Conflicting Missions: Teachers Unions and Educational Reform

Overview

Ask people whether teachers unions are good or bad for education and you are likely to receive a wide variety of opinions. A 1998 Gallup Poll asked whether teachers unions helped, hurt, or made no difference in the quality of education in U.S. public schools. Twenty-seven percent responded that unions helped, 26 percent that they hurt, and 37 percent that they made no difference (10 percent of those surveyed said they did not know). Although teachers unions were first organized in the nineteenth century, and ...

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Overview

Ask people whether teachers unions are good or bad for education and you are likely to receive a wide variety of opinions. A 1998 Gallup Poll asked whether teachers unions helped, hurt, or made no difference in the quality of education in U.S. public schools. Twenty-seven percent responded that unions helped, 26 percent that they hurt, and 37 percent that they made no difference (10 percent of those surveyed said they did not know). Although teachers unions were first organized in the nineteenth century, and collective bargaining has been a fact of life in most communities since the 1960s, the body of literature evaluating the impact of teachers unions on American education is surprisingly small. Conflicting Missions? helps close the knowledge gap by providing a clear, balanced analysis of the role of teachers unions in education reform.The volume emerges from a 1998 conference organized by the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University. The contributors represent a broad array of disciplinary backgrounds and methodological approaches, including some of the unions' harshest critics and most loyal supporters. In examining the relationship of teachers unions and educational reform, the authors approach the subject from several directions. They ask whether unions affect educational productivity, most notably in terms of student achievement. They analyze how teachers unions function as professional organizations concerned with the occupation of teaching, as institutional actors defending interests within a bureaucratic system of education, and as political actors wielding influence on legislation and elections. Reflecting a variety of perspectives and opinions, Conflicting Missions? offers a balanced analysis of a controversial topic. It is a useful starting point for readers who want to discover the complexity of teachers unions and their influence —both positive and negative —on the national effort to improve America's schools.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Provides a balanced analysis of the role of teachers' unions in education reform. Asks whether unions affect educational productivity in terms of impact on student achievement, and analyzes how unions function as professional organizations, as institutional actors, and as political actors. Discusses areas including reform bargaining and its promise for school improvement, professional licensing and advancement, school choice, and international perspectives. Loveless is director of the Brown Center on Education Policy. Material originated at a 1998 conference organized by the Program on Educational Policy and Governance at Harvard University. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Publisher

"For the reader interested in the intersections, possibilities, and future for teachers unions and school reform, 'Conflicting Missions? Teachers Unions and Educational Reform' offers insightful analysis of the conflicts and proposals for unions and educational reform." — Harvard Educational Review, 4/1/2001

"The authors provide a balanced view and avoid portraying unions as the answer to or the cause of problems in public education." — Princeton University, 1/1/2001

"This book rewarded me with a wealth of knowledge on the current state of collective bargaining in American education.... This book is worth reading for the wealth of detail on the current status of collective bargaining in public education." —Donald E. Frey, Wake Forest University, Economics of Education Review 21 (2002)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780815753032
  • Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2000
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Loveless is director of the Brown Center on Education Policy and senior fellow in the Governance Studies program at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of the annual Brown Center Reports on American Education.

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Read an Excerpt



Introduction


Ask people whether teachers unions are good or bad for education and you are likely to receive a wide variety of opinions. A 1998 Gallup Poll asked whether teachers unions helped, hurt, or made no difference in the quality of education in U.S. public schools. Twenty-seven percent responded that unions helped, 26 percent that they hurt, and 37 percent that they made no difference (10 percent said they did not know). Two popular 1997 books offered dramatically opposing answers to this question. In United Mind Workers, Charles Kerchner, Julia E. Koppich, and Joseph G. Weeres portray teachers unions as an integral part of the quest to improve American education. Myron Lieberman's The Teacher Unions, on the other hand, depicts them as irredeemable supporters of the status quo, intractable and politically powerful enemies of reform.

    These two books joined a surprisingly small body of literature evaluating the impact of teachers unions on American education. Although teachers unions were first organized in the nineteenth century, and collective bargaining has been a fact of life in most communities since the 1960s, a serious gap exists between what we think we know about teachers unions and what we really know. Aspiring to close that gap, the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University invited approximately eighty scholars for a two-day conference on the topic of teachers unions and educational reform, held September 25-26, 1998. Paul Peterson and I organized the meeting, and funding was provided by the John M. Olin Foundation and the A. Alfred Taubman Center forStateand Local Government at the John E Kennedy School of Government. We solicited papers from researchers representing a broad array of disciplinary backgrounds and methodological approaches and invited union leaders and some of the unions' harshest critics to the conference. We asked each author to inventory what is known about the impact of teachers unions on educational reform; to analyze the quality of that knowledge, paying particular attention to ambiguities in the research; and to identify questions on which future investigations would be fruitful. The papers were everything we hoped for—provocative, engaging, and informative—and the ensuing discussions were both lively and thought provoking.

    The papers from the conference are presented as the chapters of this book. In examining the relationship of teachers unions and educational reform, the authors approach the subject from several directions. They ask whether unions affect educational productivity, most notably in terms of an impact on student achievement. They analyze how teachers unions function as professional organizations concerned with the occupation of teaching, as institutional actors defending interests within a bureaucratic system of education, and as political actors wielding influence on legislation and elections. Taken as a whole, these varying perspectives do not provide readers with a simple answer to the question of whether unions help or hurt educational reform. But the book does illustrate the many dimensions of the teachers unions' role in American education and offers a wellbalanced, comprehensive analysis of the unions' controversial relationship with education reform.

    In the first chapter, Susan Moore Johnson and Susan M Kardos of Harvard University show that the way teachers unions bargain has evolved over time. Industrial style bargaining prevailed for most of this century, with wages and work conditions subject to contentious negotiations between teachers and management. Beginning in the 1980s, reform-style bargaining gained a foothold in local labor negotiations. Drawing on eleven districts from a national sample, Johnson and Kardos compare pre-1986 contracts and contracts from the 1990s. Unions' influence on school reform varies from school district to school district. Johnson and Kardos discover that contracts negotiated with reform bargaining were able to advance educational reform, while contracts produced by industrial bargaining were not. Johnson and Kardos urge an enlarged role for reformstyle bargaining as a means of harnessing the power of teachers unions to the improvement of teaching as a profession—and to education reform more generally.

    A hotly debated topic is the effect of teachers unions on educational quality—whether schools are better or worse off because of collective bargaining. Joe A. Stone of the University of Oregon surveys the evidence pertaining to teachers unions' impact on four aspects of schools: (1) teacher pay and benefits, finding that collective bargaining tends to increase both; (2) schools as workplaces, finding that collective bargaining "standardizes" work conditions, lowers student-teacher ratios, and provides protections against job loss for teachers; (3) the total cost of instruction, finding that costs increase 8 to 15 percent under unionization; and (4) student achievement, finding that the effects of collective bargaining are mixed and, whether positive or negative, are small. Stone concludes that the widespread suspicion that teachers unions have increased the costs of public schooling is true, but the equally widespread belief that they have depressed student achievement is false. He also highlights questions where additional evidence is needed and pinpoints topics that future researchers of educational productivity should tackle.

    Dale Ballou of the University of Massachusetts and Michael Podgursky of the University of Missouri are also concerned with unions' influence on the profession of teaching. They are critical of proposed changes in regulating the teaching profession, especially the idea of shifting control over training and licensure from state agencies to professional boards. Ballou and Podgursky argue that there is scant evidence that such professional self-regulation would enhance teacher quality or school performance. The leading organization that currently accredits teacher training institutions, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), would see its power increase under professional boards. Both national teachers unions—the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA)—play a leading role in NCATE. Ballou and Podgursky show that NCATE accreditation focuses on teaching processes rather than outcomes, restricts the supply of would-be teachers, and is unrelated to producing high-quality teachers. Professional self-regulation would increase the power of teachers unions and organizations such as NCATE, Ballou and Podgursky conclude, but it would not improve American schooling.

    Howard Fuller of Marquette University, George Mitchell, and Michael Hartmann examine the influence of teachers unions on the quality of education in one city: Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They describe Milwaukee's collective bargaining agreements from World War II to the 1990s. They identify when Milwaukee's contracts first adopted specific, well-known elements of teacher contracts—for example, in 1944, the single salary schedule (paying teachers with the same degrees and years of experience an equivalent amount regardless of effectiveness), and in the 1960s, restrictions on the definition of a "teacher day." Fuller, Mitchell, and Hartmann find that, instead of educational quality, Milwaukee's teacher contracts have primarily addressed compensation, job security, and working conditions since teachers unionized. The Milwaukee contract grew from 18 pages in 1964 to 174 pages in 1992, but boosting schools' performance cannot be found in these documents—an unfortunate omission given the steady decline in educational quality that Milwaukee schools have suffered during the same time period.

    James Cibulka of the University of Maryland examines the political opposition of teachers unions to school choice. The national teachers unions publicly and adamantly oppose vouchers, providing students with public funds to attend private schools. But Cibulka shows that the NEA's position on choice is not monolithic. Its stance on other forms of school choice, such as charter schools, has been less rigid and more accepting over time. Cibulka also notes that local affiliates hold varying positions on charters and that some of the affiliates have changed their stance in response to local political realities. Cibulka explains these nuances in the NEA's position on choice using two analytical perspectives. The institutional perspective views the NEA as an interest group pursuing goals in an institutional arena teeming with competing interests. The regime perspective spotlights how NEA's leaders accommodate internal pressures for change, leading the union to strategically alter its stance on major issues. Like other institutions, the NEA's political positions emerge in response to both external and internal forces.

    William Lowe Boyd of Pennsylvania State University and David N. Plank and Gary Sykes of Michigan State University also analyze teachers unions as political actors, focusing on the state teachers' organizations in Michigan and Pennsylvania. The two unions experienced political success in the 1980s, followed by failure and decline in the 1990s. The election of strong Republican governors, John Engler in Michigan and Tom Ridge in Pennsylvania, reflected voter unhappiness with the educational status quo. The two governors championed sweeping education reforms that induded expanded parental choice of schooling and stronger academic standards—proposals the teachers unions opposed. The unions launched a strong counterattack. They vehemently fought any Republican proposal for reform, urged increased funding as the solution to education's woes, and painted reformers as enemies of public education. This strategy failed politically, allowing the unions' opponents to brand them as obstacles to reform. Boyd, Plank, and Sykes conclude by discussing the teachers unions' political future and where the political battles over choice and standards are likely to proceed.

    Maris A. Vinovskis of the University of Michigan examines the history of education research conducted by teachers unions. This in-house research has fulfilled two purposes. One is to keep members abreast of important developments in the field. The nineteenth-century NEA issued numerous reports and a few, such as that of the Committee of Ten on Secondary School Studies in 1893, were influential in guiding the direction of American education. In the late twentieth century, Al Shanker and the AFT similarly used research reports to mobilize union members and the public behind standards-based reforms.

    The second purpose of union-sponsored research is to promote higher teacher salaries, increased benefits, and better working conditions. In the early twentieth century, the NEA's Research Division gathered data on school finance that local members could use to argue for increased funding in their districts. More recently, NEA studies have included an investigation of the working conditions of educational support personnel and an analysis of the health and pension needs of retired teachers. Vinovskis explores the tensions these activities have created, particularly as related to the independence of in-house researchers from the unions' other organizational units. He also reviews the unions' dealings with the bureau in charge of federally funded research (currently the Office of Educational Research and Improvement in the Department of Education) and concludes that unions could play a strong role in improving education research overall.

    Bruce S. Cooper of Fordham University provides a comparative analysis of teachers unions, looking at how teachers unions have adapted to political changes internationally. Examining teachers unions in fifteen nations, Cooper finds that four characteristics influence unions' core operation: (1) the source of funding for the nation's educational system (whether revenues come from national or regional governments); (2) the locus of political control (if school systems are governed by federal, state, or local authorities); (3) political affiliations (whether the teachers union is associated with a national labor organization or national Labor party); and (4) professional rights and responsibilities (the extent to which unions reinforce the classical mission of teaching as an educative endeavor). Cooper finds that these four characteristics have shaped the history of collective bargaining for teachers in each country. He also discusses the future of teacher unionism internationally in light of recent experiments with privatization and parental choice.

    Charles Taylor Kerchner and Julia E. Koppich of Claremont Graduate University revisit some of the issues explored by Johnson and Kardos in the book's first chapter and ask whether teachers unions can successfully organize in support of quality teaching and standards for students. Drawing on the experiences of five unions—Minneapolis, Minnesota; Rochester, New York; Columbus, Ohio; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Seattle, Washington—Kerchner and Koppich conclude that unionization devoted to quality is possible but difficult. Obstacles arise from the culture of teaching, the ideologies of teacher unionism and school administration, the limited organizational capacity of teachers unions to promote a quality agenda, and elements of public policy that allow but do not encourage reform. The industrial organizational principles of yesterday's teachers unions are now outmoded and a hindrance to effective reform. Kerchner and Koppich conclude by calling for labor laws that would reorient teacher unions toward principles of craft, artistic, and professional excellence.

    Ideologues who are searching for unequivocal evidence that teachers unions either wear halos from heaven or horns from hell will not find what they are looking for in this volume. But readers who want to discover how complex and interesting teachers unions are and the influence—both positive and negative—they wield in the national effort to improve America's schools will find this book a useful starting point for their endeavors.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 Reform Bargaining and Its Promise for School Improvement 7
2 Collective Bargaining and Public Schools 47
3 Gaining Control of Professional Licensing and Advancement 69
4 Collective Bargaining in Milwaukee Public Schools 110
5 The NEA and School Choice 150
6 Teachers Unions in Hard Times 174
7 Teachers Unions and Educational Research and Development 211
8 An International Perspective on Teachers Unions 240
9 Organizing around Quality: The Frontiers of Teacher Unionism 281
Contributors 317
Index 319
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