Sunday, March 08, 2009

More Questions About NEA Union Power

The Warrior discovers a heavy-duty credentialed, peer-reviewed article on teachers' unions.

It isn't favorable.

The unions use their power—their basic work-denial power, enhanced by their political power—to get restrictive rules written into collective bargaining contracts. And these restrictions ensure that the public schools are literally not organized to promote academic achievement. When contract rules make it difficult or impossible to weed out mediocre teachers, for example, they undermine the most important determinant of student learning: teacher quality (Sanders and Rivers 1996). And when contract rules guarantee teachers seniority-based transfer rights, they ensure that teachers cannot be allocated to their most productive uses (Levin, Mulhern, and Schunck 2005). Much the same can be said about a long list of standard contract provisions. This is to be expected. Except at the margins, contract rules are simply not intended to make the schools effective--from the study

We have conceded, as have most thinking people, that there ARE insuperable problems for certain student demographics.

This particular study, however, controlled for those targets.

We might wonder, for example, whether heavily black districts with a lot of Democratic voters elect liberal school boards that readily cave in to the teachers’ union. But those districts might have kids that perform poorly for reasons having nothing to do with the quality of schooling. Moe deals with these issues decisively -- controlling for minority population in each district, as well as a host of other variables.

Bottom line: both at the elementary and the secondary levels, restrictive union contracts harm student achievement.

When Moe breaks down his results, some complication enters. Restrictive union rules seem to hurt more in large school districts, and in districts with a large minority population.But of course, these are the districts most at risk. Unionization, in other words, hurts most in the places where conditions are already worst.

Root cause?

This study, in a way, is a follow-up to a 1990 study (Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools) in which John Chubb and Moe showed that private schools are better organized to educate kids than public schools. In that study they stressed the role of unions doing the same things they have done to kill the auto industry — introducing rigidity in how things are organized and promoting a “then versus us” mentality among the workers

In other words, things are not organized around 'the product,' but 'the process.' And "us/them" thinking is--however tempting--not productive for rational dialog about "the product."

I've seen a lot of this close up, and the more I see the more I think that the building principal is the single most critical link in the chain.

1 comment:

Jay Bullock said...

Oddly, none of the things complained about in your excerpt of the study is true for Milwaukee: We do not have the power to stop working; there is a relatively simple procedure for moving bad teachers out of the classroom; and we do not have seniority-based transfer rights.

So if it ain't the union's fault, whose is it?