What we're all learning about collective bargaining

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The five finalists' papers from NCTQ's first national research competition on collective bargaining, culminating at a March 26 conference held here in Washington, can now be viewed on our website at www.nctq/tr3. Congratulations to our winners, Kristine Lamm West and Elton Mykerezi of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, who took the top prize of $15,000 and second place finisher Chris Ferguson of Indiana University. Here is a summary of the five papers, all of which drew upon NCTQ's Tr3 database, which includes contracts, policies, laws and regs impacting 100 school districts.

Kristine Lamm West and Elton Mykerezi (Top Prize-$15,000), University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, economics

Effects of Teachers' Unions on Qualification-Specific and Incentive-Based Teacher Compensation

One of this paper's most noteworthy contributions is that its analysis distinguishes those differential pay programs that are based on input-based measurements -- such as more pay for more professional development -- versus pay programs that are based on output-based measurements -- such as those disreputable student test scores. While the researchers found that the share of districts with some performance pay is similar for non-unionized and unionized districts (29 percent and 28 percent respectively), the incidence of output-based performance pay is significantly lower in unionized districts (only 16 percent relative to 25 percent in nonunion districts). Framed another way, nonunion districts that have performance pay are more apt to base the pay plan on results that the teacher produces.

The researchers examine the broader impact of unions on compensation. Contributing important evidence to support what teachers' unions have long contended, Lamm West and Mykerezi show that teachers' unions are clearly able to ensure that teachers get a better deal on standard pay elements. For example:

  • Districts with collective bargaining are more likely to reward teachers for gaining additional experience than districts without collective bargaining.
  • Unions also significantly reduce the number of years it takes for teachers to reach the maximum possible salary.

  • Chris Ferguson (Second Prize: $5,000), Indiana University, economics

    Wage Frictions and Teacher Quality: An Empirical Analysis of Differential Effects Across Subject Areas

    Ferguson uses teacher-level data from public, private and charter schools to examine how various school-level wage frictions, such as salary schedules and collective bargaining agreements, affect the level of teacher quality across subject levels in U.S. high schools.

    His analysis shows a negative impact on the quality of teachers a district is able to hire when constrained by the uniform salary schedule, an impact Ferguson then shows has consequences for long-term student achievement:

    • Salary schedules appear to have a negative effect on the quality of teachers employed by a school, as measured by the average SAT or ACT score within the major at the undergraduate institution from which the teacher graduated.
    • This effect is magnified for math and science teachers at high ability levels.
    • This effect can be offset to some degree by the use of incentive-based pay which reduces the level of wage rigidity.
    • In terms of educational outcomes, the magnitude of these effects translates to significant impacts on student graduation rates and college attendance rates.

    • Michael Hansen, University of Washington, economics

      State Intervention and Contract Choice in the Public Teacher Labor Market

      Hansen's research explores a poorly studied and misunderstood area of teacher governance, the impact of decisions made by state legislatures on what happens at the local level in the formal teacher labor contract. Exploiting variations across states in education policies and labor laws to identify differences in contract choice at the local level, Hansen finds relatively large differences among states in wages and how teachers can use their time, but only a small variance within a state in these factors. In other words, state legislatures have a great deal of authority over these sorts of provisions. In contrast, Hansen finds big variations within states on provisions governing teacher evaluations and seniority rules. This finding suggests that districts have more local discretion to make decisions about evaluations and seniority than they do pay and time.

      With a sharp eye for the inevitable tradeoffs that come with any policy, Hansen finds that districts paying higher premiums to their teachers for earning master's degrees (which are generally districts with collective bargaining) offer lower starting salaries. Hansen joins every other serious education researcher on the planet in his disdain for districts' continued commitment to rewarding teachers for earning master's degrees, absent any evidence that they represent money well spent and considering that they interfere with the profession's ability to offer wages comparable to other professions.

      Interventions by state legislators, Hansen wryly observes, can bring all sorts of unintended consequences. A relevant example of this is state-imposed limits on class size, which have been the topic of policy debate for years--and where nearly half of all states actively intervene. While class sizes decrease as a result of this state-level policy decision, smaller class sizes are also correlated with fewer school days (likely resulting from the need to control payroll expenditures). Thus, the intended benefit of policies regulating smaller class sizes appears to be somewhat diluted by fewer days in the classroom.

      Michael Hartney, University of Notre Dame, political science

      The Politics of Teacher Professionalization: How Union Interests and the Structure of Education Governance Impact Teacher Pay and Evaluation Policies

      Taking a political perspective, this paper looks at the effects of collective bargaining, assessing the impact of strong, activist teacher unions as well as mayoral- or gubernatorial-controlled school boards on policies to improve teacher effectiveness. The results suggest that the relationship between politics and education policy outcomes is more complicated than either union critics or supporters typically claim and not merely an outcome from a state's decision to permit (or not permit) collective bargaining. For example, while collective bargaining itself was not found to detract from reform efforts on pay and evaluation, the degree to which teachers' unions dominated state electoral politics through their campaign contributions proved to have significant ramifications on the likelihood that these reforms were adopted. Interestingly at the district level, contracts negotiated by AFT locals were significantly more reform-oriented than those contracts negotiated by NEA locals. These findings suggest that the historical trajectory of the national unions cycle down to their locals and over time shape the type of agreements and policies that govern the teaching profession.

      Further, the policies obtained by mayoral-controlled school boards appear no different than the ones approved by elected boards, in so far as teacher reform policies are concerned. Although the data suggest that centralized district governance is not associated with more reform, when this study turned its attention to the state policy landscape, the data told a different story. In states in which governors wrested control of the state education agency away from legislators and voters no longer elected state education policy-makers, the policies adopted by states to govern teacher pay and evaluation included more differentiated compensation and greater teacher accountability.

      Leah Wasburn-Moses, Miami University of Ohio, education

      Rethinking Mentoring: Comparing Policy and Practice in Special and General Education

      Acknowledging the lack of good research in the area of mentoring, where states and districts expend so many resources, Wasburn-Moses looks at the mentoring policies of one state and two districts to match up expectations with realities. Surveying over 200 special education teachers in these districts, she finds -- not surprisingly -- uneven implementation of both state and district mentoring policies, particularly -- less surprisingly -- the district policies.

      Wasborn-Moses suggests three strategies to better align policy with practice: 1) assigning mentors to all novice teachers; 2) setting a minimum number of hours of contact between mentor and novice; and 3) selecting mentors who have had experience in the novice's school.