Where does the real power reside when it comes to the rules and rights of teachers?

See all posts
by Emily Cohen, NCTQ Policy Analyst

It?s time to revisit the rallying cry over collective bargaining agreements as school districts? ball and chain. While the local bargaining table is still the most important venue for negotiating some things like annual pay raises, it is not where the fundamental factors shaping teacher quality get decided. This popular but mistaken view paints an overly simplistic picture of how teachers are governed and dangerously ignores the actual forces at play influencing teacher quality.

When NCTQ began building our Tr3 database nearly two years ago we learned that much of what we expected to find in collective bargaining agreements, like tenure and teacher dismissal, weren?t there. The contracts were silent. But their silence does not mean that there isn?t a lot said about such matters. Much of what we assumed to be in the purview of local bargaining agreements was actually found elsewhere.

As we describe in more detail in a new NCTQ brief, Invisible Ink in Collective Bargaining, we realized that it is the state that decides issues that many assume are decided in the local contract. In fact, nearly every aspect of the teaching career is decided by the state?even when the local district and union are legally able to negotiate. For example, states may set the minimum number of years for tenure or the minimum frequency in which teacher evaluations may occur. Theoretically, districts could negotiate a more rigorous evaluation or tenure process, but this rarely happens. The state minimum?at least in areas other than teacher salary or benefits?usually becomes the de facto maximum adopted by the district.

Certainly, the importance of state legislatures and school boards is well known to teachers? unions. They routinely flex their muscle with state legislatures, lobbying for policies that may be in the best interests of their members but often at odds with what is in the best interests of students and teacher quality. Unions caught on a while ago that it is far more efficient to have an impact on governance issues by getting a law passed that applies to the whole state rather than negotiating contracts in individual districts.

Understanding the complex web of state statute, regulation, local school board policy and local collective bargaining agreement on the work lives of teachers is essential to improving teacher quality. We urge you to learn more about this important issue here.