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

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 Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education
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
Reframing Behavior: Neuroscience-Based Practices for Positive Support
Reframing Behavior helps teachers see the “why” of behavior through a neuroscience lens and provides practices that fit into a school day.
Content provided by Crisis Prevention Institute
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
Mathematics Webinar
Math for All: Strategies for Inclusive Instruction and Student Success
Looking for ways to make math matter for all your students? Gain strategies that help them make the connection as well as the grade.
Content provided by NMSI

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 From Our Research Center Here's What Teachers Think Their Salaries Should Be
Superintendents and principals also gave the salaries they think they deserve.
2 min read
Teacher at a chalkboard.
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Teachers, Tame the 'Sunday Scaries'
Many teachers feel a real dread of the pending workweek. Here's how to cope.
4 min read
Image of a weekly calendar with a sticky with a stressed face icon.
Laura Baker/Education Week via Canva
Teaching Profession Opinion My Life as a Substitute Teacher in Suburbia: Chaos and Cruelty
I was ignorant of the reality until I started teaching, writes a recent college graduate.
Charrley Hudson
4 min read
3d Render Red & White Megaphone on textured background with an mostly empty speech bubble quietly asking for help.
iStock/Getty images
Teaching Profession The State of Teaching This Is the Surprising Career Stage When Teachers Are Unhappiest
Survey data reveal a slump in teachers' job satisfaction a few years into their careers.
7 min read
Female Asian teacher at her desk marking students' work
iStock/Getty