Is collective bargaining good for students, asks Tom Jacobs on Miller-McCune Online
When New Mexico teachers regained collective bargaining rights after four years without them, SAT scores rose while graduation rates fell, according to a study published in the Yale Law Journal.
Disadvantaged students lost ground, concluded author Benjamin Lindy, a Yale law student and a former middle-school teacher.
“Between 1993 and 1999, New Mexico required collective bargaining with teachers’ unions. The law expired in 1999 and wasn’t renewed till 2003, creating a window in which districts could refuse to bargain with unions.
He found no impact on spending per student. But student achievement patterns did change.
That’s because teachers lost transfer rights in the no-bargaining interim, Lindy theorizes. Before 1999 and after 2003, senior teachers could “concentrate themselves in a district’s higher-income, higher-performing schools,” which are easier places to teach. The least-experienced teachers were concentrated in high-poverty schools.
“This change in transfer rights is especially significant, because it helps explain not only why low-performing students began to improve (when the teachers lost collective bargaining rights), but also why the achievement of high-performing students began to fall,” Lindy writes. “If districts were able to shift high-quality teachers away from concentrated areas of high performance to areas of high-need, one would expect to see the performance of high-achieving students fall.”
So when contracts are negotiated that give teachers with seniority a major say in where they’ll teach, the result is already-advantaged students get yet another advantage: more experienced instructors. This helps them raise their test scores even higher. Meanwhile, the poorer kids get less-experienced teachers, leaving them still further behind and more likely to drop out.
Not all union contracts give senior teachers the right to choose their school, but it’s very common.
Note that Lindy’s analysis suggests that experienced teachers are more effective teachers.