
Samantha Richardson
4 min read
Illustration of woman sitting on a mountain top looking into the distant landscape.
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Maryland Teacher Wins $1 Million Global Prize
Keishia Thorpe received the prize for her work teaching immigrant and refugee students and helping them attend college.
2 min read
This photo provided by the Varkey Foundation shows Keishia Thorpe. The Maryland high school English teacher, who has worked to open up college education for her students, has won the $1 million Global Teacher Prize. The Varkey Foundation announced Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, that Thorpe, who teaches at International High School at Langley Park in Prince George’s County in Maryland, was selected from more than 8,000 nominations and applications from 121 countries around the world.
Keishia Thorpe, who has worked to open up college education for her students, has won the $1 million Global Teacher Prize.
Varkey Foundation via AP